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Why Ravens are often methodical in free agency

The Baltimore Ravens have a need at safety, wide receiver and cornerback. Still, the Ravens aren't going to line up and throw money at Devin McCourty, Randall Cobb and Byron Maxwell.

The Ravens don't have the salary-cap room to be big spenders in free agency, and it's simply not the way this franchise has done business, especially over the past five years. This is a team that prefers to focus on signing its own free agents instead of ones from other teams because it's a sounder investment to give millions of guaranteed money to players you've known for four years. This is also a team that targets salary-cap casualties over unrestricted free agents (players who have finished out their contracts) because players who've been cut don't reduce the number of compensatory picks for the next year's draft.

Since 2010, the Ravens have signed 16 players from other teams in the first wave of free agency (first three months) and 12 of them have been cap casualties. During that same time, only one free agent (linebacker Elvis Dumervil) from another team has received more than $4 million in guaranteed money from the Ravens. Consider this: The Ravens have given a total of $29 million in guaranteed money to other teams' free agents over the past five offseasons, but they've invested a combined $93 million in guaranteed money to keep quarterback Joe Flacco, guard Marshal Yanda, tight end Dennis Pitta and linebacker Terrell Suggs over that same span.

When the Ravens bring in a free agent, it's typically someone who has been pushed into free agency because of a high cap number. The Ravens have found good value in signing cap casualties such as wide receiver Steve Smith, wide receiver-returner Jacoby Jones, tight end Owen Daniels, running back Justin Forsett and fullback Vonta Leach.

The four unrestricted free agents signed by the Ravens the past five offseasons are: running back Ricky Williams, cornerback Corey Graham, safety Sean Considine and safety Darian Stewart. Only Graham received more than $1 million in guaranteed money.

The fact that the Ravens have allowed a good number of their unrestricted free agents to sign elsewhere (such as Michael Oher, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Arthur Jones and Cary Williams) and they don't sign many UFAs has resulted in the most compensatory picks in the NFL. Since the league started awarding compensatory picks in 1994, the Ravens have received 41, which is eight more than any other team in the league. The Ravens have added the maximum number of comp picks in 2013 and 2014, and they're expected to receive three for the 2015 draft.

Compensatory picks have been just as big of a factor in the Ravens replenishing the talent that they've lost as free agency has been. The Ravens have had seven comp picks turn into starters or significant contributors: running back Chester Taylor, offensive tackles Tony Pashos and Rick Wagner, fullbacks Ovie Mughelli, Le'Ron McClain and Kyle Juszczyk and linebacker Pernell McPhee. When McPhee -- who is considered a top-15 free agent this offseason -- signs elsewhere, the Ravens could gain a third- or fourth-round compensatory pick in 2016.

The Ravens are so fixated on collecting the maximum number of comp picks that they will wait on signing unrestricted free agents until after June 1, when they don't count against the comp pick formula. They did this when they added quarterback Marc Bulger, kicker Shayne Graham and linebacker Daryl Smith.

With the Ravens expected to among the teams with the least amount of cap room, they are not expected to be very active in free agency. But being methodical and selective has become the Ravens' way. The Ravens signed only two players from other teams in March in 2012 and 2014, two seasons that resulted in playoff berths.

This has been a successful approach, although not always a popular one.

"We take some stress -- a lot of stress -- during free agency," general manager Ozzie Newsome said last year. "There are a lot of good players that sign with other teams, and we lose a lot of good players, but we maintain the patience. And we'll try to sort through other areas to get players."

Newsome's way of assembling talent has helped the Ravens to reach the postseason in six of the past seven seasons. Only the New England Patriots have won more games than the Ravens since 2008.

The Ravens have become a classic example of how teams that don't generate many headlines in March are often the ones who are playing in January.

Here is a look at the players from other teams signed by the Ravens in the first wave of free agency since 2010 (* -- unrestricted):

2010: WR Donte Stallworth, DE Cory Redding

2011: SS Bernard Pollard, RB Ricky Williams*, FB Vonta Leach

2012: WR-KR Jacoby Jones, CB Corey Graham*, S Sean Considine*

2013: DE Chris Canty, LB Elvis Dumervil, SS Michael Huff, DL Marcus Spears

2014: TE Owen Daniels, RB Justin Forsett, WR Steve Smith, SS Darian Stewart*