Last week, the Baltimore Ravens locked down one of their most important unrestricted free agents: Terrell Suggs.
With Suggs, the Ravens' most feared "pass rush" threat under contract for the next four years, general manager Ozzie Newsome now turns his attention to the remaining Ravens' free agents.
With Suggs off of the list, the Ravens have 13 unrestricted free agents.
Earlier this year, the Ravens hired a new offensive coordinator (Gary Kubiak) and several new assistant offensive coachs. The new staff will be installing a brand new offensive scheme with a new playbook and new terminology.
During a time of such massive change, it is important to develop stability as quickly as possible. One way to do that is to retain key free agents, who are, in the Ravens' case, the key team leaders.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe has quickly become an important offensive cog. He has brought stability and a high level of play to the left tackle position; so it is very important that the Ravens re-sign him before the free agent signing period begins on March 1st. Consistency and stability at left tackle has been an issue for the Ravens since the retirement of Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden.
The Ravens traded for Monroe in October, 2013, just before they parted ways with their Super Bowl left tackle, Bryant McKinnie. Monroe was immediately a bright spot in an otherwise "less than impressive" offensive line.
On defense, inside linebacker Daryl Smith is as important as Monroe is on offense. Smith, an unrestricted free agent, signed a one year contract with the Ravens in June, 2013. He was to take the place of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis in the Ravens' defense and proved to play well beyond expectations.
In fact, the Ravens' defense didn't miss a beat with Smith in the "Mike" linebacker role. Although Smith is 31 years old, both he and the Ravens would like to close the deal that would make him a Raven for the next few years.
Ravens fans and the Ravens' front office recognize tight end Dennis Pitta as essential to Kubiak's new offense. Although Pitta and fellow unrestricted free agent tight end Ed Dickson have simular receiving numbers (Pitta has more TDs), Pitta is believed to have more "upside". In Kubiak's tight end featured offense, having Pitta (and maybe Dickson) making critical 3rd down catches is imperative.
Defensive end Arthur Jones is a disruptive force and a "nightmare" for offensive tackles. The Ravens want continual improvement in their ability to consistently apply pressure to opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. Through the tireless effort of Jones, Suggs, Dumervil and others along the Ravens' defensive front, their defense improved in 2013 despite the decline in their offense and their won-loss record.
Finally, offensive tackle Michael Oher is a player the Ravens cannot afford to lose. Despite his penchant for collecting "false start" penalties and occassional lapses in pass protection, the new Gary Kubiak offense is tailor made for Oher. With the stability of playing right tackle (if Monroe is re-signed) without worrying about being moved back to the left side, Oher should be more engaged and play with renewed "fire". I believe Michael Oher will have a "breakout" season in 2014 and be an essential part of a highly-successful running game.
Eugene Monroe, Daryl Smith, Dennis Pitta, Arthur Jones and Michael Oher are the 5 Ravens' free agents that are essential to the Ravens' success in 2014 and another run at the Super Bowl. They are the 5 free agents the Baltimore Ravens cannot afford to lose.