Pundits Don't Expect a Free Agent Spending Spree
We're one month away from the start of free agency, and there's already been plenty of speculation as to how the Ravens are going to operate.
If you go onto social media or any Ravens forum, you can find scenarios that link them to any of the big-name free agents set to hit the market. But Russell Street Report’s Todd Karpovich isn't betting on any splash signings.
"This is the time of the year where Ravens fans like to dream," Karpovich wrote. "They think about the potential free agents signing with the team or trade scenarios that would bring a big-time playmaker into the fold. … The Ravens, however, have never been huge players in the free-agent market. They've had several impact signing over the years, most notably with Michael McCrary, Shannon Sharpe, Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and Steve Smith, but the franchise relies more heavily on home-grown players.
"Some of the headliners this offseason include wide receivers Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson, defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Shaq Barrett. The Ravens might kick the tires on some of those players, but general manager Eric DeCosta is not going to break the bank in the free-agent market."
Karpovich said the Ravens are more focused on reaching extensions with their young core that includes Lamar Jackson, Mark Andrews, and Orlando Brown Jr. amid trade speculation.
Last offseason, the Ravens retained Matthew Judon on the franchise tag, signed Derek Wolfe to a one-year deal, and retained defensive pieces like Jimmy Smith, Jihad Ward, Anthony Levine Sr., and Justin Ellis.
The Ravens' biggest offseason move was acquiring Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars, which only cost a fifth-round pick. Campbell did sign a reported two-year, $25 million contract upon the trade.
"Expect an efficient offseason from DeCosta and the Ravens, who have Super Bowl aspirations this upcoming season," Karpovich wrote. "The team is not going to sacrifice long-term success for short-term gratification. DeCosta is confident the team has the foundation to compete for multiple titles in the coming years."
With that in mind, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec looked at some potential salary-cap casualties the Ravens could target in free agency. With a shrunken cap, there will be more cuts than usual over the next month.
"The Ravens love compensatory picks," Zrebiec wrote. "Anyone with even a passing familiarity with how they go about their business knows that their decision-making during free agency is impacted significantly by the desire to secure and preserve compensatory picks.
"That's evident by how often they target players who become free agents after they were released by their previous teams. Such players don't factor into the compensatory formula, as 'true' free agents do."
Here's excerpts of some of the players Zrebiec highlighted:
"The New York Jets are projected to have nearly $70 million of salary-cap space, so they don't have to cut anyone, nevermind a player who has been their top offensive weapon the past two years. … Crowder has been extremely productive in the slot with 211 catches and 12 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He'd give the Ravens a little bit more dynamic playmaking ability than they have."
"Much has been made about the Ravens' need for a No. 1 receiver, and Alshon Jeffery isn't that guy. … Still, if he is healthy, he's the type of big, physical receiver the Ravens lack. The Ravens might not be able to afford the top free-agent receivers, so somebody like Jeffery could amount to a low-cost, high-upside flyer."
"If he became available, the Ravens would obviously have to be comfortable with his health. He's missed a lot of time during his career. That would probably keep his price down, too. The Ravens probably don't have the money to be shopping in the high-end outside linebacker market and yet they clearly need reinforcements at the position."
"The Ravens know Zeitler well after he spent his first seven NFL seasons in the AFC North. They also are clearly in the market for veteran interior offensive linemen. Zeitler would be an upgrade at right guard and also a potential bridge option if a few of the Ravens' younger interior options aren't ready."
Daniel Jeremiah Projects a First-Round Safety
With a lot of the focus centered around the offense, recent mock drafts have the Ravens leaning defense in the first round.
NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah mocked TCU safety Trevon Moehrig to the Ravens while The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer sees Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins as an option.
"The Ravens have other needs to address, but the reason they're so successful is because they draft the best player available," Jeremiah wrote. "In this case, Moehrig fits the bill. He joins an extremely talented secondary."
The Ravens have two returning starters in Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott at safety. But having previously worked with the Ravens as a scout, Jeremiah knows Baltimore's best-player-available mantra is something Baltimore follows. In this case, they'd be acquiring one of the draft's top safeties.
"A consistent and urgent single-high player, he's a free-flowing mover that's at his best when able to patrol the middle of the field," The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid wrote. "With seven career interceptions, he's proven to not only be a constant ball disruptor, but he's a safety that can change the momentum of games by getting the ball back to his team. His biggest improvements must come in run support, as he's a safety that isn't afraid to come up and tackle, but his tactics and aggressiveness while doing so can be out of control. Moehrig is also reliable in & coverage, but his eye discipline while doing so will need to improve as he is premature with looking back to the quarterback, which is why he's been a popular double-move target for opposing offenses."
