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Notes and observations from Ravens’ second week of OTAs

Posted on 02 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Ravens cornerback Tavon Young’s torn ACL Thursday was the latest reminder that the only substantial news to come from spring workouts is typically negative in nature.

Sure, many have gushed about how third-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman has looked this spring, but the significance of Young’s injury outweighs anything else happening on the field as players practice in helmets, jerseys, and shorts. Injuries can occur whether a player is participating in voluntary organized team activities or working out on his own, but you hate seeing an important member of the defense lost for the season several weeks before training camp even begins.

The silver lining is that this unfortunate development comes more than three months before the start of the regular season, giving the Ravens ample time to evaluate and figure out what they want to do at the nickel spot. Veteran Brandon Carr and first-round pick Marlon Humphrey are outside corners and wouldn’t appear to be suited to play inside, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Chris Hewitt have time to experiment with different alignments and evaluate young options like Maurice Canady, who had three interceptions in Thursday’s practice and showed some swagger playing with the first-team nickel defense after Young was helped off the field.

At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, Canady doesn’t look the part of a traditional slot corner, but his size would be useful inside if he can show the necessary footwork and quickness to stick with shiftier receivers. Of course, reserve safety and onetime cornerback Lardarius Webb may also fit into the nickel picture, but you’d like to be able to use him in deep center field if the Ravens have visions of being creative with new safety Tony Jefferson and using the dime package more often.

** Young wasn’t the only Ravens player to go down with an injury recently as wide receiver Michael Campanaro and defensive tackle Carl Davis were missing from Thursday’s practice.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, Campanaro will be out for “a little while” with a sprained toe. Harbaugh said that it wasn’t serious, but toe ailments are tricky for any player, let alone a slot receiver who relies on his sudden change of direction. It’s unfortunately the latest ailment for a talented player who has never been able to stay on the field for an extended period of time.

Davis, who lined up as the 3-technique defensive tackle with the starting defense last week, is dealing with a strained pectoral muscle, but Harbaugh said he will return to practice soon. In his absence, Michael Pierce was lining up at the nose with Brandon Williams moving to the 3-technique spot.

Cornerback Sheldon Price was helped inside after bumping his head during practice and was being evaluated for a concussion.

Others not participating in Thursday’s OTA included Webb, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Carlos Davis (lower leg), linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley (offseason shoulder surgery), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (offseason shoulder surgery) and Jarell Broxton, and tight ends Benjamin Watson (Achilles tendon), Max Williams (knee), and Darren Waller. Continuing to be held out of voluntary workouts, Suggs was once again in the building and has been a consistent presence in Owings Mills this spring.

** The starting offensive line displayed a new wrinkle as John Urschel worked at center and Ryan Jensen played right guard after their positions were flipped last week.

“Both of those guys are taking reps at center,” said Harbaugh, who noted that 2016 practice-squad member Matt Skura is also in the mix. “They are both going to have to play center and guard. Most of those guys inside do play all three positions. Marshal plays center. I do not know if you knew that, but he is kind of an emergency center.”

** It’s interesting to note that quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t been wearing his left knee brace in the two OTA workouts open to media after saying earlier this spring that he would continue wearing one. It may just be because these are non-contact workouts — though it’s not uncommon for an overzealous young lineman to forget that from time to time — but Flacco wore the brace for every practice that wasn’t a walk-through last season.

Thursday wasn’t the best day for the veteran signal-caller as he threw multiple interceptions. One did come on a pass bouncing off the hands of second-year wideout Chris Moore.

** Veteran running back Danny Woodhead had a good day as a receiver out of the backfield, making an impressive one-handed catch and showing good agility. The early reviews have been positive for a 32-year-old coming off a major knee injury, but durability will be a question as he’s played in just 21 games over the last three seasons.

** Lorenzo Taliaferro appears to be working exclusively as a fullback, which should help his cause to make the 53-man roster with so many tailbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. He and undrafted rookie fullback Ricky Ortiz worked off to the side from the running backs in individual drills Thursday.

** Perriman offered Humphrey a reminder of the speed he’ll see at the next level, beating the rookie cornerback inside on a slant for a short completion and blowing past the rest of the defense for a long touchdown.

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Five questions for start of Ravens organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now holding their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s workout to the media, below are five questions surrounding John Harbaugh’s team in late May:

1. What will the offensive line look like?

Many have said the Ravens are returning to their roots with such an offseason focus on improving their defense, but the accompanying thoughts of relying on the running game have come without any high-profile additions to an offensive line that no longer sports above-average right tackle Rick Wagner or center Jeremy Zuttah. Is John Urschel or Ryan Jensen even as good as Zuttah, let alone better? Is there a real solution at right tackle in a motley crew of candidates that includes James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, and Stephane Nembot? The biggest wild card could be where Alex Lewis ends up despite an internal belief at the end of last season that his best position was left guard. New senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris deserve the chance to leave their mark on this group, but you need a dominant offensive line to play ball-control football and the Ravens have a long way to go to prove they can have that kind of a group.

