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Late for Work: How the Ravens Can Have a Productive Offseason Despite Limited Resources

Cowboys RB Tony Pollard
Cowboys RB Tony Pollard

How the Ravens Can Have a Productive Offseason Despite Limited Resources

When NFL free agency kicks off next week, don't expect the Ravens to get caught up in the frenzy.

As General Manager Eric DeCosta said at the Combine last week, the Ravens' Way isn't to go on a shopping spree. With approximately $11 million in cap space, the Ravens, who have more than 20 pending free agents, couldn't do that even if they waned to.

That doesn't mean DeCosta won't make moves to bolster the roster. The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer constructed a 10-step plan for how the Ravens can add help in free agency without shedding big-name contracts. Here are four of Shaffer's suggestions:

Restructure QB Lamar Jackson, TE Mark Andrews and ILB Roquan Smith's deals.

"A simple restructure of Jackson's contract, in which most of his 2024 base salary would be converted into a prorated signing bonus, would create $11.1 million in savings. A simple restructure of Andrews and Smith's contracts would free up another $8.6 million. Altogether, that's about $20 million in savings."

Sign RB Tony Pollard.

"The Ravens might not have the means to win a bidding war for Saquon Barkley or Derrick Henry, but Pollard could deliver similar value at a significant discount. PFF projects the Dallas Cowboys running back to get a three-year, $24 million offer in free agency, while Spotrac has his market value at $13.1 million on a two-year deal. The glut of capable backs available in free agency could drive Pollard's price down even further. … The Ravens could structure a two-year deal for the 26-year-old that counts for $4 million against the cap in 2024."

Re-sign DL Brent Urban, LB Malik Harrison, ILB Del'Shawn Phillips, CB Ronald Darby and S Daryl Worley.

"The bulk of the Ravens' signings this offseason, much like last offseason, should be cheap extensions that help stabilize their special teams and round out their depth chart. A handful of short-term deals for this group could cost about $4 million against the cap, though the value of their deals could be double that. (From the start of the league year until the first week of the regular season, only a team's 51 most expensive contracts count against its salary cap, so the relative impact of the Ravens' small deals would be marginal.)"

Fill out the roster with later-wave signing (or signings).

"DeCosta doesn't mind playing the waiting game. He waited until May to sign cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, until July to sign cornerback Arthur Maulet, until August to sign Jadeveon Clowney and Darby, and until September to sign outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy. There are always useful players who become available later in the offseason, and they're usually the kind of players DeCosta likes to target, entering a market with fewer bidders and not factoring into the NFL's compensatory-pick calculus.

"Will they be high-profile names? Probably not. But the Ravens enter the offseason with barely enough cap space to spend on medium-profile names. They'll likely have to fill holes at several positions — most notably guard, running back, wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback — with in-house pieces and draft picks."

Ravens Named Good Fit for All-Pro WR Michael Thomas

With Odell Beckham Jr.'s future in Baltimore uncertain, decorated wide receiver Michael Thomas has been linked to the Ravens.

"Michael Thomas' contract with the Saints is set to void, making him a free agent. A few scouts pointed out Baltimore as a good fit," ESPN's Jeremy Fowler wrote. "The Ravens likely won't re-sign Odell Beckham Jr., and they value established veterans at the receiver position. But a reunion with former New Orleans coach Sean Payton in Denver also makes sense."

Thomas was an elite player from 2016-2019, as he was named to two All-Pro teams and three Pro Bowls during that four-year span. He was the Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 when he set a single-season record for receptions with 149.

However, his career has been derailed by injuries since. Thomas, 31 (the same age as Beckham), has played in just 20 games over the past four seasons and missed the entire 2020 season with an ankle injury. This past season, Thomas had 39 catches for 448 yards and a touchdown in 10 games.

"When he's out there and healthy, he affects the game," an NFC scout told Fowler.

The Ravens have not ruled out a return for Beckham, who will become a free agent if he doesn't reach an extension with the team by March 14, a day after the start of the new league year.

Ravens Mentioned As One of Top Landing Spots for Brian Burns If He Becomes Available

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox ranked the Ravens as one of the three-best landing spots for Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Brian Burns if the two-time Pro Bowler becomes available.

According to CBS Sports' Josina Anderson, the Panthers informed Burns last week that they are breaking off talks on a contract extension. Panthers General Manager Dan Morgan said at the Combine that the team "would definitely use [the franchise tag] if we had to," although Anderson said a tag-and-trade scenario is a possibility.

The Ravens reportedly were among a handful of teams who inquired about Burns' availability before the trade deadline last year, but the Panthers expressed no interest in trading him.

Burns, 25, has 46 sacks in his five-year career.

The Ravens' top two edge rushers last season, Clowney and Van Noy, are pending free agents.

Ravens' Free Agent Crop Ranked Best in the NFL

CBS Sports’ Jeff Kerr ranked all 32 teams based on their free agent crop, and the Ravens took the top spot.

Of course, the Ravens' No. 1 ranking is the proverbial good news-bad news scenario. The good news is that the Ravens have a lot of really good players; the bad news is that many of them will be playing elsewhere next season.

"The Ravens arguably had the most talented roster in football last year, and it shows with the number of free agents available," Kerr wrote. "While Baltimore is going to franchise tag defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (at the very least), Patrick Queen is one of the best linebackers available on the open market. Running back J.K. Dobbins and safety Geno Stone are excellent value for any team that pursues them at their positions.

"Clowney was one of the best pass rushers late in games last season and guard Kevin Zeitler immediately improves the interior of an offensive line. Baltimore can't keep everyone, but Madubuike is the top priority."

Quick Hits

  • Pro Football Focus has released the first 21 names in its countdown of the NFL's top 101 players. Center Tyler Linderbaum is No. 97.

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