The Ravens will have some big decisions to make this offseason. As is the case every year, key pieces will hit the free agent market looking to cash in on their first big contract. This year the two biggest names are Brandon Williams and Rick Wagner.
The pair have been the two biggest contributors from what was an otherwise disappointing 2013 draft class that saw Matt Elam and Arthur Brown taken in the first two rounds. Williams and Wagner, who were taken in the third and fifth rounds respectively, have each been a steady and at times dominant presence on their side of the ball.
The question is, will the Ravens try to keep one, both, or neither come March?
In recent years, Ozzie Newsome has done a fairly nice job of knowing when to let the right players walk, and when to make an aggressive effort to retain homegrown talent.
Then there were those who did get away.
Some would have been nice to keep around. Kelechi Osemele and Torrey Smith come to mind, but they went to the highest bidder, and who can blame them? But for every K.O. and Torrey, there is a Bart Scott, Arthur Jones, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, or Ben Grubbs. Players who bounced around the NFL after leaving Baltimore and never enjoyed the success they had in Baltimore.
So do the Ravens prioritize Wagner or Williams? Do they let them both walk, or try to keep them both this offseason?
Wagner has been a steady presence along the offensive line. The Ravens have had more combinations protecting Flacco this year than any other team in the NFL. Keeping Wagner would give that unit continuity going into next year. Quality offensive line play and depth is a formula for success. Just look at the teams with the two best records in each conference. The Dallas Cowboys are 10-1 and that comes behind what some are calling one of the best offensive lines in history. The Oakland Raiders are 8-2 and invested heavily in their line by signing Osemele away from the Ravens. It’s not a coincidence that both teams are among the most explosive offensively in all of football.
Brandon Williams has been a dominant run stuffer and one of the biggest reasons for the Ravens’ defensive resurgence. The combination of Williams, Michael Pierce and Timmy Jernigan can often make teams one-dimensional. Teams know they can’t run the ball against Baltimore’s front seven and Williams, at 330 pounds, is literally the biggest reason for that. Signing him to a long-term deal and pairing him with C.J. Mosley and Jimmy Smith would give the Ravens one of the most solid defensive foundations in all of the NFL.
So what does Ozzie do?
Assuming they can’t keep both, the Ravens should make their top priority retaining Williams. With the front office landing two starters in this past year’s draft in Alex Lewis and Ronnie Stanley, they can afford to let Wagner walk. Lewis, who was a left tackle at Nebraska, can then swing out to right tackle and give the Ravens continuity at each tackle position for the next three seasons.
Williams should be added to the list of homegrown talent that stays in Baltimore. He’s a dominant player who is entering his prime. Keeping him around could make the defensive dominance of 2016 a constant over the next several seasons.
What do you think?