The Baltimore Ravens enter free agency with a lot of salary-cap room and a lot of needs. But there is no question what's the Ravens' biggest priority in free agency, according to a recent SportsNation poll.
Wide receiver (19 percent) finished second in the poll, and center (16 percent) ranked third.
Here are selected comments from readers:
Andrew (Charleston, S.C.): Centers are the "QB of the line" and as we saw with Matt Birk. Experience and mental acumen matter. I'd like a proven free agent here (similar to the Birk signing). Alex Mack is unlikely but New Orleans' Brian de la Puente or Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith could probably be acquired at a reasonable price and anchor our line for years to come.
Jon (Lisbon, Md.): I don't think there's any doubt that offensive tackle is the biggest need. But the best free-agent OT is Monroe, and we don't seem to be willing to pay him the money that the Dolphins will offer him. When we didn't tag him, we basically said "good-bye" to him. Also, there's a good chance we can draft an OT that's as good as the lesser free-agent offensive tackles available. So, fill this need via draft.
Mike (Annapolis, Md.): Center has to be the priority. Watching the Ravens on offense, I hardly ever saw Joe Flacco step up into the throw without scrambling around. Gino Gradkowski was pushed back too often. On lateral run plays, penetration was usually made at the central part of the line. how many third- and fourth-and-shorts did the Ravens fail to convert? Gino is all heart; he's just not big enough for the job.
Jim (Taneytown, Md.): With free agency looming, do you think the Ravens should pursue Evan Dietrich-Smith from the Packers? It seems last year, even with a patchwork offensive line, we seemed to have some ability to block but it appeared to me they missed assignments. For comparison, look what happened to the Ravens when they signed Matt Birk and how the line performed (see: playoff wins and a Super Bowl).
Mike (Reisterstown, Md.): The priority is clearly offensive tackle. The Ravens have no one on the roster with more than one year of NFL experience at the position, and that player is Kelechi Osemele, who is currently slated to be their left guard in 2014. They need experience and skill at both tackles.While center is important, I think that if they are starting two new tackles in 2014, keeping Gino Gradkowski at center along with Osemele and Marshal Yanda at guard provides some measure of stability to the line. Hopefully, Matt Birk is right and the experience is all Gradkowski needs to improve his play.
Luke (Washington, DC): Center probably won't be the most popular choice, but I really believe the personnel loss that the Ravens suffered from most acutely last year was that of Matt Birk. I think most people can agree that our offensive woes this year started and ended with the offensive line, and losing an experienced capable center and replacing him with Gradkowski was a significant blow. Recognizing that the new offensive line scheme contributed to the problems and the amount of blown assignments this year in pass protection was just staggering. It seemed we didn't communicate effectively at all along the front line.
Ben (Afton, Va.): Tough decision here, I say offensive tackle is No. 1 over center. We need to protect Flacco in the passing game and maintain our blocks on the outside to help the run game. Although center is important for the run game, the OT helps prevent the box from being closed. You can gain yards if the defense is jumping around the line and instead of fighting through it. Have we forgotten about the off-tackle run? Plus, Flacco throws better being able to go through the full throwing motion. Wide receiver and free safety are important, but I feel signing a roster cut or draft may be the place we find a hidden gem.
Peter (New Orleans): It all starts with the offensive line, and on the line, the left tackle position is both crucial and a weak spot for the Ravens (depending on what happens with Eugene Monroe). Getting a receiver is also important, but there seems to be more depth there in both free agency and the draft. So the Ravens should prioritize the line (and particularly LT), since they may not have as many opportunities there as they do with the other positions.