From the time the playoffs end until the new league year begins, there’s a lot of talk about free agency and the NFL Draft. That conversation simmers year-round until it really heats up when the games end.
Though the 30 free agents-to-be the Ravens have on their roster will garner a lot of attention, and though the draft is very valuable to every franchise, it’s not a bad idea to examine the players that are under contract for the coming year. After all, before you go shopping, as it were, you must first take inventory.
As anyone who saw the Ravens play last year can attest, Baltimore is close to making another Super Bowl run in 2015. They dominated the Steelers in Pittsburgh and were a couple of plays away from beating the Super Bowl Champion Patriots for an unprecedented third time on the road in the playoffs.
So who are the players the Ravens want to build around and have lead the team in 2015?
The obvious first choice is Joe Flacco. He not only plays the toughest position in the sport, but he’s arguably the team’s best player. He’s in his prime and even though he’ll be under the direction of a new offensive coordinator, he should be able to acclimate fairly well to Mark Trestman.
Beyond Flacco, who are the players that the Ravens can count on to perform and lead those around them, on and off the field?
Right away, I think of three: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, and C.J. Mosley.
Yanda was named a First-Team All-Pro in 2014. He’s a tough, gritty, versatile, smart player who’s also a strong leader. Despite scheme or positional changes, Yanda has always done what’s been asked of him at a high level. He’s definitely one of the best players at any position in the NFL.
Osemele, like Yanda:
- Played his college football in the State of Iowa
- Has played out of position at tackle when the team needed him to
- Has missed minimal game time despite multiple injuries
- Is one of the best and toughest guards in the entire league
When you have a player like Yanda on your team, that’s good for you. But when you have a 25-year old that plays almost as well as him as your other guard, you’re kind of spoiled.
Regarding Mosley, it’s clear he’s a star. Last year, he barely missed out on winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and helped the Ravens finish 8th in total defense. With the defensive line of Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams, and Brent Urban in front of him for (potentially) an extended period of time, Mosley will really be able to shine.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he could win the Defensive Player of the Year award within five years.
The fifth most valuable Raven in 2015, as I see it, is going to be Jimmy Smith. Last year, Baltimore’s secondary struggles were well-documented. But in the seven games Smith played in, the Ravens went 5-2, allowed 14.9 points per game and seven passing touchdowns, despite playing against the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Matt Ryan.
Even if Smith isn’t fully-healed from the foot injury that shortened his 2014 campaign (which he should be), he’s still very important to the future of the Ravens. He has size, skills, confidence, and isn’t afraid of the big moment.
In other words, he is what every NFL general manager is looking for in a cornerback.
Flacco, Yanda, Osemele, Mosley, and Smith are all currently 30 years of age or younger and will count as $32,959,868 against the Ravens’ 2015 salary cap. Or, on average, each of those players will be on the books for just under $6.6 million next year.
To have that kind of young and (fairly) inexpensive talent spread throughout their roster is a dream scenario for the Ravens. We could see this nucleus remain in Baltimore for another five or six years.
That is value.