Even after creating some extra room last week, the Ravens are still limited enough against the salary cap that they probably can only take one mega-big-money swing in free agency.
In the buildup to the start of free agency this week, opinions have swirled about where they might take that swing. Offensive line, defensive line, edge rusher and secondary are all areas of needs in 2022. High-caliber players at other positions are also available.
Where would the Ravens go?
Honestly, they telegraphed it. The clues were there all along.
Here's what Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta said in early February: "Our inability this year to create turnovers was probably an issue for us, and I would love to see us make the play this year coming up – intercept more passes, cause more fumbles, be more disruptive. So, if the opportunity presents itself and we see a dynamic corner or a dynamic safety, of course, that would be something that would be attractive to us."
He also said this about being in the AFC North: "When you play these teams – when you play the Steelers, when you play the Browns, when you play the Bengals – twice a year and you see their skill players, it becomes imperative that we always have a strong back end."
Yup, they telegraphed it.
Early Tuesday afternoon, the news broke that the Ravens are reportedly in agreement on a deal with Marcus Williams, a 25-year-old free safety considered one of the top free agents this year – at any position.
By bolstering that position with their big swing, the Ravens are saying they view the shortcomings of their secondary as central to the decline they experienced in 2021, when they went from serious Super Bowl contenders to out of the playoffs entirely.
They're also saying they believe a reconstituted and strong secondary is an absolute must if they're going to rebound with a playoff-caliber season in 2022.
Who can argue with any of that?
Go back over DeCosta's checklist for what he wants to see from the secondary. Intercept more passes. Cause more fumbles. Be more disruptive.
It all was lacking last season as the Ravens finished last in the league in pass defense for the first time since 1996.
By reportedly adding Williams, they're effectively saying, "That's not happening again, folks … no way."
The anticipated return of cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey would immensely help what amounts to a quick rebuild, of course; both suffered major injuries in 2021. The Ravens might add another corner with a high draft pick.
Now, though, Williams reportedly becomes the face of the project.
There's plenty to like about the Ravens targeting him, of all players, for their mega-big-money outlay.
He's just 25, in the prime of his career. I always hold my breath when it's an older guy getting paid.
He is durable, having played in 76 of 81 possible games for the New Orleans Saints since his rookie season in 2017.
He has varied talents, as opposed to being a specialist in one of the many skills his position demands. He has 15 career interceptions and a ton of pass breakups, evidence of a nose for the ball (and good hands). Yet he is also adept at moving up and stuffing the run.
Finally, he helps the Ravens do what they have to do in order to start gaining ground on their rivals in the AFC North, against whom they went 1-5 in 2021.
DeCosta said it. The Bengals just went to the Super Bowl with Joe Burrow throwing to an array of dangerous targets. The Browns just picked up Amari Cooper, a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver. The Steelers always have a slew of pass catchers who can hurt you.
If the Ravens aren't better than they were in 2021 at disrupting these passing attacks, they aren't going anywhere.
Yes, other factors help a defense achieve that disruption -- an active pass rush, a stout run defense. But it all starts on the back end, and by reportedly adding Williams, the Ravens effectively said, "Yup, we're well aware."