2013 Team Needs: Baltimore Ravens
Despite backing into the playoffs by losing four of their last five games, the Baltimore Ravens got hot at just the right time and rallied all the way to a Super Bowl victory. In a season that saw them say goodbye to an all-time great in a manner that wouldn’t look out of place on a Hollywood script, they continued to find ways to win in the postseason.
Despite their success, the Ravens still have plenty of areas of need, with question marks over the future of at least one other high-profile defender and, while they have some cap space, a large portion of that will be on its way to Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.
We’ve compiled a list of Baltimore’s impending free agents, but here’s a look at the Ravens biggest needs heading into free agency.
Just in case you’ve been living under a rock since Week 17, Ray Lewis has decided to call time on a 17 year career that is likely to lead him to Canton, Ohio in five years time. While what Lewis means to the Ravens in an emotional and leadership sense can’t be quantified, his play on the field this past year suggests it won’t be as big a loss in a physical sense. Still a solid tackler when he gets to the ball carrier, Lewis struggled to make much of an impact against the run in his final season and had become a liability in pass coverage.
Add to that the struggles of Jameel McClain, even before he went down with a spinal injury, and it’s obvious the Ravens go into the offseason with a need at the position. Thankfully for them, the perfect fit is already on the roster, provided they can afford to keep him.
Free Agent Fix: Dannell Ellerbe
The highest graded inside linebacker on the Ravens roster, Dannell Ellerbe showed the production in 2012 to match the flashes we had seen from him in the past. He struggled in coverage, allowing 369 receiving yards from the 53 passes thrown his way, but was solid enough against the run. It was as a pass rusher where he really shone, however, leading all inside linebackers with a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 18.7. Making that number all the more impressive is the fact that he struggled in the last few weeks of the season with an injury. Before the injury he had the highest Pass Rushing Productivity rating of any inside linebacker since we began grading.
The one concern with Ellerbe is that his play will attract the interest of other teams, with the divisional rival Cleveland Browns a potential suitor after a switch to the 3-4 themselves. That could drive the price too high for the Ravens, but as long as they can afford him, Ellerbe should be the guy.
While all the hype around the Ravens at the Super Bowl was on Lewis’ impending retirement, it’s fair to wonder if we’ve seen the last of another future Hall of Famer, at least as a player in Baltimore. Ed Reed has been the very definition of what you want from a safety in coverage for most of his career, and has earned a reputation that sees many quarterbacks do their best to avoid him in coverage. In playoff victories over Denver and New England, Reed was targeted just twice by fellow future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Still, he isn’t what he once was, with injuries taking their toll over the years. Reed has often spoken about the struggle between wanting to keep playing and not wanting to end up in a wheel chair, and that dilemma shows up in his recent tackling, with 19 missed tackles in 2012. Even if Reed doesn’t retire this offseason, he’s out of contract in Baltimore and likely to attract plenty of interest.
Free Agent Fix: Jim Leonhard
Should they indeed by priced out of bringing Reed back, provided he opts to continue playing, the Ravens should be able to take advantage of a safety market filled with young players looking to earn their first big contract. With players like Jarius Byrd and William Moore likely to see plenty of dollar signs being waved their way, a budget option to bring back Jim Leonhard, who was solid in Baltimore next to Reed in 2008, could be ideal.
Leonhard will be 31 early into the 2013 season, but still showed himself to be a capable safety in coverage this past year. With just seven passes thrown his way from 195 snaps in coverage, Leonhard didn’t allow a reception of over 20 yards, while picking off two passes.
Whether or not the Ravens want to admit it, Terrence Cody has been largely a non-factor in his three seasons in Baltimore. Routinely pushed off the ball at the line of scrimmage despite his size, he offers little against the run or as a pass rusher.
The team brought back Ma’ake Kemoeatu before the season began, but while he finished the season strongly, he was just as poor as Cody for much of the year and is little more than a stop gap at the position.
Free Agent Fix: Aubrayo Franklin
Like they did with Kemoeatu this past year, it would make sense to take a look at bringing back Aubrayo Franklin who was originally drafted by the team in the fifth round of the 2003 draft. Not quite the size of the likes of Kemoeatu and Cody, Franklin was far more effective against the run during his 2012 stint with the San Diego Chargers, with 16 of his 18 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop.
He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, with just five hurries to show from his 125 pass rush snaps, but with a Run Stop Percentage off 11.1% , a mark bettered by just one defensive tackle this past year, he would represent an upgrade over at a position of need on the Ravens defense.
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