Projecting the Ravens' free agents heading into the home stretch

I thought I'd take a quick gander at the Ravens' soon to be free agents: see how they are playing now and guess the likelyhood that the Ravens will re-sign them, slap a franchise tag on them or just let them walk. Before I get to the individuals, a couple things need to be said:

1) By any account you read, it is thought that the salary cap next year will be only minimally higher than than this year. For the Ravens that means they will be almost always tight against the cap with little wiggle room to either sign a bunch of their free agents to larger salaries or do the same with other teams' free agents.

2) The Ravens ability to tag any of their free agents is gonna be difficult, again because they have little cap room.

So with that on to the free agents!

1) Joe Flacco. Most likely outcome: sign him. Nightmare scenario: franchise tag him. Unlikely nightmare scenario, part deux: lose him.

The big issue in signing Flacco is that his agent will want him paid like an elite QB and Ozzie knows that that isn't the case. So can Ozzie get Flaco to budge a little and save a couple million dollars for the team or does Flacco wind up being tagged, thuis costing thet team not just say $14.5M but also, since they are tight against the cap, the los of a valuable player who makes $3-5M that they wil now have to cut because of the higher tag dollar amount. This is the single biggest offseason issue for the Ravens and I guess we are lucky that the two sides started talking last summer. I have no idea how this will turn out but this situation scares me.

2. Ed Reed. Most likely outcome:....jeez this is a tough one. I can see the Ravens going any direction here.

First, you got to realize that the team has practically no one behind Reed now (no one who is near starter quality that is) so losing him will create a huge hole that would need to be filled either by free agency and/or by the draft. But would you want to prioritize free safety in the draft over say ILB or DT or the OL? I am not sure I would. But Ed is looking like he's declining quickly so do the Ravens really want to take a chance on him?

One option could be to sign him to a heavily incentive-laden contract for a couple of years. But would Reed jump at that? I dunno-he might want to take his time to see if another team would bite. But if he did jump to another team then the team would do the draft/free agent thing. Option two would be to tag him-don't laugh! The safety tag is projected to be about $6.2M-which is actually cheaper than what he's getting paid this year ($7.2M) so the Ravens would actually be saving money here. If Flacco gets a contract, I see this as definitely a possible option IF the team feels like he can still contribute for one more year. And it is a great threat to hold over him. He won;t like it but he can hold out, report the week before the season starts and be fine for the first game cause he knows the game and the team systems so well. And he's NOT gonna get a contract from anyone that pays $6M the year. A big IF I know. Let's see how the season plays out for him before we rush to dump him.

3. Paul Kruger. Most likely outcome: we lose him.

Sorry folks. Like the way Kruger has stepped up the last several games? Given that an effective rush OLB is a very valuable commodity in the NFL, Kruger is lining himself up for a nice payday even if he is not truly elite for an OLB like Suggs.

But wait! There's more! Here's how I think Kruger will play out: The Ravens wil give him an offer, something that they can afford. Basically the same thing they did with JJ, McClain, Redding and Grubbs last year. Only one of those didn't get a substantially higher offer from another team and so we lost three of the four. This winter, Kruger will be one of the players who gets a fair but low offer from the Ravens and then get offered a lot more somewhere else (in fact the other team will overpay him most likely) and leave.

But all is not lost. We have Upshaw! Not as good a rusher but I think by next year he will be overall a better player than Kruger and will have a better rush than JJ ever did. But speaking of low but fair offers...

4. Dannell Ellerbe. Most likely we will sign him, but it is not a slam dunk.

For various reasons, including reasons that I don't agree with, ILB's are less desired these days. That and the fact that other teams have cottoned onto the fact that Ravens ILBs who have played next to Ray Lewis and went free agent didn't as a rule pan out to well means that Ellerbe has two strikes against him scoring big next winter with another team. Similar to what I said above under Kruger, Ellerbe will get a decent but low-ish offer and he will most likely look elsewhere to see if he can scare up more millions. But like Jameel McClain last year, he probably won't find any great offers and eventually will come back to the Ravens for basically a half million to one million dollar raise on a multi-year contract.

That's the most likely scenario but it is possible the Ravens won't try to re-sign him at all IF some combination of a) they feel good getting another year out of Lewis, b) they feel okay with McClellan (they should), and c) they are intent on using a high draft pick on an ILB-and there are a few good ones that should be around in the first and second rounds. (IMO the draft has a better selection of ILB's than safeties this year.) As I said this is a less likely scenario but one that can't be discounted. Let's say 60% chance he re-signs with the Ravens, 40% chance he walks.

5. Cary Williams. Most likely outcome: situation is too fluid now to say.

Early this year you would have said it was a slam dunk that he was gone after the year. But he is playing better now (not great but better), and Webb has a serious injury, and Smith has an an injury and wasn't playing all that well himself before he got injured. All of that adds up to a much thinner cornerback situation that we projected at the beginning of the year. So he stands a chance of getting re-signed, possibly to the same contract that he turned down last summer. I figure that the team won't offer him more than that. At the same time it is hard to see the team using another high draft pick on a corner.

Then again, Corey Graham is playing well and he's will be paid $1.1M more next year than this ($700K) and again the cap is tight. It won't be a major thing if Williams goes but the situation bears watching.

6. Bryant McKinnie. Most likely outcome: gone baby gone.

7. Maake Kemoeatu. Most likely outcome: gone.

Probably (hopefully) the play of Bryan Hall, and DeAngelo Tyson make him expendable.

The other UFA's are for special teams, depth purposes only. Some may get re-signed and some wil get dropped. They are Sean Considine, Billy Bajema, Chris Johnson, and James Ihedigbo.

The opinions posted here are those of the administrator of this blog and his loyal readers. They are in no way official comments from the team, and should not be misconstued as such, even though he thinks he could do just as well or even a better job!

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