The Baltimore Ravens will enter the new league year with more salary cap space than they have grow accustomed to lately. They are roughly $30 million under the projected salary cap. However, 16 members of the 2019 team are pending unrestricted free agents. Eric DeCosta has many decision to make.
For this roundtable, the Baltimore Beatdown staff was asked to select one Raven free agent to re-sign, one Raven to let walk and one outside free agent to acquire:
Re-sign - Jimmy Smith: Matthew Judon is the obvious choice here but I’m opting to go with a more controversial selection; Jimmy Smith. Smith’s career with the Ravens has been a bit polarizing and part of me feels like he’s run his course here in Baltimore. However, injury history aside, I still believe he has high-level play left in the tank - even at 32 years of age. The Ravens have Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey locked in as the starting outside cornerbacks and Tavon Young returning from injury in the nickel spot. One injury to Peters or Humphrey, though, and the Ravens are left with the likes of Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall or Brandon Carr (maybe) to step into a larger role. Smith is still a starting-caliber player on almost every defense in the NFL and quietly played well this past season.
Given his age and health history, Smith is not in the position to demand a long-term nor pricey deal. Therefore, I can see him wanting to stay in Baltimore on a short-term, team-friendly contract and if that’s the case, I’m all for it.
Let Go - Seth Roberts: This is probably an easy call here but I can’t shake the feeling that the Ravens will look to bring Seth Roberts back on another one-year deal. Roberts is a good blocker and had some nice moments as a receiver, but I don’t see the value in giving him offensive snaps. I’d much rather see his playing time given to Miles Boykin and a rookie receiver yet to be drafted next year. Roberts is turning 29 years old in a few days and while it’s nice to have a veteran presence at the position, it’s certainly not a necessity - especially when that player offers little as a receiver.
Bring In - Javon Hargrave: Signing a Steeler is a bold proposition but in this case, it’s one that the Ravens should look to do. Hargrave is a talented defensive tackle and is squarely in the prime of his career at 27 years old. Maybe not quite the run-stuffer that Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are but he’s far superior as a pass-rusher, which is more of a need on this roster. Hargrave could step in and immediately make an impact as a disruptive force on the defensive line who creates pressure from the interior.
Re-Sign - Matthew Judon: Addition by subtraction simply won’t add up in this case. Judon is durable and versatile. His production is on par with Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney, while he has dropped into coverage more than any comparable edge player over the past two years.
Let Go - Michael Pierce: Pierce provided very little pass rush in a somewhat disappointing season. Pierce and Williams are redundant in a two-gap defense, and two-gapping run stoppers are a dime a dozen. The Ravens should look for Daylon Mack to make a second year jump.
Bring In - Javon Hargrave: Hargrave is a more disruptive iDL than Williams or Pierce, he would add value on third down. Hargrave had more pressures on 373 pass rushing snaps than Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley generated on 893 pass rushing snaps. The Ravens have severely lacked penetration from interior defensive players, particularly on passing downs. Hargrave has improved consistently year over year, and is worthy of investment.
Re-sign - Matthew Judon: Coming off a Pro Bowl season, Judon is primed to cash in this offseason whether it be with the Ravens or elsewhere. After the departure of Suggs, the defense needed someone to step up and become a face of the defense. Judon answered the call and was a disruptive force all season while becoming a fan favorite and player you want to build around. The defense is only a couple pieces away from league best potential, so letting Judon walk in this situation doesn’t make sense.
Let Go - Michael Pierce: Pierce has been a mainstay on the defensive line and has well outplayed his projections coming out of college. He is a plug in the run game but never developed into the kind of pass rusher the Ravens desperately need. With Brandon Williams already under contract, it simply does not make sense to invest more money in a run stuffing defensive lineman.
Bring In - Calais Campbell: If Campbell becomes available due to the Jaguars salary cap situation, he is the perfect player at the perfect time. Although he is aging, the Ravens will be attacking the next couple of seasons as Super Bowl or bust. Campbell has previously been the catalyst on the best defense in the NFL with the Jaguars and brings the all around game to lead this defense. He is effective at collapsing the pocket and has great leadership ability to add to an already tight locker room. He fits the mold of veteran signings the front office has made in the past, including recently with Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas. He would be a boost on the field and in the locker room while not breaking the bank, and he would get the chance to compete for a Super Bowl. A perfect marriage for both sides.
Re-sign - Matthew Judon: Without Judon, the Ravens would be left with virtually nothing on the edge. Judon’s value is higher than many realize when you factor in his coverage ability as a ‘Sam’ linebacker. I fully believe that Judon is worth paying. Baltimore made a mistake by letting Za’Darius Smith walk in free agency last year. They should not repeat that mistake this year with a more proven player.
Let Go - Michael Pierce: Pierce was a gem of a find as an undrafted free agent in 2016 but this is where his time in Baltimore should end. Brandon Williams already accounts for a large amount of cap space. He and Pierce are essentially the same player, run-stuffing monsters in the middle that bring very little as a pass rushers. Pierce could net a nice comp pick as well.
