BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 11: Matt Birk #77 of the Baltimore Ravens prepares to snap the ball against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Colts 24-10. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Just days away now, the start of free agency this coming Tuesday will surely jump start the NFL back to life after a couple of dead months filled with stale, recycled news mostly dominated by speculation surrounding Peyton Manning’s future destinations.
The Baltimore Ravens rarely, if ever, go out into the free agency market and make big waves. Instead, the franchise with one of the best GMs in the entire NFL prefers to sit back and let teams fight it out for the high-priced and sometimes overrated players, then proceeds to pounce on a few of the gems left over.
This year the Ravens shouldn’t approach free agency any differently, but it doesn’t seem like the team will have quite as many roster holes to fill as in years past. With limited cap space and the front office working on big-time contracts for Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Ben Grubbs, the Ravens won’t be quick to go on a spending spree.
Even still, with a slew of their own free agents possibly leaving the Ravens will instead look to solidify positions instead of fill them.
(After the "Jump", see a list of offensive linemen the Ravens should consider adding through free agency.)
Somewhat worryingly, the Ravens have three unrestricted free agents along their offensive line: Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, and Andre Gurode. A unit that struggled mightily down the stretch, the offensive line will need some re-tooling this off-season especially if some of their key-components walk in free agency. Although Matt Birk is currently in the process of working out a new contract with the Ravens, the 35-year-old center realistically only has one or two more seasons left in him and isn’t the long-term solution the Ravens should be looking for. Ben Grubbs may prove to be too expensive for the Ravens and with free agency rapidly approaching; it’s likely he’ll have several teams willing to pay him far more than the Ravens will be able to offer. If a contract isn’t struck between the Ravens and Grubbs by this Tuesday, the smart money should be on Grubbs leaving in free agency. While the Ravens will certainly be in a position to draft offensive linemen this year, there will also be some decent options this year through free agency.
Center, Scott Wells: Green Bay Packers center Scott Wells is flying a bit under the radar heading into free agency. The upcoming season will be Wells’ 9th season in the NFL of which he has started 100 out of 111 career games. Wells, a Pro-Bowler this past season, is a very durable lineman that excels in pass-coverage. As the anchor of one of the highest-powered offenses in the NFL, Wells also is an excellent leader and has a high football IQ that’s able to make adjustments and read defenses with no problem. The only downside with Wells is that he is currently 31 and the Ravens may want to focus on getting younger.
Center, Chris Myers: Houston Texans center Chris Myers made his first ever Pro-Bowl this past season and has not missed a single game since 2008. Although at 30-years-old, Myers could be an excellent fit in Baltimore mostly because of his experience with the Texans. For those who may remember, last year’s free agency acquisition, fullback Vonta Leach, brought the zone-blocking/running game principles to the Ravens from his time with the Texans. Myers excels at the zone blocking scheme and those ideals could translate well to what the Ravens are trying to achieve in their running game. Ironically, it has been reported that the Packers are pursuing Myers to replace the above mentioned center, Scott Wells.
Guard, Evan Mathis: Mathis signed with the Philadelphia Eagles last year and had a stellar season. The former Cincinnati Bengal started and played in 15 games last season and was graded as one of the best guards in the entire NFL. Due to injury concerns, Mathis shouldn’t be too expensive on the open market because last year was his first complete campaign since 2006 while with the Carolina Panthers. If healthy, the 6-5 302 lbs. guard could be an excellent bargain pick-up during free agency.
Guard, Chilo Rachal: At 6-5 323 lbs., the 26-year-old Rachal is a big-bodied guard that excels at run blocking. Though his less then stellar athleticism has led to questions and criticisms about his pass-blocking abilities, he makes up for these flaws by being a monster in the run game. With Grubbs potentially leaving in free agency and the Ravens’ offensive line’s lack of a "push" towards the end of the season, the offense could use a mauler like Rachal to boost the run game in critical situations. After losing his starting job under Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers, Rachal should come cheap and presents tremendous up-side with his size and age (26).
Next week will surely be jam-packed full of contract news and headlines and maybe the complexion of the offensive line will come into view as free agency begins. In my opinion, the area that needs most attention for the Ravens this off-season is the offensive line. Offensive line play can absolutely make or break the rest of the offenses performance and the Ravens should look to upgrade, get younger, and find the right players for the right price this off-season.