Ravens Should Go After Recently Released Center
The Ravens stayed the course of retaining their own free agents on Tuesday, but one player suddenly hitting the open market is catching the eyes of many. And, no, it's not a wide receiver.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the Las Vegas Raiders are releasing Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson.
Former NFL quarterback turned analyst Mark Sanchez reported that Hudson requested to be released to void 3.5 million in guarantees for this season.
It didn't take long for fans and pundits to start connecting the dots on why the Ravens should make a move.
"The Ravens still need another addition on the interior offensive line, and recently-released center Rodney Hudson would be the perfect fit," Ebony Bird’s Michael Natelli wrote. "Suddenly, a third legitimate option is on the market, and because he's been released, the three-time Pro Bowler would give the Ravens a way to address two offensive line spots without affecting the comp pick formula.
"... Hudson is suddenly a very compelling option that checks all the Ravens' boxes and would really help them enter the draft without much in the way of true 'needs.'"
It's not often an elite-level lineman is released this early in free agency, and Hudson certainly falls in that category. The 32-year-old center has missed just five games over the last three seasons.
According to Pro Football Focus, Hudson's pass-blocking grade (93.6) is the highest among all centers since 2015, and he's allowed just three sacks during that time.
The Ravens made one upgrade to the offensive line Monday when they agreed to terms with Kevin Zeitler on a three-year deal, but center still remains a position of need.
So far, the Ravens have focused on finding the right players at the right price. It's fair to question if they'll get that with Hudson, who's expected to be coveted by almost every team that needs a center.
"All indications are that the Ravens would be content moving Bradley Bozeman, their left guard the past two years, to center and finding a starting left guard either early in the draft or amongst the current younger options on their roster," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "That could change if a center they like in the draft is available on Day 2. However, you have to wonder if Rodney Hudson's sudden appearance on the free-agent market might change their mind.
"Hudson, one of the league's best centers and a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was released Tuesday by the Las Vegas Raiders. The Ravens have to at least be intrigued as the lack of an experienced and accomplished center has been an issue for them. Hudson would be a great fit. However, they'd have to decide if Hudson was worth probably much, if not all, of the cap space the Ravens have available and whether it was viable to have so much money invested in the offensive line with Stanley, Zeitler and potentially Hudson."
More High Grades for Free-Agents Signings
If there was a report card for the start of free agency, the Ravens would make Honor Roll.
While General Manager Eric DeCosta and company haven't rolled in the Brink's trucks, there's been plenty of praise among pundits for their early moves. That continued Tuesday when the Ravens agreed to terms on a four-year deal with Tyus Bowser and a three-year deal with Derek Wolfe.
"Given the three outside linebacker departures, it was close to essential that the Ravens re-signed Bowser," wrote Zrebiec, who gave the signing a 'B' grade. "They got it done and at $5.5 million a year, it's a pretty reasonable deal for a rising, young player."
Bowser became a top priority for the Ravens after Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue reportedly agreed to deals with new teams. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley said it was a "critical re-signing" to ensure continuity and versatility at outside linebacker.
"Bowser has been one of Baltimore's most improved defenders," Hensley wrote. "He's proven to be just as valuable in coverage as in the pass rush. Last season, Bowser was the only linebacker in the league to record at least three sacks and three interceptions."
"Bowser was always a crucial player to retain long-term," Russell Street Report’s Dev Panchwagh wrote. "He's been playing better and better. Tremendous athlete who has also cleaned up some of his technique and overall awareness issues. He's primed to ascend with Judon gone.
"The deal is also fair market value and a bit less than what the Ravens would have had to spend to retain Judon and Yannick. However, Bowser is arguably the player who has the most upside in this defense to outperform those guys given the full plate of snaps."
Zrebiec also gave the Ravens a "B" for re-signing Wolfe, adding that he's a key piece that checks off multiple boxes for the defense.
