Twelve Ravens thoughts at start of NFL free agency

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With the 2021 free agency negotiating window open and deals having already been struck, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You rarely see Baltimore target big names pursuing second contracts, but Eric DeCosta hopes Kevin Zeitler will become the organization’s latest third contract success. Zeitler became the NFL’s highest-paid guard in 2017, but I’d prefer his new deal to what Kansas City is giving Joe Thuney if I’m the Ravens.

2. As a few fans noted, nobody truly replaces eight-time Pro Bowl selection and potential Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda, but Zeitler has been really good for a long time and is a clear upgrade over the young options who struggled at right guard last year. This was an easy call.

3. The signing period doesn’t begin until Wednesday — wink-wink — but the first afternoon of the “tampering” period felt slower and the money less lucrative. I anticipated Matthew Judon’s departure, but I expected more than $14 million per season. A salary cap roughly $30 million lower than envisioned a year ago hurts.

4. Even with hindsight, I have no problem with DeCosta taking a shot on Yannick Ngakoue for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 fifth-rounder. The former Terp now being on his fourth team over the last calendar year does suggest an interesting contrast between his play and outside perception, however.

5. New England will hope the Judon contract works out better than the Adalius Thomas signing, which was lauded at the time and fell apart pretty quickly after the first season. Seeing the Patriots so aggressive at the start of free agency is definitely strange.

6. Popular focus is understandably on pass-rush ability, but both Judon and Tyus Bowser dropped into pass coverage quite a bit in Baltimore’s defense. That’s something to keep in mind as the Ravens target edge defenders this offseason. You want some versatility at the position.

7. Re-signing Pernell McPhee always made sense, but trying to push his workload beyond the 30.6 defensive snaps he averaged per game in 2020 would be unwise. Regardless of how the position group shakes out, you want to keep the 32-year-old healthy and fresh for as many games as possible. 

8. The receiver market didn’t explode out of the gate Monday afternoon, but finding an outside threat is the priority when sifting through available names. The Ravens have multiple slot options, which makes names like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Curtis Samuel, and Golden Tate less attractive.

9. You never know how the market will play out, but I’ve gone on the record saying Marvin Jones would be my line of demarcation when it comes to signing a free-agent wide receiver. Anything less would feel a little too familiar in a not so positive way.   

10. Restructuring Marcus Peters’ contract created $3.5 million in cap space, which was less than the maximum the Ravens could have gained. Several other veterans remain easy candidates for restructures if and when DeCosta needs more flexibility, however.

11. Jonnu Smith reportedly receiving a four-year, $50 million deal including $31.25 million guaranteed from the Patriots reminded how expensive it will be to extend Mark Andrews. You’d certainly expect him to want more than Smith even if he falls short of George Kittle or Travis Kelce money.

12. It’s hard to believe just two years have passed since C.J. Mosley signed his $85 million contract. He’s played only two games for the Jets due to a groin injury and then opting out last season. Even acknowledging unforeseen circumstances, sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make.