Ozzie Gets Creative With Two Rare Visits From Restricted Free-Agent Receivers
When General Manager Ozzie Newsome said he’d leave “no stone unturned” in his mission to remake the Ravens’ wide receiver room, he wasn’t bluffing.
He might be tight against the salary cap, but he still made a splash with reliable possession receiver Michael Crabtree, added speedster John “Smokey” Brown and is now exploring an avenue that is rarely traveled.
Newsome is reportedly bringing in two restricted free agents for visits in the New Orleans Saints’ Willie Snead and Chicago Bears’ Cameron Meredith.
Here’s the skinny on each player, then we’ll look at the chances of the Ravens signing them:
- 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, 25 years old
- Undrafted out of Ball State in 2014
- Tallied an impressive 141 receptions for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015-16
- Only logged eight catches for 92 yards in seven starts last year due to suspension (DUI) and injury
- If healthy, would fill the slot position in Baltimore; strong route-running and consistently gets open
Cameron Meredith - 6-foot-3, 207 pounds, 25 years old
- Undrafted out of Illinois State in 2015
- Had a breakout year in 2016 with 66 receptions for 888 yards and four touchdowns
- A major knee injury derailed his entire 2017 season
- Offers untapped potential with a big body and strong hands; similar build/style to recently released Allen Hurns
The restricted free-agent market is almost never explored league-wide because rules essentially act as barriers that prevent players from leaving town. That said, both the Saints and Bears removed one of those barriers by placing an original-round tender on Snead and Meredith, respectively.
As undrafted players, an original-round tender wouldn’t require draft compensation to New Orleans or Chicago if they chose not to match a potential offer from the Ravens. That low tender is what opened the door to the rarely explored restricted free-agent market.
There are still other barriers that could prevent either Snead or Meredith from signing a potential Baltimore offer. First, the Ravens have to compete against other teams interested in their services (Meredith already visited the Indianapolis Colts). And second, the Saints or Bears could block a deal by simply matching any offer the Ravens put on the table.
With New Orleans having $17 million of salary-cap space and the Bears with $23 million, according to the NFLPA, they have the firepower to easily match anything the Ravens offer. However, we know neither team values their receivers at $2.9 million. That’s because they could’ve put a second-round tender on them at that very price to better ensure nobody like the Ravens could sneak them out of town.
So, it seems that $2.9 million, or something close to it, might be the magic number to lure either Snead or Meredith to Baltimore. Is either receiver worth it?
Benjamin Watson Signing With Chiefs Would Put Ravens in Line for Third-Round Comp Pick
There’s an upside and downside to tight end Benjamin Watson potentially signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. The two sides are “working on a new deal,” according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The upside is that a signed contract would put the Ravens in line for a third-round compensatory pick after losing Ryan Jensen to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the richest deal for an NFL center. After signing Brown, who was unrestricted, the Ravens needed more than just Jensen signing elsewhere to get the awarded comp pick. A Watson deal would put the equation over the edge in the Ravens’ favor.
The downside to Watson leaving is the Ravens still have a major hole at tight end. Watson led the team last year with 61 catches and there’s no pass-catching tight end currently in place to make up that production.
Nobody’s arguing Baltimore should bring back a 37-year-old tight end and risk losing a compensatory third-rounder, but the number of options to fill the need is shrinking, so it may be best to address it via the draft.
“Watson’s potential exit reiterates how big a need tight end remains,” wrote WNST’s Luke Jones. “I’m not enthusiastic about anyone remaining on the market, but history suggests counting heavily on a rookie is a big mistake. This position may simply remain a question, but an early draft pick would bring enticing upside.”
Whatever route the Ravens go in getting a new pass-catching tight end (or a third receiver), they’ll want to think long and hard before signing another unrestricted free agent before May 8, the last day they count against the comp pick formula. Otherwise, they could wipe out the third-rounder for Jensen.
Signing restricted free agents don’t factor into the formula. And if another Ravens free agent (Mike Wallace, Michael Campanaro, Ryan Mallett, etc.) signs elsewhere, that would give Baltimore more flexibility.
“These comp choices shouldn’t drive the entire offseason, but that’s a pick too valuable to pass up to sign any unrestricted free agents remaining on the market,” wrote Jones.
Would Ravens and Austin Howard Be Open to a Reunion at a Lower Price?
Baltimore assured itself of having five offensive linemen with starting experience this season when they re-signed James Hurst to a four-year deal.
Who plays which position is still up in the air, but the Ravens do have five starting-caliber guys in Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura and Hurst.
“But Hurst’s return doesn’t preclude them from trying to upgrade,” wrote Zrebiec.
It would surprise exactly no one if the Ravens used their first-round pick on an offensive lineman in April. And if that means Hurst returns to a backup role at every position but center, that would put the Ravens in a great position with strong depth.
“That’s not a luxury item. It’s a necessity,” wrote Zrebiec.
As such, Zrebiec also wonders if the Ravens should pursue bringing back right tackle Austin Howard, who the team let hit free agency by declining to pick up the 2018 option of his contract.
“I haven’t heard a whole lot about Howard’s market or whether he harbors ill will toward the team for releasing him last week, but if I’m the Ravens, I’d be trying hard to persuade him to return at a reduced rate,” Zrebiec wrote. “Unless the Ravens are determined to take a tackle in the first round, it’s going to be very tough for them to find a day-one starter at their position in the draft. And I don’t think either Lewis or Howard starting at right tackle is ideal.”
Jensen’s Breakout Year and Contract Is a Reminder That Late-Bloomers Exist
If you’ve given up hope that guys like Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi or even Breshad Perriman will eventually break out, Jensen’s story should inspire you.
Or, at the very least, it should inspire those three players.
Jensen was a sixth-round pick that was once cut from the team, but finally found success in his fifth year in the league.
“Jensen becoming the NFL’s highest-paid center is a reminder that incumbents can get markedly better over time and late bloomers do exist,” wrote Jones. “There’s still at least a glimmer of hope for [young players] … even if the Ravens aren’t banking on it.”
There’s a big difference between pushing in all your chips on these three players, versus just giving them a low-risk chance to break out. For example, the Ravens clearly aren’t putting all their eggs in the Perriman basket as they are giving the whole receiver unit a big makeover. Still, there’s reason to hold onto him this summer to see if things finally start to click.
Perriman, Correa and Kaufusi are all still on their rookie contracts, which means they aren’t eating massive cap space while they continue working to reach their potential high ceilings.