Mon, 16 May 2022

Mailbag: What Bargain Free-Agent Signings Could Still Be Coming

Baltimore Ravens
12 May 2022, 05:25 GMT+10

by Ryan Mink & Garrett Downing

Mink: The Ravens already addressed one spot with the addition of veteran running back Mike Davis this week. That allows J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards not to rush back to action and prevent rookie Tyler Badie's plate from becoming too full.

The other areas of need coming out of the draft are outside linebacker, wide receiver and inside linebacker.

Baltimore reportedly applied the seldom used unrestricted free-agent tender on veteran edge rusher Justin Houston last week. That tender means if the player doesn't sign by July 22, he must play for the team that placed the tender on them (if the player doesn't retire). Houston enjoyed his time in Baltimore and was still productive in getting pressure, stopping the run and as a leader. Bringing Houston back would give the Ravens enough depth as Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo work their way back from Achilles injuries.

The Ravens didn't draft an inside linebacker. That could be a spot where they wait for a veteran to shake loose, but I doubt it. They already brought back Josh Bynes and have Kristian Welch as an up-and-coming youngster. Plus, you can always count on an undrafted rookie to push for a roster spot. Michigan's John Ross was a two-time team captain and played for Mike Macdonald.

The possibility many of you are wondering about is at wide receiver, which I wrote about in last week's Mailbag and again in my column over the weekend. The Browns reportedly only offered Jarvis Landry the veteran minimum, which sounds like motivation for him to play them twice a year. I do expect Baltimore to add a wide receiver at some point this season - at the right price.

Downing: The left guard competition will be one of the best offensive position battles of training camp. The rest of the line is mostly set, assuming left tackle Ronnie Stanley is healthy, but several players are vying for the starting left guard job. Ben Cleveland, Tyre Phillips and Ben Powers are all in the mix, and it's tough to declare a leader in the clubhouse at this point. All of them have starting experience, and this is really just a matter who earns the job in camp and the preseason. The other candidate is Patrick Mekari, but we'll get to him more in the next question.

Cleveland and Phillips are former third-round picks, and the Ravens have high expectations for both of them. Cleveland (6-foot-6, 357 pounds) has ideal size for the position, but Phillips (6-5, 344) is also plenty big. Powers (6-4, 310) has the most starting experience of the group, and he won the job last year in training camp. If Cleveland or Powers win the job, that gives the Ravens flexibility with Phillips because he can play multiple spots along the offensive line. It's easy to make predictions now in May, but the starter at left guard will come down to who can consistently stay on the field and play at a high level throughout the summer. Based on how the competition unfolds, there could be other teams calling General Manager Eric DeCosta to acquire one of the linemen on the roster, similar to what happened last year with Ben Bredesen.

Downing: Patrick Mekari is the other big factor in the offensive line makeup. His versatility might be his greatest asset, as he can play every spot along the line. Mekari was the favorite for the starting center spot before the Ravens drafted Iowa's Tyler Linderbaum in the first round, but the expectation is that the rookie will take the reins from the start of the season. Mekari could also factor into the guard competition because the Ravens often say they're looking for their five best linemen to fill out the line, and Mekari is probably one of the five best on this team. That's why the Ravens signed him to a contract extension last season.

But Mekari can also serve as a "super sub" for the group. He's an incredibly smart player who could fill in at any spot mid-game and not miss a beat. He also gives the Ravens insurance in case Stanley's recovery takes longer than expected. Mekari will find his way on the field one way or another. Even if he isn't in the starting lineup to open the year, offensive lines rarely stay fully intact throughout the season, and Mekari would likely be the first option to step in at any of the five spots.

Mink: The rookies get a lot thrown on their plate when they first arrive, and I'm sure their diet is part of it (pun intended). This is particularly important for massive trench warriors Daniel Faalele and Travis Jones, who have both had to shed a good deal of weight previously in their careers. I don't expect they'll have weight issues moving forward, as some NFL executives pointed to when trying to justify how Baltimore got such steals. Ravens Director of Sports Nutrition Sarah Snyder is very good at her job and works closely with all the team's players to monitor their nutrition. With the rookies, there's surely a crash course in eating healthy.

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