Grading the Baltimore Ravens Free Agency Signings

The first week of NFL free agency has passed and the Baltimore Ravens have taken their typical calculated approach. Since their 1996 inception, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens have established a very safe strategy for attacking free agency. The Ravens don’t typically throw around a lot of money when the new league starts but rather let other teams overpay for the bigger names on the market. This year was no different.

Current Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has followed Newsome’s philosophy. The Ravens did not spend a ton of money compared to the rest of the league but did make a number of key signings. Baltimore was looking for help at each interior offensive line, EDGE, wide receiver, and tight end, and while they may not have addressed each position, they made a number of necessary signings. It has been a slow roll of moves so far in free agency but DeCosta has continued to fill holes and likely still has a number of moves to be made.

There are few teams as well-rounded as the Ravens and they look to be just a few moves away from a Super Bowl. Head coach John Harbaugh has gotten a lot out of their current core of players but still seems to be a few bodies away. With the majority of big-time free agent spending finished, Harbaugh is hoping the signings his team made will become some of the biggest difference-makers in the upcoming 2021 season. These are the Baltimore Ravens free agency grades after the first wave of free agency.

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Baltimore Ravens Free Agency Grades – 2021 Offseason

Note: Signings that took place before the beginning of the legal tampering period (such as the re-signing of Pernell McPhee) on March 15th, 2021 were excluded from this list.

Kevin Zeitler (Guard) – three-year(s)/$22.5 million

The Baltimore Ravens kicked off free agency adding to the group that may have been their biggest weak spot during their final playoff game of 2020. The Buffalo Bills defensive line feasted on Baltimore’s weak interior offensive line and created problems for the Ravens in both the running and passing game. Baltimore’s interior offensive line weakness dates back further than the Bills game. Offensive coordinator, Greg Roman‘s offense used three starting right guards at various points throughout 2020. The trio of Ben Powers, D.J. Fluker, and rookie Tyre Phillips was predictably unable to fill the hall-of-fame sized hole Marshal Yanda left but the signing of Kevin Zeitler is a great step towards finding consistency.

The Ravens know Zeitler well from his years with both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. He played parts of seven seasons in the AFC North and was one of the most productive guards in football over his 103 starts. Zeitler had an overall grade per Pro Football Focus of 79.0 over that time span with his lowest grade coming in 2017 at 73.2. The interior lineman is one of the league’s best pass-blocking guards and brings a needed veteran presence to the Ravens offensive line. His cap hit of just $4.05 million in 2021 is incredibly friendly and he even got the Yanda sign-off after speaking to him personally about coming to Baltimore. DeCosta’s first signing was as good as he could’ve found at a great price.

Grade: A

Chris Board (Linebacker/Special Teams) – one-year(s)/$1.6 million

Re-signing Chris Board was probably the smallest move made by the Ravens during the first week of free agency. Board saw his first share of significant defensive snaps in 2020 but has been a consistent contributor on special teams. Since signing with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2018, he has played a total of 980 special teams snaps — the most of any Raven over that time period. Baltimore has always shown love to their outstanding special teamers and could use more depth with the potential departure of long-time special team ace Anthony Levine. Former-gunner Chris Moore has already left the Ravens this off-season to go to the Houston Texans.

Grade: B

Tyus Bowser (Outside Linebacker) – four-years(s)/$22 million

Watching Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon leave via free agency may have been hard to watch but the surprise departure in the EDGE group was Jihad Ward. Ward was one of the Ravens best non-starting defensive lineman in 2020 and had a skill set that allowed defensive coordinator Don Martindale to deploy him in multiple sets.

Tyus Bowser‘s role in 2020 was the linebacker equivalent to Ward. He played 51% of snaps last season and frequently lined up on the edge and off the ball. His ability to drop in coverage was the best of any of the Ravens EDGE’s and it showed as Bowser recorded career-highs in passer rating allowed when targetted (42.2), interceptions (three), and pass defenses (five) — all of which were team-highs amongst linebackers.

