Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Free-agency review: Ravens
By Jamison Hensley
Most significant signing: OT Eugene Monroe. If the Ravens didn't re-sign Monroe, they would have taken a major step backward at left tackle. The Ravens would have had to either bring back Michael Oher, who is a below-average left tackle; move Kelechi Osemele to left tackle, where he has never played in the NFL; or sign a lower-tier free agent like Anthony Collins, who has 25 career starts in six seasons. Monroe isn't a Pro Bowl blocker, but he is the best option available. He's consistent, athletic, hard-working and young. At 26, he can be the long-term answer to Joe Flacco's blind side.
Most significant loss: CB Corey Graham. The more popular answer is defensive tackle Arthur Jones, but I can see the Ravens filling his role with increased snaps from Brandon Williams and DeAngelo Tyson. The loss of Graham, who signed with the Buffalo Bills, creates more of a hole. Graham was a starter on the Ravens' Super Bowl team and led the team with four interceptions last season as the nickelback. His toughness and experience is going to be hard to replace. The Ravens haven't seen enough of Chykie Brown or Asa Jackson to have any confidence that either one can fill that void. There's a major drop-off from starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.
Biggest surprise: WR Steve Smith. Two months ago, general manager Ozzie Newsome said the Ravens needed to add a receiver who could make clutch receptions and produce yards after the catch. The obvious candidates were Eric Decker, Julian Edelman and Hakeem Nicks. Did anyone expect the Ravens to end up with a proven veteran like Smith? Once it looked like Smith was going to get released by the Carolina Panthers, the Ravens were immediately labeled the favorites and for good reason. He is a great fit for the Ravens in terms of making critical plays and leadership. The Ravens continue their strong history of adding quality veterans cut by teams.
What's next: The Ravens still have a long list of needs, even after being active in the first week of free agency. The priority has to be finding a free safety. The Ravens want someone whose strength is coverage, which would complement strong safety Matt Elam. But the Ravens were spectators as many of the best safeties were signed early in free agency. Their remaining options are Miami's Chris Clemons, Atlanta's Thomas DeCoud and Denver's Champ Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback who is open to switching to safety. The Ravens could wait to address free safety in the draft, but that would be risky. Teams usually don't want two young safeties because a mistake at that position can easily result in a touchdown.