“I think we need to have a more athletic safety in the defense.” — Ozzie Newsome
At the Ravens’ year-end press conference in early January, Newsome spoke at length about which types of players the Ravens will target in order to ensure the disappointment of 2013 doesn’t become a pattern in 2014.
Wide receivers and offensive linemen are positions we’ve already looked at in past weeks. So now as we’re one day away from the beginning of free agency, let’s take a look at that third and final position Newsome alluded to: free safety.
For 11 years Ed Reed roamed the back end of Baltimore’s defense with legendary range and instinct, so this is kind of new territory for Ravens personnel. Ideally, if they acquire a free safety, the Ravens can move Matt Elam back to his natural position (strong safety). When you look at the best teams in any sport, they have players playing in their natural positions without having to “force it” at another position just to fill a need.
Here are three players that will be officially available tomorrow at 4 P.M. ET that I think will fit the Ravens budget, personality and defensive scheme.
Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills)
2013 stats: 48 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 4 interceptions, 1.0 sack, 1 forced fumble
2013 cap hit: $6.916 million
Team’s overall defensive rank: 10th
Why he should come to Baltimore: At 5’10” and 203 pounds, Jairus Byrd is the smallest of these safeties, but he may bring the biggest impact. Byrd flies to the football in both the pass game and the run game. This three-time Pro Bowler won’t back down when going against bigger players and tries to score whenever he touches the ball.
That sounds like a Raven to me.
Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans Saints)
2013 stats: 68 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
2013 cap hit: $4.032 million
Team’s overall defensive rank: 4th
Why he should come to Baltimore: He’s an enforcer, a very effective blitzer and a Super Bowl champion. He also shows impressive agility as he can tackle from multiple angles. Jenkins reminds me of Steelers safety Troy Polamalu with his passion and style of play, but is two inches taller and six years younger than Polamalu.
Mike Mitchell (Carolina Panthers)
2013 stats: 66 tackles, 8 passes defensed, 4 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
2013 cap hit: $1 million
Team’s overall defensive rank: 2nd
Why he should come to Baltimore: Of these three players, Mike Mitchell had the best 2013 campaign while playing on the second-best defense in football. He signed a one-year, $1 million contract with Carolina after playing his first four seasons in Oakland. He knows what it means to play determined, physical football.
Mitchell played his college ball at Ohio University, which is three hours east of where John Harbaugh played his college ball (Miami (OH)). If Harbaugh wants a reference on Mitchell, he can ask Hugh Jackson who was Mitchell’s head coach in Oakland during the 2011 season (Jackson coached under Harbaugh in Baltimore from 2008-09).
Each of these players would probably be a good fit in Baltimore. They all play with a high level of swagger and physicality. They’ve all played on very good defenses. Like Baltimore, they’ve played in divisional games against premier talent.
Mitchell is the one with the least amount of ties to his current team and figures to be the most affordable in 2014. Jenkins is in his prime and is coming off of his best all-around season to date. While he may cost the most, Byrd is probably the best free safety available.
Tuesday afternoon can’t get here soon enough.