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Eisenberg: Eric Weddle Should Stop Safety Merry-Go-Round


Let's face it, the Ravens shouldn't have needed to sign Eric Weddle, the excellent free-agent safety they locked up Monday with a four-year, $29 million deal.

Since they won the Super Bowl in New Orleans 37 months ago, they've repeatedly sought to move beyond the Ed Reed era at safety, investing a first-round draft pick (Matt Elam), third-round draft pick (Terrence Brooks) and several free-agent signings (Kendrick Lewis, Will Hill III), only to find themselves still looking to stabilize the position.

Their inability to tighten up Reed's spot has been a constant source of frustration, and the situation reached a nadir in 2015 when the Ravens recorded a franchise-low interception total. But this move, finally, should accomplish what they want at the back end of their defense.

Even if Weddle represents, oh, Plan E or F for the Ravens at safety, he's a terrific Plan E or F. He's instinctive, consistent, durable, a solid tackler, a playmaker – the complete package. Pro Football Focus has rated him as the NFL's top safety in two of the past four seasons.

Now we know why Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome worked so hard to open up salary-cap space over the past few weeks, giving him the wherewithal to enter the upper tier of the free-agent market, where he seldom shops. He has used the space to address an area of the team many have judged as its weakest link in the past few years.

If you subscribe to the theory that the Ravens secondary has been their undoing, well, they're on it.

Since the end of the 2015 season, they've hired a new secondary coach, Leslie Frazier, a respected former head coach. They've invested a reported $4.76 million in guaranteed dollars to keep starting cornerback Shareece Wright, who played well down the stretch in 2015. They could still add another cornerback via free agency or the draft.

But this is the big move.

Weddle, who has played every snap of his NFL career for the San Diego Chargers until now, immediately leapfrogs all of the incumbent starters and other playing-time contenders the Ravens have stockpiled at safety – a group that includes Lewis, Hill, Elam, Brooks and Lardarius Webb, who is moving from cornerback. Now, one will start alongside Weddle, two others will serve as backups and some probably will get released.

It's tough to handicap the race. Hill is a hard hitter who has made more plays than the others, but he was benched at times late in the 2015 season. Webb has a big salary and little history at safety, but Newsome likes his potential. Lewis' departure would generate less than a reported $1 million in cap savings. Elam and Brooks look like longshots, but they've dealt with injuries and they're still developing.

One way or another, the Ravens REALLY want their safeties to intercept passes going forward. At the team's end-of-season press conference in January, Owner Steve Bisciotti identified a lack of turnovers as the team's biggest downfall in 2015 along with injuries. And since Weddle isn't a pick machine (19 career interceptions in 122 starts) although he is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, his partner will be expected to chip in.

But while the Ravens certainly hope Weddle delivers some picks, what they're really hoping is he grabs the entire secondary by the collar and lifts it up, just makes it more consistent in general, tougher to puncture. Opponents have had their way with it in recent years, especially the Ravens' chief divisional rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, both of whom feature prolific quarterbacks and some of the NFL's top receiving talent.

Cincinnati's A.J. Green, in particular, has crushed Baltimore's spirits with several game-winning catches. The Ravens obviously are hoping Weddle can put an end to such plays and possibly put the Ravens back on more equal footing with Cincinnati.

They still have enough salary-cap room to make moves at other positions, and media reports indicate they're considering receiver Mike Wallace and several offensive linemen, among others. Those additions would be welcomed.

But Weddle's signing will be their biggest move in free agency in 2016. It's an attempt to tighten up their secondary, another attempt after several swings and misses, and this time, I'm guessing, the Ravens got it dead right.

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