Difficult decisions still loom for Ravens after locking up Flacco

March 02, 2013 | Luke Jones

The Flacco deal doesn’t do much to dramatically change the Ravens’ wish list in this area, but it makes their wishes more realistic with some cap room now at their disposal.

Kruger and cornerback Cary Williams still figure to be too expensive for the Ravens as pass rushers and cornerbacks often find contracts on the open market that outweigh their true value as players. A team desperate for defenders who can get after the quarterback will likely pay Kruger like a three-down linebacker and ignore the fact that he’s been most effective as a situational player, evident in the Super Bowl when he played only 22 of 62 defensive snaps against the run-heavy 49ers.

Williams was the Ravens’ best cornerback after Lardarius Webb went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 6, but with Webb, Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, and Chykie Brown providing quality depth, he becomes more of a luxury instead of a priority for the Ravens.

Ellerbe will be the Ravens’ top priority of their 12 unrestricted free agents as the defense needs him to anchor the inside linebacker position with Lewis retiring and McClain a potential cap casualty and still not cleared from a spinal cord contusion. The 2009 undrafted free agent has already expressed a strong desire to remain in Baltimore, but the Ravens would like to get something done before he hits free agency on March 12.

Last year, McClain saw little interest from other teams with top inside linebackers Stephen Tulloch, David Hawthorne, and Curtis Lofton on the open market, but this year’s free-agent group doesn’t feature the same caliber of inside backers. Ellerbe isn’t a flawless player as injuries cost him 10 games over the last two seasons, but he proved his value to the Baltimore defense with stellar play this year.

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie and safety Ed Reed would figure to be next on the list of possible free agents to re-sign, but both will test their value on the open market before a potential return. The Ravens have a significant need at left tackle, but the issue of trust is always the biggest question when it comes to McKinnie and there will be several viable options at the position on the open market as well. Reed will still need to accept a modest deal to make a return possible, so it will be interesting to see how other teams value the 34-year-old on a short-term contract.

Safety James Ihedigbo figures to be the only other unrestricted free agent in which the Ravens would have any notable interest while veterans such as defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu, safety Sean Considine, defensive lineman Ryan McBean, tight end Billy Bajema, and cornerback Chris Johnson are all expendable. That’s not to say we won’t see any of those players return, but none would be considered any kind of a priority.

Restricting the restricted

The Ravens have six restricted free agents, a list that includes tight ends Dennis Pitta and Dickson, defensive lineman Arthur Jones, long snapper Morgan Cox, offensive lineman Ramon Harewood, and wide receiver David Reed.

Only Pitta, Dickson, and Jones are sure choices to be tendered contracts as the other three would still cost $1.32 million each as low tenders. It’s just a guess, but Pitta and Jones would likely receive receive a second-round tender ($2.02 million each), meaning a team would have to surrender a second-round pick if it signed either player to an offer sheet the Ravens elected not to match. Dickson would seem to be a candidate for the low tender ($1.32 million) as a team would need to fork over a third-round pick — the round in which he was selected in the 2010 draft — to sign the tight end to an offer sheet.

Of the remaining three, Cox has done a fine job as long snapper, so it’s likely the Ravens award him the low tender. Reed and Harewood are both expendable and are likely candidates to be non-tendered.

For the purposes of projecting cap space, the Ravens would need $6.69 million to retain Pitta, Dickson, Jones, and Cox with the aforementioned tenders. They would need an additional $2.64 million to award low tenders to Harewood and Reed.

The Ravens historically tender nearly all of their restricted free agents, but $9.33 million for those six players is a hefty portion of their limited cap space, making it very possible that Harewood and Reed are non-tendered and potentially signed to cheaper deals at some point.