The Ravens hoped they'd found a long-term replacement at free safety by signing Michael Huff last offseason.
It didn't work out, with Huff being released before the midpoint of the 2013 season. Huff struggled in all aspects of his game, which led the Ravens to give rookie Matt Elam some starting experience at free safety.
The problem is Elam is better suited to be a strong safety. Essentially, the Ravens started two strong safeties on defense with Elam and James Ihedigbo, which weakened some of the coverage aspects needed at the free safety position.
The front office clearly understands this as a concerted effort will likely be made to bring a starting-caliber free safety in this offseason. With Elam being the future at strong safety, it could mean that Ihedigbo, an unrestricted free agent, moves on elsewhere.
"I talked about a free safety [and] maybe getting a free safety that can be a playmaker — when tipped balls are in the air, guys that can come away with that," general manager Ozzie Newsome said at the State of the Ravens press conference. "I think all of those things. And, I think the other thing that we talked about doing this season [is] in order to be successful, you have to have confidence."
Some interesting free agent names at free safety include Jairus Byrd (Bills), Ryan Clark (Steelers), Stevie Brown (Giants). In the draft, free safety candidates that could play immediately include Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Dion Bailey (USC) and Terrence Brooks (Florida State).
There are pros and cons with finding a replacement in free agency or the draft. The Ravens were burned in free agency with the Huff signing a year ago. But in the draft, you could wind up in a position where you're forced to develop a guy for a year while remaining weak at the position.
Of all the positions to address this offseason, this has the potential to be among the most important.