AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

PHOENIX -- Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month that everyone will probably find out before April whether running back Ray Rice will get a second chance to play in the NFL.

With April quickly approaching, Rice has had no reported talks or visits with any teams. Defensive linemen Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald were signed this month after they faced domestic violence charges, but Rice is still searching for a job after being reinstated four months ago.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsRay Rice has several things going against him as a free-agent running back, and that's going beyond his domestic violence incident.

At the NFL owners meetings, two coaches with ties to Rice -- the Ravens' John Harbaugh and the Colts' Chuck Pagano -- both said they hope Rice gets a second chance. Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who was Rice's offensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013, said he believes some team will give Rice a second chance.

But no team has stepped up to do it. There have been 16 running backs who have signed deals in the first 15 days of free agency, including the Raiders signing Trent Richardson and his 3.3-yard per carry average.

What works against Rice is there are available free-agent backs such as Pierre Thomas and Stevan Ridley who don't carry the off-the-field baggage, and there are impact runners who can be drafted in the first four rounds. The biggest concerns about Rice as a player are his career-worst 3.1-yards per carry average in 2013, his age (28) and his wear and tear (fourth-most carries in the NFL from 2009 to 2013) at a position where teams are always looking to get younger.

The major hurdle, of course, is his domestic violence incident on Feb. 15, when he struck his then-fiancee unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City elevator.

"I think each team looks at their situation individually and looks at each player individually," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I think that's why you see players get second chances. It's just a comfort level the club, the organization from the top down ends up with that particular player and that situation because as we know when you take these things on, the fire storm that can come with it. Everybody has to be on board. It reaches such a broad place of who it affects. It affects a lot."

One team that would make sense for Rice is the Lions. Detroit released running back Reggie Bush, and Caldwell has familiarity with Rice.

Asked if the Lions would be interested in Rice, Caldwell said Wednesday, "I don't foresee that, to be plain and simple. There has to be a need and a fit in all areas. At this point in time, he's not a fit for us."

Caldwell said he believes some team will sign Rice, and Harbaugh hopes that will be the case.

"I still support the Rice family, and Ray Rice as a friend and want to see what's best for him," he said. "Like anybody you've been close to, you want things to work out well for them. That's the way we feel about Janay and Ray."

Pagano, who knew Rice from his four seasons as a Ravens' assistant, said Rice deserves a second chance. The Colts, however, chose to running back Frank Gore, 31, instead of Rice this offseason.

"I hope and pray that Ray gets an opportunity, because I know there's still gas left in the tank, so to speak," Pagano told CBS Sports. "And if somebody gives him that opportunity, I know he'll make them proud, and I know he'll make good on that opportunity."

There are plenty of coaches saying Rice should get a second chance, but it's still unknown whether a team will actually give it to him.

The Baltimore Ravens' rule proposal was one of five that passed at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday. All five are designed to increase player safety.

The Ravens' rule prohibits players from pushing teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation when a team presents a punt formation.

"We thought it should be in there to begin with just because, if you're going to do it with the field goals, why not do it with the punts?" coach John Harbaugh said. "It's more of a clean-up type of a proposal."

PHOENIX -- All of the AFC coaches met with reporters Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings, and here are the highlights of the hour-long breakfast with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh:

  • Harbaugh expressed confidence that young defensive linemen Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams will fill the void left by Haloti Ngata. "There’s no reason we can’t be a great defense and a great defensive front next year," Harbaugh said.
  • The Ravens are still looking to add an experienced backup quarterback. Their top two quarterbacks right now are Joe Flacco and Keith Wenning, a sixth-round pick who spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. "Keith Wenning has a good future. I like Keith," Harbaugh said. "But we’re looking to upgrade everywhere at all times."

