The Baltimore Ravens are entering the 2021 offseason with more cap space than most contending teams in the league but still don’t have an abundance of it to address all of their needs. They do, however, have enough to aggressively address at least one of those needs and possibly two if they hold off on paying some of their younger assets or sign them to backloaded extensions.
If the league learned anything from the 2020 Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is that being aggressive can pay major dividends and doesn’t necessarily mean going for broke and spending the big bucks. All 31 of the points that they scored to upset the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday were scored by players that were not on their roster in 2019.
Tom Brady earned Super Bowl MVP honors by throwing three touchdowns to a pair of his former teammates with the New England Patriots, two of which were to TE Rob Gronkowski and the third was to WR Antonio Brown who joined the team in the middle of the season after serving a suspension.
The other 10 points came on a 27-yard run by RB Leonard Fournette, who was a discarded former Top-5 selection of the Jaguars that Tampa claimed off waivers after he was cut in August, and a 52-yard field goal from Ryan Succop — who spent most of his career with the Tennessee Titans and was signed in September.
The Buccaneers already had a strong foundation in place thanks to smart drafting and acquiring prized free agents in previous years but outside of Brady who signed a somewhat lucrative yet still very team-friendly deal, none of the other aforementioned players came with high cap hits in 2020.
I am in no way suggesting that the Ravens should go out a sign a future Hall of Fame quarterback that is defying the odds deep in their twilight and relegate Lamar Jackson to the bench, nor am I saying that they should bring in a bunch of former perennial Pro Bowlers that have lost a step or two. I’m merely shining a light on how being selectively aggressive for the right price can help a team achieve their ultimate goal of winning it all.
The Ravens have historically been the best at taking other team’s unwanted assets and squeezing a few more productive years out of them but now might be the time where they buck that trend a little bit but don’t completely get off the horse.
Their top positions of need heading into free agency are wide receiver, center, and edge rusher. At wide receiver, they could use an effective ‘X’ receiver who can win contested catches and work every level of the field. At center, they need a natural player at the position that can both block and snap the ball consistently. At edge rusher, they have five pending free agents and won’t be able to bring them all back. Additionally, the Ravens also need to add another passing catching threat at the tight end spot.
Of these four, the two that could benefit the most from a strong to elite veteran presence are center and wide receiver.
The Ravens have drafted a pair of receivers in each of the last three drafts, including one in the first round and two in the third round in back-to-back years, and yet they are still in dire need of another difference-maker to lineup opposite of Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown.
The acquisition of a player that has proven that they can get it done and perform at a high level in pros rather than betting on potential to pan out could be the missing ingredient to elevating the passing game to new heights.
This year’s draft class is rich with interior linemen and there will be several center prospects that the team could select on days two and three. However, center is such a cerebral position that to expect a rookie, even one that has played the position their entire life, to be able to diagnose defenses and block at a high level in a run-heavy offense — one that requires a lot of post-snap movement from its linemen — is not ideal.
The Ravens could opt to go the free agent and rookie route by signing a mid-tier veteran and selecting a developmental prospect at the position that could learn and be groomed to be the eventual starter without having the pressure of needing to be an immediate contributor.
Honestly, General Manager Eric DeCosta and Co. couldn’t go wrong with either strategy and could actually find a way to do both.
If the Ravens can sign one of the top receivers slated to hit the open market like Allen Robinson and still have enough cap space to bring in one of the less-heralded, yet still serviceable experienced options at center like Alex Mack, they would enter the draft without a desperate need to address either position with a high pick. Therefore, they could stick their ‘best player available’ mantra.