Mailbag: What Pass Rusher Can Ravens Get After Za'Darius Smith Backed Out?

Left: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws the ball before being brought down by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Rasheem Green (94) during an NFL football game on Sunday, November 14, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Todd Rosenberg/NFL); Center: San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key (98) blocks Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum (68) during an NFL football game on Sunday, November 7, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Ric Tapia/NFL); Right: Cleveland Browns linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (90) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, October 17, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Ryan Kang/NFL)

Mink: It was a bummer to lose Za'Darius Smith after he reportedly agreed to a deal with the Ravens. But alas, it's time to move on. Baltimore clearly felt it was important to address pass rusher and was willing to put some serious money behind it. Since then, the Ravens did pivot to ink defensive tackle Michael Pierce and fullback Patrick Ricard, but I expect they'll still address the position with a signing.

Now who could that be? The Ravens are reportedly hosting young, ascending pass rushers Rasheem Green and Arden Key. Green had a career-high 6.5 sacks last season and is a big-bodied rusher who played a versatile role for Seattle. Key broke out in San Francisco last season, posting 6.5 sacks after putting up three in his previous three seasons. Either player would be a strong addition and give Baltimore some more youth on the edges.

Jadeveon Clowney, who has been much debated by fans over the years in Baltimore, is the biggest-name option remaining, as he's coming off his best campaign in years with 9.0 sacks and 19 quarterback hits last season with the Browns. Clowney has had the injury bug the past few years, but he suited up for 14 games last season. Plus, the Browns are reportedly trying to retain him, so stealing him from a division rival would add a little more value.

I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Justin Houston returning. Though he had just 4.5 sacks last season and is now 33 years old, Houston did get a fair amount of pressure. He loved the Ravens culture and made a strong impression in his first year in purple, both on the field and as a mentor to the team's younger pass rushers. He would also be a much more affordable option.

Other veteran options include Melvin Ingram, Jerry Hughes, Jason Pierre-Paul and Carlos Dunlap. It also seems like some veteran pass rusher always shakes loose after the draft. The Ravens could always pursue a trade at some point.

Downing: I expect the Ravens to add a center at some point this offseason after Bradley Bozeman departed in free agency. Tretter seems to make a lot of sense, as the nine-year veteran could provide the line with an experienced leader in the middle of the unit. Signing Tretter would be similar to the Matt Birk addition back in 2009, where he helped stabilize the line as a proven center in the back half of his career. Tretter is well respected around the league, evidenced by his selection as the president of the NFL Player's Association. He's also durable, having started all 16 games for the last five seasons in Cleveland. Given the injuries the Ravens faced on the line last year, it's certainly attractive to add a reliable center to the group.

The Ravens have already invested in the offensive line with the addition of veteran right tackle Morgan Moses, so DeCosta will have to weigh the need at center against other positions like defensive line, pass rusher or cornerback. The draft is another consideration, as some draft experts think the Ravens will address center by adding Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum at No. 14. At this point, Tretter is still on the market, so maybe the Ravens could make it through the draft and then determine if they want to make a run at Tretter (like they did with Alejandro Villanueva last year).

Mink: The Ravens have "maintained some level of interest" in Wagner since he was released by the Seahawks, per The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. The fact that he's still on the market is a little surprising and intriguing. A tackling machine who is known for his premier instincts and leadership, Wagner seems like an ideal signing to put next to Patrick Queen. That could be a fearsome tandem in the middle of Baltimore's defense. But, as stated above, there are other needs as well and the Ravens can't spend everywhere – or can they (see below)? This is one I'd continue to keep an eye on.

Downing: I always say at this time of the year that teams can find money to pull off the moves they want. Restructuring contracts is common business around the NFL, and there are a variety of ways to free up cap space with that approach. The obvious targets for restructured contracts are players who have already signed big second contracts, like cornerback Marlon Humphrey, left tackle Ronnie Stanley or tight end Mark Andrews. Humphrey and Stanley would be the most likely restructure candidates, and the two sides could shift money to later in the deal to free up cap space this season. Another route is to extend players. Cornerback Marcus Peters would be a candidate for that because he's heading into the last year of his deal and he carries a reported $15.5 million cap hit this year. The Ravens have options to free up money, and they can get creative to add the players they want.

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