Late For Work 3/6: Free Agency Predictions. Who Stays? Who Goes? Who Arrives?

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Free Agency Predictions. Who Stays? Who Goes? Who Arrives?

Free agency's negotiating window opens tomorrow and players can start putting pen to paper in three days.

We are on the cusp, Ravens fans, of a lot of action.

With that in mind, here are some predictions for free agency, courtesy of ESPN's Jamison Hensley. And while you're at it, make sure you check out John Eisenberg's evaluation of five potential signings.

Will Brandon Williams stay?

The Ravens' biggest free agent is the guy in the middle of the defensive line, Brandon Williams. Baltimore was reportedly in contact with his agent at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, and the Ravens have made no bones about their intent to lock him up.

But will they be able to retain Williams, especially if they can't keep him off the open market?

"While no one can rule out Baltimore re-signing Williams, the more likely scenario is he'll be lured elsewhere," Hensley writes.

Hensley points out that the team has a strong history of re-signing players it has stressed keeping. Sure, some have slipped through their fingers, such as guard Kelechi Osemele last season, but, over the years, the Ravens have locked up some of their biggest talents to extensions.

The issue, Hensley says, is the money. Williams was rated as ESPN's top free agent available.

"The Ravens could have a difficult time re-signing Williams, however, if another team offers more than what the Giants gave defensive tackle Damon Harrison ($46.25 million over five years, including $24 million guaranteed) last year," he wrote.

It would be a shame, because in a separate article, ESPN's Matt Bowen names the best fits for the NFL's best free agents, and he says Baltimore and Williams are a match.

"Williams is the top interior defensive lineman on the market due to his ability to win with strength and athleticism up front. He has great feet and burst off the ball, along with the power to clean up. That's going to drive up his value on the market," Bowen wrote.

"But Williams returning to Baltimore makes the most sense for everyone involved. The Ravens allowed just 3.72 yards per carry in 2016 (fifth in the NFL). That starts with Williams' impact at the nose tackle position. The smart move for Baltimore is to get Williams back in a system that caters to his skill set."

Bring in Brandon Marshall or Pierre Garcon?

Hensley has been beating the Pierre Garcon drum for a while now, and he's not stopping as free agency approaches. Now he's adding fellow veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the desired list of targets.

Hensley says the Ravens need to come away with one of the two.

"The No. 1 priority in free agency has to be signing a proven and consistent veteran to make up for the loss of Steve Smith Sr./a>. (retired) and Kamar Aiken (free agent)," Hensley wrote.

Either Garcon or Marshall would be proven, tough possession receivers who would fit the "complementary" receiver mold that General Manager Ozzie Newsome talked about. They would pair well with speedsters Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman.

Garcon, who is an unrestricted free agent, caught 79 passes for 1,041 yards and three touchdowns last season. Marshall, who was released by the New York Jets last week, caught 59 passes for 788 yards and three scores.

"Garcon, who turns 31 before the start of the season, is younger than Marshall, has more reliable hands and doesn't have a checkered past," Hensley wrote. "Marshall, who will be 33 later this month, is the most prolific receiver during the last 10 seasons, brings a competitive edge like Smith and is expected to be $3 million to $4 million per season cheaper than Garcon."

So which veteran wide receiver does Hensley prefer?

"Garcon represents the best free-agent fit for a team looking to replace retired wide receiver Steve Smith," he wrote. "This signing wouldn't create as big of a splash as Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall, but Garcon delivers more reliability."

Who else should the Ravens add?

Wide receiver isn't Baltimore's only need. Head Coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have been clear about their intent to beef up the secondary, especially at cornerback.

While the Ravens could certainly do that in a deep cornerback class in the draft, as the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec wrote about from the NFL Scouting Combine, we haven't talked much about the cornerback market in free agency.

Hensley points to one fit that he thinks the Ravens should pounce on. He says Baltimore should add cornerback Prince Amukamara.

"The Ravens pride themselves on excellent value signings," Hensley wrote. "Amukamara, 28, would rank among the top three corners available if not for his durability issues."

