The Baltimore Ravens showed with their wallet how intent they are in trying to get back to the playoffs after failing to do so the past two years.
The Ravens have given out more guaranteed money in the first four days of free agency than the last two years combined. Baltimore's first four signings -- nose tackle Brandon Williams, safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead and quarterback Ryan Mallett -- received a combined $51.75 million in guaranteed money, which easily tops the $33.11 million spent in free agency in 2015 and 2016 (which resulted in the team missing the postseason).
The Ravens' priority was retaining the anchor of their run defense and upgrading their secondary. Williams became the NFL's highest-paid nose tackle when he re-signed with Baltimore for $27.5 million in guaranteed money. Jefferson's $19 million in guarantees ranks fifth among all safeties.
To put this in perspective, Williams received the most guaranteed money by any Ravens player in March since quarterback Joe Flacco landed $52 million in guarantees in 2013 after being the Super Bowl MVP. Jefferson's guaranteed money is believed to be the most the Ravens have ever given to a free agent coming from another team.
Even Woodhead got a strong deal by running back standards. The Ravens gave him $4.25 million in guaranteed money, which was more than what then-leading rusher Justin Forsett ($3 million) got in 2015.
This isn't to say the Ravens have been frugal in recent years. Baltimore paid a premium when it signed cornerback Jimmy Smith to an extension in 2015 and made Justin Tucker the highest-paid kicker in 2016 after placing the franchise tag on him.
But this has been an uncharacteristic start to free agency for the Ravens and it's obvious that they're being aggressive in trying to turn around the recent misfortunes of the franchise.
Baltimore made the playoffs in each of coach John Harbaugh's first five seasons, which culminated in winning the Super Bowl in 2012. Since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, the Ravens are 31-33 (.484) with only one trip to the postseason in four seasons.
In 2015, the Ravens' top free-agent signing was Forsett. The only other players who received more than $1 million in guaranteed money were cornerback Kyle Arrington ($2.8 million), defensive end Chris Canty ($1.53 million) and safety Kendrick Lewis ($1.4 million). Baltimore finished 5-11, its worst record under Harbaugh.
Last season, the Ravens had one of the best offseasons in the league with the signings of safety Eric Weddle and wide receiver Mike Wallace. But Baltimore only had to spend a total of $17.5 million in guaranteed money for those veteran players, which is less than what Williams and Jefferson each received. The Ravens finished with an 8-8 record in 2016 after a 3-0 start.
This offseason, the Ravens have been one of the most active teams in free agency, and general manager Ozzie Newsome indicated Baltimore isn't finished with free agency. The Ravens could be spending more to add a cornerback, right tackle, wide receiver and inside linebacker.