Tag Archive | "Baltimore"

machado

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Orioles avoid arbitration with Machado, Britton, Tillman, Schoop

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Facing a 1 p.m. deadline on Friday to exchange salary figures with players eligible for arbitration, the Orioles came to terms on contracts with four key cogs to their success over the last few years.

Third baseman Manny Machado ($11.5 million), closer Zach Britton ($11.4 million), starting pitcher Chris Tillman ($10.05 million), and second baseman Jonathan Schoop ($3.475 million) all agreed to one-year deals for the 2017 season. Tillman is scheduled to become a free agent after the season while Machado and Britton remain under club control until the end of 2018. Schoop does not become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

After failing to come to terms, the Orioles exchanged salary figures with starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, reliever Brad Brach, and catcher Caleb Joseph. Multiple outlets have reported that the Orioles intend to take a “file-and-trial” approach with any unresolved cases, which would mean they would not negotiate any further with these players before arbitration hearings that would be scheduled for next month.

It comes as no surprise after they played such crucial parts in recent trips to the postseason, but Machado, Britton, Tillman, and Schoop will combine to command nearly $18 million more in salary than they did in 2016. That’s a major reason why the Orioles are projected to have a payroll well north of $150 million for the 2017 season.

Baltimore came to terms on one-year deals with utility infielder Ryan Flaherty ($1.8 million) and left-handed pitcher T.J. McFarland ($685,000) on Thursday.

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castillo

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Buffalo hires two assistants away from Ravens

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

On the same day senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman was hired to help revamp the running game, the Ravens said goodbye to two assistants from their coaching staff.

Offensive line coach Juan Castillo is leaving Baltimore after four seasons to become the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, who hired Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to be their new head coach earlier this week. McDermott is also hiring Ravens secondary coach Leslie Frazier to be his defensive coordinator.

Both Castillo and Frazier worked with McDermott in Philadelphia as part of Andy Reid’s staff. Ironically, it was Castillo who replaced McDermott as the Eagles defensive coordinator in 2011.

Despite a public endorsement from head coach John Harbaugh last week, Castillo’s influence moving forward appeared uncertain with the hiring of Roman, who specializes in the running game and uses man, gap, and zone concepts. Castillo is known for coaching more zone blocking and had struggled to establish a productive running game in three of his four seasons in charge of the Baltimore offensive line.

The Ravens finished 26th or worse in rushing yards in 2013, 2015, and 2016 and only saw dramatic improvement in the ground game when Gary Kubiak served as the offensive coordinator in 2014.

Frazier joined Harbaugh’s staff in 2016 and revamped a secondary that had dealt with chronic communication issues in past seasons. The Ravens finished ninth in the NFL in pass defense, and that included their dramatic struggles without top cornerback Jimmy Smith over the final four games of the season.

It remains unclear how the Ravens will proceed as they must now fill their quarterbacks coach, offensive line coach, and secondary coach positions. It was announced on Thursday that former tight ends coach Richard Angulo would become the assistant offensive line coach, but Harbaugh will likely need to make an outside hire to fill Castillo’s job.

Defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt was previously in charge of the secondary before Frazier was hired after the 2015 season, making it possible that he could assume more responsibility for 2017.

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roman

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Ravens hire Roman as senior offensive assistant, tight ends coach

Posted on 12 January 2017 by Luke Jones

After vowing to make creative additions to his staff, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh officially hired former Buffalo Bills and San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman on Thursday.

Roman will hold the official title of “senior offensive assistant” while also becoming the tight ends coach. After working with the tight ends the last two seasons, Richard Angulo will now become the assistant offensive line coach.

Baltimore believes Roman will help revamp a running game that ranked 28th in rushing yards and 21st in yards per carry.

“I do not think that we are going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times,” owner Steve Bisciotti said. “It is just not our identity, and I do not know how we got that far away from it. We did have some injuries on the [offensive] line in the middle of the year, and that may have skewed us the other way. But I want to run. I want to run the ball. I want to control the clock.”

