Traditionally, the Ravens have attacked the NFL Draft with their patented “best player available” strategy.
You rarely see general manager Ozzie Newsome reach to take a wide receiver just to fill a need when there are better options still on the board. You almost never see him draft a defensive back just because that might be the most convenient move given the makeup of the Ravens’ roster.
Newsome and the Ravens will go with the best player available almost every time.
But could that strategy change this year given the current NFL labor uncertainty? Could the Ravens’ needs play a bigger factor in their drafting this year than in years past?
Let me explain why it might.
Because of the pending lockout - which would put a freeze on player movement - the draft will precede free agency this year. Once the current collective bargaining agreement runs out on March 3, free agency will be put on hold, and the Ravens, as well as the other 31 teams around the league, won’t be able to talk to current NFL players until a new CBA is reached.
That could be sometime in March, it could be sometime in September. Hey, it could be in June of 2015. We just don’t know when a deal will be finalized, and neither do the teams.
That leaves the draft as the only sure way that teams can improve their roster and fill holes at certain positions.
So if you’re the Ravens, and you need a wide receiver, pass rusher and offensive lineman, you might be more likely to reach for a player at those positions this year.
You’re not sure if you’ll be able to snag an impact wide receiver in free agency, or find a proven offensive tackle at the right price on the free agent market. You don’t know if a veteran pass rusher who fits your system will be available once a new CBA is in place.
Of course, the draft isn’t a perfect solution, either. You don’t know how the players you select will transition to the pro game, and they won’t be allowed to start meeting with their positional coaches or learning your system until a CBA is finalized, which could significantly hinder their development.
But right now, the draft is the only sure thing NFL front offices have in front of them. And that might leave some teams - including the Ravens - looking for specific needs come April’s three-day session from Radio City Music Hall.