While many teams around the league have begun to release veterans from their contracts and extend their own players before the start of the new league year on March 9th, the Baltimore Ravens have yet to tip their hand.
Since the Ravens are in a low leverage position this offseason, it makes perfect sense to weigh their options while formulating a master plan with proper contingencies. With so many moving parts and unsettled positions, the team will have to be patient and take what the draft and free agency give them. The Ravens will continue to build their roster all the way up until the beginning of training camp.
Five bold predictions for the offseason:
1. The Ravens will re-sign offensive tackle Rick Wagner
Head coach John Harbaugh has expressed his desire to build the best offensive line in the NFL. That is difficult to accomplish when the team loses one of their best blockers in consecutive offseasons, especially when the free agent market and draft do not contain very many quality tackles.
Wagner has seemingly reemerged as a priority resign for the team this week. A contract in the range of 4-years for $30 to $34 million is the guess, which represents fair value in this inflated market.
2. Mike Wallace, Dennis Pitta and Lardarius Webb will all be playing for the Ravens next season
The Ravens will jettison Elvis Dumervil, Shareece Wright, Jeremy Zuttah, Ben Watson, Kyle Arrington and Kendrick Lewis, creating $18 million in newfound salary cap space. However, several veterans with borderline contracts will be retained.
Team owner Steve Bisciotti has put considerable pressure on Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh to improve the team’s results next season. It is unlikely the leaders will feel capable of doing so without their only proven wide receiver, Flacco’s security blanket tight end and the only free safety on the roster. In keeping with recent tradition, the Ravens will convince Webb and Pitta to accept incentive laden restructures, and Wallace’s unjustified cap hit will be deferred to 2018 through a short contract extension.
3. The Ravens will sign one big name receiver this offseason
The loss of Steve Smith Sr. cannot be overstated, he was the top playmaker on the team over the last three seasons. The Ravens needed more difference makers even with Smith on the roster, failing to replace him with a proven commodity and expecting to have a more potent offense would be the definition of insanity.
Alshon Jeffrey will probably be priced out of range. But Pierre Garcon or Brandon Marhsall, if he is released by the Jets, will sign in Baltimore. One of these veteran pass catchers will continue the team’s line of succession from Derrick Mason to Anquan Boldin to Steve Smith.
4. Their first round pick will be a pass rusher
The Ravens pass rush started out strong in 2016, but faded noticeably when the team needed them most during the December push for the playoffs. Newsome downplayed the need for an edge rusher after the season, and Matt Judon appears ready to assume a starting role.
Nevertheless, the team knows how difficult it is to find difference making outside linebackers after the first round, and realize Terrell Suggs is close to the end of his career. Come draft day, they will fall back on what they know best and their ‘win the line of scrimmage’ philosophy. Derek Barnett would be the quintessential Newsome pick as a highly productive, well rounded player who provides tremendous draft value due to a lack of high end athleticism. Taco Charlton has a higher ceiling but questions about his effort, which should be assuaged by the Harbaugh Michigan connection. One of these two will be chosen at #16 overall.
5. The team will miss out on a top ranked cornerback in the draft once again
The Ravens have had an aversion to spending early picks on the cornerback position, they have not drafted a corner in the first three rounds for five consecutive drafts. Despite the best crop of corners perhaps all time in this draft class, the trend will continue.
Without a clear cut pecking order of first round corners, and considering the great depth in the class, the Ravens will pass in the first round. That strategy will not pay off, as a colossal run on corners in the top half of the second round wipes out their board before their turn on the clock comes. The Ravens will land a complimentary corner somewhere in the middle rounds, but the search for an elite partner opposite Jimmy Smith will continue into next offseason.