By Paul Wanecski
If you are the Baltimore Ravens, you knew this day was coming 3 years ago. They have zero salary cap space, a roster that might soon qualify for AARP and were absolutely destroyed by injuries at nearly every position. General Manager Ozzie Newsome needs to work a miracle. Therefore, the question becomes “where do you start?” and no better place than the NFL Draft, since you simply do not have the money to afford free agents.
Head Coach: John Harbaugh
Career Record: 82-45
Offensive Coordinator: Marc Trestman
14th YPG, 8th Pass, 26th Run
Defensive Coordinator: Dean Pees
8th YPG, 10th Pass, 12th Run
Things really could not have gone any worse for Baltimore, who has an aging defense with a secondary that had only six interceptions all season, the fewest in the NFL. When the season was all done, they lost 18 players to injury. The list includes the loss of:
QB Joe Flacco- torn ACL
RB Justin Forsett- broken arm
S Matt Elam- torn bicep
OLB Terrell Suggs and WR Steve Smith Jr- torn Achilles
TE Dennis Pitta- dislocated hip (again)
WR Breshad Perriman- knee
C Jeremy Zuttah- chest
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro -foot
DE Chris Canty- pectoral injury
LT Eugene Monroe- shoulder
Top this list off with the fact that they are in among the worst salary cap situations in the league and it becomes clear that the strategy to push the envelope with contracts following their Super Bowl victory was not as successful as anticipated. The Raven’s need to pray that the salary cap increases in the neighborhood of about $8m this offseason because, as of now, they have only about $5m in space.
LT Eugene Monroe has to come down in price. He has missed significant time previously. He is currently the fourth highest paid player on the team and that puts him in the red zone to be released. Searching for a LT is not what you want to do when you have so many other problems. If they can bring his base salary down from $6.5m into the $2.5m range and throw that money as an incentive for games played, it could be the best for both parties.
OLB Elvis Dumervil is a luxury at this point. They do not save a ton by trading him, but if they can secure a mid-level player and a draft pick, they should pull the trigger to jettison the 32-year-old veteran.
TE Dennis Pitta has the team by the juevos. Hip injuries just do not go away and the Raven’s gambled on his contract and lost. They need to find a replacement quickly and I doubt that is current replacement TE Crockett Gilmore. They did draft Maxx Williams last year.
RB Justin Forsett might be released or traded simply because of his age and the fact that they gain $2.3m in space, and with Buck Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro in the wings, they have no reason to keep Forsett.
Releasing QB Ryan Mallett also saves them $1.5m
WR Steve Smith says he wants to return. He was effective when he played, so his return might allow Baltimore another year before having to address the WR position again.
Courtney Upshaw should not be resigned.
G/T Kelechi Osemele will likely field offers from other teams and his signing with another team appears to be just a matter of time.
To start this section off, I think it would be best if I stressed how badly the Ravens need to trade this selection. They have a secondary that is in terrible shape, aging outside linebackers, a QB coming off an ACL, and they have no salary cap space. What is the easiest way to address that? Well, since they have no money to spend in free agency, you trade back and trade away what you have to position for the future.
WR Josh Docston (6’3”, 195lbs) from TCU fits what Baltimore needs, but at sixth overall is a stretch. If Baltimore trades down, he might be the target.
WR LaQuon Treadwell is the similar to former Raven receiver Anquan Boldin. He is far from a burner, but if you want a team that grinds things out, Treadwell is a good fit. Please do not let him run the 40-yard dash at the combine; needs to take a page from the Michael Crabtree book.
WR Corey Coleman is the best wide out in college, but size is a definite concern (that and he does not run a ton of routes), but a sixth overall, other teams will be calling Baltimore who needs to get younger and really could benefit to dropping back.
Baltimore is not sold that Matt Elam will ever develop, so watch for them to grab a safety in the mid-rounds.
Outside linebackers are at a premium this high in the draft, as the last few years have proven that within the top six picks is a hot-zone for these players. The Ravens have a definitely need but do not have the ability to swing and miss.
If the Raven’s chose to restock the defensive tackle unit early, it would be hard to criticize that. Both the linebackers and DT units are far from young.
A backup QB is again a need for Baltimore as Matt Schaub simply was not the answer. Whoever it is, they will need to be inexpensive.
Troll the free agent market for players with several years’ experience, coming off an injury or poor contract, looking to prove people wrong.