With free agency nearing, Ravens have money to spend and decisions to make

Team must address holes on offensive line and at wide receiver, running back, linebacker, safety

March 09, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

The NFL's annual free-agency spending spree officially gets underway Tuesday, with the Ravens in a slightly different position than in the recent past.

An elevated salary cap, coupled with a few cost-saving moves earlier this offseason, has left the Ravens with nearly $25 million of cap space. General manager Ozzie Newsome, who traditionally exercises discipline, restraint and patience at this time of year, already has vowed to explore every way of improving a team that missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2007.

"If there's a free agent that we feel like can come in and impact our football team, that's something we would be attracted to," Newsome said at the NFL scouting combine last month in Indianapolis. "We will use every avenue this year to make our team better."

The Ravens will address many of their needs in the college draft in May, but their salary cap situation and roster holes could prompt them to be more active than usual in free agency.

Here are several areas on which they figure to focus:

Offensive line

Breakdown: The Ravens have prioritized fixing their offensive line after a season in which it allowed repeated hits to quarterback Joe Flacco and opened few holes in the running game.

As of now, Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda appears to be the only sure thing at his current position, though Kelechi Osemele, who is ahead of schedule after having back surgery in November, should slot in at either left guard or right tackle. But beyond that, questions remain.

After deciding not to apply the franchise tag to left tackle Eugene Monroe, the Ravens find themselves with a hole on Flacco's blind side that will be expensive to fill. They still want Monroe to return but appear unlikely to outbid his expected suitors. They also are in need of a right tackle as Michael Oher, who started every game during the past five seasons, is expected to move on in free agency. Osemele and Rick Wagner are options if the Ravens don't address the position in the draft or free agency.

They also are expected to pursue a veteran center with Gino Gradkowski struggling last year and with A.Q. Shipley and Ryan Jensen not necessarily considered long-term answers.

Potential free-agent fits: Offensive tackles — Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs; Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals; Monroe, Ravens; Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders. Guards — Jon Asamoah, Chiefs; Zane Beadles, Denver Broncos; Geoff Schwartz, Chiefs. Centers — Brian de la Puente, New Orleans Saints; Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay Packers; Jonathan Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers.

Wide receivers/tight ends

Breakdown: Clearly, Flacco needs more targets, specifically a receiver who can work underneath, make tough catches, and become a weapon on third down and in the red zone. The Ravens figure to address this need early in a wide receiver- and tight end-rich draft, but another experienced pass-catching option would be beneficial.

Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown are the top two receivers on the depth chart, and the re-signing of tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year deal was a necessary step. The Ravens also remain interested in re-signing Jacoby Jones, but he's an outside deep threat, not the type of receiver they're looking to add.

The Ravens still lack a proven route runner to work in the slot and reprise the role that Anquan Boldin occupied before he was traded last offseason. With free-agent tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark unlikely to return, they also need another option behind Pitta.

Potential free-agent fits: Wide receivers — Julian Edelman, New England Patriots; Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants; Andre Roberts, Arizona Cardinals; Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh Steelers; Golden Tate, Seattle Seahawks. Tight ends — Jermichael Finley, Packers; Garrett Graham, Houston Texans.

Running backs

Breakdown: Ray Rice's legal problems and potential suspension and Bernard Pierce's offseason shoulder surgery have the Ravens intent on adding a couple of running backs.

For now, they have vowed to stick with Rice, who was arrested last month and charged with simple assault after an altercation with his fiancee. But if more damning evidence on Rice surfaces, they could be forced to reconsider. Pierce also is expected to be back for training camp.

Coach John Harbaugh has vowed to "overhaul" the running game, while assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said before Rice's incident that adding another running back is a priority. The Ravens set a franchise-worst mark in rushing yards last season, and the problems weren't all on the offensive line.

The Ravens probably will look to grab a running back in the draft, but veteran insurance, perhaps in the form of a physical, short-yardage back, would be welcome, especially at a cheap price. Once free agency begins, it's usually a buyer's market at running back.

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