2. Are the front office and coaching staff really this confident in their wide receivers?

This offseason feels similar to 2013 when veteran Anquan Boldin was traded away for a sixth-round pick and nothing meaningful was done to replace him, leading to substantial problems for quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game. There is no shortage of speed with Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore, but who is going to be that short-to-intermediate receiver who moves the chains and makes tacklers miss like Steve Smith did over the last three seasons? With general manager Ozzie Newsome having not signed a free-agent wideout to this point and not taking one in last month’s draft, it’s become clear that the Ravens are counting on Perriman to live up to his first-round billing and Moore to emerge as another gem from last year’s impressive fourth-round haul. No matter how the likes of Perriman, Moore, and Michael Campanaro look practicing in shorts over the next few weeks, however, it remains almost inconceivable that the Ravens are again going down this path at this position.

3. How will new safety Tony Jefferson be used?

A four-year, $34 million contract is awfully rich for a traditional strong safety, so the bet here is that Jefferson will be deployed in a way unlike any other safety we’ve seen during defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ tenure. With the re-signing of veteran safety Lardarius Webb and the uncertainty at the weak-side inside linebacker spot due to the unfortunate retirement of Zach Orr, it makes sense for the Ravens to use the dime as their primary sub package with Jefferson essentially lining up as a hybrid linebacker in passing situations. His greatest strengths in Arizona were the ability to stop the run and to cover tight ends, which are critical responsibilities for a linebacker in a more conventional nickel alignment. Considering Webb played well in the second half of 2016 and will now be relegated to a part-time role, Jefferson needs to be a difference-making presence to justify the Ravens throwing him so much money that could have been used to address a below-average offense from a year ago.

4. Who steps into starting roles along the defensive line?

The Ravens have plenty of young options up front, but they will be replacing two starters in Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy who also served as useful interior rushers in passing situations. Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry will be vying for the starting 3-technique defensive tackle job previously held by Jernigan while 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley will compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for Guy’s old 5-technique defensive end spot. We’ve heard a lot about these names, but Pierce is the only one who saw extensive playing time a year ago and even he is only entering his second season. There isn’t a ton to take away from the non-contact nature of these spring practices, but it will be interesting to see who will be receiving the early reps with the first-team defense. The good news is that re-signed nose tackle Brandon Williams will be there to anchor the rest of a defensive line that will look quite different than it did in 2016.

5. Will Kamalei Correa begin living up to his second-round billing?

The Ravens passed on a few highly-touted prospects such as Myles Jack and Noah Spence to take Correa with the 42nd overall pick of the 2016 draft, making his rookie season that included only 48 defensive snaps that much more disappointing. With Orr having retired, the Ravens need someone to emerge as the starter in the base defense next to C.J. Mosley with Correa appearing to be the most logical candidate on paper. Outside opinions have been split on whether the Boise State product is better off playing inside or outside, but Newsome drafting edge defenders Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams last month signals where the Ravens stand in that debate. The coaching staff acknowledged that they may have put too much on Correa’s rookie plate by having him work at both inside and outside linebacker, but the Ravens need him to make a major leap in his second season or the groans from fans and media about another failed second-round pick will grow even louder. He has to at least begin looking the part this spring.

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Revamped Ravens defense better live up to expectations

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stayed true to their board, but that doesn’t change reality after going defense with their first four picks of the 2017 draft.

This is an unbalanced roster with the heaviest lifting of the offseason now in the books. Yes, general manager Ozzie Newsome reminded us again Saturday that the Ravens aren’t done building this year’s team, but there are only so many viable free agents still out there to move the meter in any meaningful way. Right now, Baltimore has a below-average offense that’s going to be difficult to improve dramatically without some substantial improvement from players already on the roster.

The Ravens may still add Nick Mangold or bring back Anquan Boldin, but there’s a reason why they’re still out there. They’re not “Plan A” guys anymore.

Of the seven Ravens players selected in the first three rounds over the last two drafts, just one — left tackle Ronnie Stanley — was an offensive player. It’s difficult to improve on that side of the ball if you’re not spending free-agent dollars or investing early draft picks, which will make life more difficult for quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as they will likely lean on unproven talent at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

Asked about the state of his offense after the first wave of free agency last month that included lucrative contracts for nose tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson and another deal for cornerback Brandon Carr, Newsome fairly pointed to the draft as the way to build the rest of the roster. But the Ravens came away with fourth-round guard prospect Nico Siragusa and fifth-round developmental right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor as their only picks for that side of the ball.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Ravens should have reached to draft offensive players purely out of need as they did appear to get good value with their picks, but the 2017 draft being so rich in defensive talent was a reason why the offense should have been a bigger focus in free agency. The outcome is an offense that’s lost a starting wide receiver, a starting right tackle, a starting center, and a Pro Bowl fullback and has netted only 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead and two Day 3 offensive linemen.

