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Potential replacements for safety Eric Weddle

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NFL: AFC Wild Card-Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the release of veteran safety Eric Weddle, Baltimore now find themselves in need of a new starting free safety. Free agency begins next Wednesday, March 13, and with it comes a slew of talented safeties that could interest Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta. There’s also the draft, where DeCosta could use a first-round pick to select one of the best safeties and get much younger at the position.

Those who could hit the open market next Wednesday include notable names such as Earl Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Lamarcus Joyner, Adrian Amos, and of course, Weddle.

The most enticing of the bunch are Mathieu and Thomas. Mathieu will turn 27 before the beginning of next season and has spent time with two teams already. Drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of 2013 NFL Draft, Mathieu played five seasons in Arizona. After being released in 2018, he signed a one-year deal with the Houston Texans. Mathieu is a swiss-army knife on defense, capable of playing safety and slot corner as well blitzing effectively.

In his 82 games played, Mathieu has accumulated 353 total tackles, seven sacks, 13 interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 49 passes defensed. It is worth noting that Weddle had 10 interceptions in just three years with Baltimore. Mathieu will be sought after on the open market and could cost a pretty penny for the Ravens. Although Mathieu made $7 million last season, he could price himself out of Baltimore’s comfortable spending range. In 2018, Mathieu had 89 combined tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and eight passes defensed.

Thomas is likely to demand even more money, however, and will turn 30 in May after returning from injury. Thomas was once considered the best free safety in the NFL, but injuries and age have set him back. Seeking to become the highest-paid safety in the NFL at 30-years old, DeCosta may be wise to pass on Thomas this offseason. Thomas did have three interceptions in just four games last season, however, showing that he may very well be worth it still.

Turning to the draft, there are two names commonly associated with the Ravens in round one. The first is safety Nasir Adderley from Delaware. In his three years as a Blue Hen, Adderley recorded 11 interceptions, showcasing incredible range and speed as a free safety. The other player is Deionte Thompson from Alabama. Thompson had just three interceptions in three years, but only became a full-time starter in 2018. Thompson offers rangy speed on the back end as well, which is something Baltimore could greatly benefit from on defense.

Another option is that Weddle re-signs with the Ravens on a cheaper contract. Baltimore has pulled such a stunt before, most recently with defensive back Lardarius Webb in 2017. Weddle may have lost a step due to his age but he still possesses one of the sharpest football minds in the entire league. Weddle’s on-field ability to disguise coverages, adjust the play and setup his fellow teammates for success is unparalleled. Even when he doesn’t make the play himself, Weddle consistently has his teammates in position to do so. Re-signing Weddle to a cheaper deal while grooming a younger safety, whether it be Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, or a rookie, could be a smart long-term plan for the Ravens while preventing a large dip in play on defense in 2019.