Monday, December 30, 2013
Stay or go: Looking at Ravens' free agents
By Jamison Hensley
The Baltimore Ravens' soon-to-be free agents -- it's 13 by my count -- all cleaned out their lockers on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after their disappointing season came to a close in a 34-17 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals. And the ones who spoke, talked about their desire to return.
But, as everyone knows, roster change is part of the NFL landscape and many won't be back. Let's cut through the pleasantries and examine the future of the seven Ravens starters who are set to hit free agency at 4 p.m. ET on March 11:
What he did in 2013: A special teams player for most of his career, Ihedigbo was one of the bigger surprises on defense, making 101 tackles and providing much-needed leadership. He is a high-effort, hard-hitting player who started a career-high 16 games.
What Ravens should do with Ihedigbo: Under normal circumstances, it would be a no-brainer to bring him back. He exceeded expectations and could be had a relatively good price. But he's a strong safety just like first-round pick Matt Elam, who played out of position as a rookie. Based on how the secondary played, it's in the Ravens' best interest to add a free safety with better ball skills and move Elam to strong safety. Ihedigbo would be an excellent backup plan.
What he did in 2013: A fifth-round pick in 2010, Jones got better each season and established himself as the Ravens' top lineman this year. With Haloti Ngata drawing double teams, Jones made the plays up front with 53 tackles and four sacks.
What Ravens should do with Jones: They won't be able to match the offers from other teams. File this under the same category as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams. This is another situation where the development of the player will draw too much interest from other teams in free agency. The Ravens would undoubtedly want Jones back, but his play will price him out of what the Ravens can pay him.
What he did in 2013: It took time for Jones to get healthy after teammate Brynden Trawick ran into him in the season opener and injured his knee. Jones showed flashes, although not consistency, as a wide receiver and finished fourth on the team with 37 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest impact came on returns, where he averaged 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in NFL) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the NFL).
What the Ravens should do with Jones: It's tough to say, but the value isn't there to bring him back. The Ravens need to upgrade at the No. 2 wide receiver position, so that would reduce Jones' role on offense. There's no questioning Jones is a playmaker on special teams. It's just difficult to justify his $4 million price tag. If he doesn't command much in free agency and comes back for less, then it makes more sense to re-sign Jones.
What he did in 2013: After being traded from Jacksonville, Monroe was a significant improvement over Bryant McKinnie. He did enough to show he can protect Joe Flacco's blind side for years to come.
What the Ravens should do with Monroe: The team has to make it a priority to keep him. Monroe isn't a Pro Bowl blocker, but he's better than what the Ravens can get and he would fit into the team's price range. And, unlike McKinnie, the Ravens won't have to worry about Monroe's attitude and physical conditioning.
What he did in 2013: It was a tough year that began with an ankle sprain in the season opener. Oher was an average right tackle who once again had problems with penalties and pass protection.
What the Ravens should do with Oher: It's time to part ways. Oher played with passion, but he never reached the expectations of a first-round pick. The Ravens need to invest in a left tackle, and they probably wouldn't have the cap room to keep Oher if they wanted to do so. Oher will get paid this offseason. It's just going to be another team that does it.
What he did in 2013: Pitta wasn't the same play-making target from a year ago. Still, it was a major accomplishment that he was even on the field. A dislocated hip, which was originally thought to be a season-ending injury, sidelined him for 12 games. Pitta finished with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.
What the Ravens should do with Pitta: The Ravens have to do everything they can to keep Pitta. When completely healthy, he's the Ravens' best weapon on third down and in the red zone. Losing Pitta would be more devastating to Flacco and the passing game than parting ways with Anquan Boldin this year.
What he did in 2013: Signed in June after Rolando McClain retired, Smith was the reason why no one talked about the Ravens missing Ray Lewis this year. He finished with 123 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, 19 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
What the Ravens should do with Smith: A short-term deal would make sense for Smith, who will turn 32 in March. A big part of the decision with Smith hinges on whether the Ravens believe rookie second-round pick Arthur Brown can step up into a starting role next season and whether the team wants Jameel McClain at his current price tag ($3.2 million salary in 2014).