Mailbag: Analyzing Ravens' Free Agency Strategy

Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta during a press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, MD.

Mink: I think the Ravens (reportedly) got the two guys they targeted the whole time. Marcus Williams was clearly the safety they wanted because the other top option, Tyrann Mathieu, is still available as of the time this was published. So I don't think it was a case of the Ravens reacting to other safeties being signed. I feel the same way about Morgan Moses. He was one of the best offensive tackles and was always viewed as a good fit for Baltimore as a consistent, durable blocker. To me, this isn't a case of the Ravens trying to re-sign C.J. Mosley and then having to pivot when he took a big offer elsewhere. Baltimore targeted its guys and (reportedly) got them at prices that worked.

For all the handwringing on Monday about the Ravens not doing much, and cries about Eric DeCosta not being aggressive enough, he certainly made a splash. At $70 million overall, Williams reportedly got one of the biggest contracts of anyone on the free-agent market this year. Every year, DeCosta has made a splash. He signed Earl Thomas in 2019. He got Calais Campbell in 2020. Last offseason, the Ravens aggressively scooped up Kevin Zeitler and offered some big deals to wide receivers before landing on Sammy Watkins.

I wouldn't put DeCosta in the Les Snead mortgage-the-future territory of aggressiveness, but DeCosta is not a passive guy when it comes to free agency.

Mink: By (reportedly) scooping up two unrestricted free agents, the Ravens are showing they aren't just limiting themselves to players that were cut and don't affect the compensatory formula. This is a bit of a deviation from previous years and I think does reflect more willingness to surrender some of those mid-round picks to get the guy they want. I do think it should be noted that the Ravens aren't signing a lot of unrestricted free agents in quantity, but are going for more quality. Baltimore will probably lose more unrestricted free agents than it signs, so I don't think the Ravens will be left without any compensatory picks next year. It's something they'll always factor into the equation because DeCosta will never stop loving extra picks, but maybe comp picks don't carry quite as much weight as they used to in Baltimore.

Downing: It's no surprise that we're getting lots of questions about a potential reunion with Za'Darius Smith. He was a quality player during his four years in Baltimore before going to Green Bay on a big-time contract and blossoming into one of the league's best defenders. The two big questions with Smith are his health and the price tag. The Packers released him this offseason after he was limited to one game in 2021 because of a back issue (he returned for the playoffs), and that cleared some much-needed cap space in Green Bay. If Smith is healthy, he would be a terrific addition to this defense. He had 26 sacks between 2019-2020, and the Ravens could use that help in the pass-rush department. Putting him opposite Odafe Oweh would give the Ravens a pair of dynamic athletes coming off the edge, and Smith would also give the Ravens another veteran presence on the defense. 

This leads to the next question, which is the cost of a potential deal. Smith's deal in Green Bay was reportedly $66 million over four years, and it would be tough for the Ravens to afford a deal in that range given their current salary cap restrictions. The reality is that given Smith's recent injury history, he would likely get a much smaller contract compared to the deal he signed in 2019. He may also be in the market for a short-term contract to show he's healthy before potentially signing another long-term deal. Pass rushers come at a premium price tag, but if the Ravens could get Smith signed to an affordable contract, it's a move that could make a lot of sense for both sides.

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