Final Thoughts Before Free Agency Begins
At noon today teams are officially permitted to contact and enter negotiations with unrestricted free agents. Before the starting gun echoes out, media outlets offered one final look at the Ravens greatest needs.
Kevin Patra, NFL.com – "Upgrades along the O-line are needed after struggles sideswiped the Ravens' offensive plans last season. The interior O-line was already a need, and tackle became an issue with Alejandro Villanueva retiring."
Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic – "The Ravens prefer to draft and develop their tackles, but they are probably going to have to get out of their comfort zone this year and spend a little money on an experienced starting-caliber tackle. They then will address the position further in the draft."
Vasilis Lericos, Baltimore Beatdown: "Based on the results of last season, injury risk of the players under contract and attrition, offensive tackle is clearly the top need and should be prioritized accordingly with a proven, above average veteran addition via trade or signing."
Kevin Oestreicher, Ravens Wire: "Baltimore's offensive line struggled in multiple aspects in 2021, so it's no secret that the team needs to improve their unit up front in the trenches. The health of All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley is a key part in returning the unit to dominance, but the need on the offensive line could become even bigger if center Bradley Bozeman departs."
Dan Graziano, ESPN: "The Baltimore Ravens are expected to be looking hard at offensive linemen, especially if they lose center Bradley Bozeman, who's expected to be a popular free-agent target."
As noted in Thursday’s LFW, moves made last week left them "dangerously thin" at the position.
Justin Fried, Ebony Bird: "The Ravens currently have six cornerbacks on their roster with only two of them in line for serious playing time in 2021. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters should return, but behind them the team's cornerback depth chart is razor-thin."
Patra: "Injuries stretched the Ravens' corner crew thin in 2021, underscoring the need to get more youthful on the outside behind Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Adding a playmaking safety in free agency (e.g., Justin Reid or Marcus Maye) and drafting a young corner early would solidify the back end."
Zrebiec: "Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are the only two established cornerbacks on their roster."
Anthony Threash, PFF: "Injuries made the Baltimore secondary look worse than it should have been, but the unit still has room to improve. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters will man two cornerback spots, and safety Chuck Clark has played decently in his versatile role, but the rest of the pack is skating on thin ice."
Oestreicher: "The Ravens' secondary has had their fair share of injury issues over the past few seasons. The team has had to sign players off of the street to play due to how many cornerbacks or safeties are out with ailments, and now they have a few cornerbacks hitting free agency as well as others who could be potential cap cuts."
Oestreicher: "It's not only on offense where Baltimore needs to beef up their trenches. The team's defensive line could undergo massive personnel changes during the 2022 offseason, with Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Justin Ellis all set to hit the open market."
Michael Renner, PFF: "The Ravens may very well address this through multiple avenues, but they've gotten by drafting and developing defensive linemen as well as any team in the NFL."
Lack of Extension for Lamar Jackson Leaves Ravens Limited
While the Ravens have significant needs, many noted the Ravens' lack of cap space to make a serious bid toward one or more big-name free agents.
Part of why they don't have as much cap space is due to the lack of an extension between the Ravens and Lamar Jackson, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
"The lack of a new deal with Jackson limits what Baltimore can do in free agency, which officially begins on Wednesday," Hensley wrote. "Signing Jackson to a long-term contract can spread out his salary-cap hit and create between $8 million to $12 million in additional cap space that the Ravens can spend immediately."
The Ravens released cornerback Tavon Young and Villanueva retired last week, opening up more cap space, but Baltimore still doesn't have a lot of room.
The lack of a deal has the Ravens rather cap-strapped, says Hensley.
"But, without an extension with Jackson, the Ravens won't have much to spend in free agency. Baltimore has around $16 million in cap space right now, and it still has to set aside cap room to sign draft picks (approximately $10 million) and a practice squad ($3 million)," Hensley wrote. "Another way to create more cap space is restructuring the contracts of cornerback Marlon Humphrey and guard Kevin Zeitler and trading wide receiver Miles Boykin, although none of these would provide the same cap relief as extending Jackson."
Though the Ravens are unlikely to make significant moves over the next few days, Hensley notes they already completed deals with two of their own who would've been free agents this offseason.
