OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the Baltimore Ravens’ top priorities is to replace Eric Weddle.
The Ravens, though, may land a free-agent safety who sparks memories of another Pro Bowl safety from their past.
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In the year when Ed Reed will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu are the available safeties who best fit what Baltimore needs in the secondary. Thomas has drawn comparisons to Reed throughout his career because of his great range, and Mathieu has been linked to the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year because of his nose for the ball (they also share the same hometown of New Orleans).
After cutting Weddle on Wednesday, the Ravens are looking for a free safety who can patrol the center of the field, provide leadership and deliver game-changing plays. For that reason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Baltimore reach out to Thomas or Mathieu on Monday, the first day when teams can contact free agents.
Thomas, 30, has intercepted 28 passes and gone to six Pro Bowls in nine seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He always covered lots of ground in a one deep safety defense, which would allow Ravens safety Tony Jefferson to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
The concern with Thomas is durability. His left leg has been broken twice (in 2016 and 2018), and he has missed 19 games over the past three seasons. But this injury history could lead to a reduced price.
Mathieu, 27, is considered one of the top three safeties if he reaches free agency. The Houston Texans are looking to make a push to re-sign him, and Mathieu has expressed a desire to stay.
A healthy Earl Thomas could conjure memories of Ed Reed. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
A versatile defender, Mathieu can play cornerback or slot corner but he primarily lined up at free safety for the Texans. He broke up 49 passes in six seasons (only 13 interceptions) and has started 33 straight games.
While some teams might not place great value on safeties, the Ravens understand the significance of the position. Baltimore’s best defenses included Pro Bowl safeties, from Rod Woodson to Reed to Weddle.
What often gets overlooked is how Weddle stabilized the safety spot for Baltimore. After the Ravens parted ways with Reed following the 2012 Super Bowl season, they went through nine starting safeties over the next three seasons, from failed free-agent signings (Michael Huff, James Ihedigbo, Kendrick Lewis) to draft busts (Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks).
Weddle arrived in 2016 and immediately made the plays that the Ravens had struggled to produce without Reed. Weddle’s 10 interceptions in his first two seasons in Baltimore led all NFL safeties.
“Eric Weddle is just the consummate football player, the consummate leader,” coach John Harbaugh said a day after the Ravens released Weddle. “He will go down in history like that. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”
But Weddle didn’t make an interception last season and recorded only three passes defensed. The Ravens managed fewer than 13 interceptions for the third time in five seasons.
Now, the Ravens find themselves in the market for a safety again. Baltimore hopes it can hit on another free-agent safety like Weddle, or possibly sign someone with Reed-like qualities.