Obviously, there are many unsigned veterans who still have something left in the tank. Many of them are at positions of need for the Ravens, so the fact that they haven't made a run at any of them tells me that they will wait to see how the draft goes down before they fill their holes via free agency. Obviously we don't have much money to spend, but hopefully we can work out a long term deal for Ray Rice that will bring down his cap number this year, or sign Ray Rice to an extension which will lower his number. Otherwise, our worst case scenario would be to borrow cap money from future years if need be, although that is not ideal at all. I thought I would break down some of the options at each position, and my preference or preferences to fill those holes if we are unable to do it through the draft.
Safety: We have needs at backup Safety, and while we need to draft a safety to eventually to replace Ed Reed, there are a ton of safeties out there who have starting experience. We already signed Sean Considine for depth and ST reasons, and I assume we will draft one in the mid to late rounds. I do not think Ozzie will feel the need to draft a safety high, as we have had success finding productive safeties in the mid to later rounds so far: Dawan Landry (5th round, 2006), Will Demps (UFA, 2002), Haruki Nakamura (5th round, 2008). Tom Zibikowski (3rd round, 2008). Unless he feels he has a lock for a elite safety, I believe he will draft a safety in the later rounds, and sign a vet to fill out the depth chart.
The choices at S: Sean Jones, Bob Sanders, Abram Elam, Gerald Sensabaugh, Brian Dawkins, Deon Grant, Jim Leonhard, Melvin Bullitt, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Madieu Williams. Imo this is the top 10. I would assume Dawkins wouldn't play for what we could pay him. All the rest of the guys besides Grant have between 5 and 8 years of experience. My favorite is former Ravens fan favorite Jim Leonhard. In his short Ravens career, he fit in admirably, and his strength lines up with Pollards weakness, pass support. If we could sign him to a 2 or 3 year deal to be our #3 safety, I think it would make up for the loss of Nakamura and strengthen our safety depth to be able to withstand an injury to either safety. My next choices would be Bob Sanders, who was elite albeit injury prone, and Gerald Sensabaugh who is a proven NFL player.
Offensive Guard: On the one hand I feel like we should use a high pick (top 3 rounds) on this position, on the other hand I think how many swing and misses we have had in rounds 2-5 on the offensive line. The exceptions are Jason Brown and Marshall Yanda. The misses include: Tony Pashos, Oniel Cousins, David Hale, Chris Chester, Adam Terry. Not too many high picks, but since we have had success at many other spots in those rounds, I think a 25-30% success rate is very low.
The choices at OG: Vernon Carey, Bobbie Williams, Jason Brown, Jake Scott, Ryan Diem, Eric Steinbach, Leonard Davis, among others. Most of these guys are only a year or 2 removed from successful seasons, and I think it would be worthwhile to invest a small amount of money in one of them as a reclamation project. I love Brown, and hope we could work out a multi-year deal with him. He is on the right side of 30, and has had success in Baltimore before. Carey is the best of the bunch, and is likely out of our range, but Scott and Diem seem like the types who would take less money to play for a contender. If they still have game, ideally we would sign one of them and draft someone also, or at least sign one of them to battle Jah Reid for the starting job if they are really sold on Reid at guard.
Wide Receiver: Not as deep as the other positions in free agency, nor is it a draft with stars or nfl ready players at this position. I feel that besides Blackmon, who will not be there for us in the first round, there is no one who fills the need of being 1st round worthy for a Super-bowl contending team. I would be fine with us going with Laquan and Doss fighting with a vet at the 3-5 WR spots. We have 2 good TE, 2 good WR, and a great receiving RB, so we aren't looking for someone who is going to catch more than 50 balls this year, and WR is a position that it takes half a season for most non-top 10 WR to be comfortable enough in the NFL to contribute. Therefore, I feel we should sign a veteran, and separately draft a KR/PR.
The choices at WR: Jerome Simpson, Plaxico Burress, Legedu Naanee, Patrick Crayton, Bryant Johnson. Although we have had some trouble with these types of signings, with big time drops from Housh and Evans, I think we are set at the #2 WR spot and this is a hit or miss type signing. If they contribute, great, and if not then who cares. My favorties are Crayton and Bryant Johnson. Crayton has had success as a #3 WR in Dallas, so although he had 2 down years in San Diego, he probably still has something in the tank, and is a veteran. And Johnson, although he has been inconsistent, has size and leaping abilitly that we don't possess on this roster, in addition to having speed. If either of these guys have anything in the tank, I would love to see them in purple.
Defensive Line: Not as important as the other positions, as we have 4 young studs in Cody, Ngata, Jones and McPhee. We could use a depth guy to replace McKinney, so if we don't address it in the draft we could go the veteran route.
The choices at DT/DE: Justin Bannan, Tommie Harris, Kelly Gregg, Aubrayo Franklin. This list is littered with former ravens. I see no reason why bringing back Bannan or Gregg for depth should cost too much.
Linebacker: We have needs at ILB and OLB, and while we have the ILB taken care of for this year with Ray, Jameel McClain, Ellerbe and Ayanbadejo, we need to draft Ray's replacement. However, this is not a spot that we need to bother with in free agency, unless we see someone we like who is young enough that we would want to develop behind Ray for the long term. However at OLB there is much potential, and I would love Ozzie to pick up a legit run stopper at OLB to pick up the slack should Paul Kruger show he is not a 3 down player. There are many players out there, and since most of the remaining players are not getting big multi year deals, I think the fact that we have playing time available and are contenders are a big draw, in addition to the draw of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
The choices at OLB: I am not that familiar with many of the free agent linebackers out there enough to differentiate between the ones who are pass rushers vs run stoppers, or OLB vs ILB. However one guy I was impressed by in the playoffs who fits our need as a run stopper is Chase Blackburn. He played great for the Giants on the Super Bowl run, and although he is only an average pass defender, he has still shown some ability there, including his interception of Brady in the Super Bowl. But anyways, we have Paul Kruger who we are hoping will be a 3 down player, and Albert McClellan who played quite well in his one start this past year. I think we will be okay here without spending a high draft pick here, but I would love to supplement what we currently have with a run stuffer like Blackburn.
In summary, we have approximately 36 players who likely are locks for the roster. We have 8 picks. so if we assume 5 make the active roster, that still leaves 12 more roster spots to fill. If we could sign some veterans post draft to fill half of those spots, we would have more security and still leave spots for our usual variety of undrafted free agents and young up and comers. If we brought back former Ravens Jim Leonhard, Jason Brown, and Justin Bannan, it would give us insurance at several key positions from players we are very familiar with. If we also brought in a veteran WR and a run stopping OLB, I would be bowing at the alter of Ozzie once again. We always find a bargain each offseason, from Cory Redding, to Bernard Pollard to Chris Carr. The question isn't if we are going to find a steal, it is who the steal is going to be!