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Late For Work 3/13: Ravens Are Opening Their Wallets To Get Back To Playoffs

Posted Mar 13, 2017

Baltimore has spent more in free agency in the first week than the last two years combined. A closer look at the big three contracts. Top free-agent fits remaining. What Juszczyk and Wagner said after leaving Ravens. First-round cornerback linked to Ravens suffers Achilles tear.

Ravens Are Opening Up Their Wallets To Get Back To Playoffs

At first, there was silence.

The Ravens’ lack of moves, or even reports pertaining to the team, left fans and pundits alike wondering what was going on at the Under Armour Performance Center in the days leading up to free agency.

Yeah, we saw plenty of social media posts like this:

My current state watching my @ravens during #freeagency Ozzie what is going on man #ravens #ravensflock 臘♀️

A post shared by monica_thekurvydiva (@monica_thekurvydiva) on

Well, turns out, the Ravens have been one of the most active teams in the league in free agency.

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley did a good job of putting it in perspective, calculating that the Ravens spent more guaranteed money in the first four days of free agency this year than in the previous two years combined.

“The Baltimore Ravens showed with their wallet how intent they are in trying to get back to the playoffs after failing to do so the past two years,” Hensley wrote.

Nose tackle Brandon Williams, safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead and quarterback Ryan Mallett received a combined $51.75 million in guaranteed money from Baltimore, Hensley reports, which blows away the $33.11 million in guarantees spent in free agency in 2015 and 2016.

Hensley didn’t factor in safety Anthony Levine, who inked a three-year deal last week. If there was guaranteed money in that deal, it would be even higher. Here’s a full breakdown of the contracts via The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec.

Williams became the NFL’s highest-paid nose tackle with a reportedly $27.5 in guaranteed money, which Hensley points out is the most for the Ravens since quarterback Joe Flacco got $52 million guaranteed in his first contract after winning Super Bowl XLVII.

Jefferson’s $19 million guaranteed ranks fifth among all safeties, and “is believed to be the most the Ravens have ever given to a free agent coming from another team.”

Fans and pundits were wondering what kind of money running back Danny Woodhead got on his three-year deal, and those details were reported over the weekend to be a total of $8.8 million with $4.25 million guaranteed.

That’s more than the Ravens gave Justin Forsett ($3 million) in 2015, and shows their desire for Woodhead considering other running backs such as Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Latavius Murray, LeGarrette Blount and Eddie Lacy are still on the market. Woodhead was the first running back to sign, and he’s coming off a torn ACL.

The Ravens haven’t been “frugal” in recent years, Hensley said. He points out that they signed cornerback Jimmy Smith to an extension in 2015 and made Justin Tucker the league’s highest-paid kicker in 2016.

Last year, Baltimore landed big-name free agents Eric Weddle, Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson, though they only had to spend a total of $17.5 million guaranteed for all three.

Overall, the Ravens’ lifeblood over the years has been the draft. General Manager Ozzie Newsome again stressed that during Friday’s press conference introducing Jefferson and Woodhead, saying “we still build this team through the draft.”

But that won’t stop the Ravens from spending either.

“This has been an uncharacteristic start to free agency for the Ravens and it's obvious that they're being aggressive in trying to turn around the recent misfortunes of the franchise,” Hensley said.

And Newsome even says the Ravens aren’t finished yet.

Yeah, we hear you now too, Ravens fans.

Top Remaining Free Agent Fits

Now that we’ve established that Ozzie is willing to spend, and isn’t finished doing so yet, let’s take a look at some potential remaining free agents Baltimore could bring in.

The Ravens still have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, offensive line and cornerback. Some of those will certainly be addressed via the draft, but others will be filled with additional free-agent signings.

Below are a couple of players at each position who Zrebiec sees as fits. Check out his story for the full list, and take into account that these aren’t players rumored to be in talks with Baltimore – just some who he sees as possibilities that make sense.

Wide Receiver

Kamar Aiken: “Aiken seemed ready for a fresh start from the Ravens after his opportunities dropped significantly in 2016. However, he’s still on the market and sometimes the familiar wins out over the unknown.”

Anquan Boldin: “Boldin, 36, still possesses qualities that the Ravens lack at wide receiver. He makes contested catches, is productive in the red zone and on third down and he’s a physical blocker. Joe Flacco trusts him, too.”

Victor Cruz: “Ravens fans seem most intrigued by the former New York Giant, although Cruz looked significantly less explosive and elusive last year after returning from a series of leg injuries. Still, he is a good route runner and he has experience working in the slot.”

