The Ravens’ offseason pursuits of offensive linemen, linebackers and wide receivers will occupy a lot of our attention over these next couple months. There are clear holes at those spots and general manager Ozzie Newsome has indicated that when it comes to upgrading the roster, those positions will be his priorities.
But there’s one situation flying somewhat under the radar on the Ravens’ offseason to-do list which the team will need to address one way or another this offseason, and that’s the safety spot.
Assuming Ed Reed does, in fact, return for the 2012 season (again, he’s yet to make that declaration either publicly or to team officials), the Ravens will have their starting safety duo in place.
Strong safety Bernard Pollard played well in 2011, and almost certainly earned both the $500,000 roster bonus he’s duo on March 23 as well as the $1.25 million he’s owed for the 2012 season. Pollard was a solid free agent pickup by Newsome last offseason and his talents mix well with those of Reed.
But both Reed and Pollard are set to become free agents after this upcoming season. Making the safety situation even more pressing, however, is that the Ravens’ top two reserve safeties - Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura - are both unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Zbikowski, a third-round pick in 2008, started 14 games for the Ravens over the last three seasons, including the first four contests in 2011. The Notre Dame product was bumped from the starting lineup by Pollard a quarter of the way through the season, however, and saw almost all his action on special teams the rest of the way out.
Nakamura, a sixth-round pick in ‘08, has become a valuable special teams player here in Baltimore, and he often worked his way on the field on defense as a dime back in passing situations.
Neither guy has potential to replace Reed or Pollard and play at an All-Pro level, but both have shown they can step in in a pinch and hold down the fort, so to speak.
The Ravens don’t have to make any decisions on their starting safeties at the moment, assuming Reed is willing to play another season. But they will need to decide how they want to manage their depth at the position.
If the Ravens feel that either Zbikowski or Nakamura are capable of handling one of the two starting safety jobs in 2013, they’ll need to pay up to ensure they have that guy on the roster this year. If they feel one or both are valuable enough as special teams players and insurance behind Reed/Pollard, again, they’ll need to prove it in contract negotiations.
Or, if the Ravens are ready to go another direction, they’ll have to draft or sign a couple safeties that can come in and lock down those backup jobs that Zbikowski and Nakamura have occupied these last four years. Two-year veteran Emanuel Cook will return next season and could be in play for one of those roles.
My guess is that Zbikowski would prefer to go somewhere where he can compete for a starting job, while Nakamura would be more receptive to returning to Charm City. Zbikowski has no ties to the Baltimore area (other than the tattoo of the downtown smokestacks on his side), while Nakamura likes the area and has a young family that he might prefer not to move.
Regardless, while the Ravens have bigger fish to fry over these next few months, the safety spots will need addressing as free agency and the draft approach, as well.