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Eisenberg: Expecting Bigger Splash Than Normal From Ravens

Posted Mar 8, 2014

Stay close to your news ticker after the opening bell of free agency rings Tuesday. There could be surprises.


The opening of free agency in the NFL is a little like Christmas morning for teams and fans. Everyone wakes up wondering if they’re going to get something good.

There’s usually a letdown in Baltimore, as the Ravens tend to approach free agency as bargain shoppers rather than impulse buyers. They avoid the opening rush and wait, sometimes for months, before pouncing. Christmas comes in June.

Their prudent approach has served them well, but things could change this year. In fact, strangely, I keep seeing and hearing an action-movie trailer in my mind as Tuesday’s kickoff of Free Agency 2014 approaches. Hold on tight! Things are about to get fast and furious! Look out! (Roll montage of cars blowing up.)

Normally hemmed in by salary cap concerns, the Ravens have room to maneuver this year. They’re reportedly some $25 million under the cap after extending Terrell Suggs, cutting a couple of veterans and seeing the cap limit spike sharply. That’s easily more than double the amount they had available heading into free agency a year ago.

Along with more cap room, the Ravens also have a lot of needs and free agents of their own they’re trying to retain. It’s a combustible blend of factors. Maybe Christmas morning will be quiet again this year, but I don’t think so. I’m thinking free agency is going to be different. (Roll footage of Arnold Schwarzenegger dangling from a helicopter.)

I’m not saying the Ravens are going to wade into the melee waving fistfuls of cash and shouting “Who wants to come and get it?!” That’s not their style. I don’t care how much cap room they have.

But there’s going to be more action than usual, maybe quite a bit more.

The news won’t all be good. Other teams also have more to spend because of the eight percent spike in the cap. It’s a seller’s market, suddenly. The Ravens are trying to retain Eugene Monroe, Daryl Smith and Corey Graham, and would love to bring back Arthur Jones and Jacoby Jones, but my guess is there will be more defections than retentions in that group. (Graham is the best bet to stay.)

But there will also be additions. The Ravens need offensive tackles, pass catchers, a free safety, playmakers in general. The marketplace is bulging with viable options. At right tackle alone, there are two candidates, Eric Winston (Arizona) and Ryan Harris (Houston), who have performed well in the past under new Ravens Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak.  Options at safety include Jairus Byrd (Buffalo), Chris Clemons (Miami) and Antoine Bethea (Indianapolis). At wideout, there’s Golden Tate (Seattle) and Hakeem Nicks (Giants).

Finding guys who want to come will not be an issue. The Ravens have a good reputation around the league. They’ve won a Super Bowl and played in three conference title games since 2008. They practice in a state-of-the-art facility, spend to the cap limit and always have a plan, unlike many teams that can’t get out of their own way. Baltimore is an attractive destination. It’s not like the Ravens to make a major splash with a top-of-the-line signing such as Byrd, but if it’s ever going to happen, this is the year.

Even if they don’t go after someone like that, they’re going to hit the market hard. They were irked by last season’s 8-8 finish, coming on the heels of a Super Bowl win. This is when they lay the groundwork to avoid a reprise. The draft is hugely important, but the majority of rookies need a year or two of seasoning before they become major contributors. Free agents are plug-and-play commodities.

I would suggest checking your news ticker after the opening bell of free agency rings Tuesday at 4 p.m. There are going to be additions, subtractions, surprises, more surprises. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is already known for adeptly navigating the market, and now he’s like a poker player with more chips than usual stacked in front of him. Buckle up! Hold on tight! (Generic explosion, deadpan “have a nice day” comment from Bruce Willis.)

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