  • The target date for Rick Wagner's return is training camp, according to Harbaugh. Wagner, the starting right tackle, suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 16.
  • Harbaugh said safety Matt Elam, a 2013 first-round pick, has to become a good player. "That’s his burden to bear, along with us as coaches to do everything we can to help him get there," Harbaugh said. "We’re going to do our best to make that happen."
  • Harbaugh expressed disappointment for backup running back Bernard Pierce, who was released after getting arrested for drunken driving. "Bernard is a guy that I would say we both have grown close over the years through just personal conversations and what he’s been through with his life," Harbaugh said. "I consider him a friend, and I want to see what’s best for him. He’s made some choices that have hurt him. Hopefully, he can rebound from that."
  • Harbaugh is hoping another team gives running back Ray Rice a second chance. "I still support the Rice family, and Ray Rice as a friend, and want to see what’s best for him," Harbaugh said. "Like anybody you’ve been close to, you want things to work out well for them. That’s the way we feel about Janay and Ray."
  • There was no update on tight end Dennis Pitta, who has had hip surgeries in consecutive seasons. "I think we’ll know more in the summer, hopefully," Harbaugh said. "In the end, it’s going to be up to Dennis."
  • Harbaugh was noncommittal on who would replace Jacoby Jones as the team's primary returner, although he did say Michael Campanaro will be in the mix. "I look at like it’s March, and we need a returner by September," Harbaugh said.
  • The Ravens have talked with a couple of teams about holding a joint practice similar to what the team did with the 49ers last summer. "It’s not an easy thing to make work," Harbaugh said. "I know a lot of different coaches are talking to a lot of different coaches about doing that right now. We’ll see."
  • Harbaugh was extremely complimentary of safety Kendrick Lewis, the team's only free-agent addition from another team. "I think his best football is ahead of him," Harbaugh said.
  • Harbaugh supports a proposal from John Madden that would make it illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation. "That was why they created ineligible and eligible jersey numbers, so you could look at him and say he’s eligible and he’s not," Harbaugh said. "Now we go through kind of a circus act where we’ve got to identify who’s eligible and who’s not with signals. That’s what got the referees in trouble."

The Baltimore Ravens were awarded three compensatory picks on Monday, increasing their total to 10 picks for the 2015 NFL draft. The draft will be held April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.

Here is a quick look at how those picks break down:

First round (one pick, No. 26 overall)

Second round (one pick)

Third round (one pick)

Fourth round (three picks, their original fourth-round pick, one acquired from the Detroit Lions' fourth-round pick in trading Haloti Ngata and one compensatory pick)

Fifth round (three picks, traded their original fifth-rounder to Tampa Bay Buccaneers for center Jeremy Zuttah, received the Lions' fifth-rounder from Ngata trade and two compensatory picks)

Sixth round (one, traded their original sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a 2014 seventh-rounder which they used to select wide receiver Michael Campanaro, and acquired the Cowboys' sixth-rounder in Rolando McClain trade)

Seventh round (none, traded their seventh-round pick to Cowboys as part of the McClain deal, acquired the Dolphins' seventh-rounder in the Bryant McKinnie trade and gave that Dolphins' seventh-rounder to Lions as part of Ngata trade)

The NFL is expected to hand out 32 compensatory picks at the owners meetings Monday evening, and the Baltimore Ravens will learn if they're going to get an additional three or four picks for the 2015 draft.

It's been long projected that the Ravens will receive at least three compensatory picks for losing defensive lineman Arthur Jones (Indianapolis), offensive tackle Michael Oher (Tennessee) and cornerback Corey Graham (Buffalo) in free agency last offseason. The Ravens will likely get a fourth-round pick for Jones, a fifth-rounder for Oher and a sixth-rounder for Graham, according to overthecap.com.

Whether the Ravens are awarded a maximum fourth compensatory pick for the third straight year depends on tight end Ed Dickson qualifying as one. Compensatory picks are weighted based on salary and playing time. Dickson signed a one-year veteran minimum contract ($795,000) with Carolina Panthers in 2014 and played 47.3 percent of the snaps. As I wrote earlier this month, Dickson is considered to be "on the bubble" and could give the Ravens one of the last seventh-round picks in the draft.

The number of compensatory picks comes from the Ravens' net loss in free agency last offseason. The Ravens lost five significant unrestricted free agents -- Jones, Oher, Graham, safety James Ihedigbo (Detroit) and Dickson -- and they signed only one in safety Darian Stewart from St. Louis. It just depends on whether all of those free agents qualify in the compensatory-pick formula.

Last year, the Ravens used compensatory picks to draft tight end Crockett Gillmore (third round), defensive end Brent Urban (fourth round), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth round) and guard John Urschel (fifth round). Gilmore, Taliaferro and Urschel all made an impact for the Ravens in 2014, and Urban is expected to compete for a starting job this season.

Compiling compensatory picks has been a strength of the Ravens over the years. They have received 41 compensatory picks since they were first awarded in 1994. That is eight more than any other team in the NFL, and the Ravens didn't exist until 1996.

