Almost a week into free agency, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has been busy retaining his own free agents while also enticing veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to bring his impressive pedigree to the league’s 29th-ranked offense from a year ago.
Needs remain along the offensive line and at free safety, but the options are dwindling as is the team’s salary cap space with roughly $9 million available. That’s not to say those resources can’t be helpful to further augment the roster as preparations continue for the start of the NFL draft on May 8, but this is when teams often look for the best value in not only identifying players who truly represent upgrades from what they already have but signing them for the right price.
Secondary needs to the offensive line and free safety include a No. 3 cornerback, a blocking tight end, and another running back, but those are all areas in which the Ravens can likely use the draft to find quality depth.
Here’s a sampling of the better remaining options to address their needs:
S Ryan Clark
Skinny: The 34-year-old safety has played the last eight seasons in Pittsburgh, which would make his potential defection to Baltimore compelling if he has anything left on the field. In addition to the Ravens, Washington and the New York Jets are reportedly interested in Clark, who would give 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam a mentor in the defensive backfield. A 2011 Pro Bowl selection, Clark is nearing the end of his career and struggled in 2013 but isn’t that far removed from playing at a high level. The hard-hitting veteran doesn’t really fit the profile of the ball-hawking safety Newsome described at the start of the offseason, but he’s generally been strong in coverge in his career and collected 104 tackles and two interceptions last year.
S Thomas DeCoud
Skinny: The 28-year-old started all but two games for Atlanta over the last five seasons but has been plagued with inconsistency and is coming off a poor 2013 campaign in which he recorded 65 tackles, no interceptions, and only two pass breakups. The 2012 Pro Bowl safety had 14 interceptions from 2009 through 2012 but probably reminds Newsome and the front office too much of Michael Huff, who was one of the biggest free-agent busts in franchise history last year. DeCoud was cut by the Falcons earlier this month, meaning he wouldn’t count against the compensatory pick formula if the Ravens were to sign him.
S Chris Clemons
Skinny: Starting 32 games for the Miami Dolphins over the last two seasons, the 28-year-old has been solid but unspectacular in his five-year career. Clemons made 93 tackles and intercepted one pass last season with many observers wondering if the Dolphins downgraded in deciding to sign Louis Delmas to replace Clemons earlier this month. Much like Clark and DeCoud, Clemons doesn’t fit the part of what Newsome described in January, but the Ravens are unlikely to find a playmaking safety unless they draft one such as Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor of Louisville.
C Kyle Cook
Skinny: Cook started 66 games for the Bengals over the last five years and would represent a solid veteran option to compete with incumbent starter Gino Gradkowski and 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen at the center position this summer. The 30-year-old was the 24th-ranked center in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, but he was released by the Bengals at the start of free agency and wouldn’t cost the Ravens a compensatory pick. His experience in the AFC North is also something that could be of value in the front office’s eyes.
C Brian de la Puente
Skinny: Though New Orleans reportedly remains interested in re-signing the starting center, the 28-year-old would be more appealing than Cook and would likely find a similar market to Evan Dietrich-Smith, who signed a four-year, $14.25 million contract with Tampa Bay last week. Pro Football Focus graded De la Puente as the 16th-ranked center in the league last year, but he graded second in 2012 and would represent a clear upgrade to Gradkowski in the starting lineup. The Ravens have yet to be linked to de la Puente, but the New York Giants reportedly showed interest last week.
G Travelle Wharton
Skinny: He’ll be 33 in May, but Wharton graded out as the fifth-best guard in the NFL by Pro Football Focus this past season after missing the entire 2012 campaign with a knee injury. Entering his 11th season, Wharton played with Steve Smith in Carolina for nearly a decade, so it will be interesting to see if the Ravens ask their new wide receiver what he thinks of his former teammate, who recently reiterated that he has no intentions of retiring. Should the Ravens sign the left guard, they could move Kelechi Osemele to right tackle to address the departure of Michael Oher.
RT Eric Winston
Skinny: The 30-year-old spent six years with Gary Kubiak in Houston, which would make him an enticing fit if not for the fact that he didn’t play well in Arizona this past season. Winston was the 69th-ranked tackle this season, which was one spot below Oher in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Still, his experience with the zone blocking scheme in Kubiak’s offense would be very attractive at the right price. The acquisition of a right tackle would also allow the Ravens to keep Osemele at left guard, the position where some think he can blossom into a Pro Bowl player if he proves to be healthy after last year’s back surgery.
TE Owen Daniels
Skinny: He doesn’t really fit the mold of what the Ravens are looking for in terms of a blocking-minded tight end, but his close relationship with Kubiak is too much to overlook in wondering if the 31-year-old would be an attractive addition to the passing game. Daniels was limited to five games last year but knows the intricacies of Kubiak’s system and is a two-time Pro Bowl selection who has caught 54 or more passes four times in his career. With so many remaining needs, the Ravens would need to get excellent value in terms of price to make Daniels worth it and there hasn’t appeared to be much concrete interest beyond the initial reaction when he was released by the Texans last week.