The Best and Worst of NFL Free Agency So Far - Nora Princiotti
Got It Right: Baltimore, Buffalo
In Baltimore, safety Marcus Williams signed for five years, $70 million and offensive tackle Morgan Moses signed for three years, $15 million. Moses hasn’t missed a game since 2014 and is a bargain at $5 million per year for a quality starter at tackle. Williams is more expensive, but the Ravens badly needed to improve their pass defense. Baltimore also managed to outbid the Jets and the Eagles for Williams without letting the costs get out of hand—$14 million annually makes him the league’s seventh-highest-paid safety, which seems more than reasonable.
Za’Darius Smith returns to where his NFL career started as the Ravens land the edge rusher they coveted - Jeff Zrebiec
How he fits: The Ravens badly needed an accomplished and explosive edge rusher. They’ve struggled to generate pressure in recent seasons without blitzing and Smith brings juice off the edge that they’ve lacked. With both Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee on the free-agent market and 2021 first-round draft pick Odafe Oweh (shoulder) and Tyus Bowser (Achilles) coming off offseason surgeries, Smith solidifies the Ravens at outside linebacker. The Ravens still have plenty of work to do in rebuilding their defense, but getting two playmakers in Smith and Williams during the first week of free agency is already some heavy lifting.
2022 impact: It’s going to depend on Smith’s health and whether his back injury is a thing of the past. However, if he’s healthy, there’s no reason not to expect Smith to be a double-digit sack guy. Ravens new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald was Smith’s position coach for part of his time in Baltimore, so he should know how to utilize him and put him in the best position to succeed. Expect Smith to start opposite Oweh, who had five sacks as a rookie, and Bowser to be then moved around to take advantage of his versatility.
Ravens reunite with OLB Za’Darius Smith, bolster pass rush with reported 4-year, $35 million deal - Jonas Shaffer
In Bowser, Oweh and Smith, the Ravens have a trio of uniquely skilled edge defenders. Bowser is one of the NFL’s best outside linebackers in coverage. Oweh projects as an elite run stopper, and he moved around the defensive front as a rookie, even helping to spy quarterbacks. Smith only occasionally rushed the passer from the interior in Green Bay, but in his final year in Baltimore, he had 5 ½ sacks when lining up inside the tackles, according to Sports Info Solutions.
“You don’t know where he’s going to go,” former Packers inside linebacker Christian Kirksey told Green Bay’s team website in 2020. “When you have a guy that high-caliber, you can use him in many ways and that’s the advantage for us on defense, that he can play good in the run and also play good in the pass and he’s versatile [enough] to be able to play all over the field.
“And he’s smart enough to play all over the field. Having a player like that definitely helps us.”
A $108 million question: Does Marcus Williams give the Ravens the NFL’s best secondary? - Jamison Hensley
Beating out the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles for Williams could become the key in a dramatic turnaround on pass defense. Last season, Baltimore allowed the most passing yards in the NFL and a franchise-worst 31 touchdown passes.
Now, on the second day of free agency, the Ravens can make the argument that they have the best secondary in the league. And, honestly, this should be the top defensive backfield in football, given the investment. Over the last three years, Baltimore has spent $108 million in guaranteed money on Williams ($37 million), cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey ($40.3 million) and Marcus Peters ($21 million) and safety Chuck Clark ($10 million).
Who can blame the Ravens? Their path to the Super Bowl goes through a loaded AFC quarterback field that includes Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert. The Ravens need the players to lock down in coverage if they want to bounce back from a last-place finish and get past the divisional round for the first time since 2012.
T Morgan Moses: Three years, $15 million
Moses is PFF’s 14th-highest-graded right tackle over the past two seasons. He has graded out above 65.0 as a pass protector in every season since 2015, and he’s done the same as a run blocker in all but one of those years. Moses pairs that consistency with durability. He hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season.
Given how the veteran starting tackle free agent market usually goes, this is a strong value signing for Baltimore and an upgrade over Ja’Wuan James at right tackle. The $5 million per year average lines up with right tackles like Jesse Davis and Zach Banner.
Grade: Above average
Edge Za’Darius Smith: Four years, $35 million (up to $50 million)
Smith returns to Baltimore, where he began his NFL career, but he doesn’t return as the same player who left. From 2019 to 2020, Smith put together an elite two-year stretch in Green Bay, recording 144 quarterback pressures (fourth in NFL) and a 90.3 PFF pass-rushing grade. The only edge rushers with a higher pass-rushing grade than that over that two-year stretch were T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack.
If that’s the version of Smith that returns from a 2021 season almost entirely lost to injury, this is a steal for Baltimore who won’t factor into the compensatory pick formula because he was released by Green Bay. New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald should be able to find some creative ways to utilize Smith alongside Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser.
For Channing Tindall, his stock is soaring after what was one of the more impressive combine workouts of any player at any position. While teammate Jordan Davis stole the show for all the former Bulldogs in attendance, the 6-foot-2 linebacker in Tindall, a true sideline-to-sideline defender, proved to teams he’s everything defensive coordinators look for to counter the speed of NFL offenses at the second level. A scheme fit within any defensive and an athletic profile that presents teams with a chess piece to use at their disposal in man, zone, or as a wide-nine blitzer, continuing to showcase that athletic profile during Wednesday’s pro day has identified a player teams are quickly moving up their draft board.
After running the 40 and jumping in the vert and broad in Indianapolis, Tindall saved arguably his top performance for last in the 20-yard short shuttle. A drill showcasing lateral agility and the ability to plant your foot in the ground and quickly accelerate, Tindall’s blazing time of 4.03 would have finished as the top time among all linebackers at the combine, and the second-quickest mark of all participants.