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Ravens' NT Brandon Williams ranked among top 10 free agents

Ravens' NT Brandon Williams ranked among top 10 free agents

Ravens nose tackle Brandon Williams is ranked among the top 10 free agents on the market in a list compiled by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, and tackle Rick Wagner also makes the top-25 list, checking in at No. 24.

That only underscores what was already conventional wisdom around Baltimore: The Ravens will have a tough time holding on to either player given interest around the league and their typically thin amount of salary cap space.

At the "State of the Ravens" address on Tuesday, general manager Ozzie Newsome said the team has had preliminary discussions with some agents representing their pending free agents.

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"We have talked to some of the players before they left and let them know that we really would like to retain them," Newsome added. "A lot of the legwork has been done."

Williams and Wagner headline a pending free agent group for the Ravens that includes fullback Kyle Juszczyk, special teams ace Anthony Levine and safety Matt Elam.

Williams comes in at No. 9 on the NFL.com free agent list, and at this point, it would seem likely he will test the market and see what offers are out there. He is going to like what he sees.

"Williams is a one-man solution to your favorite team's run-stopping problems," Rosenthal wrote. "Damon Harrison paved the way last season for nose tackles to get paid like pass rushers."

Harrison signed with the New York Giants for five years and $46.2 million, with $24 million guaranteed.

Can, or would, the Ravens offer Williams a similar deal? Probably not, and that's nothing against Williams, who is a popular and respected player. He has probably been the Ravens most consistent defensive player over the past couple of seasons. But the Ravens have undrafted rookie Michael Pierce available at a fraction of that cost, and they could then turn their attention and resources to more pressing needs.  

As for Wagner, Rosenthal ranks him as the 24th-best available free agent, and he predicts that Wagner could command "north of $10 million per season in this market."

The salary cap, while not set yet, is expected to rise by $10 million or more. So the Ravens will have more money to work with. Then again, so will everyone else.

"With the salary cap escalating as it is, then the salaries of the players are escalating also," Newsome said. "You have to play the game."

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Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti: Draft whiffs have been factor in struggles

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti: Draft whiffs have been factor in struggles

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged that high-round draft misses in the past few years have played a "significant" role in the Ravens lack of success lately, but he expressed confidence in general manager Ozzie Newsome, pointing to his track record of draft success and notable success later in the draft.

The Ravens have gone 31-33 in the regular season in the four years since winning the Super Bowl, and they have gotten little from some key high-round draft picks in that span.

The 2013 draft class stands out for its early-round misses. Safety Matt Elam has done little since the team made him their first-round pick, at No. 32 overall, and second-round pick Arthur Brown -- whom the Ravens traded up to draft -- did even less before being cut last fall.

The 2014 draft produced immediate impact players in the first two rounds in C.J. Mosley and Timmy Jernigan, but the Ravens early picks in the 2015 draft -- first-rounder Breshad Perriman, second-rounder Maxx Williams and third-rounder Carl Davis -- have not measured up to expectation.

"That happens. You ‘miss’ players," Bisciotti said at the "State of the Ravens" address on Tuesday. "I look around the league and see plenty of ‘missed’ players. It’s not just us."

Bisciotti pointed out that the experts at the time raved about Elam and Brown.

"There wasn’t a one that questioned (Elam) being great," Bisciotti said. "When we traded up for Arthur Brown, they said we had two of the best players in the draft – fast, hard-hitting, fly-to-the-football kind of guys."

Bisciotti noted that the Ravens hit on later picks in that 2013 draft, with nose tackle Brandon Williams in the third round, fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth and tackle Rick Wagner in the fifth.

"If you’ve got one of the best nose tackles in football and one of the fullback/H-backs in football and one of the better right tackles in football in a draft, you’d say, ‘OK, they were good.’" Bisciotti said. "If you had flipped them over to say one, two, three, four and five, nobody would have complained about Elam and Arthur Brown. He’s being exposed, because there were higher-profile guys, but in these drafts, we are finding really good players in the later rounds."

