CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01: Jameel McClain #53 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates as he walks off of the field following the 24-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
When free agency opened around the NFL almost two weeks ago, thee were a flurry of signings, including a few where former members of the Baltimore Ravens signed with other teams. The Ravens stood silently on the "sidelines" and watched the great gobs of cash change hands and players earn huge paydays from teams who had tons of space below the salary cap.
The Ravens had let some players walk because they knew those guys would command big bucks on the open market, such that the team could not match and knew they needed to save that money for both replacements as well as re-signing or extending the contracts of their current nucleus, such as QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice. The Ravens brain-trust, including GM Ozzie Newsome, team president Dick Cass and head coach John Harbaugh, along with the rest of the front office, knows how to work the cap as well as any group in the league.
They saw these players leaving long before they did and while they tried to get them to stay, they could only offer what fit into their budget, knowing full well that those guys could and did, end up getting on the open market. Although these players were solid contributors to the Ravens success, they were not the team's stars, whose core remains intact. The Ravens knew they could find suitable replacements, if not upgrades, at a price that would fit into the overall strategy.
Now that the Ravens first three signings have been made, ironically on the same day, their off-season strategy is beginning to become perfectly clear. The Ravens knew they were one of the better teams in the NFL and one could easily say they were one play away from making the Super Bowl. A team that is the only one in the entire league to make the post-season the past four years is not one that needs a lot of major moves. Tinkering with a few role players and adding depth for insurance is what they needed to do and what they are obviously focusing on.
With special teams being a concern this year, the Ravens addressed that squad the other day, re-signing one of their own and adding two others. Without disparaging those players who have left via free agency, it appears that the Ravens have not only saved money in these signings, they have upgraded special teams while adding solid depth in the secondary. Combined with bringing back inside linebacker Jameel McClain to continue his mentor-ship by the best linebacker in NFL history, Ray Lewis, the Ravens are exactly where they want to be heading into the NFL Draft.