Offensive Line

Ryan Clady: “Clady has played left tackle his whole career and the Ravens need a right tackle after Rick Wagner left in free agency. Clady, though, is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and arguably the most accomplished offensive tackle available.”

Nick Mangold: “The Ravens would like to upgrade at center over Jeremy Zuttah and the 33-year-old long-time New York Jet seems like a good fit if he’s healthy. Mangold has a ton of experience and he wouldn’t cost a compensatory pick either.”

Outside Linebacker

Connor Barwin: “Released last week by the Philadelphia Eagles, Barwin had just five sacks last year and wasn’t a great fit as a defensive end in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 defense. He’s still 30 years old and he’s the type of physical, high-energy player that the Ravens love.”

Chris Long: “The second overall pick in the 2008 draft has just eight sacks over the past three seasons. He’s probably just a situational pass rusher at this stage of his career, but that’s pretty much what the Ravens need.”

Inside Linebacker

Zach Brown: “Brown had a breakout season last year for the Buffalo Bills, finishing second in the NFL with 149 tackles. He’s fast and versatile and he has a nose for the quarterback. Brown played high school football at Wilde Lake in Howard County.”

Dont’a Hightower: “With Zachary Orr retiring, C.J. Mosley needs another partner inside. Who would be better than Hightower, another former Alabama star? This is probably a pipe dream, as Hightower is arguably the best free agent available and will command big bucks. He's reportedly meeting with the New York Jets on Monday.”

Cornerback

Morris Claiborne: “The Ravens targeted the Cowboys free agent last week, and they’ve been unable to complete a deal. Claiborne has an extensive injury history, but he probably has the most upside of any cornerback still on the market.”

Brandon Flowers: “Ravens safety Eric Weddle was instrumental in recruiting Jefferson and Woodhead to Baltimore. Flowers was Weddle’s San Diego Chargers’ teammate for two years. Released by the Chargers last week, the 31-year-old wouldn’t cost a compensatory pick to sign.”

What Juszczyk And Wagner Said After Leaving Ravens

While the Ravens were happily hosting a joint Jefferson-Woodhead press conference Friday to introduce their prize free agents to the media, there were other first meetings also happening.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk and right tackle Rick Wagner met with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions media, respectively, last week.

Admit it, you wanna know what they said.

Juszczyk signed a reported four-year, $21 million contract including $10.5 million guaranteed. That made him not only the highest-paid fullback in the league, but among the 10 highest running backs in the league.

New 49ers General Manager John Lynch said the team is thinking of Juszczyk not as a fullback, but as an “O.W.” Offensive weapon.

“I expected some interest, but I got a little more interest than I even expected,” Juszczyk said, per ESPN’s Nick Wagoner.

“Not every team in the league is playing with a fullback, you don’t know how many teams are interested and willing to pay money for a fullback, but I was really pleased with the amount of interest I was able to receive in free agency. It’s flattering."

Wagner also set new highs at his position with a five-year, $47.5 million contract with a $14.5 million signing bonus and $29.5 million guaranteed, per ESPN. The Ravens gave Wagner a “very competitive” offer, but it wasn’t big enough.

Wagner said he’s “not complaining” about the money, but it wasn’t his focus.

“Personally, that’s not my goal to be all about the money,” Wagner said, via ESPN’s Michael Rothstein. “That’s something my agent worked hard for in the free agency period. I’m very thankful that I have this opportunity to earn that amount of money, but I’m really just focusing on football and I want to start practicing football and leave all this behind.”

First-Round Cornerback Linked To Ravens Tears Achilles

This is really a freakin’ shame.

During his pro day this weekend, Washington cornerback Sidney Jones suffered a torn Achilles, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Edholm.

It won’t be confirmed until he undergoes an MRI, but if true, it would likely mean he will tumble down draft boards and miss his entire rookie season.

Jones has been linked to the Ravens in multiple mock drafts, as Baltimore has been up front about its desire to draft a cornerback in the early rounds.

So, what does this mean for Baltimore?

“With Jones slipping to a day two, or even day three pick, every projected first round corner will slide up a rung,” wrote Baltimore Beatdown’s Matthew Cohen.

Some of the rumored first-round cornerbacks include Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore (likely gone in the top five or top 10), Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, Florida’s Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, LSU’s Tre’Davious White and perhaps Ohio State’s Gareon Conley.

“This year’s cornerback class is deep, but I frankly don’t view any of the corners not named Lattimore or Jones as top 15 picks,” Cohen wrote. “Will teams in front of the Ravens be willing to reach on Wilson, who is somewhat of a project? The same applies to Humphrey.”

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