Late for Work 2/9: Dream and Realistic Scenarios for Ravens in Free Agency

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Left: Free Agent Allen Robinson; Right: Free Agent Marvin Jones Jr.

Dream and Realistic Scenarios for Ravens in Free Agency

It's an annual tradition after the NFL season ends for fans and pundits to speculate on which free agents a team will target to address its needs.

The natural inclination for fans is to envision the biggest names on the market wearing their team's jersey, but it's often wishful thinking.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec looked at the Ravens' biggest needs this offseason and came up with dream and realistic scenarios for each.

Here's Zrebiec's take on three key positions.

Wide receiver

Dream scenario: Chicago's Allen Robinson. "Robinson has nearly 2,400 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns the past two seasons while dealing with erratic quarterback play. He'd qualify as that elusive in-his-prime No. 1 receiver that the Ravens have lacked."

More realistic option: Detroit's Marvin Jones Jr. "The nine-year pro turns 31 next month and won't get top of the market type money. He's averaged 14.2 yards per reception in his career, he's had back-to-back nine-touchdown seasons and he has good size (6-foot-2, 199 pounds) and athleticism. He might not be a bona fide No. 1, but he'd be an improvement on what the Ravens have."

Tight end

Dream scenario: Tennessee's Jonnu Smith. "He's big and athletic and has experience playing in a run-first offense. He, [Mark] Andrews and Nick Boyle would give the Ravens the most talented and versatile tight end group in the league."

More realistic option: Indianapolis' Trey Burton. "The Ravens bid on him when he was a free agent in 2018 and they couldn't match the Bears' offer. Burton has had significant injury issues since. However, he had five touchdowns for the Colts last season and could be a cheap option as a third tight end."

Outside linebacker

Dream scenario: Tampa Bay's Shaquil Barrett. "Remember, it's a 'dream scenario,' not a realistic one. The Ravens missed on the Baltimore native two offseasons ago when he was an under-the-radar free agent and looking for a home. He's since had 27.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles over the past two seasons with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay probably won't allow him to leave and the Ravens likely couldn't afford him if he did."

More realistic option: Re-signing Tyus Bowser. "A 2017 second-round pick, Bowser hasn't developed into an elite pass rusher, but he's become a very good all-around linebacker who defends the run and can make plays in pass coverage. He's a valuable piece as a strong-side defender."

Do the Ravens Need to Acquire a 'Pure Center*'?'*

The interior offensive line is also an area the Ravens need to address in the offseason. In fact, a strong case can be made that it should be the top priority.

Improving at center is especially crucial, Baltimore Beatdown's Frank J. Platko wrote. Errant snaps were an issue for the Ravens in the regular season and the playoffs.

Platko said moving Bradley Bozeman — who played center at Alabama but has started every game at left guard for the Ravens the past two seasons — to center is an intriguing option, but he believes the Ravens need to acquire a pure center this offseason.

"In theory, the idea of bringing in offensive lineman who are 'versatile' and can 'play multiple positions' sounds great. In many ways, this winds up being an asset and strengthens the overall depth of the line," Platko wrote. "However, it becomes an issue when the top two centers on your depth chart can't snap the football effectively and you have no other natural center on the roster to fill the void."

"Whatever changes are on the horizon, getting a CENTER to play center must be one of them."

Since 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen left the Ravens after the 2017 season for a big contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Ravens have started only undrafted centers. One veteran free agent who might be an option is Atlanta's Jeff Mack, Zrebiec wrote.

"Remember when the Ravens signed perennial Pro Bowl center Matt Birk late in his career and he wound up starting every game over four seasons and being a major part of a Super Bowl team? Mack, who is 35 years old, is no longer a top center, but he could be a veteran bridge option and bring stability and leadership," Zrebiec wrote.

Should Devin Duvernay Be the Ravens' Starting Slot Receiver Next Season?

While the majority of the conversation regarding the wide receiver position this offseason will be on landing a "true No. 1 receiver," Baltimore Beatdown's Jakob Ashlin looked at what the Ravens should do at slot receiver.

Willie Snead IV had the most snaps (476) in the slot last season, followed by Andrews (333). While Andrews will rightfully continue to get his share of slot snaps, the Ravens should turn to Devin Duvernay to replace Snead (who is set to hit free agency), Ashlin wrote.

"Snead might have been the Ravens' most consistent wide receiver over the course of last season, but he does not have Duvernay's upside," Ashlin wrote. "The Ravens have a limited amount of cap space and multiple needs to fill. So, Duvernay taking over Snead's role makes a lot of sense. If the Ravens want to take their passing game to another level, the simplest upgrade is making Duvernay a bigger part of their offense."

A third-round pick last year, Duvernay was targeted only 26 times last season. He led Ravens receivers in catch percentage at 76.9 percent and yards after catch per reception (minimum five targets).

"Coming out of Texas, Duvernay was one of the best slot receivers in college football," Ashlin wrote. "In 2019, he had 104 receptions out of the slot for the Longhorns; Justin Jefferson was the only player with more (109). He was also [Pro Football Focus'] third-highest graded slot receiver in 2019, behind only CeeDee Lamb and Tyler Johnson."

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