This is probably pretty obvious, but it’s important enough to mention that the next 32 hours will be huge in the Ravens’ quest to retain Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs. The Ravens have made what both sides have acknowledged was a substantial offer to Grubbs to convince him to eschew free agency and remain in Baltimore. All indications are that there isn’t much leeway to expand on the offer. Free agents aren’t allowed to negotiate with other teams until 4 p.m. tomorrow, but you can bet that Grubbs’ representative, Pat Dye, has already gotten a good idea about what teams are interested in his client and what they’re willing to pay. If Grubbs goes to free agency, that is a good indication that there will be another offer out there that surpasses the Ravens’ bid. And I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the Ravens then pull their offer and move on from Grubbs. That’s just my speculation based on them knowing they won’t win a bidding war with where they are with their salary cap situation.
As for that salary cap situation, Pro Football Talk late last night published a list of where every team stands under the cap now that it has been set at $120.6 million, just above last year’s number. The Ravens, as expected, are in the middle of the pack, sitting $14.45 million under the cap after the retirement of Ricky Williams and the release of Lee Evans, Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr. Fourteen teams currently have more cap space than them. If you are wondering, the Cincinnati Bengals have the most cap space as they are $49.9 million under, according to Pro Football Talk. That’s a scary thought when you consider how tough the Bengals were last season. I’m sure Marvin Lewis would love to get his hands on a couple of the Ravens’ free agents.
The Ravens are obviously not going to publicly divulge their free agent plans, but from everything we continue to hear, they will play free agency like they usually do. In other words, expect them to work first at keeping their own free agents. Once they know where they stand with a few of their own guys, they’ll wait for the market to calm down a little bit and then zero in a couple of players that fill specific needs. Things obviously could change, especially if several of their own free agents head elsewhere, but I’d be mildly surprised to see them make a huge splash in free agency. I say that because not only is that not their style, but they don’t have a ton of cap room and they also have other priorities with their money, such as agreeing to long-term deals with quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice and cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams.
Speaking of Webb and Williams, the Ravens haven’t made it official yet but the expectation remains that both restricted free agents will get first-round tenders. That could happen today. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is also expected to get tendered. It’s possible that running back Matt Lawrence won’t, but that decision has yet to be revealed.
I did this about two weeks ago in the same kind of blog, so it’s worth doing again now that we’re so close to free agency. Here are my predictions on whether the Ravens’ 12 unrestricted free agents will stay or go:
Stay: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Matt Birk, Cory Redding; Go: Ben Grubbs, Andre Gurode, Jarret Johnson, Edgar Jones, Jameel McClain, Brandon McKinney, Haruki Nakamura, Kris Wilson, Tom Zbikowski. The two I changed gears on were Johnson and Wilson. I based my reversal about Johnson on the fact that every day, I read about another team who will reportedly have interest in him. I know the Ravens really want to keep him, but they also have a couple of younger guys on their roster capable of stepping in. As for Wilson, that’s just a guess based on the fact that the Ravens are always looking to get younger.
In looking to add a wide receiver, the Ravens’ focus will be on getting an outside option who could stretch the field and push Anquan Boldin into the slot in certain situations. I still think free agent and former Indianapolis Colt Pierre Garcon would be a good fit. I just don’t see the Ravens ponying up the money for one of the top guys, like Vincent Jackson or Marques Colston. I’d be a little surprised if they went after an older receiver like Reggie Wayne particularly after the Lee Evans’ situation this past season. That brings me to the group of second-tier free agent wide receivers, which includes Garcon, Mario Manningham, Brandon Lloyd, Robert Meachem and Laurent Robinson. And if the price of that group is too high, I see the Ravens going after a wide receiver early in the draft.