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Eisenberg: Evaluating 5 Potential Ravens Free-Agent Signings


We're in the middle of what I call the NFL's Temptation Season, when free agency looms, teams cut accomplished veterans over salary cap considerations and you can let your imagination run wild envisioning which guys your team might add.

I would be wealthy if I had a nickel for every time I've read and heard that "(fill in a player's name) might be a nice fit with the Ravens."

Indeed, a lot of guys "might" be a nice fit. Darrelle Revis? Why not? Every wide receiver with two legs and a pair of hands? Sure!

It generates interesting speculation, which is fun, but I've learned to tune out a lot of it. Seldom do the fruits of one's imagination become real.

It's partly because the Ravens don't have that much salary cap flexibility, limiting their ability to shop. They also tend to prioritize retaining their own guys on the verge of leaving.

That doesn't keep us from contemplating how they might plunge into that tantalizing pool of free agents. Most players under consideration are "name" guys with impressive track records.

But think about it. The players' attractiveness is based on what they've done in the past, and the Ravens want to pay guys who perform well going forward. It's an inherently risky proposition. The last thing they want is to get caught paying a guy mostly because of what he did in another uniform, before he came to them.

Is the player healthy? Still in his prime? Affordable? Why did he get cut? Those are the relevant questions.

The answers can curb your enthusiasm, but at times the Ravens still have dived into that tantalizing pool, grabbing veterans they believed could help. A year ago, they brought in Eric Weddle, Mike Wallace and Benjamin Wallace. Matt Birk and Steve Smith Sr. were signings that worked out nicely.

They'll dive in again this year, I'm sure. The salary cap is going up, extending their reach. They have many needs. As always, plenty of guys are available. Here are my thoughts on some:

» Nick Mangold. Of all the possible "nice fits" I've read about, this is my favorite. The Ravens want to get bigger and better at center, where Mangold, 33, earned seven Pro Bowl selections with the Jets. His health is the question; he only played eight games in 2016 because of an ankle injury. He's also going to draw a lot of interest, driving up his price. But he could really raise the Ravens' game at a key position.

» Darrelle Revis. The Ravens need cornerbacks. There's no bigger name than Revis. But he's 31 and facing a legal battle after getting arrested last month, and it seems he's on the way down on the field; his play was indifferent in 2016 and he said he might be up for switching to safety. I'd pass. The Ravens don't just need to get better at cornerback; they need to get younger and better.

» Terrelle Pryor. An unrestricted free agent, this is my favorite option among the many available receivers who could help the Ravens. Pryor is just 27, so he has a lot of good football left. Yes, he has only year of experience at the position, but he amassed more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2016 on Cleveland. A young playmaker of this caliber could electrify the Ravens' offense, which needs a jolt. His price tag is bound to be high, but how else are the Ravens going to start matching their division rivals' playmaking potential?

» Brandon Marshall. He fits the mold of prior thirtysomething receivers the Ravens have signed, and he should be more affordable than Pryor. But the Ravens have said they'll avoid players with domestic violence in their background, and signing Marshall would run contrary to that stance. Tough call. It appears Marshall has turned his life around, but if I'm the Ravens, I'm proceeding cautiously.

» Tony Jefferson. The 25-year-old strong safety, a former undrafted free agent, is headed for a major score in free agency after several strong seasons with the Cardinals. Strong in the box, solid in coverage, he would make a perfect partner for Weddle on the back end. But that's a classic Temptation Season projection. Some team with more cap room is going to make him a huge offer that, I'm guessing, the Ravens will hesitate to match.

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