OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While discussing the many prospects available in this month’s draft, general manager Ozzie Newsome hinted that the Ravens could be adding another veteran in the near future.
The longtime executive said during Baltimore’s pre-draft press conference that the organization could add another free agent before the NFL draft, which is set to begin on April 27. The comments came as former New York Jet Nick Mangold was visiting with the Ravens, leading many to speculate that Newsome was referring to the seven-time Pro Bowl center.
“We’re working,” said Newsome about adding to his free-agent class that already includes safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Brandon Carr, and running back Danny Woodhead. “We’re working, and I could say there is a high probability of that, yes.”
According to The Sun, Mangold left town without the sides agreeing to a deal on Wednesday, but there has been little reported interest from other teams trying to sign the 33-year-old. An ankle injury limited the 6-foot-4, 307-pound lineman to eight games in 2016, but Mangold had been incredibly durable in his career prior to that, missing a total of just four contests in his first 10 seasons.
The Ravens have a clear need at the center position after trading former starter Jeremy Zuttah to San Francisco last month. Head coach John Harbaugh has identified John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, and possibly even starting left guard Alex Lewis as candidates to take Zuttah’s place, but the Ravens have usually preferred having an established veteran at the position.
The top center prospects in this year’s draft include Ohio State’s Pat Elflein and LSU’s Ethan Pocic, but director of college scouting Joe Hortiz acknowledges the challenge of finding a rookie center who can immediately step into a starting role and have the confidence to make protection calls at the line of scrimmage.
“We have done a good job of sending our coaches out to work the guys out, put them through situations where they are going to have to make a call, make an adjustment, [and] get some other bodies out there for the guy to have a look,” Hortiz said. “Obviously, snapping is key, both from under center and then shotgun snaps. Especially as the league is spreading out, we are playing more gun snaps, so that is very important.
“You just look at a guy’s intelligence, his ability to assess things, adjust things, communicate along the line of scrimmage. You can find out about some of that in the fall even if he is not playing center, but I think putting him through workouts and spending time with the individual really helps.”