Sizing up the Ravens’ 2022 class of free agents

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The start of free agency is just over two months away after the injury-ravaged Ravens failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Starting the week with 40 players under contract for next season, Baltimore currently has $19.33 million in space below the announced 2022 salary cap of $208.2 million, according to OverTheCap.com. That’s not accounting for reserve-future deals — Baltimore announced eight on Monday — and exclusive-rights free agents, meaning the Ravens have much less functional cap space than that in reality.

For that reason, general manager Eric DeCosta is likely to create more cap flexibility by extending, restructuring, or even terminating the contracts of select veteran players. Of course, the long-term contract status of star quarterback Lamar Jackson will be a significant story with the 2019 NFL MVP currently scheduled to make $23.1 million in his fifth season and become a free agent after the 2022 campaign.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2022 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to extend any of the following unrestricted free agents before they’re permitted to officially sign with any of the 32 teams beginning March 16 at 4 p.m.

CB Anthony Averett The 2018 fourth-round pick went from a backup in training camp to finishing the season as Baltimore’s top cornerback due to multiple injuries, exposure that may ultimately price him right out of town.

ILB Chris Board Ranking second on the team in special-teams snaps, Board continued to see defensive action in passing situations and is a logical candidate to return on a cheap short-term deal.

C Bradley Bozeman PFF graded Bozeman 11th among qualified centers in his first year back at his old college position, but the sides have been slow to gain traction for an extension, making his exit more possible by the day.

(Bradley Bozeman discusses his future with the Ravens at the end of the 2021 season)

ILB Josh Bynes – Though the 32-year-old was a godsend for Patrick Queen and is “beyond interested” in staying put after his third stint with the organization, Baltimore may elect to go younger at a position that’s still unsettled.

DE Calais Campbell – Contemplating retirement and coming off only a 1 1/2-sack season, the 35-year-old remains an excellent run defender and should still draw plenty of interest around the league if he wants to continue playing.

S DeShon Elliott – The 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas was a rock-solid starter in 2020, but he’s played more than six games in a season only once in four seasons, making it difficult to count on him filling a meaningful role.

DT Justin Ellis – Injuries to other veterans prompted the 31-year-old to play his highest snap total since 2017, but a desire to get younger along the defensive line could push out the veteran backup.

ILB L.J. Fort The 32-year-old’s season-ending knee injury in August was one of the more underrated defensive losses and prompted Bynes’ return, so it’ll be interesting to see if Baltimore chooses to bring back either veteran.

RB Devonta Freeman Though Freeman settled in as the starter midway through 2021 and ran for five touchdowns and a solid 4.3 yards per carry, the Ravens will eagerly welcome back the upside of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

OLB Justin Houston – Turning 33 later this month, Houston played better than 4 1/2 sacks would indicate in his first season with the Ravens and still has some juice left in a situational role at the right price.

S Tony Jefferson The former starting safety played well in his December return to the organization and could make sense as a contributor in defensive sub packages and on special teams.

QB Josh Johnson – Even at age 35, Johnson proved more than capable in his emergency start at Cincinnati and deserves way more consideration as a No. 2 quarterback in a league that’s short on quality backups.

S Anthony Levine – A favorite of John Harbaugh and one of the longest-tenured Ravens, the special-teams captain will soon turn 35 and could potentially be replaced by someone younger like Jefferson this offseason.

OLB Pernell McPhee – Injuries limited the 11th-year edge defender to just 10 games and 234 pedestrian snaps, making it quite possible the 33-year-old has reached the end of the line.

RB Latavius Murray – An impressive 150-yard performance against Pittsburgh in the season finale should help the veteran back try to find a new landing spot for his age-32 season.

FB Patrick Ricard – The three-time Pro Bowl selection is more valuable to Baltimore than virtually any other team, but it only takes one outside offer to change that outlook, especially as Ricard gets closer to hitting the open market.

CB Kevon Seymour – That the 28-year-old Seymour went from the practice squad to playing 40-plus defensive snaps per week over the final four games of the season says it all about the injury attrition experienced the secondary.

OT David Sharpe – Though Sharpe returning to compete on a league-minimum deal isn’t out of the question, the Ravens need much more upside in a position group that’s counting on the healthy return of left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

CB Jimmy Smith – The 2011 first-round pick saw his most extensive action at the end of the season, but a long injury history and age make it pretty likely that Smith, 33, has played his final snap as a Raven.

TE Eric Tomlinson – The blocking tight end’s return shouldn’t be ruled out with the long-term health of Nick Boyle’s knee still in question and Ricard’s free-agent status up in the air.

WR Sammy Watkins – The veteran wideout finished his first season with the Ravens by not catching a pass after Week 13, making it unlikely that he’ll return in 2022.

DT Brandon Williams – The longtime nose tackle turns 33 next month and did play at a higher level upon returning from a midseason shoulder injury, but financial expectations and an expected youth movement could lead to his exit.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has the right to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders that can be made: a first-round tender ($5.562 million in 2022) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($3.986 million in 2022) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($2.433 million in 2022) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often forgo a tender and attempt to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

ILB Otaro Alaka (undrafted) – Injuries have limited Alaka to five games over three seasons, making it unlikely that he would return on anything but a league-minimum deal at best.

CB Chris Westry (undrafted) – Despite being one of the summer’s better stories, the talented Westry appeared in only six games due to injuries and a bout of COVID-19, which should keep his signing price under the tender amounts.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the idea that there’s nothing promised beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

C Trystan Colon Despite struggling through his only start of the season against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17, Colon would be the top in-house candidate to replace Bozeman if he departs via free agency.

DT Aaron Crawford Missing the entire 2021 season with a shoulder injury sustained in the preseason, Crawford figures to compete for a roster spot if he makes a healthy return.

CB Khalil Dorsey The slot corner appeared in six games in 2020 and missed the entire 2021 season with a shoulder injury, but he should have the chance to compete for a roster spot this coming summer.

QB Tyler Huntley Though he struggled over the final two games of the season, the backup to an injured Jackson proved himself as a valuable No. 2 option who still carries more developmental upside.

OL Brandon Knight Upon being claimed off waivers from Dallas in mid-October, Knight chose to step away from football to focus on his mental health, but the Ravens retain his contractual rights.

LS Nick Moore The transition from veteran Morgan Cox to Moore couldn’t have been more seamless as you barely noticed Moore, the mark of an effective long snapper.

S Geno Stone The 2020 seventh-round pick out of Iowa stepped into a situational defensive role after Elliott’s season-ending injury in Week 9 and will compete to remain in that mix next season.

ILB Kristian Welch Though he began playing occasional defensive snaps later in the season, Welch tied Board for the second-most special-teams snaps on the team this season.

RB Ty’Son Williams The second-year back landed in the proverbial coaches’ doghouse after starting the first three games of the season, but Williams sticking on the 53-man roster all year reflects the Ravens still liking his potential.