The Ravens ran a franchise single-season low 367 times in 2016 after setting their previous low of 383 attempts under former offensive coordinator Marc Trestman in 2015. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-high 672 times while eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, but he ranked just 27th in the league at just 6.42 yards per attempt.

Despite being fired as Buffalo’s offensive coordinator in September, Roman orchestrated rushing attacks that ranked fourth or better in the NFL from 2012-2015. The 44-year-old spent six years coaching under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford (2009-2010) and in San Francisco (2011-2014), a reason why he had been rumored to join John Harbaugh’s staff since the end of the regular season.

“Getting a veteran coach like Greg Roman to join our staff is a coup for the Ravens,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “He is a very sound coach and a good team player who will help us build our offense.”

Roman previously spent time with the Ravens as an offensive line assistant in Brian Billick’s final two seasons as head coach in 2006 and 2007.

NOTES: The Bills announced Thursday that guard Richie Incognito will replace Ravens guard Marshal Yanda in this year’s Pro Bowl. Yanda was named to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl last month, but he will not play because of the left shoulder injury that forced him to move from right guard to left guard in November. … With the Chargers announcing their move to Los Angeles, Ravens safety Eric Weddle used his official Twitter account to offer his support to San Diego, the place where he played for the first nine seasons of his career. It’s no secret that the three-time Pro Bowl selection’s departure from the Chargers was a bitter one last winter. … The Ravens are now set to travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers in 2018 and the Rams in 2019.

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weddle

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How did Ravens defense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 12 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their defensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Earlier this week, we looked at the rankings for Baltimore’s offensive players.

Below is a look at where Ravens defensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

DE Timmy Jernigan
NFL1000 ranking: 17th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: 41st among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The 2014 second-round pick appeared on his way to a breakout year, but he had only one sack after Week 7 and recorded one tackle over his last four games combined.

DE Lawrence Guy
NFL1000 ranking: 42nd among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: 36th among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The 6-foot-4 lineman doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, but he’s good against the run and was a solid contributor in his first full year as a starter.

DE Brent Urban
NFL1000 ranking: 40th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 fourth-round pick saw only 150 defensive snaps this season, but his ratings suggest that more playing time should be in order in 2017.

DT Brandon Williams
NFL1000 ranking: 18th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 38th among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The fourth-year nose tackle saw more double teams and wasn’t as dominant as he was in 2015, but he is still on track to receive a strong payday as a free agent.

DT Michael Pierce
NFL1000 ranking: 31st among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 26th among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The rookie free agent from Samford was one of the good stories of 2016 and will likely step into a starting role if Williams signs elsewhere this offseason.

OLB Terrell Suggs
NFL1000 ranking: 17th among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 40th among edge defenders
Skinny: The 34-year-old played with a torn biceps for much of the season and is nearing the end of his career, but he still plays the run at a high level and remained Baltimore’s best pass rusher.

OLB Za’Darius Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 36th among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 93rd among edge defenders
Skinny: Instead of building on an encouraging rookie campaign, Smith struggled mightily against the run and managed only one sack in a disappointing season.

OLB Elvis Dumervil
NFL1000 ranking: 41st among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was limited to just three sacks in eight games after undergoing offseason Achilles surgery and could be a salary-cap casualty this offseason.

OLB Matt Judon
NFL1000 ranking: 42nd among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 83rd among edge defenders
Skinny: The Grand Valley State product flashed promise with four sacks in 308 defensive snaps, but the Ravens will be counting on him to show more consistency in 2017.

OLB Albert McClellan
NFL1000 ranking: 45th among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 99th among edge defenders
Skinny: McClellan sets the edge better than Smith or Judon, but the veteran is very limited as a pass rusher and in coverage and is better suited for his standout special-teams role of past years.

ILB C.J. Mosley
NFL1000 ranking: 11th
PFF ranking: 11th
Skinny: Selected to his second Pro Bowl in three years, Mosley bounced back from a shaky 2015 season and is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL.

