This time of the year can sometimes frustrate Ravens fans. Teams from around the NFL are doing what they can to make moves and land the top prospects in each free agent group — sometimes overpaying (what the Dolphins are doing with Ndamukong Suh), sometimes missing completely (what the Dolphins did with Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe) and sometimes striking gold (what the Falcons did with Michael Turner in 2008).
The Ravens have a process and it doesn't involve going all-in on unrestricted free agents. It's analytics based, to a degree, and is predicated on amassing compensatory picks to enhance the odds of hitting on a player in the NFL draft. So while going after someone like Jeremy Maclin would seem ideal, it's 99.9 percent not going to happen and never was.
Cap casualties, on the other hand — well that's a different story.
Which players would the Ravens be interested in?
The Ravens do have positions of need they'd like to address in free agency before the draft. With Torrey Smith gone, and a compensatory pick coming as a result, the Ravens could go after a short-term option to plug in immediately.
There's a clear No. 1 answer that must be at the top of the board. His name is Andre Johnson.
Johnson was officially released by the Texans on Monday, meaning he's fair game for anyone to sign. He may be 33 years old but he's proven he can still play at a high level. The same was said about Steve Smith Sr. before his big year in Baltimore, so this is a move the Ravens would be smart to make.
And bringing in Johnson doesn't mean the Ravens have to pass on a receiver early in the draft either.
Otherwise, if they pass on Johnson, it may be a bit of a waiting game at receiver. With the Chiefs expected to sign Maclin, Dwayne Bowe's status with the team appears to be more in doubt than before. Though Bowe isn't, by any means, a No. 1 receiver, he's an experienced body that can still come up with plays in possession situations. It's inevitable that Bowe is released. And like Johnson, the Ravens could then acquire him without losing the compensatory pick they'd be getting by losing Torrey Smith.
And of course there will be others the Ravens consider at other positions. The priority will be to sign cap casualties first and foremost. So look in that direction for the guys the Ravens could possibly bring in.
Where does Justin Forsett go?
Forsett is the last remaining big-name unrestricted free agent left to not be rumored signing anywhere else. Torrey Smith is gone and more than likely heading to San Francisco. Pernell McPhee is going to Chicago. Forsett is still around with returning to the Ravens an option.
The Ravens would prefer to keep Forsett and they can probably still be considered the favorite. If not, something would have leaked by now. But the Ravens will need to make sure they show the kind of commitment Forsett is looking for. It may not even have to do so much with money as it does with years. Forsett once to establish his roots somewhere and would prefer to do it in Baltimore. At 29, he doesn't have too much wear and tear on his tires given he's been a backup for so long.
With the running back prices dropping, it wouldn't be out of the question for Forsett to agree to a three-year, $8 million type of deal.
If the Ravens don't, the Falcons could emerge as the top candidate to land him.
The Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb conundrum
Why aren't Ngata and Webb restructured yet?
As mentioned before, read between the lines. There's no doubt that both have been asked to take pay cuts. If not, they'd be locked up. Will they take pay cuts? Yes, otherwise they wouldn't be engaging in negotiations.
So how far will they go?
With Ngata, you get the feeling based on what's been out there that the Ravens want to reduce his number based on his future years, not what he's done in the past. This may not bode well for Ngata, 31, who plays a physically demanding position that he's been fortunate to avoid too many injuries from.
But he'll be approaching his mid-30s soon. The Ravens probably don't think they can invest in him for the long term and therefore are trying to trim his salary and cap figure considerably for the next few years. If Ngata feels he deserves more — keep in mind the Jets just signed 31-year-old linebacker David Harris to a three-year, $21.5 million deal for some reason — then he just might be finishing his career elsewhere.
But for now, there's some immediate relief with the Ravens restructuring Terrell Suggs' deal, according to The Baltimore Sun. Set to make $4 million in his base salary in 2015, his restructured deal converts $3 million of that to a signing bonus. So that will cut about $2 million from Baltimore's cap number in 2015, allowing the Ravens to keep Ngata on at his current salary structure for now.
As for Webb, it's similar but much more manageable you'd think. Here's a guy that finished 2014 strong and appears to finally be as healthy as he's been in a long time. But Webb's 29 with multiple torn ACLs and a $12 million cap figure. If the Ravens let go of Ngata, Webb becomes much easier to negotiate. If Ngata comes back, the Ravens will probably need to be even tighter financially with Webb.
Ravens free agents
*Not including players the Ravens have cut recently
WR Torrey Smith (leaving, linked to the 49ers)
OLB Pernell McPhee (leaving, linked to the Bears)
RB Justin Forsett
S Darian Stewart
TE Owen Daniels
LS Morgan Cox
OL Jah Reid
QB Tyrod Taylor
S Jeromy Miles
CB Aaron Ross
OG Will Rackley
CB Antoine Cason
K Justin Tucker (RFA) (assigned second-round tender)
S Will Hill (RFA) (assigned original-round tender)
DB Anthony Levine (RFA)
WR Kamar Aiken (EFA) (assigned tender)
DE Steven Means (EFA) (assigned tender)
CB Tramain Jacobs (EFA) (assigned tender)
OL Ryan Jensen (EFA) (assigned tender)
S Brynden Trawick (EFA) (assigned tender)
CB Danny Gorrer (EFA) (assigned tender)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (EFA) (assigned tender)
DT Casey Walker (EFA) (assigned tender)
LS Patrick Scales (EFA) (assigned tender)
CB Rashaan Melvin (EFA) (assigned tender)
LS Kevin McDermott (EFA)