The Ravens have never made it a secret that they prefer to pay the talent that they spend time developing within the organization. While most teams spend in free agency pursuing new names and faces (many of them often Ravens), it’s Ozzie’s preference to keep the players with whom the Ravens and coaches have spent endless hours working, while occasionally sprinkling in some good value talent here and there.
So far, 2015 has been no different. As usual, teams coveted and overpaid Ravens players who hit the open market. The Ravens have added a couple veterans at the right price like Kendrick Lewis and Matt Schaub, but owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear last week that the team’s higher priority right now is extending their own players.
“We still have offers…..we’d like to extend Marshal Yanda, we’d like to extend Jimmy Smith, Justin Tucker,” Bisciotti said. “In all those instances, we have an opportunity to create more cap space than we have now.”
All three players are critical to the Ravens success in 2015 and beyond, and the ultimate goal is to extend all three. But if the Ravens can only get two done this offseason, the higher priority should be Tucker and Yanda.
Many would disagree with this order. The Ravens know all too well how hard life is without Jimmy Smith. After week 8 last year the Ravens secondary was a revolving door that seemed to be duct-taped together week to week. An argument can be easily made that the Ravens would have beat the Patriots in the playoffs had Smith been on the field.
Therein lies the biggest problem with Smith – the Ravens have too often had to adjust to life without him. Of his four seasons, Jimmy has played a full season just once.
With Marshal Yanda and Justin Tucker, the Ravens aren’t just investing in the best at their respective positions. The risk that goes along with the dollars is significantly less.
Yanda is the ultimate team player and is quietly one of the best players in franchise history. Not only does he consistently grade out as one of the best linemen in the league, he’s also only missed two starts in his past five seasons. He’s proven to be very versatile as he swung out to right tackle at the tail end of last year when Rick Wagner went down with a foot injury. He’s one of the most respected veterans on the team, and is still fairly young at age 30 with no signs of slowing down.
Justin Tucker has emerged as one of the most reliable and clutch kickers in the game and as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. While kickers are more often singled out for losing games, Tucker has single-handedly won games for the Ravens over the past three years. Fans often don’t realize how important a good kicker is until their team doesn’t have one.
Just ask the Detroit Lions whose kickers missed 8 of their first 12 field goals through the first five weeks of the season last year, including three in a 17-14 loss to the Bills. They lost the division by one game to the Packers.
The bottom line is the risk that goes along with extending Tucker and Yanda is significantly less than it is with Smith. While Smith has the potential to evolve into one of the top corners in the league, he needs to prove to the Ravens that he can stay on the field consistently and produce at a high level for a full season.
Yanda and Tucker have shown that they are as durable as they are elite. For that reason, the Ravens priority should be to lock them up first.