Around this time last week, the legal tampering period began in the NFL Free Agency frenzy. The first wave of free agency was not kind to the Ravens as Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, John Brown, and Za’Darius Smith all found new homes in a very short period of time.
Eric DeCosta and company responded by signing the top free agent on the market in former Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. Thomas will fill the free safety role vacated when the Ravens chose to part ways with veteran safety Eric Weddle two weeks ago. DeCosta also brought in former New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram to help bolster what promises to be a dominant rushing attack. Special teams ace Justin Bethel rounded out the Ravens additions so far.
With the NFL Draft quickly approaching on April 25, the Ravens have some holes to fill as they head into the draft process. Here are some targets the Ravens should consider to bolster their roster in free agency before the draft arrives in a month or so.
1) Justin Houston
Former Kansas City Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston would be a perfect fit for a Ravens club that is in desperate need for another pass rushing threat to pair with fourth-year standout Matt Judon. When Smith and Suggs left via free agency, they took their 15.5 combined sacks with them.
Outside of Judon, the Ravens only have rising third-year players Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams as pass rushing threats. Bowser and Williams have both had a difficult time getting on the field so far in their careers. It would be a lot to ask for the Ravens to expect them to become impact players this upcoming season.
Houston was recently cut from the Chiefs in a cap-saving decision despite tallying nine sacks in 12 games last season. Houston also added fives forced fumbles. Over his career, Houston has five seasons of at least nine sacks on his resume.
Another valuable aspect in considering Houston is that he will not count against the Ravens compensatory pick expectations as he was released from the Chiefs and didn’t hit free agency via the natural process.
Houston is very valuable. The issue is that everyone else knows that too. According to Ravens Cap Expert Brian McFarland, the Ravens project to have roughly $17 million in cap space after factoring in the new deals for Thomas and Ingram (but prior to factoring in Bethel).
Pass rusher also isn’t their only need at this time as they could look to fill Mosley’s spot via free agency. Which brings me to the next player they should target…
2) Zach Brown
Maryland native inside linebacker Zach Brown was released by the Washington Redskins last week. Despite putting up 96 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack, the 29-year-old Brown was jettisoned by Washington to save salary cap space.
Brown was a Pro-Bowl linebacker in 2016 as a member of the Buffalo Bills before taking his talents to D.C. for the last two seasons. Brown is a run-stuffing inside linebacker similar to Mosley and could be a nice piece for the Ravens as they continue to rework their defense.
Just as is the case with Houston, Brown provides an extra value in that signing him would not cost the Ravens any compensatory picks that they have accrued to this point. Brown brings veteran stability with his 74 career starts to a position that figures to have Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Chris Board fighting for playing time. Those three players have combined for 29 career NFL starts with Onwuasor accouting for 26 of them..
Smith could be highly coveted, but the Ravens do have some cap flexibility and could do more to create some room to fit Brown, Houston, or other options under the threshold. This is a move I would really like to see them make. Think Daryl Smith 2013-2015. A tackling machine on a team-friendly deal.
3) Jordy Nelson
I hate this just as much as you do. I have cried for years for the Ravens to draft wide receivers early in the draft. That’s no different this year. The Ravens need to take a wideout early but a veteran upgrade is still needed.
The Ravens receiving group right now features Willie Snead IV, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, JaLeel Scott, and Quincy Adeboyejo. I don’t care if the Ravens plan on running the ball 70% of the time (which wouldn’t be effective anyways), the Ravens need an upgrade at receiver. The departed Brown seems to think Moore can fill that void:
Excluding Snead and Moore that receiver group has a total of one NFL game played in their careers and zero career catches. Scott was a fourth-rounder drafted last year out of New Mexico State and in August was placed on injured reserve with a “severe hamstring injury.” Lasley was a fifth-round selection in 2018 out of UCLA and was essentially a healthy scratch the entire year. Adeboyejo is battling back from injuries. He played sparingly in 2017 after being undrafted.
Nelson is no longer the guy you remember racking up four 1200+ yard receiving seasons in a five-year span from 2011-2016. Nor is he the guy who also tallied 57 touchdowns over that same time frame. It is also notable that Nelson missed the 2015 season with a torn ACL.
But Nelson provides leadership to a group that sorely lacks it as well as NFL level production. Nelson had 63 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns for a truly terrible Oakland Raiders team. Those figures would have led the Ravens in catches and yards and trailed only the recently departed Brown in touchdowns.
Nelson turns 34 in May which could drive his price down. No comp pick would be needed here either.
This one has Ravens written all over it.
4) Ezekiel Ansah
I know. I know. You can’t say “if he’s healthy when discussing Ezekiel Ansah because over his six-year NFL career, the former Detroit Lions pass rusher is always hurt. He’s either missing games, or always dealing with nagging injuries that lead to ineffective play and relatively inconsistent seasons.
Ansah has played in 83% of the Lions contests over the last six seasons. Obviously, you’d like that number to be as close 100% as possible, but the injury risk that he is tagged with doesn’t feel warranted to me. When he is on the field, however, he is quite effective.
Ansah had just four sacks in seven games last season before being placed on IR with a shoulder injury. He will turn 30 in May which could impact his value on the open market. But he has 48 total sacks in 73 career starts. In two seasons he had over 12 sacks.
The Ravens need a proven pass rusher. If they miss the boat on Houston, I think that Ansah could prove to be a nice consolation prize for the purple and black as they look to fill the pass rushing void.
The Ravens obviously can’t fill every need between now and the regular season through free agency. The draft will play a key role in filling the voids left by departed players as well as upgrading the roster at the interior offensive line spots. No interior offensive linemen made this list because what is out here in free agency doesn’t feel like much of an upgrade to me.
Let’s hope that the Ravens are able to plug some holes in the remainder of free agency, or they could be in search of a couple more starters than is desirable when the draft arrives in late April.
Image Credit: Kansas City Star