Free agency in the NFL is a lot like collecting comic books. You can only make a major addition if you have a lot of money lying around. While it’s true you might be able to snag some okay pieces with the change you have in your piggy bank, it’s just not the same. And at the end of the day, your parents will give you funny looks when you try to explain it.
I’m personally a fan of the funny looks, so let’s try and make sense of the Ravens offseason so far.
Benjamin Watson, TE
The 35 year-old out of Georgia signed a two-year deal worth $7 million coming off of a season where he posted 74 receptions, 825 yards, and six touchdowns. Now, this signing was initially a bit confusing for two reasons.
First, the Ravens already have three young tight ends in Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore, and Nick Boyle. Well as it turns out, Boyle was hit with a ten game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances and Gillmore had to have surgery on both of his shoulders during the offseason .
Taking this into consideration the signing makes a little more sense. The Ravens offense relies a heavily on tight ends and two tight end formations, so they have to at least have two able bodies in order to have access to their whole playbook.
Second, Drew Brees has a habit of taking players off the street and giving them productive seasons. Robert Meachem is a prime example of this. In 2011 with the Saints, he had 40 receptions, 620 yards, and six touchdowns. In 2012 with the Chargers, he only had 14 receptions, 207 yards, and two touchdowns. Brees has also lead the league in passing yards in four of the past five years and over that span there have been eight receivers (one of them being Watson) to reach 800 receiving yards in a season.
Also over that span, Saints receivers have achieved 800 receiving yards in 13 instances. During the same period of time the Ravens have only had three receivers accomplish 800 receiving yard seasons, and only had seven instances of an 800 receiving yard season. The point being that with Brees as your quarterback, there’s plenty of chances to put up gaudy numbers. And the Ravens are paying Watson like he’s going to put up those numbers, which is a terrible move. Just ask the Chargers.
The Watson signing makes some sense, but then again it doesn’t. If the Ravens were just looking for a body that can catch occasionally, there are plenty of options that are still on the market in the likes of Scott Chandler and Garrett Graham to name a few.
The only big upside from the deal is that if he’s a post June 1st cut after his first year, the Ravens get their cap space back.
Eric Weddle, S
Four-years at 26 million could easily make this one of the best Raven free agent signings ever. Pro Football Focus (PFF) has him ranked as the top safety in two of the past four seasons. Realistically though, his effectiveness as a Raven is dependent on a single factor:
The idea that Weddle’s age does not catch up with him, which is optimistic.
The age curve for safeties says that he should only get worse from here on out. And last season could very well be a sign that his decline could already be happening with him posting his worst PFF grade since 2008. However, he did play through injury for a good part of 2015, so it’s hard to confidently say that his physical abilities are already declining.
What Weddle does having going for him is the fact that he’s never been one to rely on just his physical abilities and he has been more reliant on his positioning and ability to read defenses.
Even if he is on the decline, he’s still better than what the Ravens currently have in Lardarius Webb, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks, and Kendrick Lewis. The real question is whether this is just a good signing or a great one.
The last piece that makes this deal so great is that if he’s a post June 1st cut after his first year, the Ravens pretty much get their cap space back. Leaving the Ravens with relatively little financial risk.
Conclusion: B-minus, with possibility for an A if you do your make-up work.
Mike Wallace, WR
Mike Wallace gets paid millions of dollars to be fast and run go-routes. There’s a reason Mike Tomlin called him a “one trick pony” when he was with the Steelers. Now, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a useful pony. Having a deep threat on the field is important in keeping defenses honest. If there is no one to stretch the field, safeties can play up and take away just about everything else.
To be fair to Wallace’s performance last year where he put up only 49 receptions and 473 yards with two touchdowns, he didn’t really have a quarterback that could play to his strengths. Teddy Bridgewater was 25th in passing yards through the in the air in 2015, which is way below Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco at 11th in 2015 and 9th in 2014, respectively.
Now, put Wallace and Breshad Perriman on the outside and let them use their use their speed. That gives plenty of room for the likes of Steve Smith Sr., Karmar Aiken, and the Raven’s tight ends to make plays. I wouldn’t completely overlook the Raven’s passing attack this year.
