Bill Barnwell is a respected sports writer for ESPN. He takes an analytical approach to provide analysis on the NFL draft, free agency, salary cap management and coaching strategy. Here is his take on the Baltimore Ravens two major signings so far in free agency:
It was a pleasant surprise to see the Ravens commit to a pair of younger players, they usually supplement their roster with aging stopgaps. Jefferson is 25 years old and Williams is 28, they are expected to be long term solutions at their positions. Both in the prime of their careers, they should both be able to maintain their level or play or improve over the course of their contracts.
The biggest knock against these two signings is that the Ravens have devoted a large portion of their disposable salary cap space on players that excel against the run. The NFL has morphed into a passing league over the last decade, and the Ravens have traditionally been able to find and develop valuable run defenders at discount prices. The opportunity cost of locking up Williams and Jefferson is a legitimate concern.
The Ravens also overlooked their pioneering compensatory draft pick strategy. These two big ticket signings, along with the acquisition of Danny Woodhead and the retention of Ryan Mallett to a lesser extent, may end up costing the Ravens two prized early or middle round compensatory selections in the 2018 draft, depending on what transpires in the remainder of free agency.
At the end of the day, no decisions can be intelligently judged in a vacuum. Just as perennial basement dwelling teams overpaying for mediocre talent does not hurt them in the long run because they still maintain massive amounts of cap space, the outlays given to Jefferson and Williams will not harm the Ravens chances if they are able to fill their remaining positional needs through other avenues this offseason.
Less than 20 hours into free agency, the Ravens have glaring holes at wide receiver, pass rusher, cornerback and most importantly along the offensive line. Hopefully the Ravens can acquire some help on offense before the draft and then take advantage of this draft class’ strengths to bolster their pass defense. If not, the Ravens could field another flawed team that disappoints in 2017.
Ultimately, the wisdom in signing Brandon Williams and Tony Jefferson will be determined by the Ravens postseason results over the next several seasons.