Coming off the first postseason win of Lamar Jackson’s career, the Baltimore Ravens are heading into the 2021 offseason with a bit of work to do and not quite enough money to do it. With most NFL teams undergoing a cap crunch this offseason with the tempered salary cap expected to reside between $175 and $185 million, teams like the Ravens will be pinching pennies and letting big-money players walk.
Their defense is going to be the unit that most likely sees the most turnover from the 2020 season, as players like outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Tyus Bowser, as well as defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Derek Wolfe, are going to be free agents and will test the market. Market values will be a very interesting element of this upcoming offseason to watch, based solely on how close teams will be willing to meet the demands of players and if contract structures will take on more of a one-year look, providing players with up-front security while setting themselves up for what hopefully projects to be an inflated cap for the 2022 league year.
Spotrac predicts the Ravens to have just under $21 million in cap space at its disposal this offseason, not including the rookie class funds. That means if they want to stay underneath the salary cap limit, this team will have to be creative with its additions, which may also result in further releases, like they have already begun to do with RB Mark Ingram (which saves $5 million).
But Baltimore certainly has big needs on both sides of the ball, as their offense could certainly undergo a change or two to help surround Jackson with some better players – with that in mind, take a look at these three potential free agent targets for the Ravens this offseason.
The first free-agent target for the Ravens is one that is coming off of a torn ACL suffered towards the beginning of this past season, defensive end Solomon Thomas. Not having lived up to his status as being the third overall pick in the 2017 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, it is quite clear that Thomas will be looking for a new home this offseason.
The Niners declined his fifth-year option, which would have guaranteed him a salary of $15.1 million for the ‘21 season, quite the overpay for a DE with six career sacks and a checkered health history. For the Ravens, a buy-low candidate on a short deal is exactly what could help this defense out, all the while helping save some cash.
While Thomas certainly has been a disappointment at this point in his career, he could be gotten on a cheap, prove-it deal that could even go for a second season. Thomas could replace Wolfe on the D-Line (even though Wolfe would be a cheaper bring-back option for BAL), and even though his early-season production would most likely be tied to a snap count due to working back from his ACL injury, his addition would help BAL shore up their depth while leaving money on the board for other needs.
Wolfe was brought in on a one-year, $3 million deal and only produced one sack, which could mean that his stay with the Ravens was quite a short one. A contract for Thomas could resemble a close monetary value like what Wolfe was brought in for last year, and a safe bet would be to include an option, most likely a mutual one, for the 2022 season.
A one-year deal for $4.5 million, with a mutual option for $6 million and $2 million in performance accelerators built into each year of the deal should be good for both sides, as it gets Thomas a contract in a susceptible cap year and gets Baltimore depth on the cheap, giving them the option to bring him back for a second season.
Next to strong safety Chuck Clark, free safety DeShon Elliott would be better suited sliding into that third safety role, a role that has been vacated with both SS Anthony Levine Sr. and Jordan Richards being FAs. That perfect option to slot in next to Clark is an AFC East safety stud – Marcus Maye.
Having taken over as the guy in the secondary for the Jets after the trade of Jamal Adams, Maye’s third-best coverage grade among all safeties is a telling sign of what he can bring to any defense. The Ravens would be smart to go after him to help fill that defensive secondary leadership role.
Maye is not going to come cheap, as he slides in just behind Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons and alongside Marcus Williams as the best FS options on the market. The 27-year-old Maye would be a huge loss for the Jets and new head coach Robert Salah, but the Ravens would probably not need to do much with their defense if they were to grab the former Florida Gator second-round pick from 2017.
A four-year deal, which would carry Maye into his year-31 season, would average out to be around $8.5 million per season, so 4 years for $34 million would fit the mold for that just fine. The big caveat for this deal is if the Ravens are willing to simply continue to add to their defense with a big-money FA while passing up on using that money for a better offensive playmaker, and with this team being known for its defense, that trend is likely to continue.
Considering the fact that the Ravens have been without a true WR1 receiver for the entirety of Jackson’s career, it is a fair bet that they will finally look to change that this offseason, whether it be through the draft, free agency, or even both. And while Curtis Samuel may not project as that typical WR1, he certainly would be a valued addition to this offseason.
Filling in various roles as both a wide receiver and as a running back, Samuel was a major factor in the offense for the Carolina Panthers this past season, helping take some of the load in the absence of RB Christian McCaffrey. He excelled in that hybrid role, earning valuable time in the slot, in the backfield, and in other roles for HC Matt Rhule.
Now a free agent, Samuel’s addition to the modern offense of the Ravens would be another element that defenses need to keep track of – his ability to drag the defense with him wherever he would line up on the field, combined with his skill set, would be a solid addition in lieu of spending big money on like Allen Robinson or using a high pick on a rookie wideout.
For a three-year deal, figure that Samuels would command around $9 million AAV, so a three-year, $30 million deal (that includes performance accelerators) would likely resemble a slight overpay but one that the Ravens may have to do if they want to bring in some receiving help.