Bring In - Arik Armstead: Armstead notched 10 sacks in 2019, which is far more than any defensive lineman for the Ravens last season. Armstead would give Baltimore an interior pass rush that they have lacked for several years.
Re-sign - Jimmy Smith: Originally, I wanted to write about Domato Peko as an ‘under-the-radar’ player to re-sign but I’ve stan’d Jimmy Smith from the beginning and I’m not about to switch up now. This defense with Smith in the lineup puts the clamps on opponents. He’s too big, fast, agile and strong for most receivers to break through. He’s a long-time Raven with a Super Bowl championship and while the Ravens secondary looks set for the future, he’s still a great piece for another championship run in 2020. If Smith were to sign elsewhere and another starter were to go down next season, the Ravens would be facing serious issues in the secondary yet again. Keeping Smith is a big play and the money is there if you make yet another difficult business decision and cut Brandon Carr, freeing up $6 million. Just like cutting Tony Jefferson, it won’t be easy in decision as Carr was the Ravens’ 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee and universally appreciated, but if you’re building this team for a Super Bowl run in 2020, Jimmy Smith is part of that picture.
Let Go - Chris Moore: While the consensus on Michael Pierce is to let him walk, I felt it was necessary to focus attention elsewhere. The “Chris Moore conundrum” has stuck with Baltimore since being drafted in 2016. He is always roster-worthy but his impact in the receiving department has never materialized. In four years with the Ravens, Moore has totaled 47 receptions for 511 yards and four touchdowns. Marquise Brown in his rookie year caught 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. I know these are stark players to compare but this goes to show Moore won’t become a consistent offensive weapon. I like Moore and have always appreciated his special teams contributions. I think everybody knows how much I enjoy special teams but I believe it’s time for the Ravens to move on from ‘Scoop & Score’ Moore. He is a special teams player that can be involved in the offense when this team needs the inverse; receivers who can be involved on special teams.
Bring In - A.J. Green: He’s the best wide receiver available in free agency and the Ravens need a wide receiver. It also solves the problem of playing against Green, seeing as he averages five catches, 80 yards and nearly a touchdown per game against Baltimore. Green would provide an immediate boost to the offense. If they’re pushing for a Super Bowl in 2020, he’s a great element to pair with Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Mark Andrews to provide a full array of weapons for Lamar Jackson.
Re-sign: Josh Bynes: Josh Bynes is a solid presence at inside linebacker. He was great against the run and reliable in pass coverage after returning to the Ravens last season. He had 46 tackles, six tackles for loss, and two interceptions in 12 games. He should not take up too much cap space either, which is critical.
Let Go - Jimmy Smith: The Ravens have two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. Tavon Young will return next season. In addition, Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark are a great tandem at safety. Smith is simply not as essential as other pending free agents. Furthermore, he has a long history of injuries; he has not played a full season since 2015. I would be apprehensive of giving him a multi-year deal.
Bring In - A.J. Green: Wide receiver is currently the most glaring need on Baltimore’s depth chart. Green is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and would immediately help the Ravens contend for a championship. Since he is coming off an injury, his market value is not at its peak. Spotrac currently lists his market value at $9.1 million per season. Signing Green would also allow the front office to address other needs in the first round of the draft.
Re-sign - Josh Bynes: He proved he can still contribute at 30 years old in 2019. According to advanced stats, Bynes allowed a 47.4 passer rating when targeted while recording six tackles for loss, four pass deflections, two interceptions and an 11% pressure rate. His performance was considerably better than his well paid predecessor C.J. Mosley by each of these five metrics. Josh can likely be retained for a modest salary, allowing the front office to devote their draft capital and cap space to more impactful positions.
Let Go - Brandon Carr: Technically, the Ravens have the dependable veteran under team control for 2020 on an option contract. They have the option to decline the final season of Carr’s deal in exchange for $6 million of cap relief, and the 34 year old is regressing. Last season, Carr led the Ravens with five touchdowns allowed and missed a team high 18.3% of tackles. Brandon has been a positive force during his tenure in Baltimore but the time has come to reallocate his salary to more valuable players.
Bring In - Gerald McCoy: Assuming the Ravens apply the franchise tag to Matthew Judon, defensive line will become the most pressing immediate need. Fortunately, defensive line is the unquestioned strength of the pending free agent class. D.J. Reader, Hargrave and Leonard Williams are some of the ascending tackles available, but they will likely require lucrative long term deals. McCoy, on the other hand, should be amenable to a short-term mercenary contract. The Ravens pursued the former All-Pro last season before he turned in a five sack season with the Panthers. Even at 32, McCoy would give the Ravens the interior disruptor they have lacked since they traded away Timmy Jernigan in 2017, at a price that could allow Jimmy Smith and Jihad Ward to also be retained.