With questions surrounding edge rusher for the Ravens, Collins could be a young talent to help fill the void if Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue or Tyus Bowser leave in free agency. As a junior at Tulsa, Collins totaled 54 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
"Athletically, though, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Collins can replicate so much of what defensive coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale might lose this offseason," Shaffer wrote. "He has a great burst and impressive bend, like Ngakoue. He has the versatility to blitz from over the center or off the edge, like Judon. And he has rare coverage skills, like Bowser. Collins might be considered a tweener, but the Ravens don't seem to care much for convention."
Pro Football Focus Proposes Orlando Brown Jr. Trade to Jaguars
In Monday’s edition of Late for Work, pundits laid the framework for a potential Orlando Brown Jr. trade.
Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger added his own proposal that would send Brown to the Jacksonville Jaguars for their 2021 first-round pick (No. 25) and 2021 fifth-round pick (No. 158).
"The Ravens don't necessarily have to make the move, but they seem motivated to do so in order to help Brown realize his lifelong dream of playing left tackle in the NFL," Spielberger wrote. "There are several tackle-needy teams that also have the resources to bring Brown aboard — including the Los Angeles Chargers and Washington Football Team— but Jacksonville has the most ammo to make this move happen."
Spielberger noted that the trade would make sense for both teams considering the Jaguars likely to take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1-overall pick. He added that the trade would save the Ravens $2.4 million in cap space with just $2.1 million in dead money.
Pundits have reiterated that a first-round pick is the bar for trade talks, and Spielberger's proposal aligns with that. It would give the Ravens picks No. 25 and No. 27 in the first round.
"The Chargers' first-round pick is too high, and the Washington Football Team still need to address the quarterback position," Spielberger added. "What better way to use the additional first-round pick Jacksonville acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in the Jalen Ramsey trade than to land future Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence a stud left tackle for years to come. This is a perfect fit, and Baltimore can perhaps draft their right tackle replacement immediately in April."
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora also named the Jaguars, Chargers, and Indianapolis Colts as suitors for Brown at left tackle, but said the situation is likely to linger as teams sort out their cap space.
"All have at least some degree of interest, the Chargers and Jaguars either have or are about to have a potential generational quarterback] on his rookie deal badly in need of vastly improved protection, and Brown displayed an ability to play his preferred position – left tackle – at a very high level filling in for injured All-Pro [Ronnie Stanley last season," La Canfora wrote. "... But there was enough initial interest that a win-win that meets Baltimore's value of the player and allows him to be paid like a left tackle is hardly out of the question."
Extension 'Could Be in Play' for Gus Edwards
DeCosta has prioritized retaining the Ravens' young talent, and that could be the case for running back Gus Edwards.
Zrebiec looked at the roster breakdown ahead of next season and identified Edwards as a "core returner," saying that an extension could be in play.
"Edwards is a strong complement to Dobbins," Zrebiec wrote. "Giving him a second-round tender would likely lock him in for 2021. An extension could be in play as well."
Edwards is slated to be a restricted free agent this offseason, meaning he is free to negotiate and sign with any team, but the original team can make a qualifying offer that comes with right of first refusal or draft pick compensation matching the tender.
As Zrebiec noted, a second-round tender is in play for Edwards, but an extension would ensure his stay in Baltimore. If you're wondering what an extension could look like, Spotrac predicts a three-year, $10.5 million deal.
It's hard to see the Ravens letting Edwards go as he's been an integral part of the offense. He's rushed for over 700 yards in three straight seasons and continues to be an underrated asset on the league's top rushing attack.
"Edwards's physical running style is a nice complement to the speed of Lamar Jackson," Baltimore Beatdown’s Jakob Ashlin wrote. "Edwards was seventh in yards after contact last season. In fact, he has averaged at least 2.6 yards after contact for three straight seasons; Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb are the only other running backs to accomplish that.
"It's easy to overlook his statistics. He is arguably the Ravens' third rushing option. Dobbins became the lead back halfway through the regular season, and Lamar Jackson has had more carries than Edwards in each of the last three seasons."
- "He's one of those guys where he doesn't want to be like above anybody or a leader, he wants to be part of the team like everybody else," Pat Ricard said about Lamar Jackson on the ‘Establish the Pass’ podcast. "He just does his thing and everyone kind of respects that."
- Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin said there should be more Hall of Fame love for former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis.