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Ravens news, notes and opinions heading into free agency

Compensatory picks be damned, Ravens looking for immediate improvement.

The Ravens have done a great job taking advantage of the compensatory draft selection system and it will pay dividends again this year as the team is expected to get three or four extra picks in the 2016 draft. But if the Ravens want to make significant roster improvements this year in free agency, they are going to have to ignore that formula. Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, who has already verbally agreed to a new deal with the Oakland Raiders, and strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who is expected to bolt as well, are probably the only free agent defections that would count toward the Ravens getting a compensatory pick. Defensive end Chris Canty could as well, but we’re probably talking about a seventh-rounder depending on the size of his next contract. Meanwhile, the Ravens will have already forfeited one when the agreement with tight end Benjamin Watson becomes official. One more signing of a true unrestricted free agent may mean no comp picks for the Ravens in 2016. And that’s just fine. The Ravens have immediate holes that they need to fill and aspirations to get back in the playoffs in 2016. A proven veteran free agent will likely help them get there more than an extra fourth or fifth-round pick.

The fans’ obsession with comp picks does amaze me. I’d have to imagine Ravens fans talk about comp picks more than any other NFL city. The first questions that I was getting after the Watson deal were not about how he fits into the Ravens’ offense, or what the terms of the deal are. They were about whether the signing will cost the Ravens a third-round comp pick after losing Osemele.

Speaking of Osemele, let’s try to put his new five-year deal worth a maximum of $60 million in perspective. One, it’s the biggest contract that an NFL guard has ever gotten. Two, his $11.7 million average salary per year is nearly four million more per year than what the Ravens’ Marshal Yanda, widely considered the best guard in football, is getting. I love Osemele and think he’s a big loss for the Ravens, but that’s insane.  

Wide receiver Mike Wallace, who was released yesterday by the Minnesota Vikings, had just 39 catches for career lows of 473 yards and two touchdowns last season. He clearly wasn’t a great fit for the Vikings’ offense, but he would fit in just fine with the Ravens, who badly need to upgrade their speed on offense. The Ravens wouldn’t need Wallace to catch 65 or more balls like he did in three of the past four seasons. They’d need him to be a legitimate deep threat and make some plays down the field. It’s a weak free-agent wide receiver market, so I’d imagine that Wallace won’t come all that cheap. However, if the Ravens can get him on a modest deal, it would make a lot of sense.  And he wouldn’t cost them in the comp pick formula!

Free agency hasn’t even started yet and Von Miller (franchised by Denver), Jason Pierre-Paul (re-signed with Giants), Mario Williams (signed with Miami), Tamba Hali (re-signed with Kansas City), Bruce Irvin (signed with Oakland) and Charles Johnson (re-signed with Carolina) are all essentially off the market. Finding a pass rusher this offseason – and remember, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said that he’d like to add two of them – might be the hardest task for general manager Ozzie Newsome and company. Who is still available? Greg Hardy, Aldon Smith; OK, let’s not go there. The Ravens seemingly don’t have the salary cap space to get involved with Miami’s Olivier Vernon. Robert Ayers, Chris Long and William Hayes would probably help, but it sounds like the market for those guys will be robust. Drafting Joey Bosa at six overall, or trading back in the 10-to-12 range and selecting Noah Spence is looking better by the day.  

The agreement with Watson was moderately surprising, given that the Ravens aren’t traditionally aggressive out of the box, tight end wasn’t considered by many to be one of their top needs and that compensatory consideration that we discussed above. But I thought, by far, the most surprising development of yesterday was the report that the Ravens tendered a low tender to restricted free agent tight end Chase Ford. If true – I wasn’t able to confirm it, but I certainly have no reason to doubt the St. Paul Pioneer Press report – the Ravens would be paying Ford $1.67 million in 2016. That’s a solid chunk of change for a player who has never suited up for the team. The Ravens plucked the tight end from off the Vikings practice squad on Nov. 17 and he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 30 because of a shoulder injury. He did start five games with the Vikings in 2014 and has 34 career receptions. Still, that’s seemingly a lot of money for a guy who projects to be the No. 3 tight end at best.

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