The Baltimore Ravens, like every other team, are right in the middle of gearing up for the start of free agency on March 13th. So far, franchise tags and tenders have been flying about with the Ravens using their franchise tag on their star running back, Ray Rice.
Though Rice was due to become the Ravens’ most notable free agent before receiving the franchise tag, there are a couple of players on the defensive side of the ball that the Ravens could be gambling on during this off-season by tendering them instead of signing them to long-term deals.
Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams will both become restricted free agents (RFAs) in almost a matter of days. As restricted free agents (players with expiring rookie-three-year contracts), the Ravens will have to decide at which level to tender both Webb and Williams in an effort to keep them both in Baltimore. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are four levels of tenders that NFL teams can place on their RFAs:
Right of First Refusal: No compensation (in the form of draft picks) for the team that holds the RFA should an opposing team sign him away. The team only gets the chance to match the outside contract offer made to the RFA by the competing team. Tendered salary to RFA for upcoming season would be: $1.2 million
Compensation of Round that RFA was Drafted: If the RFA in question was drafted in, let’s say the 4th round, the competing team that potentially signs away the RFA will have to give up a 4th round pick to the team that currently holds the RFA. Tendered salary to RFA for upcoming season would be: $1.2 million or 110% of the final year of the rookie contract.
2nd round compensation: Should the RFA be signed away by another organization, the team losing the RFA would be awarded the competing team’s 2nd round pick. Tendered salary to RFA for upcoming season would be: $1.9 million or 110%.
1st Round Compensation: Should the RFA be signed away by another organization, the team losing the RFA would be awarded the competing team’s 1st round pick. Tendered salary to RFA for upcoming season would be: $2.6 million.
If competing teams come in to offer the Ravens’ RFAs any type of contract, the Ravens will have a seven day window to either match said offer or out-bid the competing team. If the Ravens don’t match the contract offer, they are awarded compensation from the competing team in the form of draft picks. For more information on how restricted free agency works, please click the link here: RFA Video.
(After the "Jump", see which teams around the NFL could make a run at Webb or Williams and see which level of tender the Ravens could use on both RFA cornerbacks)
With so many free agents that the Ravens are working on signing to long-term deals (Flacco, Grubbs, Rice), the franchise will most likely place tenders on their RFAs in the hopes that no team tries to steal them away before long-term contracts can be had with the likes of Webb and Williams. During the season-ending press conference, the Ravens’ general manager Ozzie Newsome explained his view of how prohibitive it can be for teams to pursue RFAs because of the high price they command in the form of coveted draft picks:
"This league covets draft picks. And so, in order to go after a restricted guy, No. 1, you have to give a number now that’s something that we won’t match as a team. And then you’ve got to also give up a significant draft choice, because we would put some numbers on there that would make it prohibitive for people. When you deal with that double-whammy, even though the rules have been relaxed, you just go, ‘Nah, no, I wouldn’t do it.’ That’s just my philosophy."
Lardarius Webb: As the Ravens’ best defensive back this season, Webb was simply outstanding. 2011-2012 regular season stats: 67 tackles/1 sack/1 forced fumble/5 INTs/20 pass deflections. On top of his phenomenal statistical year, the most impressive part of Webb’s campaign was that he didn’t allow a single touchdown all season long. An emerging star, Webb is quickly becoming one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and the Ravens need to do everything in their power to avoid a team trying to steal him away. Webb will surely be coveted by many teams that are searching for a proven #1 cornerback. Look for the Ravens to place a 1st round tender on Webb to deter teams from trying to sign him.
Cary Williams: Williams was another big surprise in the Ravens’ secondary this season. While not the ball-hawk that Webb has become, Williams had a solid campaign posting: 78 tackles/2 forced fumbles/18 pass deflections. Overall, Williams has become a solid cover-corner that possesses a good combination of size and speed with the ability to usually be left alone to cover his assignments. Though he may not be as desired as Webb on the market and Williams would most likely prove to be the bargain out of the two corners, Williams still offers tremendous upside for any team looking for a potential #1-#2 starting cornerback. Although the Ravens are beginning to have a crowded secondary with Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Williams, the Ravens would most like love to have all three on their roster heading into next season. The Ravens should look to place a 2nd round tender on Williams, but if a team should snag him away, a 2nd round pick awarded to the Ravens would probably be a worth while trade-off for the franchise because as previously mentioned, the Ravens still have two solid starting caliber cornerbacks in Webb and Smith.
As far as teams that might be hungry enough for one of these defensive backs, the New England Patriots come to mind the most. Currently, the Patriots have two 1st round picks at both 27th and 31st respectively. Under the new CBA, if a team signs a RFA from another team and gives up a draft pick in the process for the player they are acquiring, the draft pick they give up is their original pick. The Patriots acquired their 27th overall selection from the New Orleans Saints last year as a part of a trade that put the Saints in position to select running back Mark Ingram, and their 31st overall selection is based off of the fact that they lost in the Super Bowl, therefore their original pick in this year’s draft would be at the 31st slot. So, let’s say the Patriots try to sign Webb and are successful in doing so. If the Ravens have a 1st round tender on Webb, the Patriots will have to give their 31st overall selection to the Ravens as compensation.
The Patriots have struggled with their secondary for a couple of years now and are surely looking to bolster their unit that finished this year: 31st overall in total passing yards-allowed-per- game (293 yards-per-game-average) and 15th overall in total scoring-allowed-per-game (21.4 points-per-game-average). Obviously, the Patriots are a very offensive-minded team, but if they were to improve their defense in a few key areas (especially their secondary) they could prove to be deadly once again and possibly compete for many more titles in upcoming seasons. It might be worth it for them to at least consider spending a 1st round pick on Webb who is seemingly on his way to becoming a "shut-down" cornerback, something the Patriots have lacked for quite some time.
Over the coming days, more information will come to light as to how the Ravens will approach free agency and how they plan to retain their RFAs. Hopefully the team will be able to do enough to deter other organizations from pursuing Webb and Williams by placing high-tenders on them which should hopefully buy enough time to hammer out long-term contracts.