Chris Canty, Marcus Spears were right players at right price for Ravens

March 19, 2013|Mike Preston

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is back to his old theme: "right player, right price."

He is hustling around the NFL these days searching flea markets and basements trying to find player bargains to fill out his roster to start the 2013 season.

The Ravens, who have little salary cap room, might be able to sign a big-name free agent like linebacker Elvis Dumervil or James Harrison if they cut a veteran or two, but they're basically in the hunt for stop-gap veterans who still might have a year or two left.

That is why it was no surprise in the past two weeks when the Ravens added former New York Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty and end Marcus Spears, who spent the previous eight years with the Dallas Cowboys.

They were the right players at the right price. Canty reportedly signed for three years at $8 million and Spears for two at $3.55 million. They could provide big dividends for the Ravens.

It's no secret that after last season the No. 1 priority on the field for the Ravens was to patch up their run defense, which allowed 122.8 yards per game.

Both of the team's starting defensive tackles, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody, had disappointing seasons, and top reserve Ma'ake Kemoeatu was solid, but played more than his veteran body could stand.

Canty, though, should become a starter, provided he has recovered from nagging knee injuries that forced him to miss most of last season. In 2011, Canty posted a career high in tackles (44) and sacks (four). He is big enough to play the run, and also gives the Ravens something they have lacked for years.

In Canty, they now have a tackle that can pressure a quarterback from the inside. If Ngata decides to report in good shape this season and Canty plays up to par, then the Ravens should have a strong inside presence.

Spears was in a different situation than Canty before signing with the Ravens. Canty was a salary cap casualty in New York. Spears was cut by the Cowboys because they switching defensive coordinators, as Rob Ryan was replaced by Monte Kiffin.

Kiffin wanted more pass rushing pressure from the outside, and Spears was more of a run stopper. That's exactly what the Ravens wanted.

In nine seasons with Dallas, Spears played in 119 games, starting 89. He had 185 tackles, including eight sacks.

Both Spears and Canty are total team guys. Neither is very flashy, but both are solid and professional. Canty, though, will make more spectacular plays because of his ability to rush the passer.

Unless they sign a Harrison or Dumervil, don't expect too much flash from the free agents the Ravens sign this offseason.

With the draft coming up in April, the Ravens' list of needs includes inside linebackers and safeties, even if they retain unrestricted free agent Ed Reed.

While they have to rebuild on defense, the Ravens also need to strengthen the offensive line. The assumption here is that they stockpile with the draft picks, and then go back to the bargain basement deals afterward to fill out the roster.

They'll sign a veteran or two for the offensive line, which could become the strength of the team this season. They'll be guys who have been around as long as Canty and Spears, veterans who can fill in or challenge a second-year player like Gino Gradkowski for the starting center job.

Over the past two weeks, Newsome has taken a lot of criticism for allowing a lot of players to leave from last season's Super Bowl team. There was really nothing he could do about it unless he wanted to significantly overpay a couple to stay.

The thing to remember is that the Ravens have been one of the NFL's top franchises since moving to Baltimore from Cleveland in 1995. In that period, there have been only two constants: linebacker Ray Lewis and Newsome.

Now there is only one — Newsome. And so far the free agent acquisitions this offseason have been solid. They aren't spectacular, but given the salary cap situations, the Ravens had made good improvements in an area where they needed it most.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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