Perhaps the biggest problem for the Ravens this season has been the lack of pass rush. With Pernell McPhee playing for the Chicago Bears and Terrell Suggs on injured reserve since week 1, the Ravens have been forced to play their other outside linebackers for increased snaps. Elvis Dumervil, a pass rush specialist, and Courtney Upshaw, a prolific run stopper, would usually platoon on one side opposite Suggs, but this season both have been forced into starting roles. Both have suffered with the increased playing time, not to mention all the extra double teams for Dumervil. Rookie 4th rounder Za'Darius Smith has come on strong in the second half of the season as a pass rusher, as has defensive end Timmy Jernigan. But pass rusher still will be high up on the Ravens board to improve going into the draft and free agency, especially with Suggs and Dumervil on the wrong side of 32, and Suggs coming off an injury.
With that said, there are some premier players who are likely to hit the free agent market, and although they each have some warts, they may be intriguing possibilities for the Ravens to take a look at.
Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
Reports have surfaced that the NFL's first $100 million man on defense will be released by the Bills following the season. Amidst issues with new head coach Rex Ryan, Williams becomes the second defensive lineman in recent years to sign a huge free agency contract only to be cut part of the way through (Julius Peppers is the other; 6 years, $84 million contract, also released after year 4). Williams is a monster of a man, 6"5 292, and is turning 31 in a few weeks. Williams is a prolific pass rusher, who before 2015 was averaging over 10 sacks a season over the past 8 seasons in Houston and Buffalo. He is also a durable player, appearing in all 16 games in 7 of his 10 seasons, and 13 or more games in 9 of 10 seasons.
The Ravens would benefit from a player of his caliber, and at his size he could be moved around like McPhee was in previous years. Williams will not come cheap, and the Ravens may be better served adding a young player instead, but if the Ravens decide to add Williams, he would make a great addition to the team.
Greg Hardy, Dallas Cowboys
Let me preface this: Hardy is a piece of work in my opinion, and I want nothing to do with him. The Cowboys clearly grew tired of his shenanigans, and his character issues resulted in his exit from Carolina. Hardy has an abundance of ability, but seems to be short in the smarts department. Personally, I hope Hardy is blacklisted from the NFL, but chances are someone will give him a chance. I hope it is not the Ravens, but if they do then it must mean Ozzie did his due diligence.
A third name to consider:
Aldon Smith, Oakland Raiders
Once we are on the topic of troubled pass rushers, Aldon Smith is a name that comes to mind. Smith was a dominant pass rusher in his first 2 seasons, posting over 33 sacks in his first 2 seasons. But off field issues led to Smith being sent to rehab, and eventually cut. The Raiders signed him on a 1 year deal for $8 million, but most of that was incentive based: $1.75 roster bonus, $250k per game active bonus ($4 million), plus sack incentives. Smith had his 3rd consecutive down season, so his price may be lower this offseason. Only 26, Baltimore may be a good place for him to rejuvenate his career and fix his reputation, as many have done before him, However keep in mind that Smith has several DUI's, had an incident with a TSA agent at LAX, and of course the incident the 49ers released him because of: a hit-and-run after driving under the influence, plus vandalism charges.
The description is not as bad as it sounds though:
Later on Friday, Santa Clara police released details of Smith's arrest. A call was made at 8:46 p.m. local time Thursday to report a disturbance involving a crash, and responding officers reported that Smith had struck a parked vehicle while parking his own. After the incident, police said, Smith exited his vehicle and caused additional damage to the parked vehicle with his car door.
Boneheaded and immature? Yes. Troubling? Yes. But if the Ravens want to take a risk on a high risk, high reward player for Suggs and Dumervil to mentor, Aldon Smith would be a prime candidate. If the Ravens look into him and think he is ready to man up, Smith would be at the top of my free agency list.