Here is the complete list of the Ravens' 41 compensatory picks:

  • 1997: LB Cornell Brown (sixth round), QB Wally Richardson (seventh), S Ralph Staten (seventh) and DT Leland Taylor (seventh)
  • 1998: TE Cam Quayle (seventh)
  • 1999: G Edwin Mulitalo (fourth)
  • 2002: WR Javin Hunter (sixth), RB Chester Taylor (sixth) and S Chad Williams (sixth)
  • 2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth), OT Tony Pashos (fifth), C Mike Mabry (seventh) and S Antwoine Sanders (seventh)
  • 2004: WR Clarence Moore (sixth), WR Derek Abney (seventh) and G Brian Rimpf (seventh)
  • 2005: QB Derek Anderson (sixth)
  • 2006: RB P.J. Daniels (fourth), TE Quinn Sypniewski (fifth), P Sam Koch (sixth) and DB Derrick Martin (sixth)
  • 2007: LB Antwan Barnes (fourth), FB Le'Ron McClain (fourth), QB Troy Smith (fifth) and LB Prescott Burgess (sixth)
  • 2008: OT Oniel Cousins (third), OL David Hale (fourth), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth) and RB Allen Patrick (seventh)
  • 2011: CB Chykie Brown (fifth) and DE-LB Pernell McPhee (fifth)
  • 2012: S Christian Thompson (fourth) and CB Asa Jackson (fifth)
  • 2013: FB Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), OT Rick Wagner (fifth), C Ryan Jensen (sixth) and CB Marc Anthony (seventh)
  • 2014: TE Crockett Gillmore (third), DE Brent Urban (fourth) RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth) and G John Urschel (fifth)

The Baltimore Ravens are expected to add a veteran quarterback at some point to compete with 2014 sixth-round pick Keith Wenning for the backup job.

Wenning, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, likely won't be handed the No. 2 spot behind Joe Flacco because of his limited experience. He threw 17 passes in the preseason.

In the past, the Ravens added veteran quarterbacks such as Curtis Painter (2012) and Caleb Hanie (2013) in the middle of April. They waited until the end of June to sign Marc Bulger in 2010.

A bad free-agent class for quarterbacks has become even thinner 10 days into free agency. Mark Sanchez (Eagles), Brian Hoyer (Texans), Jake Locker (retired), Josh McCown (Browns) and Christian Ponder (Raiders) have all signed.

[+] EnlargeVick
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichael Vick has familiarity with Ravens QB coach Marty Mornhinweg, but would the veteran QB be happy backing up Joe Flacco in 2015?

There are two quarterbacks who have connections with the Ravens' coaching staff. Michael Vick worked under Ravens quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg with the Eagles and Jets, and Jordan Palmer spent parts of the previous two years with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman in Chicago. Palmer was considered the No. 2 quarterback for the Bears entering last year's training camp before he was beaten out by Jimmy Clausen.

Here are the top five quarterbacks left in the free-agent market:

1. Matt Moore, Dolphins: Moore can get the ball downfield and is capable of winning games in a pinch. He's 11-12 as a starter but has only thrown 10 passes the past two seasons as Ryan Tannehill's backup in Miami. Moore, 30, is too expensive for the Ravens (he made $4 million last year), and he likely doesn't want to go from sitting behind Tannehill to doing the same behind Flacco.

2. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks: He's only 31 and he's thrown over 1,000 career passes. Jackson has only attempted 14 throws the last two seasons, but he has looked strong the past two preseasons. He's four years removed from being a starter for Seattle, and he's thrown 39 career touchdowns and 35 interceptions. Jackson has expressed an interest in returning to the Seahawks, and he talked about going back to the Vikings to back up Teddy Bridgewater. He just visited the Dolphins.

3. Jason Campbell, Bengals: He's an underrated backup who has spent the past two seasons in the AFC North (Browns and Bengals). Campbell, 33, still has good arm strength, but he gets himself in trouble with a long release and questionable decision-making. It was only two years ago when he started for the Browns and beat the Ravens.

4. Matt Schaub, Raiders: He flamed out in his seventh season in Houston (five interceptions were returned for touchdowns), and he was easily beaten out by rookie Derek Carr in Oakland last year. The state of Schaub's confidence has to be a concern. But Schaub, 33, has the best track record of the remaining quarterbacks. He won 40 games in a five-year stretch (2008-12) with the Texans, throwing for over 4,000 yards three times.

