What Holes Will Ravens Address Next?
It's been an emotional rollercoaster of a week for Ravens fans.
It started ominously, with the losses of defensive stalwart C.J. Mosley, all-time Ravens great Terrell Suggs, 2018 team sacks leader Za'Darius Smith and deep threat John Brown.
To make matters worse, the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns pulled off a blockbuster trade for star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. That occurred just hours before the Le'Veon Bell saga finally came to a conclusion with him going to Gang Green.
Wednesday would get decidedly better, however. First, the news broke that three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, one of the most coveted free agents on the market, had agreed to a deal with the Ravens. Then came word that running back Mark Ingram was Baltimore bound.
So now that the early-week panic and mid-week euphoria are behind us, what's next for the Ravens in free agency?
There are still holes to fill, the most obvious of which appears to be at wide receiver. Whether the Ravens address that need in free agency remains to be seen.
It wasn't a particularly strong wide receiver class in free agency to begin with, and the seven best receivers, according to NFL.com’s list of the top 101 free agents, are off the board: Golden Tate (New York Giants), Jamison Crowder (New York Jets), Tyrell Williams (Oakland Raiders), Brown (Buffalo Bills), Devin Funchess (Indianapolis Colts), Adam Humphries (Tennessee Titans) and Cordarrelle Patterson (Chicago Bears).
According to the list, the best options left at wide receiver are: Randall Cobb, Michael Crabtree (who the Ravens released last month) and Kelvin Benjamin.
Noting that the draft is the Ravens' best option for addressing wide receiver, Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber mentioned two names that might be worth at least thinking about: Pierre Garcon and Jermaine Kearse.
Garcon, who turns 33 before the start of the season, had 24 catches for 286 yards and a touchdown in eight games for the San Francisco 49ers last season.
"He's dealt with back-to-back season-ending injuries, which either keeps him from [Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta's] view or keep his contract cheap," Barber wrote.
Kearse, 29, had 37 catches for 371 yards and a touchdown in 14 games for the Jets in 2018.
"Another player that probably won't move the needle much and not high on the radar,"[space]Barber wrote, "but … at 6-feet 1-inches tall and over 200 pounds, maybe he could catch the team's attention."
The Ravens could also wait to see if any veteran wide receivers are released either in the coming weeks or after the draft. It's certainly happened before.
Two players Barber is higher on are linebackers Nick Perry, who turns 29 next month, and Jamie Collins, 29.
"A real possibility if there ever is one," Barber wrote of Perry. "The money would be tough but he's a 3-4 outside linebacker who can generate pressure. He was also cut by the Packers, meaning the Ravens can sign him without losing a precious compensatory pick. I'd be happy to see Perry in purple, but he'll likely see greater offers elsewhere."
As for Collins, Barber wrote: "A multi-faceted hybrid linebacker with blitz capabilities would be incredible for the Ravens. Collins is dynamic and I'd like to see him with Baltimore, but he's also raised concerns due to his lack of motivation at times. … Maybe Collins would agree to a prove-it contract to earn another payday."
According to Ebony Bird’s Mike Reid, "If wide receiver is 1A on the list needs for the Ravens, pass rusher is 1B."
"Remaining on the free agent market is former All-Pro Justin Houston," Reid wrote. "At the right price, Houston would make a ton of sense for the Ravens. Still only 30 years old, he would bring a veteran presence on defense with plenty of solid years of production left."
Houston is the top remaining free agent (and was seventh overall) on NFL.com's list.
At middle linebacker, Reid sees former Washington Redskins Zach Brown and former Los Angeles Ram Mark Barron, both 29, as viable options.
They "would add veteran leadership to the position, plus they wouldn't count against the compensatory draft pick formula because they were released," Reid wrote.
Till We Meet Again, Bro
As Ravens fans were reminded this week, free agency often means having to say goodbye to those you love. It’s applies to teammates, as well.
Running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara weren't only a highly potent duo on the field for the New Orleans Saints the past two seasons; to paraphrase NOFX, they're bros.
The two of them seemed to enjoy speaking to the media together as much as they enjoyed keeping defensive coordinators of opposing teams up all night devising a game plan to try to neutralize them.
After it was reported that Ingram had signed with the Ravens, he and Kamara exchanged the following playful tweets.
High Grades Are in for Ravens' Signings
Just like with the NFL Draft, it's never too early to hand out grades when it comes to free agency.
Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr offered his marks for the biggest moves in free agency. In regard to his criteria, he noted that "money is often the deciding factor in everything, but when multiple teams are vying for your services, tiebreakers like familiarity, friendliness, reputation and offensive and defensive style come into play."
The Ravens' two big acquisitions – Thomas and Ingram – earned grades of B and B-, respectively.
"Thomas is arguably the best safety in football, so the quality of the player is not in question," Orr wrote. "However, one has to wonder what the Ravens are expecting to do with this roster in 2019. If they plan to maximize the window of Lamar Jackson's rookie deal, wouldn't it have made sense to hold on to Terrell Suggs and some of their other tenured defensive weapons? At the least, Baltimore's secondary is daunting and definitely got more athletic."
On the Ingram signing, Orr wrote: "John Harbaugh wanted ball control running backs to match his new offense, and while they were only softly wading into the Le'Veon Bell waters, a player like Ingram may make more sense for the team in the short term. With Alvin Kamara in the mix in New Orleans, Ingram's workload hasn't been extraordinary, saving some mileage for the tail end of his career in Baltimore."
Handing out grades seems like fun, so I'm going to join in. No, I'm not going to weigh in on the Thomas and Ingram signings; I'm going to grade the grader.
In regard to Orr's analysis of the Thomas acquisition, it's certainly worth noting that the Ravens were interested in re-signing Suggs, who said the team made him "a handsome offer," but his desire to play in Arizona, where he attended high school and college and still owns a home, was the deciding factor.
While Orr is spot-on that the Ravens' secondary is "daunting" and "got more athletic," I wouldn't begin that statement with the words "at least." According to Cambridge Dictionary, "at least" in this sense means "to emphasize that something is good in a bad situation."
Sorry, but there are no "bad situations" as it pertains to adding Earl Thomas to your team. And look at the rest of the Ravens' secondary around him.
Orr did much better on his Ingram write-up. The only thing I take slight issue with is his saying that the Ravens were "softly wading in the Le'Veon Bell waters." I was of the impression that it's still unclear if the Ravens even dipped their toe into the Bell waters. Objection: Speculation, Your Honor.
Hey, this is fun.
- Former Raven Shannon Sharpe compared Thomas to Ed Reed: "He is a playmaking safety. He can take the ball away and bring it back the other way, and that's what Ravens fans are used to. They had 11, 12 years of Ed Reed doing those exact things. ... I believe he is the best free safety, no question." He isn't alone in making that comparison.