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Late for Work 3/11: Are Ravens' Biggest Needs Already Filled In-House?

031119_LFW

Safety and Wide Receiver Replacements Loom In-House

The unofficial start to free agency kicks off today and prepare for chaos to ensue as teams begin negotiating with agents of soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.

With more cap flexibility than in years past, some pundits expect General Manager Eric DeCosta to spend big on the open market. But two positions in particular could be filled with in-house replacements to major needs: safety and wide receiver.

Chuck Clark or DeShon Elliott Could Be Starters

Eric Weddle's release last week creates a void at the safety position, but the Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec halted some predictions of a free-agent splash.

"The Ravens have a lot of options, including internal ones as well," Zrebiec wrote. "It wouldn't be shocking at all if either [Chuck] Clark or [DeShon] Elliott begin the season alongside [Tony] Jefferson."

The free-agent safety market is deep and expected to feature plenty of proven and up-and-coming talent. But Zrebiec questioned if there are suitable fits considering the price tag.

"Earl Thomas, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, is a stud, but he reportedly is seeking around $13 million per year, and the Ravens don't figure to spend that kind of money on a soon-to-be 30-year-old coming off a major injury," Zrebiec wrote.

"Former New York Giants safety Landon Collins is more of a box safety and not a great fit with Jefferson. The Ravens love Tyrann Mathieu as a player although he's not the prototypical center-field type. He's a former teammate of Jefferson, and he'd make sense to some extent, but people I've spoken to are highly skeptical that the Ravens value him at over $10 million per year, and that's what he figures to get."

Commanding a double-digit annual salary is a large reason why the Ravens could turn to Clark or Elliott, two promising young safeties still on their rookie deals.

Clark's role has primarily come on special teams through two seasons, but he impressed in place of an injured Jefferson last season. Clark totaled 16 tackles on the year, and intercepted eventual MVP Patrick Mahomes in Week 13.

"Chuck's a pro," said Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale last November. "He wants to be the best special teams player out there when he's playing special teams, and he wants to be the best safety out there when he's playing safety."

On the other hand, Elliott flashed in the preseason before missing the entire year with a fractured forearm. He was a ballhawk at Texas before coming to Baltimore and seems eager to showcase his talents on a bigger stage.

John Brown Lobbies for Chris Moore to Start

Speaking of in-house replacements, DeCosta could look no further than Chris Moore as a building block for the wide receiver core.

Moore received a glowing endorsement from John Brown, who tabbed the fourth-year product as the Ravens' top receiver.

"It doesn't hurt Brown's talent evaluating credentials to point out that he played his first four NFL seasons in Arizona alongside Larry Fitzgerald, an 11-time Pro Bowler with a stacked hall of fame resume," wrote Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz.

It may be perplexing to some considering Moore was the sixth-leading receiver on the team last season (196 yards) but he's been buried on the depth chart behind veteran talent. He's proven to be a reliable special teamer in both the return game and in coverage.

The Ravens will eventually need to upgrade their unit beyond Moore, but with Michael Crabtree gone and Brown an unrestricted free agent, Moore and Willie Snead are the most experienced receivers on the roster.

Having a player like Moore could save signing a complementary wideout in free agency. His talent has been shown in limited opportunities and I'm sure the Ravens would like to see more contested catches next season.

Peter King: Packers, Za'Darius Smith a Match in Free Agency

After leading the Ravens with 8 ½ sacks last season, Za'Darius Smith expects to receive plenty of attention on the free agent market.

Smith is one of the top pass rushers remaining following a litany of signings this offseason, and NBC Sports' Peter King sees one NFC team in particular as a match.

"The Packers once tried to trade for Za'Darius Smith, the Baltimore edge rusher," King wrote. "Now, with a crying need on the edge, Green Bay could be a match with Smith in free agency."

Clay Matthews, 32, is an unrestricted free agent and despite recording 44 sacks as a team last season, the Packers are looking to get younger in the pass rush department.

Former national scout Milt Henderson joined Green Bay from Baltimore this offseason as a director of football operations and the Packers' available cap space puts them heavily in the running for Smith's services.

Raiders Land Antonio Brown … Finally

The saga surrounding Antonio Brown is over.

Just one day after reports surfaced of a trade that would send Brown to the Buffalo Bills – which subsequently never happened – he's reportedly found a home with the Oakland Raiders.

This time, there were no doubts.

Brown even confirmed it himself.

When the trade officially processes on Wednesday, Brown will become the NFL's highest-paid receiver with a brand new contract.

The Ravens won't be sad to see Brown leave the AFC North after the damage he's done over the past nine seasons. The Steelers will be without Brown and Le'Veon Bell next season – their two biggest offensive weapons.

Oh, and the Ravens aren't guaranteed to see Brown for at least another two years.

Could Ravens Target Cordarrelle Patterson?

The wide receiver free-agent market always warrants attention from teams every year given the need to add skill position players.

As mentioned, the Ravens are among the group of teams looking to upgrade their receiver core and CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora expects them to target a low-profile name in the New England Patriots' Cordarrelle Patterson.

Patterson hasn't lived up to the billing of a former first-round pick but possesses incredible athletic intangibles that seem almost unstoppable when used correctly.

Patterson was an all-purpose weapon in the Patriots' offense last season, acting as both a receiver and running back. He totaled 475 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns on the year.

A versatile offensive talent seems like a perfect match with new Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman.

Patterson comes in at No. 64 on NFL.com's list of the top 101 free agents. Not to mention, he's one of the best returners in the game, an area the Ravens could look to improve.

Quick Hits:

  • Rumblings of the Ravens' reported interest in Tyrann Mathieu are growing. "Houston has been trying to re-sign Tyrann Mathieu, but so far it hasn't tried hard enough," ESPN's Dan Graziano wrote. "He still could end up back there, but more than one source has told me to watch out for Baltimore."

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