DeCosta bringing back Bowser for just $5.5 million a year is great value to the Ravens. He does a lot of things well and fits perfectly in the Martindales defense. Resigning the former-second pick was not the splash move at EDGE some expected the Ravens to make but it keeps a homegrown talent, who is continuing to get better, with the team for an extended period of time. His contract is also incredibly cost-efficient. It’s a rock-solid deal and one that the Ravens had to make due to their depth at the position. Baltimore is still in need of a few more pieces at EDGE this off-season but signing Bowser below market value is a great start.

Grade: B+

Derek Wolfe (Defensive Tackle) – Three-year(s)/$12 million

The defensive line was the Ravens most remade unit prior to the start of the 2020 season. DeCosta acquired Calais Campbell via trade while acquiring Derek Wolfe via free agency. They also added multiple defensive tackles through the draft. The remake required a lot of pieces but ultimately worked. It has been speculated the moves to bolster the defensive line were purely in response to Derrick Henry trucking his way to 195 rushing yards in the Ravens 2019 divisional round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans. Baltimore met Tennessee twice in 2020 and in both games, Wolfe may have been the best player on the field for either team. In the two games Wolfe played against the Titans last season, he recorded 12 total tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, and one sack.

Re-signing Wolfe was likely a high priority for DeCosta and he got him on a very team-friendly deal. The first year of his new contract will only count as $2.9 million against the salary cap and his second year will cost $3.8 million. Wolfe brings both pass rushing and run-stuffing to the defensive line and could continue to be an important piece of the unit past 2021. Harbaugh has previously called Wolfe “one of the best leaders I’ve ever seen.” and that is coming from a guy who coached Ray Lewis. Justin Madubuike was one of the Ravens favorites picks in the 2020 NFL Draft and Wolfe along with Campbell and Brandon Williams will play a large part in developing the young defensive tackle.

Grade: A-

TRADE: Ravens acquire Josh Oliver (TE) from Jacksonville Jaguars for a conditional 2022 seventh-round pick

There was chatter early on Monday morning that the Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars were going to swing a trade but it was not for the player that ended up being dealt. There were brief rumors swirling around the Twitter world of Orlando Brown Jr. being sent to Jacksonville for DJ Chark and potentially other pieces. Those murmurs were quickly hushed by Jaguars owner Tony Kahn.”Here’s something concrete: that’s the biggest load of crap I’ve ever read. That’s 100% false.” Kahn said in response to the Baltimore Beatdown’s report of a potential trade. However later in the week, DeCosta struck a deal with Kahn and others acquiring Josh Oliver from the Jaguars.

The former third-round pick out of San Jose State was acquired by Baltimore for a conditional seventh-round pick. If Oliver does not make the Ravens final 53-man roster, the Ravens do not have to give anything up.

Oliver was highly touted coming out of college, one of the best performings tight ends at the combine in 2019, and showed off fairly solid contested catch ability back at San Jose State. Injuries have kept him off the field for all but four games over the past two seasons but if he can stay healthy, this could end up being a fantastic move for the Ravens. The deal for Oliver may not have been the biggest headline, but it is a low-risk move and one that could pay off in a big way. Roman’s offense badly missed Hayden Hurst after he was traded to the Atlanta Falcons last off-season.

Grade: B

Free Agency Overall Grade: B

Whether it is DeCosta or Newsome, the Ravens typically have a style they like to play with in free agency: keep your own talent in-house, don’t overspend, and set yourself up to collect compensatory picks. They followed all of those principles to a tee in 2021. It was a predictable free agency in Baltimore and they could still make a number of high-impact moves throughout the off-season.

However, due to the stagnant nature of the salary cap this off-season, very few teams overspent and many were able to acquire very useful players on cheaper contracts. The Ravens have been a very successful team over the past two seasons but they are not without their weaknesses. Baltimore is likely still in need of multiple edge defenders and could greatly use an impact-wide receiver to help out quarterback Lamar Jackson. The market seemed like one that DeCosta would pounce on and the Ravens brought in very few new faces.

DeCosta and Harbaugh made a lot of very cost-effective moves but there is still room for improvement. There is a lot of work to be done before the 2021 season starts in September and the Ravens will still be looking at every possible option to upgrade their team. Next stop: Cleveland and the NFL Draft.

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