"Wolfe will remain in the five-technique defensive end role in the Ravens base defense, playing alongside Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams," Zrebiec wrote. "He often moves into the three-technique defensive tackle role in sub-packages. Wolfe has 34 career sacks, so he certainly has the ability to get penetration and to the quarterback. However, he made his greatest impact for the Ravens last year against the run. He absorbed blocks and did a lot of the dirty work to free up teammates. Wolfe was at his best during a stretch of the season when both Campbell and Williams were sidelined. Team officials love his attitude and intensity. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wolfe was one of the best leaders that he's ever been around."
Outside of the local pundits, CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin lumped together all of the Ravens' free agent moves so far and gave them a "B-plus."
"Losing Judon hurts the pass rush, but bringing back Bowser, McPhee and Wolfe certainly softens the blow, especially at such reasonable prices," Benjamin wrote. "Zeitler, meanwhile, could prove to be a steal as better interior protection for Lamar Jackson."
Could a Slow Wide Receiver Market Benefit the Ravens?
One position the Ravens haven't gone after during the start of free agency is wide receiver, but they're not alone.
What was said to be a strong receiver free-agent class has seen little movement. After two days, only four receivers have reportedly found new homes, the latest being Marvin Jones and Emmanuel Sanders.
For context, more than 10 edge rushers have signed new contracts in that time. So, what gives?
When ESPN's Dianna Russini spoke to a free-agent receiver, she was told "the [receiver] market is really bad right now."
ESPN's Cameron Wolfe added that plenty of players could sign for lower values than initially thought.
Pair those factors with a loaded receiver class in the upcoming draft and that creates a supply and demand issue, says The Athletic's Lindsay Jones.
"There's a surplus of solid veteran receivers and a lack of teams willing to spend big money at the position," Jones wrote. "Add in a deep and talented receiver draft class, and cash-strapped teams might prefer to find a starting receiver there, or at least wait until the second wave of free agency."
In yesterday's Late for Work, pundits questioned whether the Ravens should even sign a receiver if none of the top options are available. For now, they still have their pick among a talented group including Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller V, A.J. Green, and T.Y. Hilton.
If the Ravens do go after a free-agent receiver, Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr identified Samuel as the best fit.
"If we would like Jackson to take a figurative next step (even though he has already shown us all the tools required of a long-term franchise quarterback), we must also give him the tools," Orr wrote. "Samuel would be an excellent addition to Baltimore's already flummoxing offense."
Amid Orlando Brown Jr. Trade Rumors, Tackle Market Remains in Demand
While the receiver market has slowed down, the offensive tackle market hasn't.
That continued this morning when Trent Williams reportedly agreed to terms on a six-year, $138 million deal to remain in San Francisco, making him the highest-paid lineman in NFL history.
A number of other tackles have found homes, signaling that there could be even more demand for a player like Orlando Brown Jr.
"There are still teams that need a left tackle," Zrebiec wrote. "The Los Angeles Chargers do and they've shown how much they are prioritizing their offensive line by signing center Corey Linsley and right tackle Matt Feiler. The Washington Football Team is probably still in the left tackle market. The Carolina Panthers signed tackle/guard Cameron Erving, but it's unclear if they'd be comfortable with him protecting the quarterback's blindside. The Minnesota Vikings have been mentioned as a potential suitor, as have the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears. The Kansas City Chiefs have a void at left tackle. There was not close to enough supply of quality tackles on the market to meet the demand at the position.
"The question is: Will those teams depend on the draft, well-stocked in potential Week 1 starting-caliber tackles, or do they like Brown enough to make the Ravens a significant offer? I still think there's a good chance that Brown gets moved, but I believe if the offers were enticing enough, an agreement would have already been reached. The Ravens are wise to hold out."
It was reported last week that six teams are interested in trading for Brown. But as Zrebiec noted, will the Ravens find an offer worth taking?
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox highlighted some of the biggest trades that could still happen and predicted the Ravens could send Brown to the Chiefs.
"Kansas City recently parted with offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz," Knox wrote. "Although the Chiefs have agreed to a deal with guard Joe Thuney, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, they'd be wise to continue remaking their offensive line by adding a tackle. With $26.7 million in cap space, a deal for Brown should be financially feasible for Kansas City – he's due to carry a cap hit of $3.6 million.
"A deal involving Brown could be a huge win for both teams if the Chiefs can offer a desirable trade package."