OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When it comes to free agency, here are the assumptions you can make about the Baltimore Ravens:
*The Ravens rarely make a huge money splash.
*When Baltimore signs a player, it’s usually one of its own free agents or a cap cut because it doesn’t affect the accumulation of compensatory picks.
*And a young Baltimore pass-rusher will get a huge stack of money and sign elsewhere.
Over the past decade, the Ravens have watched five pass-rushers under the age of 30 receive at least $16 million in guaranteed money from other teams. Paul Kruger ($20 million, Browns), Pernell McPhee ($16 million, Bears), Za’Darius Smith ($20 million, Packers), Matthew Judon ($32 million, Patriots) and Yannick Ngakoue ($26 million, Raiders) have all cashed in by thriving in Baltimore’s aggressive defense. That’s a total of $114 million in guaranteed money.
Now, who is going to fill the need at edge rusher for the Ravens? After finally landing a veteran wide receiver in Sammy Watkins on Friday, the Ravens can focus on finding someone to put pressure on two former No. 1 overall picks (Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow) and a two-time Super Bowl champion (Ben Roethlisberger) in the AFC North.
After losing Judon and Ngakoue this offseason, Baltimore made sure it kept some continuity at outside linebacker by re-signing Tyus Bowser and McPhee. But Bowser is known more for his coverage than pass rusher (10.5 sacks and 10 passes broken up in his career) and McPhee is one of the best edge setters against the run.
Pass rush is such a big need for Baltimore that the team could sign an outside linebacker in free agency and then draft one in the early rounds. The Ravens’ current players in their defensive front seven totaled 18.5 sacks last season and no one individually had more than four in 2020.
Baltimore should have an easier time luring a free-agent pass-rusher than a wide receiver because this franchise is known for defense and producing outside linebackers. The top remaining pass-rushers -- Melvin Ingram III, Justin Houston and Jadeveon Clowney -- are expected to sign for a relatively bargain price of $8 million to $9 million per season.
Ingram, 31, went to three straight Pro Bowls (2017-19) before being limited to seven games and no sacks last season because of a knee injury that put him on injured reserve twice. He was one of five defenders to record at least 40 sacks, five forced fumbles and 10 batted passes from 2015 to 2019. Ingram recently visited the Kansas City Chiefs but left without a contract.
Houston, 32, is a four-time Pro Bowl defender who isn’t as strong against the run but can still get after the quarterback. His 37.5 sacks over the past four seasons ranks 10th in the league. Houston has also become more durable later in his career and hasn’t missed a game since 2018. The Ravens showed interest in Houston in 2019 before he signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency.
Clowney, 28, is a former No. 1 overall pick who has become a journeyman, playing on three teams the past three seasons (Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans). He won’t impress with his sack numbers (he’s never had double-digit sacks in his seven seasons) but he gets pressure on the quarterback. Clowney has 61 quarterback hits in his past four seasons (52 games). Durability always has been an issue for Clowney, who hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2017. He recently visited the Cleveland Browns.
In the draft, the Ravens will have options at pass-rusher with the No. 27 overall pick. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins (underrated impact player who lacks size), Washington’s Joe Tryon (explosive rusher who opted out last season) and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh (elite athlete who didn’t have a sack last season) are all candidates for the late first round.
An intriguing prospect to watch is Miami’s Jaelan Phillips, a top-10 talent who could fall because of medical concerns. He’s dealt with significant ankle and wrist injuries along with multiple concussions. But Phillips totaled eight sacks last season and ranked second in the ACC with 15.5 tackles for loss.
In their latest mock drafts, Kiper has Phillips going to the Miami Dolphins at No. 18 and Todd McShay has him being taken by the Tennessee Titans at No. 22.
“It’ll be interesting to see if he can be there [at No. 27],” Kiper said. “He’s the best pure pass-rusher in this draft."