ILB Zachary Orr
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 82nd
Skinny: Orr had some tackling issues from time to time and isn’t an effective blitzer, but PFF’s ranking appears to be way too low for the man who led the Ravens in tackles this season.

CB Jimmy Smith
NFL1000 ranking: seventh
PFF ranking: 48th
Skinny: The Ravens experienced dramatic drop-off without their top corner, but he’s now missed 22 games in his career and the injury bug always seems to bite when he’s playing his best football.

CB Tavon Young
NFL1000 ranking: 72nd
PFF ranking: 30th
Skinny: The truth probably lies somewhere in between these rankings, but the rookie fourth-rounder was a pleasant surprise and looks to be no worse than a quality slot cornerback moving forward.

CB Jerraud Powers
NFL1000 ranking: 90th
PFF ranking: 70th
Skinny: Powers wilted down the stretch in coverage and against the run, which will likely prompt the Ravens to look elsewhere for depth in 2017.

CB Shareece Wright
NFL1000 ranking: 116th
PFF ranking: 80th
Skinny: After arguably being the best Ravens defensive player on the field in Week 1, Wright lost all confidence and became a frustrating liability as the season progressed.

S Eric Weddle
NFL1000 ranking: sixth among strong safeties
PFF ranking: first among all safeties
Skinny: After three years of cycling safeties in and out of the lineup, the Ravens finally found high-quality stability in the back end of the defense with Weddle’s arrival in 2016.

S Lardarius Webb
NFL1000 ranking: 10th among free safeties
PFF ranking: 16th among all safeties
Skinny: His switch from cornerback made him one of the highest-paid safeties in the league, but Webb grew into his new position after a slow start and played well in the second half of the season.

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flacco

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Ravens need better from Flacco because there’s no alternative

Posted on 11 January 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti delivered the message that quarterback Joe Flacco must improve in 2017.

But that doesn’t mean an “or else” accompanied the declaration in the same way it might for head coach John Harbaugh or even general manager Ozzie Newsome after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in the last four years. Regardless of your feelings on the 10th-year quarterback, Flacco might have more job security than anyone in the organization over the next few years.

The salary-cap ramifications of his contract scheduled to run through the 2021 season make it pointless to discuss moving in a different direction at quarterback for at least two more seasons. Even cutting the soon-to-be 32-year-old after the 2018 campaign would leave $16 million in dead space on the 2019 cap.

You can try to find the next Dak Prescott on Day 3 of the 2017 draft if you’d like, but taking a quarterback any earlier only serves as a detriment to a roster needing more talent on both sides of the ball.

The Ravens’ best hope is that Flacco being another year removed from ACL reconstruction surgery on his left knee will pay major dividends in 2017. They want to see better footwork and crisper decision-making going through his progressions to improve upon a 6.42 yards per attempt average that ranked 27th in the NFL.

“We were better this year with Joe Flacco back in the lineup, but I certainly don’t think we saw the Joe Flacco that he’s capable of being,” Bisciotti said. “We’ve seen a better Joe Flacco in the past.”

Of course, Bisciotti and head coach John Harbaugh were very careful to add that the offense around Flacco needs to improve as well. The decision to retain offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been met with much criticism, but the hope is that he can utilize a full offseason to move further away from Marc Trestman’s complex system and to try to more closely replicate elements of Gary Kubiak’s West Coast attack in which Flacco thrived in 2014.

The final 11 games of the 2016 season as well as Mornhinweg’s body of work as the quarterbacks coach over the last two seasons don’t inspire confidence, but the thought of a sixth offensive coordinator in six seasons didn’t sound so great, either. Bisciotti noted that Flacco was happy with the decision to retain Mornhinweg, which seemingly puts more pressure on the quarterback to make it work with the incumbent.

Finding more balance with a successful running game would be a good start for everyone.

General manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed the need to add another wide receiver after the retirement of Steve Smith, but it remains unclear whether that will come through free agency, trade, or the draft. Baltimore must also address its offensive line by attempting to upgrade the center position and replacing free-agent right tackle Rick Wagner should he not be retained.

For now, the Ravens are saying 2017 will bring improvement because that’s all they can really do at this early stage of the offseason. It will be interesting seeing how much Newsome can realistically accomplish with only so much cap space and 2017 draft picks falling only in the middle of each round.

“Joe is going to be better next year,” Harbaugh said. “There is no doubt in my mind that he is going to be better next year, because he is going to be healthier, because we are going to have an offense in place that we all believe in, and we are going to work on it from Day 1 with our guys healthy in training camp.”

The quarterback who helped define the legacy of Harbaugh with a historic performance in the 2012 postseason will now be counted on more than ever to prolong the head coach’s tenure in Baltimore. Yes, the front office and coaching staff need to better hold up their end of the bargain, but you can’t expect to have All-Pro talent at every position around the guy who’s taking up roughly 15 percent of a team’s total cap, either.

Bisciotti hopes a healthy knee and a healthy mind will make all the difference for his high-priced quarterback who’s now facing more scrutiny than ever.

“Is the recovery from what everybody else says that they are not back completely, did that mess with his mind?” Bisciotti said. “Did that mess with his timing, his accuracy? I think it did. … I think that it really comes down to that Joe is going to have to prove that he is back and he is better.”

If Flacco doesn’t, we’ll likely see changes at this time next year.

And it would then be up to a new regime to try to make it work with the high-priced quarterback.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following season-ending press conference

Posted on 11 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With the annual “State of the Ravens” press conference having taken place on Tuesday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Steve Bisciotti acknowledged the “pitchforks” from the outside world and expects improvement, but he spent a great deal of time defending both Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh. The Ravens owner may not be happy, but he still trusts his guys — at least for now.

2. I’m nitpicking over semantics, but Newsome saying the Ravens need a “complementary” receiver is interesting when they don’t have a clear-cut primary one. I suppose they could technically label Mike Wallace as the No. 1 guy after a 1,000-yard season, but they need a very good “1a” then.

3. I fully agree with the Ravens’ desire to keep Terrell Suggs for the 2017 season. His $6.95 million salary cap figure isn’t outrageous, and the 34-year-old is still an above-average player who brings valuable leadership. The challenge will be providing him enough help at the position.

4. I wasn’t surprised to hear Elvis Dumervil’s uncertain status mentioned, but Shareece Wright can’t be feeling good about his future in Baltimore. You never want the owner mentioning you by name in saying you “set us back.” Ouch.

5. Asked about fans’ disenchantment with Harbaugh’s decision to retain Marty Mornhinweg, Bisciotti bluntly stated that his quarterback “seems happy with it.” That’s a fine endorsement, but Mornhinweg didn’t exactly net good results as Flacco’s quarterbacks coach the last two years, either.

6. The Ravens brass rightly pointed to the 2016 rookie class as reason for optimism. Another return similar to that in the 2017 draft will leave the roster in much better shape moving forward.

7. I didn’t think anyone could still defend the Anquan Boldin trade four years later, but Bisciotti went out of his way to mention it, saying the 2013 Ravens were no worse off with the players they were able to acquire as a result. Just admit you screwed up, guys.

8. I understand that the Ravens have made stadium improvements and haven’t raised ticket prices in four years, but Dick Cass couldn’t have felt good delivering the news of a likely increase for 2017 after missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade.

9. Bisciotti downplayed the notion that the Ravens need to get younger, but the proof will be in how many veterans become cap casualties this offseason. Dumervil, Dennis Pitta, and Lardarius Webb are still useful players, but they’re on the wrong side of 30 and expensive at their current salaries.

10. The Ravens owner using the word “bewilderment” to describe his feelings watching a once-strong defense falter late in the season was spot on. Bisciotti expressed confidence moving forward, but that’s an honest expression that should stick in the backs of the minds of Dean Pees and the defensive staff.

