Every year, the skillful master of the Ravens Front Office pulls a player or 2 out of his hat, and that player wows us with skills we didn't know he had.
This past year those players were Corey Graham and Jacoby Jones. Jones was known for his fumbles and bad hands in Houston, but once he got there, he showed what he can do with a great deep-ball QB. He also was a stud as a return man, making the Pro Bowl and being one of our 3 best players in the Super bowl winning playoff run. Graham stepped up big time, filling the big shoes of Lardarius Webb more than adequately in his first chance to start, able to play outside and in the slot. This year, he will return to battle Jimmy Smith for the #2 corner-back spot, and whether he wins or not he will be a valued contributor next year.
Total cost: Graham 2 yrs 3.95 million, Jones 2 yrs 9 million.
In 2011, those great pickups were Bernard Pollard and Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie wasn't so under the radar, as he was good enough in 2006 to sign a 7 yr 48 million contract. But he was cut because he wasn't earning it, and proceeded to give us 1 good year, 1 bad year, and a very solid superbowl run. Pollard is the epitome of a Raven with hard hitting and a nose for the big play. He is better than the guy he replaced, Dawan Landry who ironically got much more money, 4 years 27.5 million from Jacksonville. We love him in Baltimore, so thank god we locked him up 3 more years through 2015.
Total cost: Pollard 2 yrs 5 million before extension, 4 years 10.25 million after extension, McKinnie 2 yrs 7.5 million (2nd year renegotiated, so only 6.5 million in the end)
In 2010, we went out and signed Cory Redding. Redding was a stud, who 2 years after signing a 7 year 47.8 million deal by the Lions was traded to the Seahawks for Julian Peterson. After one year in Seattle, Redding signed with us as a reclamation project. Team were unsure whether he could return to his previous pro bowl level, or even be a serviceable player in the league. He gave us 2 very good years before Pagano brought him along to Indy last offseason.
Total cost: Redding 2 yrs 3 million
In 2009, we went out and signed Chris Carr away from the Raiders. While not a sexy pick, Carr was a starter or major contributor on a top 5 pass defense for 2 years in Baltimore. In addition, late in the season we snagged a guy named Cary Williams from the Titans practice squad. While Cary wouldn't really contribute until 2011, he started 2 straight seasons for us at CB at a fairly high level, helped us win a super bowl, and I'm sure we all wish him the best and hope he gets his big contract this offseason.
Total cost: Chris Carr 2 yrs 5 million, Cary Williams 2012 salary 1.925 million
In 2008, we went out and snagged an unknown named Brandon McKinney. And on and on it goes.
So the big question is, who will be Ozzie's diamond in the rough this year.
Offensive Tackle this year is a deep class, so the chances of bringing back Bryant McKinnie at a reasonable rate, especially with all his baggage, are higher than other years. If he does not stay within our price range, we would have to go bargain shopping since we cannot afford the big names. As stated before, we will still have some solid options. After the top tier of T's, there are a couple of intriguing names: Gosder Cherilus, Sam Baker, Jermon Bushrod, and Demetress Bell are some names that pop out at me; all are around 29 and could give us a few solid years while we find a long term option. However, I think we will likely use a pick in the top 2 rounds on a LT, since it is our 1 hole on offense.
Inside Linebacker is not a deep class in free agency, and I don't think we want to bring back Bart Scott. There have been rumors linking us to Rey Maualuga, I don't think he is a good fit. 2 options that intrigued me were Brandon Siler and Chase Blackburn. They both have flaws, but I think they could be good to share time with whatever rookie we draft at ILB.
Safety is a very deep position this year in free agency, but we cannot afford a high salaried safety. If we can convince Ed Reed to return, that is obviously option A, but if not, there is slim pickings out there. The one name that pops out at me is Jim Leonhard. He was a total stud last time here, and he enjoyed the 2nd best season of his career here before we had to let him leave. He is only 30, so it is not crazy to think he still has some game left. He might be worth a flyer.
Lastly, there is DT. We are set on the ends with Ngata, Arthur Jones, and McPhee all playing well. But this years tandem of Cody and Kemaotu just wasn't cutting it in the middle. Their run defense was atrocious. This is the position that I think has the most potential for us to sign someone inexpensive in free agency. We also have a good track record with signing free agents at DT, whether it be Sam Adams, Justin Bannan, Cory Redding, Trevor Pryce(4-3 DT) , etc. Who are some names that could help us? Chris Canty is one guy. He was just cut by the giants due to his contract and the fact that he is coming off an injury. Alan Branch of the Seahawks was a stud at stopping the run.Shaun Cody, Rocky Bernard, Justin Bannan, Shaun Smith, Ty Warren were all good players, who if they have anything left in the tank could be upgrades over Terrance Cody. However, the best option might be former Raven Aubrayo Franklin. He played this past season for San Diego, and graded out very well against the run.
Who would you like to see the Ravens take a flyer on? The signing would have to be for less than 5 million and not longer than 2 years to qualify as taking a flyer. Post your ideas in the comments section.