By: Brett Dickinson and Barry Kamen
BK: After the Ravens were able to sign Dennis Pitta to a five year deal, I was convinced that the Ravens would use the franchise tag on LT Eugene Monroe. Monday’s deadline came and went, with Baltimore declining to use the franchise tag. Brett, are you surprised that the Ravens decided not to use the franchise tag on Monroe, now the top left tackle on the market?
BD: While it was a realistic option to tag a player they gave up two picks for just last year, the move (or lack there of) does not surprise me. The salary number for a franchised Tackle would reach above $11 Million for the upcoming season; a hefty sum for a player Ozzie Newsome has limited experience with his presence on the roster. The Ravens will do everything in their power to resign him before free agency starts next week, but would have lost some negotiation power, when putting that type of price range on his value with the franchise tag.
Monroe will hit the market as the top offensive lineman available, with several teams looking for a stalwart LT. Reports are that Miami will make a strong push for him, along with other teams that could use upgrades at the position such as: the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and regrettably the Pittsburgh Steelers. Competing with that amount of teams drastically lowers the chances that he will back on Joe Flacco’s blind side this upcoming season.
The good news is that the Ravens can find a similar option via free agency (or even the draft). Looking at young LTs such as the Kansas City Chiefs Branden Albert, Oakland Raiders Jared Veldheer, Cincinnati Bengals Anthony Collins or St. Louis Rams Rodger Saffold (Read profiles on Albert and Saffold HERE), leaves them plenty of talent to consider. The front office may have examined the availability of those players, who may have price tag more cohesive to money they have set for aside for LT. Also, the drop-off from Monroe and the rest of the free agents is not severe, where the Ravens may even value one (or maybe several) of them as better fits to the new offensive scheme.
With that being said, Baltimore still has holes to fill at several other key positions. Everyone knows the needs at the WR, FS, TE, RB, DL and LB, after watching the Ravens fail to defend the Super Bowl title last season. So Barry, which players out on the market intrigue you as upgrades for an 8-8 roster?
BK: As we write this blog on Thursday, the number of salary cap casualties continues to grow. With free agency beginning on Tuesday, teams are looking to cut veteran players that will command too much money, and give them the flexibility to sign players that best fit their scheme and needs.
The position that has been hit the hardest by the cap cuts is Cornerback. Veterans like Champ Bailey, Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson, and Cortland Finnegan will all be searching for new teams this offseason. While the Ravens seem to be set with Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb as their starters, depth in the secondary is a current concern. Despite all of the available players, Corey Graham is probably the team’s best option; his knowledge of the system, special teams prowess, and ability to move outside on third downs (Webb typically moves inside) make him more valuable than any of the aforementioned players. Many of the available cornerbacks on the market are one-trick ponies that do not offer teams the ability to play special teams. Look for the Ravens to explore the cornerback market, but take back the known commodity in Graham.
Two players who might come up on the Ravens radar are Jacksonville Jaguar G Uche Nwaneri and Philadelphia Eagles WR Jason Avant. The Ravens had success with an experienced lineman from Jacksonville in Monroe, and Nwaneri could provide quality depth at the guard position. Nwaneri has 92 career starts, and would allow the Ravens to part ways with Jah Reid, who never lived up to expectations. Avant is a proven veteran who could really thrive as a third down target for Joe Flacco. With Marlon Brown on the roster, and the Ravens expected to draft a wide receiver in the early rounds, Avant’s work ethic and mentorship could pay large dividends moving forward. Both of these veterans would have to come at the right price, and I have some concerns as to how cap casualties will view the Ravens as a potential destination. After an 8-8 season, off the field issues, and other AFC contenders (Miami, Indianapolis) with money to spend, can the Ravens compete for veteran players the way that they used to?
BD: That is a real question, and may be the part of the reasoning on why to extend Terrell Suggs, instead of cutting him. Without Ray Lewis, the team lost its main free agent recruiter; something the boisterous Suggs could help replace.
Oh and those TWO SUPER BOWL TROPHIES on display at the Castle could help…