The 2016 season was a tale of two halves for Baltimore Ravens veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb. Before the Week 8 bye, Webb struggled in coverage and with open field tackling, especially against the Browns, Raiders, Redskins and Giants. Lardarius was much more reliable in the second half of the season, he cut down considerably on the big plays he allowed and made a spectacular diving interception against Miami in Week 13.
It would be unwise for the Ravens to release Webb from his contract before they acquire another talented safety. At this stage of his career, Webb is not worth his $7.5 million cap charge, and the more than $5 million of salary cap space that would be created by cutting Webb is appealing. However, the Ravens depth chart at safety is devoid of backups with starting potential.
Pairing savvy safety Eric Weddle with a rangy free safety who has the speed to allow more aggressive coverages would be a boost to all facets of the defense. Several ideal complements to Weddle will be available this offseason through free agency and the draft.
The Ravens simply do not have the salary cap space to entertain the idea of signing playmaking safety Eric Berry. Tony Jefferson of the Cardinals has been rumored as a potential Ravens target, but he is likely to be over valued on the free agent market and his skill set it that of a box safety. Veteran safeties with above average coverage ability available this offseason include Patriots part timer Duron Harmon and Bradley McDougald of the Buccaneers.
The 2017 NFL draft may be a better avenue, this class boasts an abundance intriguing safety prospects. Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams will probably be selected in the top ten overall, while Jabrill Peppers is a positional enigma. The second and third rounds of the draft are loaded with free safeties who have the potential to start during their rookie seasons.
Budda Baker is an undersized playmaker with elite speed, he is currently a borderline first rounder. Marcus Maye from Florida is a bigger prospect with the instincts to thrive as a single-high safety. Utah’s Marcus Williams is a true ballhawk with excellent ball skills. And Alabama’s Eddie Jackson is another dynamic playmaking free safety with an injury history that could make him available in the third round. Acquiring any of these safeties would provide tremendous value to the Ravens by increasing the defense’s turnover output.
Upgrading the free safety position is an obvious priority for the Ravens this offseason. Adding a natural centerfielder would allow the team to hide Weddle’s declining speed, provide insurance for their liabilities at cornerback and stimulate the underwhelming pass rush. Few positions provide a better opportunity to positively impact the Ravens chances in 2017. Hopefully, Baltimore is able to draft a safety with the skill set of Ed Reed on Day 2.