Ravens send big free-agent message by keeping Brandon Williams

The past four Super Bowl champions ranked in the top 10 in run defense, which is why the Ravens made a point to keep nose tackle Brandon Williams. Rob Carr/Getty Images

A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Baltimore Ravens:

Most significant signing: Nose tackle Brandon Williams. The Ravens sent a message by making him the highest-paid Ravens player not named Joe Flacco. Baltimore made it clear that it places a premium on stopping the run. Does that make sense in an era in which the emphasis is on the pass? The past four Super Bowl champions ranked in the top 10 in run defense, including the New England Patriots at No. 3 last season. Defense (including run defense) still wins championships. The Ravens also showed they weren't going to let another rising prospect go elsewhere. Baltimore has watched the likes of guard Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Pernell McPhee and right tackle Rick Wagner bolt in free agency. This time, owner Steve Bisciotti told general manager Ozzie Newsome to do what was necessary to get the deal done. As Newsome pointed out, keeping Williams energized the entire building.

Most significant loss: Wagner. He is one of the better young right tackles in the NFL. Wagner was a three-year starter for the Ravens and would’ve stabilized that position for another four to five years. Baltimore would’ve been set on the edges with Wagner on the right side and Ronnie Stanley on the left. But no one can fault the Ravens for not keeping him. Wagner signed a deal with the Detroit Lions that averages $9.5 million per season -- which is nearly $3 million more than every right tackle except Lane Johnson. The Ravens should be able to find a stopgap at a better value, and they have shown they can get one in the draft. Wagner was the 13th offensive tackle selected in the 2013 draft.

Player they should have signed: Brandon Marshall or Pierre Garcon. The Ravens made a concerted run at both wide receivers. Marshall wanted to stay in the New York market and Garcon got close to $20 million in the first two years of his deal (which the Ravens couldn’t fit into their cap) in San Francisco. Marshall and Garcon would’ve filled the void left by Steve Smith Sr. and complemented the downfield speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. The wide receiver market is now virtually dried up. Unless the Ravens trade for someone like the Eagles’ Jordan Matthews, the best available in free agency are Kamar Aiken, Anquan Boldin and Victor Cruz.

What's next: Despite one of their busier starts to free agency, the Ravens have a lot of work to do. Baltimore needs a wide receiver, a couple of cornerbacks (perhaps Morris Claiborne in free agency and a high draft pick), an inside linebacker to replace the retired Zach Orr, a pass-rusher and two starting offensive linemen (center and right tackle). The Ravens also could be looking to upgrade at running back because Terrance West is an unrestricted free agent after this season and Kenneth Dixon was suspended for the first four games of the year.

Overall grade: B-plus. The Ravens bolstered their defense with two major investments. Baltimore re-signed Williams, who was the No. 1 free agent in the ESPN rankings. The Ravens also landed safety Tony Jefferson, the top safety in free agency. What has gone under the radar is the addition of running back Danny Woodhead, who is the type of playmaker this offense has needed. If he remains healthy -- which has been a problem in two of the past three seasons -- he will significantly help the Ravens in converting third downs and reaching the end zone (17 touchdowns in his last two full seasons). It’s been a strong start for the Ravens, but this is just the beginning.