11. As it is the case every year, adding depth in the secondary is a priority, but the Ravens haven’t selected a cornerback in the first three rounds of the draft since 2011 and try to band-aid the problem with cheap veteran castoffs. You get what you pay for.

12. There’s a fine line between continuity and complacency. I respect Bisciotti’s conviction in believing in his guys, but much needs go right this offseason to convince me that this football team is truly moving in the right direction.

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juszczyk

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How did Ravens offense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their offensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

QB Joe Flacco
NFL1000 ranking: 27th
PFF ranking: 26th
Skinny: These kinds of sites have rarely been kind to the veteran over the years (Football Outsiders also ranked him 29th), but Flacco must be better in 2017 if the Ravens are to return to the playoffs.

RB Terrance West
NFL1000 ranking: 38th
PFF ranking: 12th
Skinny: West may not be a game-changing back, but he did enough to establish himself as a regular contributor in an NFL backfield after his career was at a crossroads just a year ago.

RB Kenneth Dixon
NFL1000 ranking: 39th
PFF ranking: 23rd
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick was trending upward late in the season and displays impressive toughness for a 212-pound back, making him the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

FB Kyle Juszczyk
NFL1000 ranking: first
PFF ranking: first
Skinny: You can debate how much value a fullback brings to an offense in today’s NFL, but there was apparently no arguing over who was the best all-around talent at the position in 2016.

WR Steve Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 37th
Skinny: The 37-year-old didn’t catch as many passes or finish with as many receiving yards as Mike Wallace, but replacing the retired Smith is clearly one of the top challenges of the offseason.

WR Mike Wallace
NFL1000 ranking: 24th
PFF ranking: 42nd
Skinny: The speedy Wallace profiles best as a No. 2 wideout, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more from the 30-year-old as he posted his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2011.

WR Breshad Perriman
NFL1000 ranking: 78th
PFF ranking: 88th
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick flashed at times, but these sites agree with the consensus opinion that the Ravens can’t count on the inconsistent Perriman to step into a starting role in 2017.

WR Kamar Aiken
NFL1000 ranking: 102nd
PFF ranking: 95th
Skinny: Targeted 77 fewer times than he was in 2015, Aiken didn’t receive enough opportunities, but he didn’t always take advantage of those chances, either, and is a likely departure via free agency.

TE Dennis Pitta
NFL1000 ranking: 16th
PFF ranking: 50th
Skinny: The fact that Pitta caught more passes than any tight end and was ranked so low by both outlets reflects a yards per catch (8.5) average that was 55th of 56 players with 60 or more receptions.

TE Crockett Gillmore
NFL1000 ranking: 45th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 third-round pick showed exciting potential in 2015, but he’s played in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of various injuries.

TE Darren Waller
NFL1000 ranking: 75th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens have quite an inventory of tight ends — all with baggage — but Waller has the most upside if the former receiver puts in the work and continues learning the finer points of the position.

TE Nick Boyle
NFL1000 ranking: 85th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Delaware product looks like a reliable blocker as a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end, but two performance-enhancing drug suspensions in two years make him difficult to trust in the long run.

LT Ronnie Stanley
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 25th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: A four-game absence due to a foot injury disrupted an encouraging rookie season, but Stanley allowed only one sack over his final eight games and made PFF’s top 25 players under age 25 list.

RT Rick Wagner
NFL1000 ranking: 21st among right tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: Wagner isn’t a Pro Bowl talent, but the Ravens would be wise to retain his rock-solid services if the free-agent bidding doesn’t get out of hand this offseason.

G Marshal Yanda
NFL1000 ranking: first among all guards
PFF ranking: first among all guards
Skinny: It’s amazing that Yanda continued to play at an elite level after a left shoulder injury eventually forced him to move from right guard to the left side, but he’s just a special player.

G Alex Lewis
NFL1000 ranking: 35th among all guards
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Switching between tackle and guard so frequently in the first half of the season hurt the rookie’s development, but Lewis was settling in nicely at left guard before his Week 10 ankle injury.

