In 67 days the Ravens will begin their 2014 training camp.
John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and the rest of the 2008 first-year Ravens will begin their seventh NFL season with the club. Although training camp is over nine weeks away, mini-camp and practice time is quite limited (per Article 23, Section 6 of the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement).
The clock is ticking.
As you may have heard, the Ravens haven’t taken it easy since the draft ended. Baltimore has signed 17 undrafted free agents since then. Still there are players out there whose resume indicates they’d be able to help the Ravens get back to winning football in 2014.
Who are those players? What can the Ravens afford? In the event they bring in a veteran, will that help or hurt the development of younger players at that position?
At each level of their defense, the Ravens have enough players to mold a winning unit. They might want to add a cornerback, though, simply because of how pass-heavy the league is.
Mostly it looks like Baltimore should add offensive line depth. Not to detract from Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele or Eugene Monroe, but they need help. They need an insurance policy, as it were. It seems like Jeremy Zuttah will start at center and John Urschel will be groomed as his successor. If Joe Flacco wasn’t so incredibly durable, quarterback would certainly make the list, too.
As far as running backs go, I’d list that as a need as well, except for the fact that I think the Ravens have one (or two) roster spots in mind between the trio of Justin Forsett, Cierre Wood and Lorenzo Taliaferro.
So guard, tackle and cornerback are positions in which, if a player is found at the right price, the Ravens ought to make an addition.
According to RSR’s Brian McFarland, the Ravens have a current estimated salary cap budget of $6,015,653. While that does account for draft picks, there’s still a certain amount of the cap teams like to reserve in the event of an in-season injury. Usually teams have about $2 million or so stashed away for such a situation.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say the Ravens have $4 million left with which to sign free agents. First, they wouldn’t spend that money on one player, because at this stage in the process, the players that garner that type of money for one year are usually already signed. Second, and more importantly, teams can rollover cap space from one year to the next, provided they submit written notice, signed by the owner, by the date which is two weeks before the beginning of the next league year.
In other words, why would they spend the money if they don’t need to?
Assuming the Ravens do want to make some additions, here are two players that could fit their scheme and their budget.
Travelle Wharton, Guard, Carolina Panthers
Weight: 315 pounds
Age/NFL experience: 32/11th season
2013 cap hit: $1.1 million
2013 Pro Football Focus grade: 20.5
Why Ravens should sign him: Travelle Wharton has started 111 of the 115 NFL games in which he’s played. In most of those games Wharton has played left guard. In the event Osemele gets hurt again or the Ravens want to play Osemele at right tackle, signing Wharton would provide seamless flexibility.
He was the highest-rated free agent guard in the NFL last year. In fact, among the top 16 free agent guards that played the most snaps, one of them had a positive grade last season: Wharton (851 snaps).
While most of his experience is at left guard, Wharton also has experience playing left tackle. That would help Monroe’s development as well as give the team depth at the position.
Drayton Florence, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers
Weight: 200 pounds
Age/NFL experience: 33/12th season
2013 cap hit: $489,706
2013 Pro Football Focus grade: 7.2
Why Ravens should sign him: If you thought Corey Graham played well last year, you should’ve seen Drayton Florence. According to PFF, Graham was the 17th best free agent cornerback in 2013, earning a grade of 4.0. Florence was awarded a much higher grade of 7.2.
Florence also helped the Panthers achieve elite marks defensively. Carolina’s defense finished 2013 ranked 6th in passing (214.3 yards per game), 2nd in scoring (15.1 points per game) and 2nd overall (301.2 yards per game). Granted, Florence only started five games last year, but the Ravens won’t need him to be a starter. They’d want him to be their third or fourth cornerback, depending on the maturation of Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson.
In 2013, Florence defensed nine passes. He also made two interceptions, and turned one of those into a 38-yard touchdown.
Last year, on average, the top five free agent cornerbacks (Darrelle Revis, Brent Grimes, Vontae Davis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Jr.) intercepted one pass for every 467 snaps they played. Florence intercepted one pass for every 300 snaps he played.
He has a fair amount of “mileage on the tires,” but Florence can still play well. What’s more encouraging for a player of his age is that he doesn’t get injured often.
Even if the Ravens signed both of these players at double the amount of their total cap hit last year, the bill would total less than $3.2 million. With over $6M in current cap space, you have to think this would be a win/win for both the players and the Ravens organization.