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Ravens become co-favorites to win AFC North after signing Marcus Williams

NFL: SEP 26 Saints at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Ravens made a big splash with their first move of free agency on Tuesday, agreeing to terms with New Orleans Saints’ free safety Marcus Williams. They inked the five-year veteran to a five-year, $70 million contract with $37 million guaranteed.

Williams, 25, was widely viewed as one of the top available players at the safety position this offseason and a high-end free agent overall. The former 2017 second-round draft pick ranked as PFF’s No. 1 free agent safety and No. 8 free agent overall. Since 2019, his PFF grade of 90.6 ranks first among all safeties.

In the immediate wake of the Ravens’ acquisition, some are already viewing it as a division-altering move. Per DraftKings Sportsbook, two weeks ago, the Cincinnati Bengals had the best odds to win the AFC North next season at +140. The Ravens trailed in second place with +225 odds.

Now, as of today post-Marcus Williams signing, the Ravens are co-favorites with the Bengals to win the division for the 2022-23 season. Both Baltimore and Cincinnati have +145 odds, while the Cleveland Browns are +340 and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a distant fourth with +650 odds.

The Ravens and Bengals also have the same odds (+1000) to win the conference overall next season. They are tied for fourth, trailing the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

This shift is notable and speaks to the perception of Williams in NFL circles, and the potential impact he could have on the Ravens’ defense. Williams’ elite coverage and playmaking skills fill a huge need for the Ravens in the backend of their secondary.

The Ravens’ pass defense ranked No. 32 in the league in 2021. Much of this had to do with a slew of injuries to starters like Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey and DeShon Elliott, but upgrading the defense backfield was a priority this offseason nonetheless. Now, with Peters and Humphrey set to return for 2022 and Williams joining Chuck Clark as the team’s starting safety tandem, the Ravens could field one of the best secondaries in the NFL.

With a young offensive core headlined by rising star quarterback Joe Burrow, there’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Bengals heading into next season. To their credit, they did win the division this past season and win three straight playoff games to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Having to face Burrow and the Bengals’ high-octane passing attack twice a year probably factored into the Ravens’ decision to invest in a free safety like Williams, who can help sure up some of their coverage issues on defense.

It will be interesting to see how the odds continue to fluctuate as more free agent signings occur before the draft next month. Either way, the addition of Williams by the Ravens is a significant one and should make the division race all the more competitive.