'Tuesday! Tuesday! Tuesday!' March 13th marks the beginning of free agency which means it’ll be open season for hunting down coveted free agents. The Baltimore Ravens have several key starters due to become free agents and in only a matter of days, hours even, several Ravens could be moving on to new franchises.
Of course, the Ravens would love to be able to retain each one of their free agents, but unfortunately, it just won’t be possible. With limited salary cap space the Ravens will have to be diligent in choosing who they can or cannot afford while weighing any each players’ value to the team.
The Ravens’ unrestricted free agents that will be free to field offers from other teams starting this Tuesday are: Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura, Cory Redding, Matt Birk, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Andre Gurode, Brandon McKinney, Kris Wilson and Edgar Jones.
Come this Tuesday, a few of these Ravens may be moving on to other teams. As difficult as it might be to watch the turnover happen right before us, Ravens fans should be comforted knowing that general manager Ozzie Newsome in calling the shots and has a tremendous off-season track record.
(After the "Jump", see a list of Ravens FAs that could be walking off into the sunset.)
Ben Grubbs: The Ravens have made it known that they plan on making their best run at retaining Grubbs. Though the Ravens have set out to throw everything they’ve got at the 28-year-old guard, it’s likely that Grubbs will command far too much money on the open-market. Surely, the Ravens will look to do everything in their power to keep the offensive line as strong as possible but it doesn’t seem possible for the Ravens to invest too much money in two guards. Last off-season, the Ravens signed guard Marshall Yanda to a 5-year, $32.5 million contract and it doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards for the Ravens to be able to match such a contract or exceed that of Yanda’s. Grubbs should most likely command an even higher price than the contract given to Yanda should he hit the open-market. If Grubbs isn’t under contract by Tuesday, expect that he’ll walk into free agency.
Jarret Johnson: Ravens defensive players are always coveted on the open-market and Johnson should be no different. Though he’s a very underrated talent, perhaps the most underrated on the Ravens’ defense, Johnson is a tremendous defender that’s rarely given his due. While not an outstanding pass-rusher, Johnson is extremely solid against the run and "setting the edge" and opening up holes for other players to wreak havoc; simply put, Johnson does the dirty work. Not missing a game since 2007, Johnson has started in every game since 2007 and will be a desirable commodity for any team looking for a leader, run-stuffer, and a generally all-around solid defender. The New York Jets, not surprisingly, have already expressed interest in pursing "J.J." this off-season.
Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura: Both are back-up safeties, both are unrestricted free agents. The Ravens, if it comes down to it, will have a hard time choosing between these two. Although both have not seen a tremendous amount of starting time with the Ravens’ defense, when called upon both of these young safeties have proven reliable. While Zbikowski may be considered the more solid safety, Nakamura is extremely versatile because he is able to play at cornerback and is a special teams ace. Surely, if the Ravens have to choose one of these two players this off-season they’ll have a hard time doing so, but with limited cap-space, the Ravens may find themselves in just such a situation.
Jameel McClain: Another solid defender that should be widely desired on the open-market, McClain has been a solid linebacker for the Ravens playing next to super-star Ray Lewis. Coming off of a strong 2011-2012 campaign with 84 tackles/1 sack/1 INT, McClain will be highly sought after should he become a free agent on Tuesday. At 26 years old, there should be several LB needy teams that would be more than willing to throw a decent sized contract at McClain, such as the Philadelphia Eagles. Unfortunately, teams such as the Eagles could drive the price up on McClain who the Ravens surely want to keep as he may be next in line to take over once Ray Lewis decides to move on from football.
Cory Redding: The Ravens may face a bit of a dilemma when it comes time to decide whether or not to re-sign Redding. As another underrated Ravens defender, Redding may find himself out of Baltimore next season not because of his price, but because the Ravens may have a more solid option behind him waiting in the wings to take over in Pernell McPhee. Through two seasons with the Ravens, Redding has totaled 7.5 sacks. Though his sack numbers aren’t eye-popping, Redding excels at stuffing an opponent’s rushing attack and opening up holes for other defenders. At 31 years old, the Ravens may consider letting Redding walk into free agency in favor of the younger, cheaper, and fiercer McPhee who totaled 6 sacks this past season in very limited playing time, only 1.5 fewer sacks than Redding has totaled through two full seasons as the starting defensive end.
Though it may be tough to part ways with a few of these Ravens, it’s a natural cycle that takes place each off-season in the NFL. Whether due to price, age, or better options, some of these players will become former-Ravens and move on to other franchises around the league. Only time will tell who stays and who goes, but one thing’s for sure: changes to the complexion of the franchise will be starting very, very soon.