Sizing up free safety market for Ravens

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
3:00
PM ET
General manager Ozzie Newsome said adding "a more athletic safety" was among the top priorities for the Baltimore Ravens this offseason. After the Ravens used a first-round pick on Matt Elam, it seems more likely that Baltimore will sign an experienced free safety in free agency. It would be a risky venture to have two young players as your last line of defense.

On the eve of free agency, let's gauge the free-agent safety class:

Bethea
Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis

Designation: Unrestricted free agent

Comment: Bethea is a reliable defender who has good range. He is extremely dependable and hasn't missed a game since 2007. The downside is he turns 30 before the season begins. Bethea isn't known for being much of a playmaker with a total of two interceptions the past three years.

Bill Polian's grade: A

Chances of signing with Ravens: On one hand, I can see the Ravens signing Bethea because he will likely come at a good value. But I believe the Ravens are looking for someone who makes more plays than Bethea.



Bailey
Champ Bailey, Denver

Designation: Salary-cap cut

Comment: Bailey is open to switching from cornerback to safety, which is the best way to extend his career. The Ravens couldn't sign someone with a better résumé: 52 career interceptions and 12 Pro Bowl selections. But Bailey is 35 and was limited to three starts in the regular season because of a nagging foot injury.

Bill Polian's grade: D (as a cornerback)

Chances of signing with Ravens: My knee-jerk reaction is the Ravens wouldn't sign Bailey after dealing with another future Hall of Fame defender on the decline (Ed Reed). That being said, Rod Woodson was 34 when the Ravens converted him from cornerback to safety. The Ravens would make this move only if they were confident Bailey can stay healthy.



Byrd
Jairus Byrd, Buffalo

Designation: Unrestricted free agent

Comment: He is clearly the top available safety. The three-time Pro Bowl defender is the type of playmaker who would make the Ravens' defense a top-10 one again. Byrd has 33 combined interceptions and forced fumbles in just 73 career games. His biggest weakness is the lack of ideal speed, which he offsets with instincts.

Bill Polian's grade: B-minus

Chances of signing with Ravens: There's a report Byrd is seeking $9 million per season. The Ravens spend that type of money to keep their own players, not to get other teams' free agents. It would be out of character for them to make this move. The Miami Dolphins, St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns are more likely destinations.



Clemons
Chris Clemons, Miami

Designation: Unrestricted free agent

Comment: He is a very underrated defender. Clemons is a hybrid who played strong safety last season but is equally as effective in pass defense. Not many knew Clemons was the ninth-best safety in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. That's one spot behind the more well-known Byrd.

Bill Polian's grade: B

Chances of signing with Ravens: Clemons would be at the top of my wish list. Only 11 completed passes were credited against Clemons all season. This tells me that he's a difference-maker.



Delmas
Louis Delmas, Detroit

Designation: Salary-cap cut

Comment: What stands out is he is 26, comes up with big plays and has graded out as a top-25 safety by Pro Football Focus. The drawback is his history with knee injuries.

Bill Polian's grade: C-minus

Chances of signing with Ravens: The injury history is a big concern. Coach John Harbaugh doesn't like players who miss practice. It's probably a red flag that Delmas remains unsigned after visiting the Steelers, Dolphins and Saints.



Jenkins
Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans

Designation: Unrestricted free agent

Comment: The former first-round pick has always shown great potential as a playmaker, but he has been inconsistent at times in pass coverage and as an open-field tackler. Jenkins is often described as a cornerback-safety tweener, which basically means he's versatile enough to play both spots but doesn't excel in either one. He is just 26, so there is a chance he can deliver a breakthrough season.

Bill Polian's grade: D

Chances of signing with Ravens: Jenkins has a lot of qualities that the Ravens covet. He is a hard worker and a leader (the Saints' defensive captain the past two seasons). His ability to play deep, cover the slot and blitz occasionally would make him a good fit for the Ravens' style of play. It's his up-and-down play that causes concern.



Mitchell
Mike Mitchell, Carolina

Designation: Unrestricted free agent

Comment: The former second-round pick went from a backup with the Raiders to a starter in his first season with the Panthers. Mitchell makes good reads and has a knack for being around the ball. He is 26 and has intriguing upside.

Bill Polian's grade: B-minus

Chances of signing with Ravens: It's too much of a risk to go with someone who has just one year of starting experience. Plus, Mitchell lacks the type of range the Ravens want for that position.



Reed
Ed Reed, New York Jets

Designation: Unrestricted free agent

Comment: Reed looked old and slow last season. The Texans decided to part ways with him 10 weeks into the season after giving him $6 million guaranteed. He landed with the New York Jets and had three interceptions in his final four games. But he gave up big plays, including a 66-yard touchdown pass at M&T Bank Stadium.

Bill Polian's grade: D

Chances of signing with Ravens: The only time the Ravens should re-sign Reed is for a one-day contract when he decides to retire.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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