While those intentions aren't always realized for even the smartest talent evaluators, sometimes they strike gold in free agency without having to make a hefty investment.
That was the case for the
Without their contributions, the Ravens likely would not have advanced to Sunday's
During the Ravens' 38-35 double-overtime victory over the
Jones provided the Ravens' most exciting play, sprinting behind the Broncos' secondary for a 70-yard game-tying touchdown to send the game into overtime.
"The Ravens do an excellent job of finding guys that fit their system," said former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, now an
Newsome deflected credit for signings like Graham, Jones and Tucker, saying: "I think [director of pro personnel] Vince Newsome and [assistant director of pro personnel] Chad Alexander do a very good job in our pro personnel department."
But the signings of those three players have proven to be crucial considering the production they've generated and their importance to an injury-riddled roster.
Graham earned his shot
Without landing Graham for a two-year, $4.2 million contract that included a $1.2 million signing bonus, the Ravens could have been in serious jeopardy at cornerback.
Having already suffered a damaging blow to the secondary when top cover cornerback
Since that injury, Graham has established himself as a viable starting cornerback opposite
"Corey is just a great football player, and that's the thing," Ravens coach
Graham chose the Ravens over competing offers, making his decision largely based on assurances from Harbaugh that he would be given a legitimate opportunity to play cornerback after being typecast as a special-teams contributor in Chicago.
"I knew that it was a place that if showed what you can do, you will be out there," Graham said. "
"When you get the label of a special-teamer, it's tough to get that label off of you no matter what you do.
Graham has justified the Ravens' confidence in him, making 54 tackles during the regular season along with eight pass deflections and two interceptions.
He had eight tackles against the Broncos and deflected three passes.
"I like to think I can do a little bit of everything," Graham said. "I recognize routes really well. I like to think I'm physical. I can tackle really well. I'm a pretty savvy corner."
Graham laughed when asked if he's underrated, replying: "I don't mind being underrated, but you never want to be underpaid."
Against the Broncos, Graham shadowed
"Graham defines value," said former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah, now an NFL Network analyst. "He is the story of that bunch. He's been outstanding. When Webb got hurt, it could have been devastating. If you look at Chicago, their two corners [
"What sets the Ravens apart from other organizations is they excel in every area you can improve your roster. They don't take any phase lightly. They prepare meticulously and are exhaustive in preparation. They send a lot of scouts out on the road. They hit on some huge values this year."
Jones and Tucker were special
Cut by the Texans months after he lost a key fumble in the Ravens' AFC divisional-round playoff win last year, Jones emerged as the most dangerous return specialist in the NFL this season.
After signing for two years and $7 million, Jones earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl with had three touchdown returns, including a 108-yard kickoff return against the Dallas Cowboys that tied the NFL record for longest return. Jones led the NFL with a 30.7 kickoff return average.
His 63-yard punt return in a Nov. 18 game against the
"It's definitely a win-win situation," Jones said. "I think they knew what they were getting with me. I don't think they were surprised. I wasn't surprised. They gave me the opportunity, and it worked out."
So did signing Tucker, who agreed to a three-year, $1.44 million contract with minimum base salaries and no signing bonus after an impressive minicamp tryout. In training camp, he beat out former Pro Bowl kicker
Solidifying the kicking game for the Ravens, Tucker made 30 of 33 field goal attempts in the regular season and all 42 extra points.
"They hit huge on Tucker," Jeremiah said. "He's made so many clutch kicks."
If not for Cundiff faltering in the AFC championship and Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg traveling to Texas shortly before the
"It's been a perfect fit," Tucker said. "I'm having a blast. Getting this chance is a blessing in itself, and this is really a cool organization to be a part of.
"It has definitely been really fun. It's the reason you play the game is to be in big moments like this, to share these moments with all the people who have been on my journey, everyone in this locker room."
Three of the Ravens' biggest free agent acquisitions were relatively inexpensive. Here's a look at the production the AFC North champions got from three key contributors and how much they cost to sign:
Production: Three touchdown returns for Pro Bowler, including 108-yarder against Cowboys to tie NFL record for longest kickoff return. Led NFL with 30.7 kickoff return average; caught game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass against the Broncos.
Contract: Two years, $7 million, $1.8 million signing bonus; $1 million roster bonus due March 16.
Production: Intercepted Peyton Manning twice with one touchdown in AFC divisional round, had two interceptions in regular season with 54 tackles, eight pass deflections in eight starts.
Contract: Two years, $4.204 million, $1.2 million signing bonus.
Production: Connected on 30 of 33 on field goals, hit 47-yard game-winner in overtime against Broncos.
Contract: Three years, $1.44 million; minimum base salaries with no signing bonus.
-- Aaron Wilson