Most of the Ravens' Best Remaining Free Agent Options Are Their Own
If you ask me, the first week of NFL free agency couldn't have come at a better time. It's provided an outlet of sports news to focus on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ravens entered free agency with just over $30 million in cap space. That was before they placed the franchise tag on Matthew Judon, traded and extended Calais Campbell, and made other significant moves.
According to Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland, the Ravens currently have around $10-14 million in salary cap space. Factor in another $2.5 million that McFarland estimates they will need for their rookie class, and it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for more big moves.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec identified 10 bargain free agents who Baltimore could target. On his list, five were former Ravens: Josh Bynes, Pernell McPhee, Kelechi Osemele, Jimmy Smith, and Terrell Suggs. Other names on Zrebiec's list include Tavon Austin, Devin Funchess, Clay Matthews, Alec Ogeltree, and Mike Person.
That doesn't include Patrick Onwuasor, who Zrebiec reported the Ravens have resumed contract talks with.
"The Ravens entered this week with 13 unrestricted free agents set to hit the open market," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "And after the two-day legal tampering period and a full day of free agency, not many former Ravens have signed elsewhere."
We've only seen Seth Roberts and Michael Pierce reportedly agree to deals with other teams.
Bynes and McPhee were two signings last season that played key roles in Wink Martindale's defense. Both would make sense as veteran additions to position groups that haven't been addressed in free agency yet.
"[McPhee would] like to return and he certainly doesn't figure to cost much after he played last year for not much more than the veteran minimum," Zrebiec wrote. "McPhee is 31 and he's had some injury issues over the years, but he still brings value."
Zrebiec included Suggs but doesn't necessarily think the Ravens would look to re-sign him at this point in his career. Osemele was named as a potential replacement at right guard following Marshal Yanda's retirement, but the most interesting case continues to be Smith.
"There's been little buzz about him and more and more corners are having to accept modest one-year deals as free agency moves to the second wave," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens were once willing to give Smith a short-term deal in the $7 million per year range. It's unclear whether that offer is still on the table, but Smith may struggle to do better than that at this stage. Signing Smith would stretch the cash-strapped Ravens pretty thin. However, they view having more cornerback depth as a necessity."
Bringing back players familiar with the Ravens' systems makes it that much easier. But as redundant as it may seem, financials are the biggest determining factor in any reunion.
Michael Brockers Reportedly Joins the Ravens With Super Bowl Aspirations
It's always interesting to see what lures free agents to teams. For some, it's the money. We've already seen some huge contracts paid out this offseason.
For Brockers, who reportedly signed a three-year deal with the Ravens, it's Super Bowl aspirations.
"I think it was the most important thought that was going through my head, because definitely you had other teams, other people interested in you," Brockers said on Glenn Clark Radio. "But being in [the Super Bowl], being closer to 30, being my ninth year in the league, that window for me is closing.
"I had to look at, 'Man, what's my best opportunity to get back to the game and win it?' Looking at what the team did last year and seeing how they didn't finish well and what I can bring and you bring on Calais [Campbell], it's like, 'Man, if we can do our jobs and execute like we're supposed to, we can go all the way through."
The veteran defensive lineman spent the first eight seasons of his career between St. Louis and Los Angeles with the Rams. They never had a winning record through Brockers' first five seasons, but he got a taste of the postseason in 2017 and 2018, falling short to the New England Patriots 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII.
Brockers now reportedly joins a Ravens team that's made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons as division champions, led by the reigning MVP at quarterback. He said he feels the Ravens have a "two to three-year window" to compete for a Super Bowl like the Rams did.
"That was good to know that the organization like this that was so close to winning the Super Bowl last year, bringing me on to feel like, 'Man, this is our missing piece,' or, 'This is a piece we need to get to the game and finish like we should,'" Brockers said. "It was just an honor."
Brockers will help fill a hole that's plagued the Ravens' recent playoff runs.
"The Ravens were upset in the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and in both cases, they were battered along the line of scrimmage," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "... Brockers is a durable player who's averaged 57 tackles (no Ravens defensive lineman had more than 35 in 2019) over the last three seasons. He's never topped 5 ½ sacks in season, but he's still a more productive pass rusher than the players he's replacing."
Analytics Say Calais Campbell Is a Good Fit
We've seen plenty of positive reviews after the Ravens traded a fifth-round pick for Campbell, but what do the numbers say?
NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund ranked the three best moves in free agency so far based on "contextual production data and forward-looking projections, along with reported contract values," and Campbell's fit in Baltimore was among them.
"Campbell has played in all 16 games during each of the past five seasons, including the last three with Jacksonville," Frelund wrote. "A former first-team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler, Campbell notched 6.5 sacks, 25 QB hits and 10 tackles for loss last season. Next Gen Stats show that he's one of just three defensive linemen with 100 quarterback pressures to make a tackle on at least eight percent of snaps over the last three seasons (along with Joey Bosa and DeMarcus Lawrence). His ability to defend both the pass and the run is beneficial in ways that the regular stats don't fully capture. Tracking his value in terms of stopping rushing attempts over the past three seasons, Campbell ranked third-best among defensive linemen in helping to create three-and-outs for his team."
Frelund's numbers aren't the only ones to back it up. Campbell earned a 90.3 overall grade last season from Pro Football Focus, and was named the NFL's top run defender.
Bleacher Report's Alex Ballentine wrote that Campbell's addition was the Ravens' smartest move so far this offseason.
"The Ravens are one of the most well-run franchises in the NFL, so it's no surprise they have some smart moves to choose from," Ballentine wrote. "But the trade to acquire Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars stands out. The Ravens acquired a three-time All-Pro player (one-time first team) at a position of need, and the price was a fifth-round draft pick."
Power Shift in AFC Leaves Ravens and Chiefs as Top Teams
For the first time in 20 seasons, Tom Brady won't be in the AFC. It's a weird feeling, but one of the game's greatest will be a Tampa Bay Buccaneer next season.
The New England Patriots were considered Super Bowl favorites year in, and year out with Brady. Now, pundits believe the power balance in the AFC shifts to the Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens.
"We learned to assume the narrative of every season would flow through Brady and Belichick," Walker wrote. "They were the standard, the closest we've seen to an NFL version of the old New York Yankees or Boston Celtics. That dynamic died a little the day the Patriots lost to the Titans and a lot the day Brady signed with the Bucs. The crown now rests with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs; the Ravens and others will have their chances to seize it. Either way, a distinct era has passed."
Both teams have high-powered offenses with MVP quarterbacks under center. The Chiefs have gotten the better of the Ravens the past two seasons but we're in for plenty of exciting matchups.
Kansas City is the reigning Super Bowl champion, but FanSided's Matt Verderame doesn't see Baltimore too far behind.
"The Chiefs still have [Mahomes], and nobody else does," Verderame said. "But, I think [the Ravens] have gotten themselves much better … I think the Chiefs are 1a, but I think the Ravens are 1b … I think they're right there."
"This almost reminds me of the [Dallas] Cowboys and [San] Francisco 49ers in the 1990s … I'm in on the idea that they're good enough to beat the Chiefs, but I don't think you should consider them better."
- In his latest mock draft, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein has the Ravens selecting Wisconsin's Zack Baun in the first round.