Friday, May 23, 2014
Ravens offseason wrap-up
By Jamison Hensley
With free agency and the draft in the books and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Baltimore Ravens' offseason moves.
Steve Smith might not be a No. 1 receiver anymore, but the Ravens will count on his leadership.
Bestmove: Signing Steve Smith in free agency. The receiver-needy Ravens were linked to Eric Decker, Julian Edelman and Hakeem Nicks heading into free agency. They ended up getting someone even better. The Ravens swooped in to get Smith after his surprising release from the Carolina Panthers because he is exactly the wide receiver they wanted. Smith is a clutch player and a strong leader, which is what the Ravens lacked after they traded Anquan Boldin a year ago. There is some risk involved because Smith is 35 and had only 64 catches last season. But the Ravens don't envision him being a No. 1 receiver. What they need more than anything is his fiery attitude and his will to win.
Riskiestmove: Not addressing right tackle in free agency or the draft. At this point, the Ravens are going with Rick Wagner as their starting right tackle. How big of a risk is this? Wagner is a fifth-round pick who has a career total of 131 snaps on offense. The Ravens made the right decision in not re-signing Michael Oher. He wasn't worth the four-year, $20 million contract given to him by the Tennessee Titans. Many thought the Ravens would find his replacement in the draft. But it would've been a reach to take a right tackle where the Ravens were sitting in the first three rounds. If Wagner struggles, the Ravens can either sign veteran free agent Eric Winston or move left guard Kelechi Osemele to right tackle.
Mostsurprisingmove: Taking defensive players with their top three draft picks. The Ravens stuck with their best player available strategy and came away with three players ranked in their top 40. The problem is, none will help the fourth-worst offense in the NFL. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is the future foundation of the defense, Timmy Jernigan is expected to eventually replace Haloti Ngata as a force in the middle of the line, and Terrence Brooks is penciled in to start right away at free safety. Count the Ravens among those surprised. General manager Ozzie Newsome said their board was stacked with more offensive players, but the highest-rated player in the first three rounds ended up being a defensive player. It was bad luck for quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
Biggest loss: Cornerback Corey Graham. The Ravens lost five starters in free agency: Oher, defensive tackle Art Jones, linebacker Jameel McClain, safety James Ihedigbo and tight end Ed Dickson. But the hardest player to replace is going to be Graham, the third cornerback who signed a four-year, $16.3 million contract with the Buffalo Bills in free agency. 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 leaves a void in the secondary. The Ravens haven't seen enough of Chykie Brown or Asa Jackson to have any confidence that either one can fill that hole. There's a major drop-off from starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.