Baltimore Ravens 2013 Free Agency/Draft Outlook

By PFC blogger Brian Mulligan

Coming off an exhilarating Super Bowl victory, the Ravens have a lot of work to do if they want to hoist the Lombardi trophy any time soon. Retaining quarterback Joe Flacco was the team’s biggest priority, and after signing him to the most expensive contract in NFL history, that problem is now fixed. Many uninformed critics believe that Flacco’s deal will debilitate the Ravens cap situation. According to Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson, however, Flacco’s 2013 cap number is a managable 6.8 million dollars. This leaves the Ravens with a little wiggle room for this offseason, with an estimated 11 million dollars in cap space.

The Raven’s free agency strategy has been and always will be retaining key players. GM Ozzie Newsome previously stated at a press conference that the team’s biggest offseason priorities will be fixing the middle of the defense, which was 20th in terms of rushing yards allowed.  This year the Raven’s long list of notable free agents includes: OLB Paul Kruger, S Ed Reed, ILB Dannell Ellerbe, TE Dennis Pitta (RFA), OT Bryant McKinnie, CB Cary Williams, DT Art Jones (RFA), and TE Ed Dickson (RFA). The Ravens are also expected to restructure or release receiver Anquan Boldin, who is set to make 6 million dollars in the final year of his 4 year 25 million dollar deal. Clearly, the Ravens will be unable to retain every single free agent. The Ravens most important player to resign is ILB Dannell Ellerbe, who proved to be a suitable replacement for Ray Lewis down the stretch. Ellerbe does have an injury history, but the Ravens cannot afford to lose both Inside Linebackers in an already depleted defense. Ellerbe is expected to earn somewhere around $5 million per year in a 4-5 year deal. The most intriguing situation, however, is that of future hall of famer Ed Reed. Reed is in his final years as an NFL player, but he has proved that he can still play safety at a high level. The Ravens are expected to let Reed test the waters, similar to the Ray Lewis free agency situation a couple of years ago. Offensive Tackle Bryant McKinnie will also be an interesting free agency option. McKinnie, who was benched for much of the regular season, was the anchor of the Raven’s offensive line and was the unsung hero in the Raven’s Superbowl run. McKinnie would come relatively cheap, but his status is currently in the air.  Paul Kruger and Cary Williams, however, both appear to be on their way out. Both players will simply demand too much money, and the Ravens believe that they already have suitable replacements on the current roster, with rookie Courtney Upshaw showing some promise and CB Lardarius Webb coming back from injury. Every RFA appears to be safe, as Jones and Pitta will receive high tenders.

The Ravens usually turn towards the draft and low-profile free agency as a strategy to replace key players. The Ravens have drafted near the back end of the first round for many years, and are among the best drafters around. There is a reason why they always seem to be picking in the back-end year after year. This year, the Raven’s biggest  needs are NT and ILB, after a massively disappointing season from Terrance Cody and Ray Lewis’ retirement. The Raven’s philosophy is to take the Best Player Available (BPA), and this year will prove no different. The Ravens could draft pretty much any position besides Quarterback, Runningback or Offensive Guard in the first round. Intriguing prospects in the first round that fit the Ravens needs include: ILB Manti Te’o, S Matt Elam, ILB Alec Ogletree, ILB Kevin Minter, DE/DT Margus Hunt, ILB Kevin Minter, NT John Jenkins, NT Johnathan Hankins, S Jonathan Cyprien and DE/OLB Damontre Moore, whose draft stock has plummeted after running a slow 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Ravens will continue to look for the BPA in later rounds, but at some point they will have to address needs at NT, ILB and Safety. If the Ravens miss out on a need in the draft, they will likely turn to later rounds of free agency. The Ravens have become famous for snatching up players who have been cut from other teams during training camp, and while these moves aren’t glamorous, they are one of the many reasons why the Ravens have been able to contend year after year. It is almost impossible to predict every move the Ravens will make, but Ozzie Newsome seems to always make the right decisions, as evidenced by the popular Raven fan saying “In Ozzie We Trust.” Look for the Ravens to compete again in 2013.