It was no surprise that the Ravens made a defensive back their first free-agent acquisition from another team. Although GM Ozzie Newsome recently insisted that "our secondary is going to be good as long as we can rush the passer, and we can do that pretty good," the reality is their pass defense had a rough time in 2014 and needed to be addressed.
Kendrick Lewis, the safety they added over the weekend, looks like a solid, competitive pickup. He's young, just 26, and started every game for Houston in 2014, leading the team in tackles and exhibiting some playmaking wiles. It's a little early to be predicting this stuff, but I'm guessing he'll start alongside Will Hill at the back end of the defense in 2015.
But if you were expecting the Ravens to make a flurry of moves to shore up their weakest link from a year ago, think again. This one low-profile signing seemingly brings the starting group into focus. Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith are the cornerbacks, provided they're healthy. Hill and Lewis are the safeties. That's it.
The projected starting foursome is led by Smith, who was emerging as a shutdown-caliber cornerback before a foot injury cut short his 2014 season. "I think Jimmy is going to be a really good ball player. He was playing at a very, very high level when he suffered that injury," Newsome said at the "State of the Ravens" press conference last month.
Smith has rehabbed his injury throughout the offseason at the Under Armour Performance Center. He should be good to go in 2015.
"Getting Jimmy back healthy is going to be very big for us," Newsome said.
As for the other likely starters, Lewis adds centerfielder skills, which should help with deep-call coverage, a sore spot in 2014. Hill graded out nicely after emerging from suspension to become a starter in October. Webb, who is now the team's second-highest-paid player, performed better down the stretch as he rebounded from a training-camp back injury. The team has reportedly tried to negotiate a contract extension with him, and ordinarily, high-priced veterans are vulnerable to salary cap-dictated cuts, but the bottom line is the Ravens really need quality pass defenders they can trust.
"Hopefully, he bounces back," Newsome said of Webb.
While none of the four projected starters has ever received a Pro Bowl nomination, they have the makings of a solid group that should hold up better than last season's injury-depleted unit.
But who is the No. 3 cornerback? And who steps up if there are injuries? If the Ravens' 2014 season demonstrated anything, it's that you need depth in the secondary.
My two cents, the Ravens could stand to add another cornerback – in theory the nickel back, but also a player who could start if there's an injury.
Yes, a handful of candidates are already on the roster, including Rashaan Melvin, who came out of nowhere to start the biggest games of 2014, and Asa Jackson, who performed well last season but couldn't stay healthy. The team also re-signed Anthony Levine, a safety who filled the nickel role at times last season.
The Ravens expect those players and safeties Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks to compete for snaps, and if the stars align, maybe take a job away. Needless to say, they hoped Elam, their 2013 first-round draft pick, would be starting by now.
But regardless of how all that plays out, after the pass defense's struggles of 2014, it would be nice to add another corner with something of a track record.
One of Newsome's mantras is "you can never have enough corners." He got caught shorthanded a year ago when he counted on Chykie Brown to replace Corey Graham as the No. 3 after Graham bolted for Buffalo. "Chykie did not pan out," Newsome said. It's best not to roll those dice again.
Of course, adding a proven cornerback is easier said than done. The market for quality corners is skyrocketing in a pass-happy league, with a handful of free agents signing huge contracts. The Ravens were rumored to be interested in Tramon Williams, formerly of Green Bay, but he signed with Cleveland Monday.
The Ravens are more likely to troll the market for salary-cap-cut bargains. They could also draft a plug-and-play pass defender.
One way or another, the addition of another solid corner would really solidify their secondary.