Should the Ravens surrender a compensatory pick to sign Justin Houston?

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Kevin Oestreicher
·4 min read
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The Baltimore Ravens have been linked to Justin Houston for a few years now, as they had interest in him before he ended up signing a two-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Now a free agent again in 2021, the Ravens have him in for a visit in hopes of getting to know him better and understand what he wants out of his next team. Houston is a talented pass rusher, but should the Ravens surrender the compensatory pick that it would take to sign him before the draft?

In short, the answer is yes. Houston would provide the Ravens with immediate pass rush, something that they don’t have a lot of on their roster right now. The trio of Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson have a combined 52 sacks in 15 seasons between the three. Houston has 97.5 sacks in his 10 years playing in the NFL, including a career-high 22 sacks in 2014. He still has plenty left in the tank, and would allow Baltimore to generate more pressure on quarterbacks without blitzing, something they have struggled to do at times in recent years.

If both parties are interested, signing Houston seems like a no-brainer for the Ravens. However, something that appears to be holding up Baltimore from singing any unrestricted free agent before the draft is the compensatory pick formula. The Ravens are currently in-line to receive two fourth-round picks from the departures of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. If the Ravens were to sign Houston, an unrestricted free agent, before May 3rd (which is when unrestricted free agents no longer negate compensatory picks), it would cancel out one of the two fourth-round picks they are currently slated to receive.

There have been a few reports signaling that Houston wants to sign before the draft, and others saying that Baltimore won’t sign another unrestricted free agent until after the May 3rd deadline. Maybe there will be a change of heart between either Houston or the Ravens, but at this point it looks like Houston will sign elsewhere before the draft, or Baltimore will have to give up a compensatory pick to add Houston.

Compensatory picks are important. Baltimore has utilized the strategy of compiling as many of them as possible for years, and it has paid off in multiple ways. Accumulating compensatory picks can help with draft night trades, player acquisitions, and having more swings in a draft to select impact players. However, despite all of the positives that compensatory picks bring, in the Ravens’ current situation, there are a few drawbacks.

Lamar Jackson is currently still on his rookie contract for two more years, including his fifth-year option. After that, Baltimore is going to have to sign him to a lucrative extension, somewhat hindering their ability to sign free agents. While Jackson is still on his rookie contract, the Ravens should be looking to add pieces to the team that can make an impact at positions of need, like Houston. While a fourth-round pick in 2022 would be a fine asset, Houston would bring Baltimore closer to a championship at this point in time, when Jackson still has a relatively low salary.

Another situation that could have implications on how much the Ravens are trying to win on Jackson’s rookie contract is the Orlando Brown Jr. dilemma that Baltimore is facing. Brown Jr. wants to play left tackle, but the Ravens can’t move him there, as Ronnie Stanley is one of the best left tackles in the league.

Brown Jr. and his party have been looking for trades, but it’s seeming less and less likely that he’s moved before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022. The Ravens could certainly get more value by trading him now as opposed to the 2023 third-round selection they’d most likely get for him leaving Baltimore as a free agent, but the team might feel like they have a better chance to win with him on the roster for one more season. If the Ravens truly do feel like they have a higher chance to win with Brown Jr. as opposed to draft picks, then it makes sense that they should feel that way about Houston too.

Overall, Houston would be a great addition to a Ravens defense that needs a pass rusher. He is a proven option, and with Baltimore looking at a massive extension for Lamar Jackson soon and a very competitive roster with the quarterback on his rookie deal, if it comes down to it they should surrender the compensatory pick and land an impact player.