G Vladimir Ducasse
NFL1000 ranking: 47th among all guards
PFF ranking: 59th
Skinny: Re-signed to the roster in October, the 29-year-old played the way you’d realistically expect him to and shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than veteran depth if he were to be re-signed.

C Jeremy Zuttah
NFL1000 ranking: 26th
PFF ranking: 13th
Skinny: Though PFF graded Zuttah as a slightly above-average center in 2016, the Ravens believe upgrading this position is a major key to improving their below-average offense next season.

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antoniobrown

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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Orioles swap Gallardo for Seattle outfielder Seth Smith

Posted on 06 January 2017 by Luke Jones

With a crowded collection of ho-hum options for the back of the rotation and a need for a corner outfielder, the Orioles addressed both issues on Friday.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette traded veteran starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo and cash considerations to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder Seth Smith. The swap will reportedly save the Orioles around $4 million for the 2017 season while upgrading the roster, making it a good trade on paper.

Smith, 34, immediately becomes the favorite to start in right field and batted .249 with 16 home runs, 63 RBIs, and a .342 on-base percentage in 2016. He holds a career .344 OBP, a skill the Orioles clearly have been lacking in recent seasons.

He also wore out Baltimore pitching in 2016, going 10-for-28 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He is signed through the 2017 season and will make $7 million. He spent the last two seasons with the Mariners after previous stops in San Diego, Oakland, and Colorado.

“Seth Smith brings veteran leadership, experience, and an accomplished bat to the Orioles,” Duquette said in a statement. “We look forward to him contributing to the 2017 club.”

The left-handed hitter does not come without flaws, however, as he owns a career .594 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefty pitchers, making it clear that he needs to be matched with a platoon right-handed bat. Smith was worth minus-seven defensive runs saved in the Mariners outfield this past season, but he fared much better in right field than in left.

His addition would not prohibit the Orioles from still re-signing 2016 home run champion Mark Trumbo to serve as the full-time designated hitter.

The trade closes the book on Gallardo, who will go down as one of the worst signings of the Duquette era. After concerns rose about his right shoulder last February, Gallardo signed a two-year, $22 million contract that also required the Orioles to forfeit their 2016 first-round pick. The deal included a club option for the 2018 season worth $13 million with a $2 million buyout.

The 30-year-old right-hander spent two months on the disabled list and posted a 6-8 record with a 5.42 ERA. He walked a career-high 4.7 batters per nine innings and finished with a career-worst 1.59 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 118 innings, his lowest total since 2008.

His departure leaves a projected 2017 Opening Day rotation of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Wade Miley, and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Of course, this wouldn’t the first time the Orioles have felt good about a trade with the Mariners in recent years. They acquired Trumbo in exchange for backup catcher Steve Clevenger last winter and famously plucked Tillman and future All-Star center fielder Adam Jones from Seattle as the biggest pieces in the famous Erik Bedard trade nine years ago.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2017 class of free agents

Posted on 06 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens face another critical offseason on the heels of missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.

As has been the case on an annual basis, salary cap space will be an issue as the Ravens hold an estimated 2017 commitment of over $152 million to 52 players (not including free agents), according to Spotrac.com. The 2017 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $155.27 million in 2016 to at least the $163 million-to-$165 million range, which still leaves general manager Ozzie Newsome with some tough maneuvering to clear more space and add to a roster with obvious deficiencies.

Of course, the Ravens are likely to clear cap space by renegotiating or terminating several veteran contracts. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safeties Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis, cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Kyle Arrington, and tight ends Benjamin Watson and Dennis Pitta stand out as potential cap casualties.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 9 at 4 p.m.

WR Kamar Aiken – Steve Smith’s retirement would make Aiken a better fit to re-sign, but he was very unhappy with his role in 2016 and is more likely to move on at this point. 