The former 2011 first-round pick of the New York Giants was drafted eight spots ahead of Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith. He could pair with him to give the Ravens a talented starting duo.

"His strengths mesh well with what the Ravens like to do on defense. Amukamara is a technically sound cover corner who can handle receivers physically at the line," Hensley wrote.

"He doesn't make many splash plays, failing to record more than one interception in five of six seasons. But Baltimore can plug him in as the No. 2 cornerback beside Jimmy Smith and move Tavon Young to his natural position of covering the slot."

The biggest problem is Amukamara's durability, however. He has missed an average of 4.5 games per year. He has played in all 16 just once over his career (2013 with the New York Giants), though did fairly well staying on the field last year as he played in 14 games (12 starts) with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"That would be a risk, considering Smith also has had trouble staying healthy," Hensley wrote. "This shouldn't preclude taking a cornerback early in the draft. Baltimore needs to invest in this position after ignoring it for too long."

Hensley also thinks the Ravens should sign free agent center Nick Mangold, who was released last week by the New York Jets. The seven-time Pro Bowler dealt with injuries last season, but can still be a top-notch center. There's otherwise not much available at center in free agency or the draft.

"The Ravens have seen what top-notch centers like Atlanta's Alex Mack and Dallas' Travis Frederick can do for an offensive line," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore's weak link has been the middle of the line, where undersized Jeremy Zuttah has often gotten overmatched. The expectation is for the Ravens to release Zuttah, which would create $2.392 million in cap space and pave the way to upgrade the position."

Ravens Face Difficult Decision On When To Search For Flacco's Successor

Thank goodness the Ravens aren't one of likely six NFL teams searching for their next starting quarterback last week in Indianapolis.

The Ravens know Joe Flacco is their starter, and they have him under contract for the next five years. He's a big reason why Harbaugh is confident the Ravens will contend for a championship next year.

With that said, there will come a time when Baltimore has to start looking for Flacco's successor, and it's a difficult balance of knowing when that should begin, Zrebiec wrote.

Since the Ravens used the 18th-overall pick on Flacco in 2008, they've made 77 draft picks and used only two of them – both sixth-round selections – on quarterbacks, per Zrebiec. Baltimore drafted Tyrod Taylor in 2011 and Keith Wenning in 2014.

"But just how long will it last for the Ravens?" Zrebiec wrote. "Flacco is 32 years old and now playing on one surgically repaired knee. He'll enter the 2017 season facing plenty of scrutiny as his play has dipped since 2014."

The Ravens aren't going to use a high draft pick on a quarterback such as North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky or Clemson's Deshaun Watson. But could Baltimore pluck one in the middle or later rounds that it could develop? Zrebiec points to Miami's Brad Kaaya, California's Davis Webb, Tennessee's Josh Dobbs and Pittsburgh's Nathan Peterman.

The Ravens developed a backup to Flacco with Taylor, but have mostly gone with veteran No. 2s. They signed Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett the past two years.

Meanwhile, some other teams have used mid-round picks to develop backups who could potentially start for them or elsewhere. One example is the New England Patriots, who used a third-round pick on Mallett in 2011, a second-round pick on Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014 and a third-round pick on Jacoby Brisett last year. However, Tom Brady is seven years older (39) than Flacco.

"But finding and developing a guy in the middle rounds like Wilson or Kirk Cousins, who the Washington Redskins selected in the fourth round in 2012 after having already taken Robert Griffin III in the same draft, is easier said than done," Zrebiec wrote.

Ravens React To John Ross' 4.22 40-Yard Dash

The biggest news from the combine this weekend was John Ross. More specifically, it was Ross' blazing speed.

The University of Washington wide receiver ran the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds, breaking Chris Johnson's record of 4.24 seconds from the 2008 combine.

And you can bet the Ravens were paying attention. Here's some reaction from the Ravens' top three wide receivers last year, including a pair of their own speedsters.

For comparison, Perriman also reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds during his pro day at Central Florida two years ago. Perriman was 6-foot-2 and weighed 212 pounds at the time. Ross is 5-foot-11, 190 pounds.

Here's video of Perriman's performance:

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