The 2021 offseason has officially arrived even though the new league year doesn’t formally begin until March 17. Due to the loss of revenue that the pandemic caused, the available cap space for teams leaguewide has been significantly reduced.
Many contending teams will have some difficult decisions to make over the next month and a half, the Ravens included. That means that the unrestricted free agent market will be saturated with an abundance of mid-tier veteran players that are relatively inexpensive would typically be retained or re-signed by their current teams.
There will also be a large contingent of the upper echelon of free agents that will either have to settle for a lower price than they were anticipating this spring, sign shorter deals so that they can hit the market again when there’s more cap space and they’re still in their prime, or agree to backloaded contracts.
The third type of free agents that could be attracted to come to Charm City are the veterans that are in their twilight but still have a few good productive years left in the tank. They should be willing to sign for below market value if it meant ensuring their best chance at winning a championship.
The Ravens have been among the best bargain shoppers in the league during the franchise’s rich history under former General Manager Ozzie Newsome and that has continued under his successor Eric DeCosta since 2019.
Their understanding of both value and how a player or prospect fits their schemes and culture has helped the organization sustain a level of success that many others envy and wish they could replicate.
The Ravens’ top five needs heading into free agency are at wide receiver where they could use another threat on the outside, center where they would benefit from adding a veteran player who is a natural at the position, edge rusher where they only have one player under contract in 2021, offensive tackle where they needed a swing option and now potentially a new starter on the right side, and tight end where they need a proper pass-catching replacement for Hayden Hurst.
In the first article of this five-part series I’ll be breaking down three bargain free agent candidates at one of their top positions of need:
The Ravens are routinely linked to the top pending free agents at the position every year but never emerge as serious suitors. That has the potential to change this year. But if they don’t want to quite stick to the status quo, three wideouts that could be had at a discount and can produce at a moderate to high level in Baltimore’s run-first offense are Marvin Jones, Rashard Higgins, and Kendrick Bourne.
Jones began his career with the Bengals where he made his fair share of plays at the Ravens’ expense. He’s spent the last five years with the Detroit Lions and has reportedly expressed a desire to follow Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles if the Rams would be interested.
If his wish doesn’t come true, he could come to Baltimore and fill the starting ‘X’ role opposite Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, who was proving that he could be the team’s No. 1 down the stretch. Jones is a contested-catch specialist who regularly comes down with jump balls and has a wide catch radius.
Last season, the 30-year-old recorded career-highs in targets (115), receptions (76), and receiving first downs (52) and posted the second-most receiving yards (978) of his career as well.
Higgins would be crossing enemy lines to join the Ravens. The former Cleveland Brown would likely have to surrender the nickname Hollywood since [Marquise] Brown is already in town and already goes by it.
Nevertheless, he would be an affordable asset that is accustomed to playing in a run-heavy albeit more balanced offense. He can play inside the slot as well as work the boundary on the outside and makes tough catches look routine.
He is just 26-years old and coming off a 2020 season where he recorded career highs in receiving yards (599) and yards per reception (16.2) and tied a career-high in receiving touchdowns (four). Since he has yet to even come close to recording 1,000 yards as the perpetual third sometimes fourth fiddle to higher paid or more heralded wideouts in Cleveland.
Bourne isn’t as tall or heavy at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds as Miles Boykin who is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. However, he is just as physical and effective as a blocker in the run game and has proven to have a higher upside as a pass-catcher. He possesses strong hands and a rugged run after the catch ability that makes him a menace to bring down in the open field.
The 25-year-old spent the first four years of his career with the San Francisco 49ers where he has never been a fixture in the offense but has stepped up when called upon and made plays when given the opportunity.
He took advantage of all the injuries that the team suffered at the receiver position in 2020 and had his most productive season to date with career-highs in targets (74), receptions (49), receiving yards (667), and receiving first downs (35).