Greg DePalma’s take on the Raven’s free agency outlook. Hear Greg & Ourlads’ Dan Shonka weekly on Thursdays on the Prime Sports Network: http://primesportsnetwork.com/category/pro-football/
The Ravens are not that far off from contending for another Super Bowl run. They have an excellent head coach (John Harbaugh), a quality signal-caller (Joe Flacco) and a top-10 defense. And most important they have a very good general manager (Ozzie Newsome) that can get things done.
Top free agents
-FB Kyle Juszczyk
-WR Kamar Aiken
-OT Ricky Wagner
-NT Brandon Williams
-DE Lawrence Guy
-S Matt Elam
-RB…Kenneth Dixon could be their future starter as soon as this season, but the overall talent pool is limited here.
-FB…FA Juszczyk has 78 receptions the past two seasons combined and is a good fit with this offense. He’s the top free agent for his position which could ultimately cost the Ravens a good player.
-WR…With Steve Smith Sr. retiring and Aiken a free agent this position is as important as any for the Ravens to address. Since they don’t have the funds look for Newsome to land a receiver early in the draft.
-OL…With a versatile guard like Alex Lewis and a limited budget the Ravens will most likely let Wagner walk. While I don’t see this position as a top priority, they do need to acquire one starter and add some depth. FA Vlad Ducasse is not the answer.
-DL…Brandon Williams is a good young nose tackle, but once again I don’t see the Ravens spending what they don’t have. They do have fellow nose Michael Pierce, a rookie free agent gem Newsome unearthed last year from Samford which would ease the loss of Williams. Newsome also added middle-round talents like Willie Henry and Carl Davis the past two drafts, but Davis missed the entire season with an ankle injury and Henry was placed on IR for the last seven games of his rookie season. And if they lose defensive end Lawrence Guy too, they’ll have to add some depth here for sure.
-LB…This is another top position need with aging players like Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Suggs can still play, but Dumervil should be released to open up much needed cap relief. And it didn’t help that leading tackler Zach Orr announced his retirement last month due to a spinal injury. Either way Newsome needs more talent here both inside and out and it’s about time he finds himself their next premier pass rusher.
Key Injuries/games missed
Baltimore had to deal with a lot of injuries even though they did not lose a major piece for the season. The offensive line had several starters miss enough time that it caused a functionality problem that never worked itself out. And three of their top four tight ends missed significant time too including 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams, who missed most of the season and veteran free agent pick-up Ben Watson who tore his Achilles in the pre-season.
Additionally, several top rookies had a hard time staying healthy including third-round linebacker Bronson Kaufusi who missed the entire season with a broken ankle.
Newsome’s main job this off-season is to clear whatever room he can in order to fix a few issues. If the Ravens can stay healthy on offense up-front then it’s up to him to find some difference-makers to give Flacco some help. If he can afford to sign a decent free agent I would look at receivers like Andre Holmes, Terrelle Pryor and Kendall Wright. He might also find Cordarrelle Patterson a good fit since Flacco likes the deep ball.
The defense should be all about the linebacker spot, but the Ravens won’t have the money to land anyone substantial.
My guess is that Newsome will try and find his playmaker through free agency and his pass rusher through the draft.
The Ravens top two needs are at receiver and linebacker. That’s why a defender like Reuben Foster would make a lot of sense as their top draft pick. It doesn’t hurt that Newsome had success drafting another Alabama linebacker in 2014 (C.J. Mosley).
If Newsome decides to wait until the second-round to draft a linebacker like a T. J. Watt, and even if he signs a free agent receiver, don’t be surprised if he pulls the trigger on another one with the 16th pick like either Corey Davis or Mike Williams. Same goes for the tight end spot. That position is not a primary need, but if a player like O.J. Howard were still available, Newsome could do what he does best and grab the best player on his board.
By the way, if FA Kyle Juszczyk departs look for the Ravens to grab either Freddie Stevenson or Sam Rogers. The fullback position is very valuable to their offense and to Flacco.