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Has Ravens' Offseason Philosophy Changed?


The start of free agency had a distinctly different feel for the Ravens this year.

They reached a two-year agreement with tight end Benjamin Watson before the league year even opened. They snatched up wide receiver Mike Wallace. They lured one of the league's best safeties Eric Weddle to Baltimore.

The additions of new players all coincided with the Ravens extending quarterback Joe Flacco, re-signing cornerback Shareece Wright and re-structuring the deals for cornerback Jimmy Smith and right guard Marshal Yanda.

By the time the first week of free agency was over, the Ravens had doled out contracts for new acquisitions reportedly topping $44 million. Baltimore was a major player in free agency, breaking stride with recent tradition of sitting out the initial spending spree around the league.

So is this the new normal in Baltimore?

"I think you have to look at it as, it's what worked for us this year," Owner Steve Bisciotti said at the owners meetings this week. He expects business to resume as normal in future offseasons.

Jumping right into the free agency market wasn't necessarily the plan at the outset, but that changed when offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele left for Oakland on a five-year deal reportedly worth $58.5 million. The Ravens tried to keep Osemele, but his departure suddenly meant the team had money to spend.

Baltimore then had to decide if it would be willing to acquire unrestricted free agents who would count against the team's formula to get a compensatory pick next year in exchange for losing Osemele. Bisciotti initially wanted to hold onto the future compensatory pick.

But the huge money spent by other teams – the Giants payed defensive lineman Olivier Vernon $85 million – meant that the Ravens suddenly wouldn't get as high of a compensatory pick for Osemele. When the Ravens determined they were more likely to get a fourth-round compensatory pick for Osemele instead of a third rounder, Bisciotti gave Newsome the thumbs up to go after unrestricted free agents on the market.

"We were not going to take a chance on losing K.O.'s pick, and then within the first day of free agency, we were reassessing that," Bisciotti said. "I just kind of said to Ozzie, 'Forget my past argument to the point where you have to. If you have to concede that pick to fill your roster, then I understand.'"

The players who will count against the compensatory picks formula are Weddle and Watson. Wallace won't hurt that formula because the Vikings cut him this offseason. Cap casualties like Wallace have historically been the kind of players the Ravens target in free agency.

"We've signed some people like this in the past and they are typically in the category where you don't lose comp picks," Bisciotti said. "We know that we had to improve the team, and we recognized the irony of we've been asking [comp picks] to be tradable forever and now next year is the first year, where we may not have any."

In addition to signing new players, there's been another apparent change in strategy with regards to restructuring contracts to create salary-cap space. They did it with Smith and Yanda this year, and also with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah last year.

Restructuring contracts creates salary-cap room now, but it also backloads the deals and generates bigger cap numbers in the future. It also potentially createslarge amounts of dead money if the team ends up parting ways with the player before the contract is completed.

Part of the reason the Ravens have been willing to make those moves, Bisciotti acknowledged, is that the NFL's salary cap has jumped by at least $10 million each of the past three years and is expected to rise again next year.

"Yes, the increase salary cap jumping $30 million in the last three years certainly makes it look more palpable," Bisciotti said. "The balance is the dead money that typically comes when you have to cut players. It is a credit card mechanism. It's why we try to avoid it and that's just to be responsible.

"It doesn't mean that we have hard and fast rules. We're going to stretch it, maybe not as much as some teams. You gain salary-cap space and you lose salary-cap space, and the ones we do, it shows up in dead money. It's pay now or pay later."

The flurry of moves this offseason all came after the Ravens finished the season 5-11 and had the first losing season since Head Coach John Harbaugh arrived in 2008. The Ravens have expectations to be a playoff contender every year, and they have illustrated those expectations with the aggressive approach used in this year's offseason.

"Did [last year] prompt us to be a little more active in free agency? You'd have to ask Ozzie that. We talked about all the contingences down in Florida at our meetings, but it certainly had an effect," Bisciotti said. "I don't mind embracing failure because that's part of sport. You don't control everything in this business, and it's humbling, but it's just part of the deal."

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