The plus side is that Wallace is on a one-year deal with a club option for second year. So if he does end up underperforming, there’s nothing really lost.
Conclusion: Bargain Bin Torrey Smith
Kelechi Osemele, OL
Ah, the curious case of Kelechi Osemele. Let’s make this simple. Is he worth five-years at $58.5 million playing Left Guard? No.
Is he worth that playing left tackle? Making a guy the third highest paid left tackle based on an extremely small pro-level sample size is grounds for a mental evaluation. Even PFF graded him the lowest out of all the current Raider offensive linemen at 79.6 out of 100, which is only 18th out of 77 qualifying tackles. And to make that signing look even worse, the Raiders just re-signed Donald Penn, so Osemele will be paid left tackle money to play left guard.
You can’t really blame the Ravens for not matching that. Bad contracts and overpays do not a contender make.
Conclusion: Whatever the polite version of “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” is.
UP IN THE AIR
Courtney Upshaw, OLB
At the time of writing this, Upshaw has not decided on team after visiting both the Colts and Jets. I believe that the Colts are the most likely if he signs with another team due to former Ravens linebacker coach Ted Monachino being hired as their defensive coordinator.
Unfortunately, Upshaw’s performance is hard to quantify without watching a ton of game film. Although, PFF grades him as the 15th best edge defender against the run. Upshaw mainly operates as 1st and 2nd down Linebacker whose job is to set the edge and stop the run. He’s the guy who lets Elvis Dumervil stay fresh for 3rd down and passing situations. A role that I believe is woefully under appreciated in the NFL. Players, like Upshaw, who succeed in that position are not as easy to come by as one might think.
I personally believe it would be a poor choice to let him walk. The Ravens are going to need another edge setter on the other side of the defense due to Sugg’s injury prone nature as of late and his age not making him the every down linebacker he was. Losing Upshaw would just contribute to the need for more depth, a need the Ravens already have.
Conclusion: Give me liberty or give me depth.
POSSIBLE CAP CASULTIES
Lardarius Webb, DB
Cutting Webb would save close to $5 million in cap space this year and $5.5 million in 2017, if he were a post-June 1st cut. Pre-June 1st saves about $3 million and $7.5 million in 2017. Restructuring is another option, but would likely require an extension past 2017. With Webb at 30 years-old and two major knee surgeries under his belt, it’s hard to see that happening.
The Ravens may also have their hands tied when trying to cut him. With Will Hill getting suspended and cut, Webb arguably has the best shot at starting beside Eric Weddle. The Ravens also seem keen on seeing what Webb has to offer playing Safety for a full season.
I don’t think Webb being cut is inevitable as some may think. It’s very possible the Ravens are going to see what falls to them during the draft and make a decision based on that. But, this is the biggest decision the Ravens are facing this offseason.
Releasing Monroe post-June 1st saves about $6 million in cap space this year, almost $4.5 million in 2017, approximately $9 million in 2018. Pre-June 1st only saves about $1.5 million this year and around $9 million in 2017 and 2018.
The issue with cutting Monroe is that there is no immediate replacement near his level when he’s healthy. The Ravens were looking at Kelvin Beachum, but he ended up signing with the Jaguars. Monroe’s current backup, James Hurst, is a complete dud, ranking 74th out of 77 eligible Tackles on PFF with a grade of 28.5 out of 100. So unless they find a comparable replacement soon, don’t expect Monroe to go anywhere.
Dennis Pitta, TE
The writing has been on the wall for Pitta ever since he blew out his hip a second time. A post-June 1st release saves the Ravens around $4.5 million this year, $3.4 million in 2017, and $7.5 million in 2018. Pre-June 1st saves almost no money this year and about $8 million in 2017 and 2018.
Even if Pitta comes back 100 percent healthy, the Ravens have younger options in Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore for less cost. Pitta is practically good as gone.
Justin Forsett, RB
Hear me out on this, cutting Forsett could save about 2.5 million in cap space this season and they have replacements that performed well in Lorenzo Taliaferro (when healthy), Buck Allen, and Terrance West. Plus, a 30 year-old running back coming off injury isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. I don’t personally see it happening, but it would not surprise me if it does.
Featured Image Credit: Screenshot from BaltimoreRavens.com press conference video