Jan 22, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (51), Ray Rice (27) and Sam Koch (4) take the field prior to the game against the New England Patriots during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

Baltimore Ravens Free Agency Preview

Heading into the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens have a lot of decisions to make. In the past, the Ravens organization has always done a great job of managing their team and retaining key players. Here is what Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta have on their plate…Unrestricted Free Agents
RB Ray Rice, LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, C Matt Birk, G Ben Grubbs, G-C Andre Gurode, LB Jarret Johnson, LB Edgar Jones, LB Jameel McClain, NT Brandon McKinney, S Haruki Nakamura, DE Cory Redding, TE Kris Wilson and SS Tom Zbikowski.

Restricted Free Agents
CB Lardarius Webb, CB Cary Williams, LB Dannell Ellerbe and RB Matt Lawrence

Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are number one on the to do list so don’t expect them to go anywhere. Flacco’s contract is being worked on right now and will hopefully be done in the next couple of weeks. As for Rice, whether he gets the franchise tag or a new contract, the Ravens cap space will take a sizable hit. Rice is the top tier of running backs and can be considered the most versatile back in the NFL given what he does in the passing game. It looks more and more like the Ravens are going to franchise tag him as we approach closer and closer to the deadline. It just doesn’t look like the Ravens will be able to sign their two most valuable offensive players to long term contracts in just a few weeks.

After just inking Marshall Yanda to a huge 5 year, $32 million deal a year  ago, it seemed unlikely that the Ravens would also be able to sign Ben Grubbs, another pro-bowl caliber guard. It now seems that it may be possible after all. The Ravens organization said that they’re willing to pay Grubbs a size-able amount of money to keep him on the team. While it will eat up almost all of their cap space, guards like Ben Grubbs are hard to come by.
Now that Matt Birk has decided to come back and play, the Ravens need to sign him at a low price. They also may consider re-signing Andre Gurode as some extra security for the interior line. He’s a pro-bowl caliber player who can play guard or center and he possesses some leadership qualities. If the price for both of them is too high, they may consider drafting an interior lineman in the mid rounds of the draft.
The Ravens have a lot of solid talent at the linebacker position. Unfortunately, a lot of that talent may be wearing a different uniform in 2012. I don’t see Jarrett Johnson returning next year. He’s now 30 and will most likely be lured by one of his former coaches in Rex Ryan or Chuck Pagano. The Ravens want him back but unless he takes a hometown discount, it will be hard to keep him on the team. Double J is a great talent that possesses pass rush skills and can also set the edge against the run. Many look to the younger Paul Kruger to fill his spot with his excellent pass rushing skills but we haven’t seen the same kind of play against the run as we do with Johnson.
Jameel McClain has shown great promise after starting for Ray Lewis when he was injured. He’s a player that the Ravens would love to keep but he may be enticed by some teams looking for a solid MLB. He’d be hard to keep at a low price with so many teams looking for good inside linebackers.
Even though he’s a restricted free agent, the Ravens want to sign Lardarius Webb to a long term contract sooner rather than later. Coming off of an ACL injury, Webb looked determined to prove that he was the team’s best corner and did so with ease. Lardarius had a monster season this year and many teams have taken notice. It’d be wise of the Ravens to lock him up ASAP as cornerback is one of if not the most desirable position in free agency.
Lastly we have the two safeties. Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura have both seen time at free and strong safety and to be honest, I haven’t noticed a huge difference in their level of play. Zbikowski is more physical but Nakamura looks a little more athletic and has a better knack for the ball. I’d be fine with letting Zibby go and signing Nakamura at a lower price because he’s more under the radar. Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed are already set at the starting safety positions and Nakamura would just provide an insurance policy for the fragile Ed Reed.
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Tags: Andre Gurode Baltimore Ravens Baltimore Ravens Offseason Ben Grubbs Free Agency Free Agency Preview Jameel McClain Jarrett Johnson Ray Rice

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