Baltimore Ravens, NFL Free Agency

Ravens releasing Tony Jefferson opens space for offense

The Baltimore Ravens released veteran safety Tony Jefferson on Friday, clearing cap space to use on offensive weapons for Lamar Jackson.

Baltimore has to still be smarting.

Going 14-2 and losing in the Divisional round to the Tennessee Titans as the AFC’s top seed and a double-digit favorite? Brutal. General manager Eric DeCosta likely hasn’t slept much in the past month. Now he’s putting his time into action.

On Friday, the Ravens released veteran safety Tony Jefferson after three years with the club. The move was brought on by a host of factors, including the emergence — and recent extension — of safety Chris Clark, the Week 5 torn ACL and a need for cap space. Baltimore saved $7 million by cutting Jefferson, giving it $31.4 million in projected room for free agency and the draft.

DeCosta is looking at the books and understands the reality. The Ravens have one more cheap year with MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson before he’s eligible for a monster extension. With Patrick Mahomes likely resetting the market with his extension this spring, Jackson could be looking at $40 million per year with another terrific campaign.

In short, DeCosta knows this is the time to load up on short-term veterans. The Kansas City Chiefs did so this year with Bashaud Breeland, Terrell Suggs and Emmanuel Ogbah. Those moves helped win them a Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.

The Ravens would be wise to employ the same strategy. And while Kansas City loaded up on defense — it’s previously weak link — Baltimore should be targeting playmakers on the perimeter for Jackson. After using his first-round pick last year on Hollywood Brown, DeCosta could aim to compliment his speed with Emmanuel Sanders or A.J. Green, two longtime AFC North stalwarts with a diverse route tree and perhaps one or two good years left in them.

In the Ravens’ loss to Tennessee, they were largely undone by Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees loading the box and daring Jackson’s receivers to win man-on-man. They couldn’t do it. Bringing in a respected receiver could back off aggressive schemes, giving Jackson a target who can win consistently while also lightening the front against him.

Jefferson is a good player, despite coming off a serious knee injury. He’ll draw plenty of interest.

But the Ravens were smart for letting him walk, provided they use their newfound money to upgrade the weakest part of their roster.

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