G Vlad Ducasse – The veteran was re-signed to the 53-man roster in October and started the final eight games at right guard, but the Ravens will likely look younger and cheaper for depth.

S Matt Elam – It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens re-sign Elam to a cheap short-term deal, but that doesn’t prevent him from going down as the worst defensive first-round pick in team history.

DE Lawrence Guy – A reliable 5-technique defensive end, Guy wouldn’t figure to be in high demand, but the Ravens also have some younger options in Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi.

FB Kyle Juszczyk – Widely regarded as the best fullback in the NFL, the 2016 Pro Bowl selection will have other interest, but the Ravens will likely value him more than most teams.

DB Anthony Levine – One of the Ravens’ best special-teams players over the last four years, Levine is likely to be welcomed back on a cheap deal with a minimal guarantee.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris – The former Cincinnati Bengal saw little action on defense and will not be a priority, leaving him to likely explore his options elsewhere.

QB Ryan Mallett – The 28-year-old has been able to repair his reputation in Baltimore, but you would expect Mallett to explore other situations where he has a chance to compete for a starting job.

CB Jerraud Powers – The veteran corner had his moments early, but he struggled down the stretch and Tavon Young is a better fit to slide inside to defend the slot in the nickel package.

OT Rick Wagner – The 2013 fifth-round pick has been a rock-solid right tackle, but can the Ravens pay him $6 million to $7 million per season with so many other needs?

DT Brandon Williams – He’s their top free agent, but the Ravens’ collection of interior defensive linemen makes it tough to justify paying him lucrative money if the bidding gets out of hand.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender was offered to that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2017 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($3.635 million in 2016) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.553 million in 2016) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.671 million in 2016) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would simply hold the right to match the competing figure and would not receive any compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo the tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

S Marqueston Huff (fourth) – Given the Ravens’ lack of depth at safety, Huff could be re-signed to a cheaper one- or two-year deal to compete for a job in training camp.

OL James Hurst (undrafted) – The North Carolina product has fared poorly with many chances, but he’s a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo and could be re-signed on a minimum deal.

OL Ryan Jensen (sixth) – After starting three games in the first half of the season, Jensen appeared to fall out of favor and was inactive for the final nine weeks, leaving his future in question.

LB Zach Orr (undrafted) – One of the great stories of the 2016 season, the starting inside linebacker led the Ravens in tackles and would be a good bet to receive the second-round tender.

CB Jumal Rolle (undrafted) – Rolle tore his Achilles tendon in spring workouts, but Baltimore could sign him to a cheaper deal to take a look at him in organized team activities and training camp.

RB Terrance West (third) – The Towson product got his NFL career back on track with 774 rushing yards in 2016 and would be a good bet to receive the low tender as a former third-round pick.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are non-guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

LB Brennen Beyer – The Ravens rewarded the Michigan product with a late-season promotion to the 53-man roster, and he’ll compete for a roster spot next summer.

WR Michael Campanaro – The River Hill grad has clear ability, but health concerns make it impossible to envision a meaningful role for him until he proves he can stay on the field.

LB Lamar Louis – Signed to the roster in mid-December, Louis was inactive for three straight games and will compete for a roster spot in the spring and summer.

WR Chris Matthews – The Ravens love his 6-foot-5 frame, but Matthews spent the season on IR and will need to have a big offseason to try to secure a roster spot.

LB Patrick Onwuasor – He led the Ravens in special-teams tackles despite not being promoted to the active roster until October and is an interesting young player to watch next year.

CB Sheldon Price – The 6-foot-2 corner drew the start in Week 5 before injuring his biceps and being placed on IR and is a young talent to watch this spring and summer.

WR Keenan Reynolds – Baltimore promoted the former Navy star to the 53-man roster in Week 17 to avoid other teams coming after his services, but this offseason will be big for his development.

OT De’Ondre Wesley – The 6-foot-6, 326-pound lineman spent the 2016 campaign on IR and is a developmental tackle to keep an eye on next summer.

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