This past year, the Ravens drafted plug-and-play left tackle Ronnie Stanley at No. 6 overall – their highest first-round pick since 2000. Although it's early, the Ravens also appear to have made a nice mid-round haul with their five fourth-round picks this past spring. That group includes cornerback Tavon Young, offensive lineman Alex Lewis and running back Kenneth Dixon – all of whom saw significant time as rookies – along with receiver Chris Moore and defensive tackle Willie Henry.

"In these drafts, we are finding really good players in the later rounds," Bisciotti said. Misses such as Elam and Arthur Brown "shined a negative light on Ozzie, but if you think it shook my confidence in Ozzie and Eric (DeCosta), it didn’t. Those things happen, and they happen all across the league.”

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Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

Ravens' decision on Marty Mornhinweg came down to Joe Flacco

Don't look now, but Joe Flacco is suddenly the Ravens' $80 million problem.

Yes, Flacco has proved he can be – dare we say it? – elite. He has a Super Bowl ring and shiny Super Bowl MVP car to show for it. But he hasn't played at anything close to an elite level for at least two years, and that's a huge problem for a team that will commit roughly 15 percent of its salary cap to that one player.

And reading between the lines of Tuesday's "State of the Ravens" news conference, Flacco is the biggest reason embattled offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will return in 2017.

At the news conference on Tuesday, owner Steve Bisciotti said what anyone who watched the Ravens in 2016 was thinking: "We’ve seen a better Joe Flacco in the past."

"We need to get more out of Joe," Bisciotti added. "Joe would agree with me, and Joe is committed to making that happen."

One way, apparently, is by continuing to work with Mornhinweg.

Many observers expected Mornhinweg to be jettisoned after the season, as the Ravens showed little offensive improvement after Mornhinweg took over for the fired Marc Trestman.  But Harbaugh announced last week that Mornhinweg would return.

Even Bisciotti admitted in so many words that the Ravens offense this fall was a mess. The running game disappeared, and the Ravens had no semblance of an offensive identity. Flacco threw a team-record 672 passes – one shy of the league lead – but the Ravens ranked 26th in passing yards per play.

"I do not think that we are going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times," Bisciotti said. "It is just not our identity, and I do not know how we got that far away from it."

Well here's an answer: They got away from it because Mornhinweg decided to get away from it. He's the one calling the plays. And he'll be doing so again next season.

When asked on Tuesday about the decision to bring Mornhinweg back for another season, Bisciotti said tersely, "My quarterback seems happy with it."

So there it is: The Ravens are all in on Mornhinweg because their $80 million quarterback wants it that way. After all, there probably isn't anyone in the Castle – other than Bisciotti – with more job security than Flacco.

He has a salary cap hit of $24.5 million this year, with more than $47 million in dead money tied up in a contract that still includes more than $80 million in base salary through 2021. Translation: He isn't going anywhere, so if he wants Mornhinweg to return, Mornhinweg returns.

On the one hand, that's understandable: Flacco has been through a revolving door of coordinators, and hasn't even been with Mornhinweg for one full season. Flacco will have an entire offseason of workouts, which he didn't have last year as he  recovered from knee surgery. Mornhinweg has an entire offseason as the coordinator, which he didn't have last year.

Fair point.

But the Ravens are losing one of their go-to receivers in Steve Smith Sr. They could lose the starting right tackle and fullback – a key cog in Mornhinweg's passing game – to free agency. They could lose Flacco's top target in tight end Dennis Pitta as a cap casualty.

Even if most of those players return, Flacco still has to get right. He needs to make better decisions. He needs to fix himself mechanically and get rid of the back-foot floater throws. He needs to get on the same page as his receivers. And oh by the way, the Ravens need at least one more legitimate receiver. General manager Ozzie Newsome said as much on Tuesday.

In other words, there are a whole lot of question marks going into 2017 for the Ravens offense.  The notion that Flacco and Mornhinweg will somehow have this offense purring next fall seems, frankly, wildly optimistic.

But the Ravens have about 80 million reasons to hope and pray that happens.

MORE RAVENS: Ravens owner wants more out of Flacco