Once 4PM rolls around on Tuesday afternoon, the official start of free agency, the Baltimore Ravens will find themselves in seemingly unchartered territory with plenty of cap space, which could lead to some uncharacteristically early free agent signings.
The Ravens typically don’t spend heavily in free agency – and rightfully so, as there are better ways to build a roster. But this year could be different and their comfortable cap situation could persuade them to make a notable signing, rather than a handful of castoffs to save compensatory picks.
They’ll likely make a few signings of released players for value purposes, but given the dollars available in the cap cupboard, there’s some leeway on Baltimore’s side when it comes to handing one or two deals to some notable free agents.
That process won’t get into full swing, however, until the Ravens assess and decide which players of their own they want to bring back on new deals.
With a long list of unrestricted free agents, the Ravens (as usual) will likely lose several starters from last season’s team in free agency. But with the extra money to spend this year, they are in position to bring home more of their own unrestricted free agents than normal.
Having over $20 million to spend in free agency, the Ravens have the luxury of re-signing multiple free agents from last year’s team.
But at what price?
Despite the cap space, the Ravens still need to set aside room for draft picks, as well as room for possible extensions that could be completed this offseason, most notably with wide receiver Torrey Smith.
Here’s a look at the absolute maximum the Ravens should opt to pay for their own free agents.
The players who made the list are only ones who are worth Baltimore’s time to negotiate with. If one of the team’s unrestricted free agents didn’t make the list, they either aren’t worth noting because if they returned, their contract would be minimal (Tandon Doss, Dallas Clark, Terrence Cody, Jeromy Miles, Bernard Scott) or wouldn’t be worth helplessly bidding against other teams over (Art Jones).
Or there’s also the case of players who simply don’t present much value to the team, even if presented with a reasonable deal (Ed Dickson, Michael Oher).
(Note: to make things easier, total value of contracts are suggested).
This isn’t rocket science here: the Ravens need a franchise left tackle of Monroe’s caliber, and they face some added pressure having dealt two draft picks to rent Monroe last season. After Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jason Peters received a five-year deal worth more than $50 million, it all but solidified the fact that Monroe will receiver a similar deal, probably putting him out of Baltimore’s price range. It isn’t a secret that having Monroe long-term would be the most beneficial move the team can make to the roster this offseason, however at this point it seems Monroe has worked his way toward a hefty deal out of Baltimore’s range.
Young left tackles with Monroe’s talent don’t hit the open market often, but Baltimore simply doesn’t invest much of the team’s salary cap into the offensive line. The front office rarely pays top dollar to upgrade the offensive line, and odds are that likely won’t change this offseason. The first sign of that was Baltimore’s decision not to apply the franchise tag to Monroe.
Maximum offer: 5 years, $45 million
For an in-depth look at whether or not the Ravens should re-sign Smith, take a look here . After a renaissance 2013 season, Smith is set to cash in this week, and would be of much value primarily to a 4-3 defense looking for a prototypical coverage linebacker. In Baltimore’s defense, a prospective Smith return would mean he’d likely be back at the strong side linebacker position again in 2014 – not his most ideal position – which would make it unwise to overspend for the 31-year-old veteran’s services.
Ideally the Ravens need a run-stopping thumper to play next to Arthur Brown next season (that player could be Josh Bynes), and Smith doesn’t exactly fill that need. Smith is adequate in run defense though, and is still above average in coverage. If signed for an affordable deal, a possible Smith/Brown linebacker duo would be one of the better coverage 3-4 inside linebacker duos in the league.
Maximum offer: 2 years, $7 million
His four interceptions in 2013 and two postseason interceptions in 2012 may make him look like a better cover corner than he is, as realistically Graham is nothing better than a middle-of-the-line third corner who can alternate between the outside and the slot. The Ravens could have one of the top cornerback tandems next season in Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, and adding a good-but-not-great third corner in Graham would nearly solidify Baltimore’s cornerback position before the draft. Retaining Graham would benefit the transition to a new secondary coach in Steve Spagnuolo by providing continuity, but worst case, if another teams wishes to overpay for Graham’s services, there’s always Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and the draft to add depth at the position.
Maximum offer: 2 years, $5.6 million
If you want to know what type of value re-signing Jones would bring to the Ravens, take a further look here. Long story short, 2013 may have been Jones’ best NFL season as a wide receiver, and he is still one of the best return men in the game. As a No. 3/4 wide receiver and top-tier return man, the Ravens would be wise to try to keep Jones in Baltimore and let him continue to work with Joe Flacco. They paid him $6.5 million over two years in the 2012 offseason, and a three-year deal with similar pay would be reasonable to attempt to keep Jones around.
Maximum offer: 3 years, $11 million
To state the obvious, the Ravens need to find a true free safety this offseason, something they didn’t have in the first year of the post-Ed Reed era. Ihedigbo was forced into an unexpected role as the leader of the back end of the defense, with rookie Matt Elam handling most of the free safety duties.
Moving Elam to strong safety next season is a foregone conclusion, and Ihedigbo would only provide value to the team as a backup at both safety positions. Some safety-needy team will likely pay Ihedigbo starter money after an impressive 2013 season, but if not, the Ravens would benefit from re-signing Ihedigbo to a thrifty deal.
Maximum offer: 2 years, $2.2 million