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Five Ravens Free Agency Storylines To Watch

March 11, 2019
Free agency doesn't officially begin until March 13, but teams could start negotiating with free agents on March 11, so word about imminent deals have already leaked out. 

The Ravens have historically stayed away from the early free-agency frenzy, as former general manager Ozzie Newsome consistently believed in making lower-priced, value plays once the market settled down. To be sure, the Ravens salary-cap situation has often dictated that approach. New general manager Eric DeCosta has suggested he is likely to stick to that playbook, but an aggressive bid for one of the Ravens key positions of need can't be ruled out. 

As free agency unofficially begins with contact between players and teams, here are five storylines to watch:

Can the Ravens retain C.J. Mosley?

The Ravens didn't want to let Mosley hit the open market, but they also weren't willing to put the franchise tag on the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, and the two sides could not reach an agreement during their exclusive negotiating period.

Now the Ravens run the risk of being outbid by teams with a need at inside linebacker and a lot more cap space than the Ravens.

It's looking less likely that Mosley will be back in Baltimore, but Mosley has said he'd like to return, and he is believed to be the Ravens' top offseason priority. Re-signing him is still possible, but it might cost more than the Ravens had hoped to spend. 

At his introductory news conference in January,  general manager Eric DeCosta said, "If there's one thing that I regret is that we've lost some good young talent over the years just because we couldn't bring 'em back .The numbers go crazy. We look at the numbers as being crazy, even though the numbers aren't crazy if that's what people are paying. But in general, I'm in a talent business, and we want to keep our best players."

Will Za'Darius Smith cash in?

All indications are that he will, and that it won't be in Baltimore. With some of the top edge rushers being given the franchise tag last week, Smith has risen to the top of the group of available pass rushers, which will drive up his value, and he is expected to have a brisk market.

Smith, who recorded a team-high and career-best 8.5 sacks in his contract year, has shown the ability to generate a pass rush from the edge and from inside. 

From the time he was drafted in the fourth round out of the University of Kentucky in 2015, Smith has drawn comparisons to former Ravens hybrid linebacker-defensive end Pernell McPhee. Now, like McPhee, Smith is likely to score a life-changing contract, and as with McPhee, it's likely to be from a team other than the Ravens.

As they have done with a slew of defensive players they have developed throughout the years, the Ravens will thank Smith, wish him well and pocket the compensatory pick next year.

Will Terrell Suggs sign elsewhere? 

Suggs, who has played 16 seasons for the Ravens, said after the season, "I would love to be a Raven for life. I'm healthy, and I still feel like I have some juice in the tank. ... We're just going to enjoy it and hope we can work it out. If not, I'll be lining up for somebody next year."

Suggs, who turns 37 in October, finished this past season with 34 tackles and seven sacks, increasing his franchise record to 132.5. That's the most of any active player now that Julius Peppers has retired. Losing Smith and Suggs would put added pressure on young Ravens edge rushers such as Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, who have developed as hoped in their first two years in the league. 

The Ravens could offer a one- or two-year deal to their franchise record-holder for career games played (229). Speculation is that Suggs, an Arizona native, could draw interest from his hometown Cardinals.

Do the Ravens buck their past tradition and go all in with Le'Veon Bell?

There have been rumblings of mutual interest between former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and some members of the Ravens organization, and it's clear Baltimore has a major need at running back, especially for a back who can be a factor in the passing game. 

With Buck Allen and Ty Montgomery headed for free agency and Alex Collins released after his arrest on gun and drug charges, the Ravens are down to two running backs -- Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon -- who had more than one carry last year. And neither of them had more than six catches. 

Bell checks a lot of boxes for the Ravens, but he also comes at a high price, which would curtail the Ravens ability to supplement other areas of need, and the Ravens have generally stayed away from the high-priced hysteria of the early market.

The more likely solution for the Ravens would be to look for cheaper options on the free agent market such as Tevin Coleman or to add at least one running back in the draft.

What are the Ravens biggest roster needs?

Assuming John Brown leaves as a free agent, the Ravens will be minus two of their top three receivers from last year; Michael Crabtree has already been released. The Ravens want to get bigger and stronger along the offensive line, so interior linemen are on the radar. The Ravens need at least one more running back, especially one that can factor in the passing game, as well as a backup quarterback; Robert Griffin III is a free agent but his return is possible. 

Defensively, Eric Weddle's release has created a void at safety, and with so many quality safeties on the market, the Ravens might look to add a veteran while young players such as Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott continue to develop. Inside linebacker becomes an area of need if Mosley departs. That would leave Patrick Onwuasor and 2018 rookies Kenny Young and Chris Board as the only inside linebackers on the roster. As has been the case the past two months, all eyes are on Mosley. 

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox