Does Ozzie Newsome Have Something Up His Sleeve For Offense?
The Ravens have poured significant capital into the defense over the last week by making Brandon Williams the NFL's highest-paid nose tackle and paying Tony Jefferson to come to Baltimore to pair him with Eric Weddle to solidify perhaps the league's best safety tandem.
The moves have been largely praised and will undoubtedly make the defense better in 2017, but many are starting to worry about the offense (despite the signing of running back Danny Woodhead).
The concern specifically centers around quarterback Joe Flacco's protection and his wide receiver corps.
"Major investments have been made in the defense, but you hope Newsome has more than couch change to address a Ravens offense that was summarily broken in 2016 and has lost key pieces," wrote WNST's Luke Jones.
"Fans are clearly getting restless with the team's failure to add another target for Joe Flacco," added The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "You have to wonder what General Manager Ozzie Newsome has up his sleeve here."
Zrebiec still lists cornerback and pass rusher as the Ravens' biggest needs, but he sees a packed draft class at both positions as the best place to address those needs. The same may not be said for the draft's wide receiver and offensive line classes, which Zrebiec doesn't think are as strong.
As a guest on 105.7 The Fan, Zrebiec said he doesn't see the Ravens finding a true No. 1 receiver at this point, so the new goal should be to make the "best overall receiver group as possible" by signing a good veteran fit and drafting a receiver in the first three rounds to complement Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and company.
"I don't see a wide receiver out there that's going to be the No. 1 guy, unless Ozzie has a trade up his sleeve that none of us really know about," Zrebiec told Jerry Coleman. "It's always possible but they don't like to give up draft picks, so it makes it hard to make a trade.
"… [They] could do worse than signing [Anquan] Boldin to a cheap one-year deal and then drafting a guy in one of the first three rounds. Yeah, you're going to lack that No. 1, but it's hard to find a No. 1 receiver. Half the teams in the league lack a No. 1 receiver."
Either Boldin or Kamar Aiken might be the best remaining options, Zrebiec said.
Team after team signed top receivers as soon as the market opened with Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Kenny Britt, Brandon Marshall, Torrey Smith, Terrelle Pryor and others quickly gobbled up.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley says it's a "head-scratcher" that the Ravens didn't jump into the market because many of these deals were "moderately priced and could be had for short-term contracts."
"This is a position that should be a priority for the Ravens," wrote Hensley. "The emphasis should be improving the outside weapons for Flacco, who ranks No. 33 in passer rating (82.5) since winning the Super Bowl. In the AFC North, Ben Roethlisberger can throw all over the field to Antonio Brown, and Andy Dalton can count on A.J. Green to make game-changing plays. Flacco doesn't have the same luxury.
"By not adding one of the top free-agent wide receivers, the Ravens are putting more pressure on themselves to find one early in the draft. With the No. 16 overall pick, Baltimore could have its pick of the top wide receiver (or, at the very least, two of them). … But, at this point, Baltimore has dropped the ball when it comes to wide receiver."
Then there's the offensive line that still needs to be addressed, especially after Rick Wagner signed a big deal with the Detroit Lions.
"They don't have a right tackle right now, and if you listened to Ozzie and John Harbaugh talk earlier this offseason about how they need to make the offensive line stronger, they need to solidify it," Zrebiec said. "Well, now there are questions about your center and you really don't have a right tackle and there's really no one on the market that is an upgrade over Rick Wagner. It's not a strong draft for tackles anyway. How do they find that right tackle?"
At this point, barring a trade, the Ravens will likely have to dip into receiver and less-than-stellar offensive line draft classes and the veteran free-agent market to address these positions of need. In addition to some of the 30-plus-year-old players already available today, there will be others cut after the draft.
"There are some very good players in their 30s who can definitely help a team on the cusp of making the playoffs," wrote NFL.com's Conor Orr. "Anquan Boldin, Chris Long, Jairus Byrd, DeAngelo Williams, Nick Mangold, Dwight Freeney and Mario Williams are all available and could probably all be had on affordable one-year contracts. While veterans sometimes wait the process out and skip OTAs, there are plenty who seem eager to jump right back into football."
Zrebiec: Ravens Had To Overpay To Keep Brandon Williams
Even Terrell Suggs didn't think Williams could break the $50 million barrier in free agency, but Williams did.
After he agreed to a deal that reportedly paid him $52.5 million over five years, Suggs was the first person outside of his family that Williams called. The outspoken linebacker's reaction was classic in the video below.
But when you become the league's highest paid at your position, the question is bound to arise: Did the Ravens panic and overpay?
"I wouldn't say panic; I would say overpay," Zrebiec said on 107.5 The Fan. "But, it's all relative. You have to overpay to keep great players. If you're not going to sign a guy a year earlier, before they get on the cusp of free agency, you're going to overpay pretty much every time for top players at their position and on the market."
Per Spotrac, Williams' contract works out to about $10.5 million annually. Zrebiec thought it would be more like $9.5 million annually. Was that difference really enough to walk away?
"It just got to the point where they didn't want to lose a homegrown player, who they view as one of the best in the league at the position over the that amount of money," Zrebiec said. "It was clear that Steve Bisciotti and company did not want to lose this guy under any circumstances and this is how it works. You have to overpay to keep your free agents."
Zrebiec said this might be a lesson for the Ravens to be more aggressive in re-signing players before they hit their contract years. Perhaps linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has two years left on his contract, is a person they try to do that with.
After all is said and done, the Williams deal is largely praised. NFL.com listed his contract as one of the best given so far in free agency.
"[T]he Ravens aren't taking much of a chance here," wrote Gregg Rosenthal. "The Ravens know who Williams is and what he does well: disrupting opposing running games like few others. While he hardly came at a bargain price, I wanted to include Williams here as a symbol for the free agents who stayed home and were paid huge bucks. … No deal that big is safe, but re-signing your own quality starters mitigates the risk somewhat."
What's Up With The Fascination With Morris Claiborne?
The longer free agent cornerback Morris Claiborne sits on the market and is linked to the Ravens, the more debate about him increases.
The former first-round pick is reportedly expected to sign with the Ravens (the offer the team gave is not known publicly). Claiborne had a strong 2016 season, but has been injury prone, which has some people doubting whether he would be a good signing given Jimmy Smith's own injury history.
"The fascination with [Claiborne] is baffling with the former Dallas Cowboy missing 41 percent of games over his five-year career and having underperformed until 2016," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "Barring a cheap price tag — multiple teams are interested — this feels like a fool's gold signing."
Tony Jefferson Can Help Replace Zachary Orr; Nick Boyle Can Help Replace Kyle Juszczyk
While the Ravens work to replace inside linebacker Zachary Orr, some of the pressure could be taken off his replacement after signing Jefferson.
"The addition of Tony Jefferson could really help in trying to replace linebacker Zach Orr," wrote Jones. "If the Ravens add a complementary third safety, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees could use Jefferson as a dime in passing situations and minimize the need for a three-down linebacker, which is more difficult to find."
The Ravens could also get creative in replacing fullback Kyle Juszczyk without signing another in free agency or via the draft.
"Some may include fullback on the list of needs after Kyle Juszczyk's departure, but I'm not in that camp," wrote Zrebiec. "I think tight end Nick Boyle could be used in the fullback/H-back role on occasion. And Lorenzo Taliaferro, who is pretty low on the running back depth chart, should be considered as well."