Ravens Survive Free Agency

By PFC Ravens Martin Steger

At the beginning of free agency, Baltimore had arguably the strongest crop of free agents in the league. Linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Bart Scott, all with Pro Bowls on their resumes, highlighted the list. Jason Brown was the team’s best lineman as well as one of the best young centers in the game, while Jim Leonhard showed his potential as a starting safety during the 2008 season.

On the defensive side, retaining Lewis and Suggs was critical. Lewis brings leadership, knowledge and physicality to the Ravens, while Suggs is the team’s best pass rusher as well as one of its more versatile players. Of the four free agent starters on defense, these two were the most important. The only thing left to do here is to lock Suggs up with a long-term deal.

Scott and Leonhard, both of whom left for the Jets, will be missed; however, the Ravens can overcome their losses. Scott is one of the league’s hardest-hitting players, but Baltimore has a young crop of linebackers ready for more playing time. Jameel McClain and Antwan Barnes have shown flashes of potential, while Tavares Gooden was drafted in the third round last season, probably to take over one of the inside linebacker spots in time.

As for Leonhard, his rise to prominence coincided with a season-ending injury to then-incumbent starter Dawan Landry. Provided Landry resumes his high level of play, Leonhard shouldn’t be missed too much. The signing of Chris Carr from the Titans will make up for his absence in the return game, as well.

Jason Brown is probably the best player the Ravens lost. He anchored the team’s young offensive line, showing enough strength to deal with nose tackles and enough speed to latch on to linebackers and safeties in the second level. What hurts the most is that he is only 25 and still improving his game.

Fortunately for Joe Flacco and the team’s running game, the Ravens brought in Matt Birk from the Vikings to make up for the loss of Brown. Birk, 32, won’t be around in ten years like Brown will be, but there should be no dropoff at the center position for the upcoming season. Moreover, his leadership and experience will help one of the league’s younger offensive lines. Brown is a good leader in his own right, but Birk has more practice.

Aside from Leonhard, Brown and Scott, the Ravens also will enter the season without former starting corners Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle after their respective releases. Both were once elite cover guys, but injuries have cut into their effectiveness over the past two seasons.

The emergence of Fabian Washington and the signing of Domonique Foxworth will help this problem—Washington emerged as the team’s best corner last season, while Foxworth, who has shown great potential with Denver and Atlanta, will have a chance to prove himself behind one of the league’s best pass rushes. Both projected starting corners are 25 and Landry is 26, so the Ravens will finally have youth in the secondary. Inexperience shouldn’t be a problem with Ed Reed calling the shots.

It would have been potentially crippling financially for the team to keep every one of its elite free agents. With that said, the Ravens have done a good job of keeping its most essential players in-house while bringing in new ones to replace the parts that left. This is a critical offseason for the team if they want to improve on last season’s AFC Championship appearance. So far, they are doing well, all factors considered.