"What shouldn't be forgotten is the work the Ravens did before free agency," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore proactively signed two Pro Bowl players (Humphrey in October 2020 and tight end Mark Andrews five months ago) to extensions, keeping them from becoming free agents this year. If the Ravens had re-signed them now instead of months ago, wouldn't this already be considered a successful offseason?"
Ravens Willing to Make Patrick Ricard the 'Highest Paid Fullback'
Among the Ravens' crop of pending free agents comes fullback Patrick Ricard, a player who developed from a rotational defensive lineman into the three-time Pro Bowler as a fullback. However, according to Zrebiec, their appears to be a disconnect between Ricard and the Ravens.
As it stands, the highest paid fullback in the NFL is former Raven Kyle Juszczyk, who is earning $5.4 million per year with the San Francisco 49ers. Second-most is Ricard, at $3.65 million per year. However, if reports are true about Ricard wanting to be paid more like a blocking tight end, the price raises significantly.
Currently, there are 18 tight ends who make more than Juszczyk's $5.4 million, including the Ravens' Nick Boyle ($6.5 million AAV).
In Zrebiec's list of Ravens pending free agents, Zrebiec sees Ricard finding a new team this offseason.
"The Ravens have spoken to Ricard about an extension, but the two sides seem to have a difference of opinion on how much that should cost," Zrebiec wrote. "Early buzz is that Ricard's camp is looking more for solid tight end value rather than just being the highest-paid fullback. The Ravens' re-signing of fullback Ben Mason doesn't guarantee Ricard is gone, but it sure reflects the uncertainty of a return."
Baltimore Beatdown’s Platko agrees, noting the Ravens "have a lot of money tied up at tight end already."
"If the Ravens can retain Ricard at a reasonable figure, it would be a welcomed move for all parties," Platko wrote. "But, if they have to stretch themselves cap wise to do so, perhaps those extra dollars would be better served investing in an extra offensive lineman or defensive back."
Ravens Could Trade for Cowboys Tackle La'el Collins
Though free agency has arrived, and the NFL draft will soon follow, one solution outlined by heavy.com’s Nikhil Mehta is a trade for Dallas Cowboys tackle La'el Collins.
"Dallas Cowboys star offensive lineman La'el Collins, who is being shopped around the league, per Heavy's Evan Reier, could be an excellent trade target for a Ravens organization that should be in win-now mode with Lamar Jackson entering the last year of his rookie contract," Mehta wrote. "The 2015 undrafted free agent, who was linked with the Ravens, is a combination of talented and affordable that is rare to find on the trade block."
If Collins were to join the Ravens, he would be an instant upgrade to the Ravens offensive line; he would also be affordable for not only this season, but the next two as well.
The money he's due is also something the Ravens could restructure to better suit their cap situation for this season.
Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried believes "the Ravens must consider trading for Collins."
"The Ravens have an obvious hole at right tackle and could use a player like Collins who, not too long ago, was one of the best right tackles in the NFL. And at just 28-years-old, he still has plenty left in the tank."
Jets Defensive Lineman named 'Perfect Free Agent Match' for Ravens
With the Ravens in the market for a defensive lineman, PFF’s Ben Linsey listed New York Jets defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi as the Ravens' "perfect free agent match."
"The Ravens seemingly always have a large run-stuffing nose tackle in the middle of their defensive line. And Fatukasi fits that mold," Linsey wrote. "He ranked in the 97th percentile of all interior defensive linemen in PFF run-defense grade across the 2019 and 2020 seasons before falling back in that department in 2021 for the Jets. Brandon Williams and Justin Ellis are set to hit free agency for Baltimore this offseason, leaving the Ravens to replace their snaps."
Ebony Bird's Kristen Wong is on board with Linsey's pairing of Fatukasi and the Ravens.
"Considering the Ravens' desperate needs this offseason, there's not a whole lot to complain about when analyzing Fatukasi's skills and talents," Wong wrote. "Folorunso Fatukasi may be on the higher side of what the Ravens are willing to pay for a free agent defensive tackle, but quality replacements don't come cheap."
Responding with a bit more hesitancy with the idea is Platko.
"Fatukasi is not a name that has been floated around much at all in Ravens' circles this offseason, so it's interesting that Linsey put him on the radar," Platko wrote. "He hasn't proven to be a high-impact pass-rusher with just three sacks and 22 pressures in four career seasons, which could be a turn-off for some teams."