Ravens roster analysis: Cornerbacks

Ravens roster analysis: Cornerbacks
February 26, 2013, 10:15 am
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The Ravens are rightfully basking in their Super Bowl victory, but behind the scenes, work on the 2013 season has already begun. The personnel staff has already spent countless hours scouting college players and Ravens brass has been at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff also must deal with free agency, the salary cap, and the enormous issue of Joe Flacco's contract status. Newsome made clear at the 'State of the Ravens' news conference after the season that the Ravens do not expect to restructure a lot of contracts as they did after the previous Super Bowl title. Translation: There is likely to be significant roster upheaval this offseason.

We’re taking a look at each Ravens position group to see who is likely to come back, who is likely to be gone, and what the ramifications are.

We've already looked at the offensive side of the ball -- links to all those units can be found here -- the defensive line and the linebackers. Now: The cornerbacks.

You can find more on the terminology (unrestricted vs. restricted free agents, etc.) here. Note that for this analysis, we look only at players who were on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve.

Unrestricted free agents: Chris Johnson, Cary Williams

Restricted free agents: None

Exclusive-rights free agents: None

Under contract: Chykie Brown, Corey Graham, Asa Jackson, Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb

The Ravens will need a healthy Lardarius Webb back this fall, because they aren't going to have Cary Williams.

Williams and safety Ed Reed were the only two defensive players to start every game this past season for the Ravens, but Williams is as good as gone. He and his team-high four interceptions are likely to command a high salary in free agency, and with Webb expected to return fully recovered from his torn ACL, with the emergence of Corey Graham and the late-season surge from Jimmy Smith, the Ravens aren't going to pay a lot to keep Williams. They simply have bigger needs elsewhere.

Webb, whose season was cut short after six games, figures to return to a starting cornerback spot, with Graham and Smith competing for the other spot.

There has been some speculation that if Reed doesn't return, the Ravens could look to Webb as a safety, a position he played in college. But if his knees are truly 100 percent, Webb is the Ravens' best cover corner and is excellent in run support on the perimeter.

Graham was one of the season's best surprises, shedding his former label as a special teamer with the Bears to evolve into a solid starting cornerback. Smith, who missed a month after sports hernia surgery, made a couple of huge plays in the playoffs -- including on the final goal-line stand at the Super Bowl. It's been a slow couple of years, but the Ravens hope Smith can finally reach the potential that made him a first-round draft pick in 2010.

Last year, the preseason battle for a starting corner job focused on Williams vs. Smith. This year, it figures to focus on Graham vs. Smith, with the loser becoming the top nickel back.

Chykie Brown and Chris Johnson also both worked into the roles as the nickel back, and Brown is still under contract. Johnson was signed midseason and appeared to jump Brown on the depth chart, but then was slowed by a thigh injury. He's a free agent now and will only return at the right price. Brown made the roster with his special teams play and now has considerable cornerback experience as well.

Asa Jackson made the team as a fifth-round draft pick but is coming off a frustrating rookie season. Jackson was a gameday inactive for the first 10 games, played briefly on special teams in three and then was suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, reportedly for the use of the prescription drug Adderall. With Williams and Johnson likely gone, there should be a roster spot for Jackson.