5. Michael Vick, Jets: The biggest name left among the available quarterbacks, Vick remains a freakish athlete at 34. But he looked ragged in his three starts for the Jets last season (going 1-2), and some observers suggested he was unprepared and mentally checked out. Vick's playing style doesn't appear to be a good fit for Trestman's offense, and Vick might not want to spend one of his last NFL seasons holding a clipboard for 16 games.

Others of note: Matt Flynn, Josh Johnson, Jordan Palmer, Josh Freeman, Ryan Lindley and Tyler Thigpen.

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Running back Bernard Pierce was claimed off waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, a day after the Baltimore Ravens released him.

The Ravens cut Pierce hours after he was arrested for drunken driving, which, strangely enough, might have put him in a better position to make a team.

With the Ravens, Pierce was going to be on the roster bubble all training camp because he was no better than the No. 3 running back behind Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro. He would've become a long shot to survive the final cuts if the Ravens decide to draft a running back.

Now, he joins a Jaguars team that finished No. 21 in the NFL in rushing. Jacksonville's top running backs are Toby Gerhart -- a disappointing free-agent pickup from a year ago -- and Denard Robinson, a converted college quarterback.

You can make an argument that the Ravens did Pierce a favor by releasing him and allowing him to get picked up by a team with a more unsettled running back situation.

Hours before it was announced that he had been picked up by the Jaguars, Pierce posted this on his Twitter account:

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Updated: This was updated after the Ravens cut Pierce.

With everything the Baltimore Ravens have said and done this offseason, their only real option was to cut running back Bernard Pierce after he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

The Ravens made it clear they have a lower threshold of tolerance for off-the-field behavior. They backed it up when they swiftly parted ways with nose tackle Terrence Cody and cornerback Victor Hampton over the past two months.

Cutting Pierce was the move the Ravens had to make if they wanted to maintain this strong stance on players who get arrested.

Releasing Pierce doesn't send a strong message. Let's be honest: Pierce plummeted to the bottom of the depth chart by the end of the season and is just a notch above Cody and Hampton in terms of importance.

This is about salvaging reputation. Nine members of the Ravens' organization, including eight players, have been arrested in the past 13 months, from Valentine's Day 2014 to St. Patrick's Day 2015.

Three weeks ago, Ravens officials said the five arrests the past offseason were "an aberration." Since that time, two players have been arrested and charged with drunk driving.

It's an embarrassment for a franchise that had very little off-the-field trouble in coach John Harbaugh's first six seasons. A team should be held accountable for the character of the players it signs or drafts. A team should be held even more accountable when those players get arrested and do so at a disturbing rate.

The Ravens established a precedent of holding players to higher standards when they cut Cody and Hampton this offseason. The team announced the release of Cody when an animal abuse investigation had just begun and parted ways with Hampton a day after team officials learned of his drunken driving arrest.

Continuing this hard-line stance is going to be popular among a fan base that is tiring of these incidents. But it sets the Ravens up for a difficult situation if a star player gets in trouble. That's when the decision might not be as black and white.

Pierce made the decision easier with how he mishandled the situation. According to charging documents, Pierce asked the arresting officer if "the incident could be kept off the books."

He also told the arresting officer, "Do you know what happened the last time a Ravens player got a DUI? I'm getting cut tomorrow -- not like you care."

Pierce knew what was going to happen. Let's see if the players currently on the Ravens' roster will learn from their former teammates' mistakes.

The Baltimore Ravens historically don't make a splash in free agency. So far, four days into free agency, they are one of two teams who have yet to make a ripple.

The Ravens and Green Bay Packers are the only teams in the NFL who have not signed a free agent from another team. This information comes from ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky, who did all of the legwork for a blog post (which I am blatantly stealing from).

Followers of both franchises shouldn't be surprised by this. They share a philosophy of building through the draft, which has been a proven formula.

Since 2008, the Ravens and Packers are among the three winningest teams in the NFL (the Patriots are first). It should also be noted that the Ravens and Packers have both made the postseason six times in the last seven seasons.

Comparatively, the most active teams in free agency have been the Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders, both of whom signed a league-high seven players from other teams. During the last two seasons, the Falcons and Raiders have combined for a 17-47 (.265) record.

