After a disappointing 8-9 season, the Baltimore Ravens have to reassemble the pieces of a team that had made three straight postseasons. Many of the team’s critical decisions concern current players, but they would be remiss to ignore this year’s crop of free agents.
According to Spotrac, the Ravens are 19th in available cap space with $9.8 million available. With some contract restructuring or cap-related cuts, the Ravens could salvage some millions of dollars. The likes of Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, and Miles Boykin might be on the chopping block.
In years past, the Ravens have prioritized the accumulation of compensatory picks in the draft. These picks are tied directly to free agency. When a team signs a priority free agent from a different team, they lose ground in the compensatory formula.
Similarly, when a team loses a priority free agent, they gain ground in the compensatory formula. The Ravens are projected to pick up a pair of fourth-round compensation picks in 2022 after losing Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue last offseason.
Historically, the Ravens have dominated this cycle. They have been awarded the most compensation picks despite not existing from 1993 to 1995 when the formula was introduced. Not all compensation picks hit, but the Ravens have had several hits including long-time punter Sam Koch, All-Pro Le’Ron McClain, and Super Bowl champion Pernell McPhee.
This has the consequence of the Ravens often not making huge splashes with traditional free agents. Instead, they often opt to pick up players who have been cut as another team’s cap casualty. Look no further than Kevin Zeitler last offseason. The New York Giants cut him before free agency began, and he did not count against the compensation formula.
These players are still on their current teams but expect the Ravens to be at the front of the line if there are any surprise cuts. For the moment, the most high-profile of these players is Antonio Brown.
With that said, let’s look at three major splashes the Ravens could trigger this offseason.
J.C. Jackson, Cornerback, New England Patriots
The relationship between the New England Patriots and J.C. Jackson is icy at best for the time being. Jackson wants to be paid like a star corner, and the Patriots have balked at his requests. They are unlikely to apply the franchise tag to him, so Jackson will be one of the top cornerbacks on the market.
The Ravens have a significant amount of the cap invested in the secondary including two of the top 10 deals by average annual value given to Marlon Humphrey and Peters. Jackson would command a dollar figure in the same range. The Ravens could part ways with Peters to accommodate Jackson, but a three-headed monster of Peters, Humphrey, and Jackson would be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Humphrey could play in the slot full-time while Peters and Jackson force takeaways on the perimeter.
In four seasons, Jackson has 25 interceptions and 28 additional pass deflections. He was a 2021 Pro Bowler, and he made the second All-Pro team. He has surrendered a passer rating of just 50.5 across 307 targets.
In 2021, Jackson posted a career-best 80.4 coverage grade and 78.9 overall PFF grade. He went to college at Maryland, and the Ravens could use his ball-hawk abilities in the secondary. In 2021, the Ravens had just nine interceptions as a team. Jackson had nine in 2020 and eight in 2021.
Ryan Jensen, Center, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jensen began his career with the Ravens. After playing in just 19 games from 2013 to 2016, Jensen had a breakout season in 2017, starting all 16 games for the Ravens. He made massive strides as both a run blocker and pass blocker, and he earned a sizable contract from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2018 offseason.
Over the last four years, Jensen has started all 71 games for the Buccaneers including six playoff games. He was a 2021 Pro Bowler, and PFF picked him to their 2019 second All-Pro team. Jensen has been a strong run blocker, and he has quite the highlight reel for a center. His pass blocking has been inconsistent, but his mean streak is unteachable.
Baltimore’s starting center in 2021, Bozeman, is an impending free agent. In turn, the Ravens might decide between Bozeman and Jensen to start in 2022. They could also look to Tyler Linderbaum in the draft. Either way, the Ravens will know who they will be starting at center by the end of April.
Tyrann Mathieu, Safety, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyrann Mathieu’s reputation and accomplishments speak for themselves. “Honey Badger” has made three Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. He is perhaps the most common answer to “who is the most versatile player in the NFL?” and his snap counts speak for themselves.
In 2021, Mathieu logged more than 200 snaps in the slot, 300 snaps as a free safety, and 500 snaps as a box safety. He has even played 80 snaps as a boundary corner with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Mathieu should be familiar to the Ravens and their fans as he victimized Lamar Jackson for a pair of Week 2 interceptions including an opening-drive pick-six.
The nine-year veteran turns 30 in May, eerily similar to the Ravens’ last high-profile safety addition: Earl Thomas. Thomas only played one season, his age-30 season, with the Ravens, so the Ravens would hope they can get more tenure out of Mathieu if they sign him.