The Ravens have their work cut out for them in preparation for the 2014 NFL season.
It all starts with coaching as the team searches for Jim Caldwell’s successor at offensive coordinator. Finding someone that can get the most out of each and every player on the roster, who will put players in the best possible positions to succeed is the ultimate goal for John Harbaugh and whoever ends up on his staff.
The brass have their work cut out for them when it comes to filling the roster as well. It won’t be easy – it never is – but this year especially.
During the Ravens end of year press conference, General Manager Ozzie Newsome stated the team needs to get bigger in the interior of the offensive line. This is true, but what about on the outside?
Shoring up the offensive line is a must. Joe Flacco can not be sacked 48 times next year and with Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher being free agents, finding protection for Joe is of utter importance.
Here is a look at the top five free agent offensive tackles.
1. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers
34 years of age heading into his 12th NFL season, Gross is considered the top tackle in free agency. The two-time Pro Bowler played 1014 snaps in 2013 and graded out with a 33.5 rating on Pro Football Focus, allowing six sacks and one other hit on quarterback Cam Newton. Having taken a pay cut in the the 2013 offseason, it is unknown at this time if Carolina plans to bring Gross back in 2014.
2. Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints
30 years of age heading into his ninth NFL season, Strief started 15 games for the Saints in 2013 at right tackle. Strief, the two-time Madden Most Valuable Protector Award winner (2009, 2011) played 1062 snaps for the Saints recording a 26.5 PFF grade for 2013. Strief is part of an offensive line that allowed just 37 sacks to Drew Brees in 2013. The Saints head into this offseason an estimated $12.5 million over the projected salary cap of $126.6 million. While Brees has been reported to be open to a pay cut to help re-sign some of the Saints’ free agents, Strief could find himself as a cap casualty.
3. Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals
28 years of age heading into his sixth NFL season, Collins played in 15 games for the Bengals in 2013, starting seven. The promising talent Collins possesses showed in 2013, as playing in just 592 snaps he graded out with high marks 14.0 for the season per PFF. Collins, who didn’t allow a quarterback sack in 330 plays as a pass blocker (262 were as a run blocker) faced some of the league’s best pass rushers in 2013. It is likely Collins would command big money in free agency being a blind-side protector; however, he may fit the Ravens perfectly if they are unable to work out a deal with Eugene Monroe.
4. Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
29 years of age heading into his seventh NFL season, the former Glen Burnie Gopher started 12 games for the Chiefs in 2013 at left tackle. The first-time Pro-Bowler (2013) played 800 snaps and graded out on PFF with a 10.0 rating. The knock on Albert in 2013 was his five false start penalties, not something Ravens fans want to hear for sure. Still, Albert allowed only four and a half sacks on quarterback Alex Smith.
5. Rodger Saffold, Saint Louis Rams
26 years of age heading into his fifth NFL season, Saffold played in 12 games for the Rams in 2013, starting nine. The Rams used Saffold all along the offensive line in 2013 (LT, RG, RT), as he played 557 overall snaps and finished the season with a PFF rating of 6.7. The former second-round draft pick allowed only two sacks in 2013, and showed promising potential at guard. Saffold has a lengthy injury history that, despite his flashes of potential, still means he’ll come affixed with the ‘buyer beware’ tag when he hits the open market, according ESPN NFC West writer Nick Wagoner. The Ravens are strong at the guard position; however, having depth at the position would bode well considering the uncertainty of Kelechi Osemele’s return from back surgery.
The above mentioned free agents could be targeted by the Ravens, who are in a good – but not great – cap situation.
Early reports are that the 2014 Salary Cap will be set at $126.3M, but other reports indicate that the Cap could go as high as $128-129M per RSR’s Brian McFarland. The Ravens would have just under $14.5M in Cap space. But, that figure is for only the 37 players presently under contract for 2014.
The old motto of “It starts up front” is certainly what the Ravens need to abide by this offseason and one Joe Flacco desperately needs.
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