The Ravens will eventually sign a free agent, and let's hope it's going to be a wide receiver and tight end for quarterback Joe Flacco's sake. On the team's current roster, there is only one wide receiver or tight end who caught more than 25 passes last season (wide receiver Steve Smith).
Haloti Ngata leaves the Baltimore Ravens with the distinction of being the best defensive lineman in franchise history.

Ngata
Ngata was often described as a game-wrecker, from that surprising 60-yard interception return in his first game to the couple of fourth-down goal-line stands in his final season. The only Ravens' defensive lineman who collapsed the middle as often as Ngata and struck as much fear was Sam Adams, who only played for the Ravens for two seasons.

The bigger debate is figuring out where Ngata ranks among the Ravens' all-time great players. Any such list has to start with linebacker Ray Lewis at the top of it and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and safety Ed Reed right behind. I put Ogden at No. 2, although many argue Reed is the second-best player in team history.

When looking at No. 4, it's between running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Terrell Suggs. Both were named the NFL's top player on their side of the ball during their careers (Lewis won Offensive Player of the Year in 2003 and Suggs received Defensive Player of the Year in 2011), and Ray Lewis and Reed are the only Ravens who achieved this. The nod goes to Jamal Lewis, who carried the Ravens' offense for years when it had no quarterback or wide receivers. The Ravens don't win their first Super Bowl without Lewis and that record-setting defense.

Ngata comes in at No. 6. He was considered the best defensive lineman in the game before Ndamukong Suh entered the league in 2010. His combination of brute strength and rare athleticism for his size allowed him to dominate up front, where he proved to be the foundation of the team's run defense for nearly a decade. Since his first season in 2006, the Ravens allowed six fewer rushing touchdowns than anyone else in the NFL and limited teams to 92.5 yards rushing per game (second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers).

Other players who could be considered for No. 6 are kicker Matt Stover, cornerback Chris McAlister, tight end Todd Heap and guard Marshal Yanda. But none could beat Ngata's body of work, which includes five Pro Bowls, five All-Pro honors and one Super Bowl title.
The Baltimore Ravens have an additional $8.5 million in salary-cap room after trading defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and they can now address the losses they've suffered in free agency. Wide receiver Torrey Smith signed with the 49ers, and tight end Owen Daniels reunited with Gary Kubiak in Denver. The Ravens are looking to keep running back Justin Forsett, but he is expected to receive interest from Washington and Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeJustin Forsett
Maddie Meyer/Getty ImagesCan the Ravens retain RB Justin Forsett, who is a proven fit within their stretch zone running attack?
Here is a look at prospective replacements for the Ravens in free agency (only Jermaine Gresham is not a salary-cap cut):

WIDE RECEIVERS

Dwayne Bowe: He isn't officially available yet, but he is expected to be released Wednesday. Bowe, 30, is an underachiever who could fit general manager Ozzie Newsome's mantra "right player, right price." He is the sort of big-bodied receiver that the Ravens want to add to their offense, and it's possible Bowe will increase his production when he's catching passes from Joe Flacco instead of Alex Smith. Bowe won't stretch the field but he's willing to catch passes over the middle.

Andre Johnson: Adding Johnson might be a long shot at this point because he's meeting with the Indianapolis Colts. Johnson, who turns 34 in July, is a seven-time Pro Bowler with Hall of Fame credentials. He is the kind of tough and experienced receiver the Ravens tend to pursue. If Johnson doesn't sign with the Colts, the Ravens will likely have to beat out Seattle, New England and Green Bay to get him.

Stevie Johnson: Like Bowe, Johnson hasn't been released. He was reportedly going to get cut this week because he's scheduled to make $5.5 million in base salary, but Johnson remains with the 49ers. Johnson could become available now that the Torrey Smith deal is finalized. He is younger than Bowe and Johnson at 28, and he brings the same size to the receiver position. His price should be relatively low after his receptions have gone down in each of the past two seasons.

RUNNING BACKS

Justin Forsett: There's still a good chance Forsett returns to the Ravens. He is a proven fit in the Ravens' stretch zone running attack. The Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins could make a run at Forsett. But his market took a hit when the Colts signed Frank Gore and the New Orleans Saints kept Mark Ingram. If the Ravens can't keep Forsett, their top four free agents will all be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Pierre Thomas: This is not a bad fall-back option. Thomas, 30, ran the same stretch-zone plays in New Orleans, so he's familiar with the system. He is an all-around back who is strong at catching the ball and pass blocking. There's also less wear-and-tear on Thomas because he played in a running back by committee with the Saints. His playoff experience is a bonus.

