Bargain Hunters

As free-agency begins in a little over two more weeks, you will see a lot of different names connected to the Baltimore Ravens. The Owings Mills complex is sure to have a myriad of visitors from March until July, which was not the case last year because the Ravens were kicking players out of their complex, not inviting them in.

However, just because the number of players visiting Baltimore will reach its highest peak in the off-season of 2003, doesn't mean that the club will gleefully open their wallets and sign any big name player they see out on the market.

Baltimore, more than any other organization, realizes that there are plenty of pitfalls to dishing out huge contracts to unknown commodities. The Ravens generously gave out two deals worth $5 million per season to Elvis Grbac and Leon Searcy, and another $4 million deal to Jamie Sharper. While Sharper ended up being a plus signing (the deal only panned out for one season), Grbac and Searcy were busts.


In 2000, the Ravens had around $10 million in space and where able to sign both Shannon Sharpe and Sam Adams to palatable deals. Both players ended up being major cogs during Baltimore's successful championship run.


Of course, in those off-seasons, Baltimore never had close to $30 million in cap space to use. Still, don't expect any big name players like Hugh Douglas and Peerless Price to snoop around Ravens headquarters in the upcoming months.

The Ravens will explore all avenues in free-agency (as they should), but because there are only a handful of great players available to sign, look for the organization to potentially sign three to four bargain starters for the price of one or two huge salaries combined. There should also be a concentrated effort to bring in a couple of top notch reserves to help bolster the team's shaky depth and special teams.


Looking at the list of players who are due to become unrestricted free-agents or cap casualties as of March, here are five players that could become solid contributors for reasonable prices:


1. Ryan Young (RT): Young battled through an injury riddled season last year, and he didn't really take the next step in his evolution at the RT position as the Texans hoped he would. Houston has expressed their interest in re-signing him and Young feels obligated to return to the team. Still, if the emerging right tackle ultimately enters the market, he will have plenty of takers. Young is a strong run blocker who refined his pass blockings skills while with the Jets. In some stretches, he can dominate bigger defensive ends. A deal worth $3.5 million per season may be in the cards. 


2. Frank Middleton (OG): Mo Collins is the better player, but Middleton would come cheaper and is a solid guard in his own right. While he's not technically a free-agent just yet, there is good reason to believe that Middleton will be released along with countless other Raiders by March. Like Collins, Middleton is a big, strong and quick guard who can take away most defensive tackles without any help. The Ravens need to sign/draft dependable right guard along with a tackle, although there is some speculation that they would only address the right tackle spot. The reality is that Bennie Anderson is a better backup than he is a starting right guard, and any thought of improving the position by moving center Mike Flynn to Anderson's spot would be pointless.


3. Tebucky Jones (S): There is no secret that one of the positions that Baltimore is desperately seeking to fill is at SS. The front office feels that they are set with Ed Reed at the free safety position, but they are not very keen to the idea of moving Gary Baxter from corner to safety in order to fill the void. Donovin Darius' name has been linked with the Ravens, but his asking price is ridiculously high and his coverage skills are suspect. Enter Tebucky Jones, who is a great option to become the starting strong safety. Jones has the speed to cover and is a devastating blitzer. Jones is also a tremendous special teams player who was used as a gunner with New England. For a deal worth around $3.5 million, Jones would fit like a glove in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme.


4. Derrius Thompson (WR): Names like Peerless Price and David Boston should fall be the waste side once free-agency begins. Boston is going to be franchised in all likelihood and even if he isn't, his price tag and off the field issues are definite question marks against him. Price and the Atlanta Falcons seem like a perfect match, and the compensation needed to attract him away from ot

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