The Ravens came into the offseason with one mega-free agent, and 4 big free agents. The Mega, of course, was Joe Flacco. He was, by far, the best free agent on the market and was coming off one of the top 3 post-seasons in NFL history which ended in a championship win and a Super Bowl MVP. The 4 big free agents were Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams.
The Ravens highest non-Flacco priority was always Dannell Ellerbe, The Ravens are losing Ray Lewis to retirement and have another Linebacker still recovering from a spinal injury, so keeping the best ILB you have is a major priority and a big big part of the roster. Without Ellerbe the Ravens have a massive problem at linebacker, with him they need some depth and a player that can challenge for the other starting spot.
Ed Reed has played his entire hall of fame career with baltimore and retiring with the team would just be the cherry on the top of his career. Reed isnt the player he used to be, but he still changes the way offenses play the Ravens. Reed got more attention for a few missed tackles, but no one talked about how QBs still avoid his entire side of the field like the plague. Aside from the sentimental side of the Reed issue, the Ravens dont have another replacement on the roster. Their best option is probably putting Christian Thompson in the starting role(players call him little Ed Reed because of his nose for the ball), but Thompson is still just a second year player from a small school that was taken in the 5th round. behind Thompson there isnt a backup at all. The good news is that this years draft is the best safety class in at least 5-6 years, and the Ravens could easily take a guy like Matt Elam, Eric Reid or DJ Swearinger. It would be very nice to have Reed teach these guys how to be a pro for a year or two before they stepped into starting role.
Paul Kruger and Cary Williams are luxury re-signings. The Ravens already have players to replace them on the roster (Upshaw for Kruger and jimmy smith for Williams) that were first or second round picks in the past 2 years. The priority between the two would clearly be Kruger, but in all honesty Kruger has played his way into a bigger contract than the Ravens could ever afford. Williams thinks he is worth quite a bit more than it appears the Ravens think he is worth and all indications are that the Ravens wont even make a serious effort to re-sign him.
In all likelyhood, Kruger and Willaims were gone no matter what happened with Flacco, but Ellerbe and Reed had a chance if Flacco got a new deal. Now Flacco has that deal.
The Ravens will have until March 12th to try and get a deal done with those other players. It wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Reed or Ellerbe get tagged, though I certainly wouldn’t expect it to happen. A tag for Reed would only cost about 7 million and would almost assure he retired a Raven. Ellerbe would be a bit more expensive to tag(about 8.8 million), and he needs a long term deal anyway. Ellerbe will be the Ravens next biggest priority, and it is very likely that they will allow Reed to test the market. The hope with Reed is that he will go out, find out there isnt a place that will pay him substantially more than Baltimore will(probably about 4 million) and be a better place for him. It is highly unlikely that Reed will find a place willing to build around him this late in his career the way that the Ravens defense is built around him. That makes Baltimore the best place for him to be as far as on-field life goes. The money might not be perfect here, but at the end of the day Baltimore is where Reed belongs and i think Reed will recognize the significance of playing an entire career in one place.
Without Flacco signing on the dotted line, there was no way the Ravens could have re-signed anybody. Now they have some space to maneuver and get some of their players back. Flaccos deal may sound huge at 120.6 million, but compared to a franchise tag, the deal is a huge bargain. It probably saves the Ravens about 12-15 million in cap space this season(we will know for sure on Monday when the contract is signed). That is space the Ravens can use to take care of their own, and that is just what they intend to do.