Ozzie Newsome Throws Everyone For A Loop With Uncharacteristic Move
Well, this is a new side of General Manager Ozzie Newsome.
Newsome has never … ever, ever reached an agreement with an unrestricted free agent during the four-year history of the exclusive negotiating window leading up to the start of free agency.
Tight end Ben Watson reportedly ended that streak when the Ravens quickly targeted the 35-year-old veteran and plucked him out of New Orleans, where the Saints apparently tried their best to retain him. Watson is expected to sign his reported two-year, $8 million contract today after 4 p.m. when the new league year officially begins.
"Watson will go down as one of the more unexpected signings, based on how the Ravens typically do business in free agency," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
The way Newsome "typically" does business is to lurk in the background during the first wave of free agency, taking care of his own first, then being selective when the initial craze dies down and pouncing on value free agents that complement his roster.
On top of that, Newsome has only signed five true unrestricted free agents in the previous six offseasons, opting instead for cap casualties because they don't count against the compensatory pick formula. Watson will hurt the Ravens' formula.
With Newsome breaking his normal routine with aggressive maneuvering Tuesday, Hensley could only deduce that the Ravens "really, really" wanted Watson.
But why? What makes this situation so special?
A few things …
1) The Ravens have a very tight end-friendly offense, and this move indicates that the position might be thinner than expected after starter Crockett Gillmore had two surprising shoulder surgeries this offseason. The addition of Watson "reveals the Ravens' concern" about his availability. It also reveals continued doubt that Dennis Pitta can resume his playing career. Add on Nick Boyle's 10-game suspension, and the Ravens clearly needed more than your typical No. 3 tight end.
2) Watson brings veteran leadership and durability to a very young group that has had trouble staying on the field. The Ravens' top three tight ends are all under the age of 25, which gives Watson a decade of more experience. The 14-year veteran is very durable, missing just one game in the last four seasons.
3) Production. Watson put up a career-high 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns last year, earning his first Pro Bowl berth. Gillmore, Boyle and Maxx Williams combined for 83 catches, 833 yards and five touchdowns last year. Hensley says it's "unlikely" that Watson will match those strong numbers again, but he should hit it off with quarterback Joe Flacco … leading to the next point …
4) "This represents the Ravens' second gift to [Flacco], who signed a record three-year extension last week. Flacco has an affinity for throwing to tight ends," wrote Hensley. There's a long list of productive tight ends during the Flacco era, including Pitta, Todd Heap and Owen Daniels.
There you have it. Add it all up and Newsome decided to make one of his most aggressive moves in recent Ravens unrestricted free-agent history.
"The Ravens clearly targeted Watson heading into free agency," Hensley wrote. "They wanted him more than Daniels, who was with the team in 2014, and Scott Chandler, who drew interest from Baltimore the previous offseason. Baltimore was able to get Watson by acting swiftly and, quite frankly, in a manner unlike the Ravens in recent years."
Yanda Restructures Deal To Help Team
There is some irony in this one.
A day after (almost former) teammate Kelechi Osemele was reportedly given the richest deal in the NFL history for a guard (see below), the consensus best NFL guard, Marshal Yanda, restructured his contract to help his team.
Of course, this isn't a major sacrifice for Yanda. He'll still make the same amount of money, and he'll actually get it sooner now via the signing bonus. But this is the type of move the Ravens make with players they consider "partners." Terrell Suggs did it last year, and Flacco agreed to a restructure/extension.
With the Flacco and Yanda re-worked deals combined, the Ravens created a reported $10 million in cap space.
The Ravens' aggressive nature this offseason is starting to make a little more sense. And The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec thinks they may continue to do so.
"[The Watson move] also could be an indication that the Ravens are prepared to be much more aggressive in free agency than they have been in the past," wrote Zrebiec.
Can't Blame Ravens For Losing Osemele To Jaw-Dropping Money
Hensley wrote an article about how Baltimore shouldn't be criticized for losing Kelechi Osemele to the Oakland Raiders, but I don't have to get deep into that, right Ravens Nation? Right?!?!
In fact, I'd say the opposite is true. There would have been room to criticize the Ravens if they had matched the Raiders' offer. I think this town is savvy enough to know that the money Osemele got was absolutely insane.
We're all very happy for Osemele and his family with the new deal, which, if he's considered a tackle, makes him the fourth-highest paid at the position. But the Raiders are taking a risk the Ravens just couldn't take.
"It was too big of a risk to invest that type of money in Osemele, who is a dominant guard but still a question mark at left tackle," Hensley wrote. "No one can say Osemele is a top-five left tackle after he played four games at that position last season. Except that's what the Ravens would be saying if they gave him that type of money, which is close to what future Hall of Fame lineman Joe Thomas ($11.5 million per year) is making."
Osemele, how does it feel to cash in?
Upshaw To Indianapolis?
There was no consensus on whether outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw would stay or go.
He's been a four-year starter for the Ravens, but didn't put up huge sack numbers throughout his career. The thought was that maybe he wouldn't get big money on the market without a history of getting after the quarterback.
But, a former coach might be the key to luring Upshaw out of Baltimore …
Does Any NFL City Talk More About Compensatory Picks?
One of the first questions on social media immediately following the Watson signing was whether he would offset the potential third or fourth-round compensatory pick the Ravens could get from losing Osemele.
It kind of blew Zrebiec away.
"The fans' obsession with comp picks does amaze me," he wrote. "I'd have to imagine Ravens fans talk about comp picks more than any other NFL city. The first questions that I was getting after the Watson deal were not about how he fits into the Ravens' offense, or what the terms of the deal are."
Nope, it was about comp picks.
So here's the skinny. If the Ravens lose Upshaw to the Colts, his deal could offset the Watson signing and the Ravens could still get a pick for Osemele.
That said, you might want to resign yourself to the idea that the Ravens might not get any because Upshaw and Osemele are the only two who could really garner comp picks this year.
"One more signing of a true unrestricted free agent may mean no comp picks for the Ravens in 2016. And that's just fine," wrote Zrebiec. "The Ravens have immediate holes that they need to fill and aspirations to get back in the playoffs in 2016. A proven veteran free agent will likely help them get there more than an extra fourth or fifth-round pick."
WR Mike Wallace Would Fit Ravens
Here's a free agent that wouldn't count against the compensatory pick formula: wide receiver Mike Wallace, who was released by the Minnesota Vikings yesterday.
Wallace hasn't put up the type of production Ravens fans were used to seeing when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last year in Minnesota, he notched just 39 catches for career lows of 473 yards and two touchdowns.
There's reason to believe he could bounce back with the Ravens, however, and could come at a reasonable price.
"He clearly wasn't a great fit for the Vikings offense, but he would fit in just fine with the Ravens, who badly need to upgrade their speed on offense," wrote Zrebiec. "The Ravens wouldn't need Wallace to catch 65 or more balls like he did in three of the past four seasons. They'd need him to be a legitimate deep threat and make some plays down the field.
"It's a weak free-agent wide receiver market, so I'd imagine that Wallace won't come all that cheap. However, if the Ravens can get him on a modest deal, it would make a lot of sense."