TIGHT ENDS

Jermaine Gresham: He's a solid receiver who will record between 50 and 60 catches a season. Gresham, 26, never lived up to expectations of being a first-round pick with the Bengals, and he sat out two important games at the end of the season due to injuries. He's drawn interest from Oakland and Cleveland, so the Ravens might have to look elsewhere for their starting tight end. It also works against Gresham that he wasn't a salary-cap casualty, who won't count against the team's compensatory picks formula.

Anthony Fasano: He's a blocking specialist who can also make an impact in the red zone. The Chargers released Fasano last month to free up $2 million in salary-cap space. Fasano, 31, hasn't caught more than 40 receptions since 2012, but he's scored at least four touchdowns in four of his past five NFL seasons.

Zach Miller: The question is whether he can reach that level from 2009 and 2010, when Miller caught at least 60 catches. Injuries never allowed Miller to get back on track. He missed 16 of 64 games with Seattle, and he's recovering from his second ankle surgery in less than a year. Miller, 29, was cut after failing a physical. He's reportedly drawn interest from the Patriots.
Only 45 minutes had passed into the official start of free agency, and the Baltimore Ravens traded one of the best players in franchise history and watched three of their top four free agents sign elsewhere.

For many teams, this is a tell-tale sign of rebuilding. For the Ravens, their history says it's time to reload again.

Tuesday marked another gut-wrenching beginning to free agency as the Ravens said goodbye to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (traded to Detroit), wide receiver Torrey Smith (signed with San Francisco), linebacker Pernell McPhee (signed with Chicago) and tight end Owen Daniels (signed with Houston).

In a flash, the Ravens' greatest defensive lineman of all-time, their best deep threat, their top young pass-rusher and starting tight end were all gone.

It should have felt familiar. It was a replay of so many offseasons in the past for the Ravens. Each time, the Ravens parted with starters, key contributors and pieces of their history. Each time, they advanced into the thick of the postseason the following season.

In 2011, two of the best targets in team history (tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason) and their longtime nose tackle (Kelly Gregg) were released and three free-agent starters (fullback Le'Ron McClain, safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Josh Wilson) signed elsewhere. The Ravens came one failed catch from reaching the Super Bowl.

In 2012, three free-agent starters left (guard Ben Grubbs, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Cory Redding) and backup running back Ricky Williams retired. The Ravens went on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy that season.

Few teams replenish talent as quickly and as well as the Ravens. Their needs this year are apparent: wide receiver, running back, tight end, cornerback and pass rush. After trading Ngata, the Ravens have about $10 million of cap room to work with and 10 draft picks (when you factor in the projected compensatory ones).

The Ravens potentially could sign Justin Forsett or Pierre Thomas at running back, add Dwayne Bowe or Stevie Johnson at wide receiver and bring in Jermaine Gresham, Anthony Fasano or Zach Miller at tight end.

There's no guarantee that the Ravens will fill their major voids the way they did in 2011 or 2012 and make another deep playoff run. But their track record shows that nobody should count out the Ravens one day into free agency.
The Baltimore Ravens have watched their top two free agents leave, and free agency doesn't officially begin until Tuesday.

It stings that wide receiver Torrey Smith and pass rusher Pernell McPhee, two players the Ravens developed for four seasons, are going to make big plays elsewhere in 2015. But it would sting more long-term if the Ravens matched what they received.

McPhee will reportedly sign a five-year, $40 million with the Chicago Bears, and Smith is expected to average $8 million to $9 million per season after saying goodbye to the Ravens on Sunday night. The San Francisco 49ers are considered the favorites to land Smith.

The Ravens, who are projected to have around $5 million to $8 million when free agency begins, aren't in a position to match those offers. Even if the Ravens did have the cap room, why would the Ravens want to match those deals?

This is a franchise that has maintained a strong run of success -- six playoff seasons in seven years -- by not overpaying for players. The Ravens can't give $8 million per year to McPhee, a backup who played less than half of the defensive snaps. They can't give nearly $16 million guaranteed to McPhee after he's recorded 17 career sacks. McPhee's contract numbers should sound familiar. Paul Kruger signed a five-year, $40.5 million deal (including $13 million guaranteed) with the Browns after one breakout season with the Ravens.

