Late for Work 3/19: Looking at Ravens' Best Remaining Free-Agent Options

031921-LFW
Left: Cheifs WR Sammy Watkins; Right: Colts DE Justin Houston

As First Week of Free Agency Closes, a Reminder to Keep Calm

The first week of free agency began with a bang in Baltimore, as the Ravens addressed a key need by agreeing to a deal with guard Kevin Zeitler early Monday morning.

Since then, Ravens fans have watched other teams go on spending sprees, making one splashy signing after another. With each coveted free agent who comes off the board — especially wide receivers — the anxiety level in some fans in Baltimore goes up.

Perhaps everyone should follow the advice of Ebony Bird's Darin McCann, who urges fans to take a deep breath and remember that it's March, not September.

"Why are people so angry at the Ravens' leadership at this point because they haven't completed a 53-man roster to take the field in September?" McCann wrote. "Hasn't this group earned a little trust by all of us that they are working day and night to field the most competitive team they can when the games actually, you know, count?

"It's fair to question things. It's part of the fun of being a fan, right? We all like to pretend we're general managers or head coaches. … But let's get through free agency, the draft, cut-downs after the draft, training camp, cut-downs during training camp, and everything else before we demand heads on pikes."

Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi expressed a similar sentiment.

"I get the angst about the lack of a splash FA signing. But keep in mind that the team [employs] brilliant minds who know the game and players better than we ever could," Lombardi wrote. "And those minds have crafted an offseason plan that can't be completed until September. Let the process unfold. Trust in it. The track record is there. They want to win even more than fans. Do you judge a gourmet dinner before the ingredients have been properly prepared?"

ESPN's Jamison Hensley said it's surprising the Ravens haven't signed a free-agent wide receiver yet, especially considering the offense's struggles in the playoffs, but he added: "Baltimore's brain trust has earned the benefit of the doubt. The Ravens are one of four teams to reach the playoffs in each of the past three seasons (the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks are the others)."

The Ravens re-signing outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee and defensive lineman Derek Wolfe aren't flashy outside of Baltimore, but that doesn't mean they aren't significant moves.

"Not enough people are talking about what the Baltimore Ravens are doing," Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle said. "Signing cut player Kevin Zeitler to a three-year, $22.5 million deal, a nice piece along the offensive line, doesn't count against the compensatory picks. Also re-signing Tyus Bowser to a very cheap deal — four years, $22 million — to help there. Pernell McPhee also re-signed, and letting Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue walk will likely pick up two fourth-round compensatory picks.

"That's good business. The Baltimore Ravens are not breaking the bank. Baltimore Ravens are not over-committing or overpaying for any free agent on the market. [They're] going to get their compensatory picks back for Ngakoue and Judon. I love what the Baltimore Ravens are doing. I think this is good business in Baltimore."

Looking at Ravens' Best Free-Agent Options at Receiver, Pass Rusher

As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, the Ravens have yet to add a proven receiver or veteran pass rusher in free agency. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec identified the best free agents available at both positions and speculated as to how things could play out.

Wide receiver

Best free agents available: Antonio Brown, Buccaneers; Kenny Golladay, Lions; T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Josh Reynolds, Rams; JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers; Golden Tate, Giants; Sammy Watkins, Chiefs

How it could play out: "None of the remaining options feel all that promising. The Ravens haven't embraced the idea of signing Brown in the past and there's been no evidence that they're involved in the Golladay market. Hilton seems destined to return to Indianapolis and that could happen with Smith-Schuster to Pittsburgh as well. Watkins has a history with Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Pass Game coordinator Keith Williams, so perhaps he's the most likely. But don't be surprised if the Ravens add none of the above and either wait it out to see what other receivers are let go as the offseason unfolds or find a way to trade for a younger receiver. Their recent past suggests they aren't all that interested with having a veteran receiver with a big cap number on their roster."

Pass rusher

Best free agents available: Jadeveon Clowney, Titans; Carlos Dunlap, Seahawks; Justin Houston, Colts; Melvin Ingram, Chargers; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington; Aldon Smith, Cowboys; Olivier Vernon, Browns.

How it could play out: "There are still quite a few quality options here, so the Ravens can sit tight as prices presumably drop. Next month's draft has a deep class of edge rushers, so many of the available veterans will probably want to find roster spots before teams start filling holes with draft picks. A rejuvenated and healthy Clowney would look good in purple, but the sense is that he is in no hurry to sign, and the Ravens may not have the appetite to wait until training camp. The Ravens made Houston a contract offer two offseasons ago, they've long admired Ingram and they've watched Dunlap play well against them for years. It feels like they can't really go wrong here. The sense is they'll sign a veteran at some point and also draft one relatively early."

Zrebiec also looked at the best available free agents and potential scenarios for the interior offensive line and safety, and how the Orlando Brown Jr. trade situation could play out.

Kevin Zeitler Deal Is Among Those With Highest Potential Return on Investment

Add NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund to the list of pundits applauding the Ravens' signing of Zeitler. She identified Zeitler-to-the-Ravens as one of three deals (through Wednesday night) with the highest potential return on investment.

In Frelund's model, she considered the involved player's past on-field resume and his new team's current roster and coaching philosophy, then compared these parameters and contract values to other players at the same position.

"With Zeitler helping to block for them over the past two seasons, Giants ball carriers recorded 48 rushes of 10-plus yards inside the tackles, good for second-most in the NFL in that span (per NGS). I point out the run game here because of the importance to the Ravens' scheme," Frelund wrote. "In pass protection, Zeitler has ranked in the top 10 percent of guards at preventing pressures, per my computer vision, over the past three seasons."

"This deal — which ranks 16th among guards on a per-year basis, according to Over The Cap — represents a favorable cost to the Ravens, one that is well below his production projection in this scheme."

On a side note, Zeitler also got a stamp of approval yesterday from his new teammate, Wolfe.

"I've known Kevin since the combine, and I played against him when he was in Cincinnati a couple times, played against him with his last team, so he's one of the best pickups we could possibly get," Wolfe said. "That guy is one of the best offensive guards I've ever played against. … He's tough to beat. He's just a tough player. So I'm looking forward to going against him and taking my game to another level."

Are Patriots Building Their Offense in Ravens' Image?

For two decades, the New England Patriots were the franchise other teams aspired to be. Is it possible that the Patriots are now building their team — specifically the offense — in the image of the Ravens?

Boston radio host Tony Massarotti raised the question after analyzing the Patriots' flurry of offseason moves, which included the signing of tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry.

"After drafting two tight ends in 2020, the Patriots have now signed two others," Massarotti wrote. "In 2019, the Ravens operated with three tight ends for much of their time on offense — highlighting the strengths of quarterback Lamar Jackson. That year, the Ravens led the NFL in scoring."

Massarotti wrote that the Patriots' trade for offensive tackle Trent Brown, a strong run blocker, suggests a run-heavy offense. Plus, New England re-signed mobile quarterback Cam Newton.

"Is he as explosive as Jackson? No. But who is?" Massarotti wrote. "If the Pats have designs on drafting a quarterback who can also run — Trey Lance, perhaps? — bringing back Newton makes some sense to keep the seat warm as the Pats transition to a new offense — and, perhaps, a new era.

"Are the Patriots aiming to do what the Ravens did to them in Jackson's MVP season? It's something to consider."

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