TE Jimmy Graham Rumored to Hit Free Agency and Ravens Are Expected to PounceYou know what quarterback Joe Flacco needs in addition to a playmaking wide receiver?
A playmaking tight end. One that can stretch the field, convert on third downs and get open in the red zone.
Cue Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham.
Heavy competition wouldn't bode well for the Ravens, who have little salary-cap space (more specifics below), especially with the New Orleans Saints' reported interest in re-signing him and their $30 million in cap space. The Saints drafted Graham in 2010 and he became a breathtaking athlete that helped transform the position.
After making him the highest-paid tight end in 2014, the Saints shockingly traded him eight months later to the Seahawks. Now, at 31 years old, Graham isn't the same player he was while in New Orleans, but he still has sooooo much to offer.
For starters, he scored a league-high 10 touchdowns among tight ends last season, proving the 6-foot-7, 265-pounder is still a monster in the red zone. All the Ravens tight ends scored a combined five touchdowns last year. Neither Dennis Pitta nor Todd Heap ever notched double-digit touchdowns in a single season during their careers, and Graham has done it four times.
Graham didn't have his best season last year, totaling 57 catches for 520 yards and a career-low 9.1 yards per catch. That suggests he isn't the field-stretching target he once was, but it was out of character and not necessarily a sign of a decline in ability. He's just one year removed from a career-high 14.2-yard average.
"The determination has to be whether [the decline] is a result in Graham's skills or Seattle's porous offensive line, which didn't give much time to quarterback Russell Wilson," wrote ESPN.
For the Ravens, getting a target like Graham has to be a priority, whether through free agency or a very deep tight end draft class (they'll likely do both), because Flacco loves throwing to tight ends. Per ESPN, Flacco has targeted tight ends 1,090 times, which is the fourth-most since he entered the league in 2008.
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal named Graham as a free agent that could be overpaid, and the five-time Pro Bowler will want to get as much as possible because this could be his last contract. But, if Graham's market is in the neighborhood of three years for $20 million, which is what Spotrac projects, that could work in the Ravens' budget.
"This seems affordable," wrote ESPN.
Ravens Need to be Aggressive With Jarvis Landry, But Can't Overpay
What the Ravens can and cannot afford is a continually fluid situation.
It'd be highly unlikely that they sign Graham if they pull off a trade and long-term deal with Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Baltimore has reportedly been in contact with Landry's agent.
Given the Ravens' history of never drafting a No. 1 receiver and signing veterans on the back nine of their careers, The Baltimore Sun asserts that the Ravens need to be aggressive in pursuing Landry.
That's because, at 25, he's entering his prime, and was the fastest receiver in NFL history to notch 400 catches. He has attitude, produces in the red zone (nine touchdowns last year was tied for third among NFL receivers) and extends drives (converted a first down on half of his receptions).
That aggressiveness, however, needs to be balanced with not setting the franchise back for years by paying too much.
"The Ravens just can't overspend for Landry, despite being extremely desperate for an impact wide receiver," wrote ESPN.
"Newsome has always adhered to the motto 'right player, right price' throughout his career. Giving up a draft pick and a premium contract to Landry wouldn't fit that saying, although that could change if the Dolphins remove the tag (Miami is over the cap) and Landry's targeted price goes down."
So, what's the sweet spot? What constitutes being aggressive but not overpaying? Here's what Zrebiec would be willing to give up in terms of draft picks and long-term money ...
Will WRs Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins Get Tagged? Deadline Is Today
We'll have a better idea today at 4 p.m. whether two other big-name wide receivers will hit the free-agent market. That's when the deadline to apply the franchise tag hits.
Based on reports, it looks like both Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson and Los Angeles Rams receiver Sammy Watkins will avoid tags.
CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported the Rams will apply their tag to safety Lamarcus Joyner and not Watkins, although they'd like to keep both. And according to Roster Watch, the Jaguars are expected to let Robinson walk while retaining Marqise Lee. For what it's worth, Robinson "liked" the tweet.
If both receivers hit the market, that is good news for the Ravens. More supply could either drive down the asking price for Landry (both in a trade and contract), or if Baltimore doesn't land him, Robinson and Watkins could provide more options.
There will also be receivers added to the mix as teams purge players to create cap space, which would represent the best value to the Ravens (no compensatory picks would be lost).
NFL Salary Cap Limit Will Be Set at $177.2 Million
The Ravens will see a nice jump in the salary-cap limit; just not as big of an increase as last year.
The league will increase the cap's total from $167 million to $177.2 million for the 2018 season, according to NFL Netw
ork's Mike Garafolo.
The $10 million surge represents healthy growth, but wouldn't quite match the $12 million raise from 2016 to 2017. This marks the fifth-straight year that the cap has increased by at least $10 million.
What does this mean for the Ravens? They're still tight against the cap, as many predicted, but can create the space needed to sign the players they want. The team seems intent on doing so based on comments from Owner Steve Bisciotti and General Manager Ozzie Newsome over the past several weeks.
Ravens Receivers Forced Third-Fewest Missed Tackles
If there was ever an indicator that they Ravens need an offensive playmaker, this is it.
According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore's wide receivers forced the third-fewest (tied) missed tackles in the league last year. Additionally, they only produced 403 yards after the catch, which ranked No. 31.
The Ravens don't have to look far to find the gold standard. Pittsburgh Steelers receivers notched a league-leading 1,162 yards after the catch. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer, but it must be nice to have some receivers that help pad his stats.