2021 NFL free agency grades: Buccaneers, Chiefs, Jets leading the way with smart signings - Cody Benjamin
Signed OG Kevin Zeitler (3 years, $22M)
Re-signed OLB Tyus Bowser (4 years, $22M)
Re-signed OLB Pernell McPhee
Re-signed DT Derek Wolfe (3 years, $12M)
Losing Matt Judon hurts the pass rush, but bringing back Bowser, McPhee and Wolfe certainly softens the blow, especially at such reasonable prices. Zeitler, meanwhile, could prove to be a steal as better interior protection for Lamar Jackson.
Derek Wolfe, defensive tackle
Derek Wolfe signed a four-year, $12 million deal on Tuesday.
What it means: The Ravens retain the starting front from the NFL’s No. 7 defense by bringing back Wolfe after his first season in Baltimore. Wolfe’s high effort play fit with defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell. The most significant free-agent signing by Baltimore a year ago, Wolfe tied a career high with 51 tackles in 2020.
What’s the risk: Wolfe is 31 and is on the downside of his career. His return takes away playing time from Justin Madubuike, who showed flashes of being a starter as a rookie. Wolfe was a disappointment as a pass-rusher last year with a career-worst one sack, which was six fewer than 2019.
Tyus Bowser, linebacker
Tyus Bowser signed a four-year, $22-million deal on Tuesday.
What it means: This was a critical re-signing for the Ravens as far as continuity and versatility after outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue both signed elsewhere at the start of free agency. Bowser, a second-round pick in 2017, has been one of Baltimore’s most improved defenders. He’s proven to be just as valuable in coverage as in the pass rush. Last season, Bowser was the only linebacker in the league to record at least three sacks and three interceptions.
What’s the risk: The Ravens are investing $12 million guaranteed on Bowser’s upside. The expectation is he’ll play a bigger role than his past four seasons, when he started two games and never played more than 51% of the team’s defensive snaps in a season.
2021 NFL Free Agency LIVE Deal Grader: Grading and tracking every free agent signing - Spielberger & Linsey
EDGE TYUS BOWSER: FOUR YEARS, $22 MILLION ($12 MILLION GUARANTEED)
Grade: Above Average
Bowser has gradually increased his role in Baltimore’s defense over the past two seasons up to 540 defensive snaps in 2020, rotating on the edge with Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Pernell McPhee. He has developed into a versatile option capable of holding up against the run, rushing the passer and dropping into coverage in Baltimore’s blitz-heavy scheme. Bowser earned PFF grades above 70.0 in 2019 and 2020.
The Ravens are in line to receive fourth-round compensatory picks for both Judon and Ngakoue following their signings with the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders, respectively. Now, the team retains Bowser at a lower number. No franchise has taken better advantage of the compensatory pick system since it was installed in 1994, with 53 compensatory draft picks earned — six more than the second-place Cowboys.
The Ravens have long been the NFL’s king of compensatory picks.
But this year is different. This year offers such a unique opportunity to stockpile extra selections that it makes saying goodbye to excellent young talent even more understandable, even if still painful. This year, it makes the Ravens’ long-held strategy even stronger.
After getting just two compensatory picks for the 2021 NFL Draft, a number that probably left DeCosta feeling a bit shortchanged, the Ravens could get three extra third-round compensatory picks next year.
In order to secure them, the Ravens can’t negate the losses with other free-agent additions – that is, unless they were released by their previous team. For years, the Ravens have scoured the cap-casualty market looking for bargains. This year, that crop is richer because of the tightened salary-cap restraints.
2021 NFL free agency: Tuesday’s winners and losers - Gregg Rosenthal
Teams who waited for bargains: Center Rodney Hudson (released by the Raiders), corner Adoree’ Jackson (released by the Titans) and defensive back Kareem Jackson (parting ways with the Broncos) are three of the players I’ve added to my list of the top 101 free agents over the last day. More solid veterans are likely to be released before the official start of the league year on Wednesday. With less cap space overall in the market and more starter-caliber veterans available than usual, there will be bargains to be had in the next week.