Best and Worst Moves Baltimore Ravens Made in Free Agency
Fortunately for the Baltimore Ravens, they have the best general manager in the business running their show so they don’t have many moves earning a place in the “worst” category. Conversely, they made a number of additions that will rank as some of the best moves in the league when all is said and done.
Now that the free agency furor has died down, we can step back and reflect on the moves Baltimore made (or didn’t make), and then evaluate them in the grand scheme of the roster as a whole. To nobody’s surprise, every move Newsome has made has been perfect for the Ravens.
A summer after losing more players than any Super Bowl champion in league history, Baltimore has made a concerted effort to build some continuity and emphasized re-signing their own free agents. Normally that would mean overpaying for some, but that hasn’t been the case for any of the Ravens’ free-agent signings.
Despite that, Newsome hasn’t been afraid to pounce on players from other teams, like Steve Smith or Jeremy Zuttah. The end result is that there is one lone negative in Newsome’s offseason so far—and he still has plenty of time to do something about it.
Here are the major moves made by Baltimore this offseason, from worst to best factoring in the player, price and relative value of the signing.
Worst: Failing to Bring in a Veteran Safety
It speaks volumes about Ozzie Newsome’s spring that his worst move is one he didn’t make. He spoke at the end of the season about the need for an athletic, playmaking safety to pair with Matt Elam, but he failed to make any moves or seriously pursue any of the options on the market.
Louis Delmas and Jairus Byrd (though he was very expensive) both signed new deals, while Chris Clemons and Thomas DeCoud still remain on the market. But Baltimore didn’t make serious efforts to strike a deal with any of those players.
That radio silence regarding the position implies that Newsome may be inclined to search for a free safety in the draft—which brings its own level of risk. We saw how Matt Elam struggled in coverage during his rookie season, repeatedly blowing coverages and giving up big plays.
Drafting a safety would give the Ravens a young, dynamic back line of the defense, but it would be fraught with risk during 2014.
To be clear, this is definitely nit-picking and is labeled as Newsome’s worst move only because everything else he has done to this point has been excellent. This is the only decision that is somewhat curious, but he has plenty of time to the address the position and make it another “win” for the organization.
Good: Jacoby Jones' New Deal
Four years and $12 million is great value for one of the league’s most dangerous returners and a more than capable rotational receiver that can make game-breaking plays and has an established rapport with your big-armed quarterback.
Was the move “necessary?” Not at all. With Marlon Brown on the roster as a very good third receiver and a deep wide receiver class in the draft, Jones was fairly expendable as a receiver. His greatest value was as a returner, and there are plenty of athletic returner options both on the market and coming out of college.
But with only $3.5 million of the deal guaranteed, the contract is very favorable to the franchise and Jones is worth more than that due to his big-play ability alone.
He has a knack for making gigantic plays when the Ravens need them most (see: Miracle, Mile High), and he showed improved route running and the ability to make his presence felt in the intermediate passing game in addition to running straight lines down the field.
Jones is a weapon, and Baltimore got him for a bargain.
Good: Keeping Flacco and Pitta Together
Those losses were exacerbated by the shaky pass protection which meant that, more often than not, Flacco had to get rid of the ball in a hurry. At least Baltimore learned from its mistake and refused to let its quarterback enter another season searching for a go-to receiver.
By re-signing Pitta, Newsome has retained the services of Flacco’s favorite target—a receiver Flacco looks to when the he has to complete a pass.
Perhaps the Ravens could have driven a harder bargain but looking at some of the players that make more money than Pitta (e.g. Jared Cook, Zach Miller and Marcedes Lewis), it’s clear that Newsome found great value with the contract.
Pitta is poised to have a breakout season and, unlike Joe Flacco’s free agency, the Ravens got ahead of the curve and signed him to a long-term deal.
Great: Adding Steve Smith to the Receiving Corps
The Steve Smith signing has been a rather divisive move. The supporters cite the veteran leadership and Anquan Boldin-esque toughness he will add to the receiving corps. The detractors highlight his age and a down year in 2013.
Age is certainly a concern and a three-year deal for a 35-year-old receiver doesn’t look like a smart move on the surface. But once you get into the nitty-gritty of the deal, it is once again a fantastic deal for the Ravens.
Like the Jacoby Jones deal, only $3.5 million of Steve Smith’s contract is guaranteed. This means that it will be fairly easy for the team to release Smith after this first year if he doesn’t pan out for whatever reason.
There is barely any risk with the deal, and Smith brings such value even if he only performs at his 2013 level.
Excellent: Re-Signing Daryl Smith
A year after losing perhaps the greatest linebacker of all-time, Ozzie Newsome made sure he didn’t have to replace another tremendous player at the position by keeping Daryl Smith in Baltimore.
That’s good news, because the Ravens would have had an incredibly difficult time replacing everything that he meant to the team last year. On the field, he did it all.
Smith was calling plays at the line of scrimmage and took over as one of the leaders of a defense reeling without stalwarts Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Moreover, at four years and $16 million, the Ravens got a bargain considering the deals signed by Karlos Dansby (four years, $24 million) and D’Qwell Jackson (four years, $22 million).
It was yet another instance of Newsome getting a high-caliber player at a cheaper price than his competitors.
Best: Keeping Eugene Monroe in Baltimore
There have been plenty of great moves so far but re-signing Eugene Monroe was by far the best one for a number of reasons. For starters, left tackle has been a revolving door since Jonathan Ogden’s retirement—not any more with Monroe in Baltimore for the next five years.
At 26 years old, the deal means that the Ravens locked up one of the best young tackles in the game through his prime—and they did so for a relatively good price.
Monroe was cheaper than some of the other tackles on the market despite arguably being the best one available. He was far and away the best lineman on the roster last year—not saying a great deal, I know—and he thrives in pass protection.
Furthermore, as a workout warrior and excellent athlete for a man of his size, he’s a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme and will only be better with more experience and better teammates around him on the O-line.
Left tackle is such a critical position in the NFL, and the Ravens no longer have to worry about it with Monroe manning the blind side for the foreseeable future.
Shehan Peiris is B/R's Lead Featured Columnist covering the Baltimore Ravens and a co-host of Ravens Central Radio, a weekly podcast on the Pro Football Central radio network that focuses on all things Ravens-related. For the latest Ravens news, draft analysis and links to episodes of Ravens Central Radio, follow me on Twitter:
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