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10 players the Ravens are unlikely to retain in free agency

Goodbyes and hard choices will need to be made in order to move forward.

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The Baltimore Ravens enter the 2022 offseason with plenty of hope for the future despite a disappointing second half to the 2021 season. In order to improve and fortify their championship-ready roster, they will have to say goodbye to some players that had starting or significant roles last year.

Here is a list of 10 players that are either pending unrestricted free agents or have one year left in their contracts and could be cap casualties.

OT Alejandro Villanueva

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Bleacher Report aptly named the eight-year veteran’s contract the worst on the team based on what he earned and how poorly he consistently performed in 2021. Villanueva graded out as one of the worst offensive tackles in the league by several metrics. According to Pro Football Focus, his 11 penalties and nine sacks allowed tied for the most in the league.

The Ravens signed him to a two-year contract worth $14 million last offseason that expires after the 2022 season. They could free up $6 million in cap space while taking on $3.25 million by releasing him, which is likely to happen if he doesn’t choose to retire per reports.

DT Brandon Williams

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The NFL has moved away from a league where paying run-stuffing interior defensive linemen, who don’t generate consistent pressure, near top-dollar is no longer a necessity. The nine-year veteran elevated his play down the stretch in 2021 when he got healthy and was integral in the Ravens’ defense finishing No. 1 against the run. However, during the time he was out, there wasn’t the dramatic drop-off in their rush defense. This had previously occurred when he missed any amount of time since becoming a full-time starter seven years ago.

One of the team’s top priorities this offseason will be getting younger and more versatile on defense. Unless Williams is willing to wait until after the draft and is willing to re-sign near the veteran minimum, bringing back the soon-to-be 33-year-old would be counterproductive to the direction the team is moving towards.

FB Patrick Ricard

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The three-time Pro Bowler’s presence on this list may pique the curiosity of some and seem hypocritical on my part. He was one of the five players that I suggested the Ravens should re-sign less than two weeks ago. However, since then, the team signed rookie fullback Ben Mason to a reserve futures deal, shrouding Ricard’s potential return somewhat in doubt.

The Ravens used their eighth and final selection of the 2021 NFL Draft to pick Mason in the fifth round out of Michigan at No. 184 overall. At the time, many viewed him as insurance just in case Ricard took longer than expected to recover from an offseason hip surgery. Now, some are speculating that he might be the succession plan. Baltimore’s front office is always looking to save every dollar they can, especially at non-premium positions so they can allocate them to upgrading premium spots.

Last offseason, the Ravens opted to move on from longtime long snapper Morgan Cox — fresh off his first All-Pro season — in favor of the younger and inexpensive Nick Moore. Moore played well and was much more active on punt coverage than his predecessor, as he finished with four tackles on special teams.

WR Sammy Watkins

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Not a whole lot was expected from the former No. 4 overall pick when he signed with the Ravens on a one-year deal last March given his checkered injury history. Many hoped that’d he be a strong veteran presence in a young wide receiver room and that he’d come up with some clutch plays, especially if the team would’ve extended their playoff streak to four years in a row. Unfortunately, after being on the receiving end of a few key conversions in the first half of the season, Watkins was predictably banged up and surprisingly ineffective down the stretch.

His 2021 woes started in Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins, where his failure to track down a potential deep touchdown and his fourth-quarter fumble proved to be the difference in the upset loss. He began losing snaps and targets to the younger wideouts, particularly to rookies Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace. The Ravens will want to see more of their young pass catchers on the field and might not even sign a veteran at the position until after the draft.

CB Anthony Averett

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There was an outside chance that the Ravens might’ve been able to re-sign the 2018 fourth-round pick out of Alabama to a modest contract heading into the 2021 season. The unfortunate season-ending injury to Marcus Peters thrust him into the starting lineup. Then, the season-ending injury suffered by Marlon Humphrey in Week 13 catapulted him to the top spot — before a chest/rib injury sidelined him for the final two games of the season.

In 14 games, all of which were starts, Averett likely priced himself out of the Ravens’ price range. He finished with 54 total tackles, 11 pass deflections and led the team in interceptions with the first three of his career. The 27-year-old will probably seek an opportunity to be a team’s No. 1 corner or at least a full-time starter, not a primary backup to a pair of All-Pros like he has been in Baltimore the past three years.

RB Devonta Freeman

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Despite being past his prime, the eight-year veteran proved to be a saving grace for the Ravens at the running back position after their depth chart was decimated by injuries. Freeman might be the more likely of the two veteran rushers the team signed in 2021, Latavius Murray being the other, to be retained. However, the Ravens could be content with hoping their injured backs make a full recovery. Also, they might even pick one up on the third day on the draft in the later rounds.

S DeShon Elliott

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After playing the first full season of his career in 2020, the former 2018 sixth-round pick was having his best season to date before he was lost to another season-ending injury. It was the third time in his first four years that Elliott suffered a season-ending ailment. While Averett played enough to compile a lengthy audition tape for prospective teams to judge, Elliott’s season was cut short after just six games.

There is a chance that the Ravens could potentially bring him back at a reduced-to-reasonable salary, even if it is just on a one-year deal should no other team show significant interest. He played free safety for the Ravens, however, Elliott’s more natural position is at strong safety. This makes his skillset somewhat redundant compared to starting strong safety Chuck Clark.

One of the team’s top priorities this offseason could be finding a more natural ballhawk at his position, who will be a bigger threat to force more turnovers.

CB Tavon Young

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When healthy, the six-year veteran is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league — but staying on the field has been an issue for him throughout his career. Young played more games in 2021 (17) than he did in the previous three seasons combined. Even so, Young was still banged up and had to leave some games early.

He still has one year left in his current contract but by cutting ties, the Ravens could save $5.85 million in salary cap space while taking on $3.3 million in dead money. Extending him could save some money also, but the Ravens might not want to give the oft-injured defensive back a third contract. Instead, they could opt to pick up a younger and hopefully more regularly-available nickelback in the draft.

C Bradley Bozeman

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Based on reports of the two sides still being far apart in contract talks, the fourth-year pro appears destined to be playing for another team next season. The contract extension of utility lineman Patrick Mekari during the season potentially foreshadowed the end of Bozeman’s time in Charm City.

Prior to 2021, Mekari had started 16 games at center over the last two seasons, including the playoffs. Bozeman is one of the top offensive linemen slated to hit the open market and will likely fetch the Ravens a mid-round compensatory pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

RB Latavius Murray

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The eight-year veteran did an admirable job as filling in for Gus Edwards as the short-yardage and goal-line bruiser in 2021. However, unlike Freeman, his chances of being brought back are pretty much slim-to-none. The Ravens will return relatively inexpensive youthful talent from injury and could add more to via the draft. Murray rushed for over 500 yards and scored a respectable six touchdowns on the ground but will almost certainly be playing elsewhere in 2022.