It's a case of simple economics with Smith as well. If Smith gets $8 million per season (which is realistic given that Randall Cobb re-signed with the Packers for $10 million per season), he would become the 17th-highest paid wide receiver. The Ravens can't pay top-20 money to a receiver who ranked 49th in receptions since 2011, which was Smith's first season in the NFL.

"You have to look at it this way: If we were to go after the market on Pernell, how many other players would we not have on the Baltimore Ravens?," general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month. "And that's kind of the way we look at this thing. Do we pay market for some players? Yes. But we have to look at how we can't pay everybody market value, because it would hurt our roster overall in trying to retain other guys and then go out in the market and get other guys."

The Ravens' history of paying market value in recent years includes a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (quarterback Joe Flacco), a perennial Pro Bowl guard (Marshal Yanda) and a starting left tackle (Eugene Monroe). Smith and McPhee don't fit into that category. Smith is a solid No. 2 receiver, and McPhee was on the field for 47.2 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps last season.

This has become the Ravens' way. They'll let other teams open up the wallet for the likes of Kruger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, defensive tackle Arthur Jones and offensive tackle Michael Oher. A year later, the Ravens receive compensatory picks in return to replenish the roster with younger and more affordable talent.

It was the same way in 2011, when the Ravens received a fifth-round compensatory pick for losing defensive lineman Dwan Edwards (a former second-round pick) in free agency and they used it to draft McPhee. Now, McPhee is gone and the Ravens will get a third- or fourth-round pick in return for the 2016 draft.

The Ravens build their roster through the draft and not overspending in free agency.
When Andre Johnson is likely released by the Houston Texans, the Baltimore Ravens should immediately show interest in the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. It's just a matter of whether the feeling would be mutual.

Johnson makes sense for the Ravens because of their need at wide receiver if Torrey Smith can't be re-signed and their successful history with aging receivers, from Derrick Mason to Anquan Boldin to Steve Smith Sr. He would represent the first step in the Ravens' offseason makeover of the wide receiver position.

[+] EnlargeAndre Johnson
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThere are plenty of reasons to think Andre Johnson could fit in well with the Ravens' offense.
So what are the chances Johnson eventually lands with the Ravens? The odds appear good but not great. There are plenty of reasons you can envision Johnson catching touchdown passes from Joe Flacco, but there are going to be plenty of teams interested in a receiver who has caught at least 85 passes in six of the past seven seasons.

The Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots are potential suitors for Johnson, and like the Ravens, they can all offer him a shot at winning a Super Bowl. The Colts and Seahawks, both of whom currently have over $25 million in salary-cap space, can offer Johnson more money than the Ravens. And the Colts can offer him two opportunities a year at getting payback with the Texans because both teams are in the AFC South.

This is why the Ravens should be considered candidates to get Johnson, although certainly not the favorites. The Ravens would have to go after Johnson with the same aggressiveness they showed last offseason with Steve Smith. But the Ravens don't have the cap room to outbid teams.

Johnson is the type of good-sized receiver (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) that the Ravens and new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman need. Johnson would seem to be an ideal fit based on how Trestman used two big playmaking targets (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery) in Chicago.

And unlike a receiver like Marshall (who could also become available), Johnson brings strong hands, toughness, leadership and consistency. Among players with 100 games played, Johnson's average of six catches per game is the highest in NFL history.

Johnson has shown signs of slowing down. His yards per catch has declined each of the past three seasons, and his 11 yards per catch last season was his lowest since 2005. He averaged 62.4 receiving yards per game last season, his least since 2005 and 25 yards less than his 2013 average.

But the Ravens are probably looking at Johnson to be their No. 1 receiver for at least 2015. Owner Steve Bisciotti said the Ravens won't extend themselves financially to keep Torrey Smith, and coach John Harbaugh hinted at reducing Steve Smith's role in 2015 to help keep him from wearing down during the season.

If the Ravens would get Johnson, it would solve their problems only in the short term. The Ravens' top two receivers would be 34 and 36 years old when the season started, increasing the need to draft a receiver. Arizona State's Jaelen Strong and Ohio State's Devin Smith are first-round prospects who could fill Torrey Smith's role as the deep threat and develop into a starter by 2016.

The idea of lining up Johnson, Steve Smith and a playmaking rookie at wide receiver has to be enticing for Flacco and the Ravens. They just have to convince Johnson that his best fit is with the Ravens.

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