Which side of the ball had its coordinator fired again last year?

Like it or not, the Ravens prioritized building a great defense above anything else this offseason. The unit collapsed down the stretch in 2016, but the primary cause of that was the absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith as John Harbaugh’s team went 2-5 in games in which he missed meaningful time.

When Smith was on the field, the Ravens had a strong defense despite an underwhelming pass rush. And even with the resources used in both free agency and the draft to revamp the secondary and the pass rush, Smith’s availability remains arguably the biggest key for defensive success.

On paper, the Ravens defense does look better than the 2016 edition, but it will need to be great — possibly even special — to justify the use of so many resources and to make up for an offense with a ton of question marks. Taking that kind of a leap is no sure thing, especially in the modern NFL that is geared toward offense.

Will some combination of the pass-rushing group of Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams be ready to step up with Terrell Suggs set to turn 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster? Is first-round rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey going to be ready to play at a high level if Smith goes down again for some period of time? Can Kamalei Correa hold down the inside linebacker spot vacated by the retired Zach Orr? Will defensive coordinator Dean Pees use so many new pieces effectively and maximize their versatility?

The excitement for the defense is understandable with so much youth and potential at every level, but remember there isn’t a 25-year-old Ray Lewis leading this group before waxing nostalgic about replicating the 2000 Ravens. Even if we’re looking for a more contemporary comparison — it’s a different game than it was nearly two decades ago — the 2015 Denver Broncos had a generational talent in Von Miller and two 1,000-yard receivers on the other side of the ball.

A winning blueprint leaning so heavily on defense is very difficult to execute.

But it’s where the Ravens find themselves after free agency and the draft.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first wave of free agency

Posted on 14 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With the first wave of NFL free agency in the rear-view mirror, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the Ravens, each in 50 words or less:

1. Some may scoff at the emotion shown by Brandon Williams after signing a five-year, $52.5 million contract, but his right to maximize his earnings doesn’t mean staying in Baltimore wasn’t important to him. You could also see how happy general manager Ozzie Newsome was during Monday’s press conference.

2. Kudos to Williams for paying tribute to the late Clarence Brooks for his impact on the nose tackle’s career. The 28-year-old said the longtime defensive line coach saw everything that he could be and envisioned this happening for him one day. Brooks is definitely missed.

3. The addition of Tony Jefferson could really help in trying to replace linebacker Zach Orr. If the Ravens add a complementary third safety, defensive coordinator Dean Pees could use Jefferson as a dime in passing situations and minimize the need for a three-down linebacker, which is more difficult to find.

4. Major investments have been made in the defense, but you hope Newsome has more than couch change to address a Ravens offense that was summarily broken in 2016 and has lost key pieces. The hiring of Greg Roman will help the running game, but that only goes so far.

5. I’ll give the Ravens the benefit of the doubt at right tackle, but color me skeptical about wide receiver with free-agent options dwindling and prices having not been all that outrageous. Being underprepared at the position doomed Baltimore in 2013 and 2015, and you hope that odd-year trend doesn’t continue.

6. The Anthony Levine re-signing didn’t receive much attention, but losing the likes of Orr and fullback Kyle Juszczyk hurt the special teams and Levine has been a core contributor to Jerry Rosburg’s units.

7. I’m intrigued by the addition of the diminutive Danny Woodhead, who can do some of the things Juszczyk provided despite the obvious difference in size. The Ravens view Woodhead as a potential playmaker, but he’s also 32 and coming off major knee surgery, leaving some substantial unknown.

8. The fascination with free-agent cornerback Morris Claiborne is baffling with the former Dallas Cowboy missing 41 percent of games over his five-year career and having underperformed until 2016. Barring a cheap price tag — multiple teams are interested — this feels like a fool’s gold signing.

9. The Ravens loudly reconfirmed their longtime philosophy of being strong up the middle defensively with the financial commitments made to Williams and Jefferson, but I still wonder if that thinking needs to be adjusted in today’s NFL. Fortunately, this year’s draft is rich with edge rushers and cornerbacks.

10. He’s not a No. 1 receiver, but teams are sleeping on Kamar Aiken compared to some other receivers who’ve already signed. He wasn’t keen on returning to Baltimore at the end of 2016 after being underutilized, but the Ravens could do worse than bringing back their leading receiver from 2015.

11. The Ravens have had some players recruit free agents in the past, but you have to be impressed with the efforts of Eric Weddle after just one year with the organization. He’s one of those rare veterans whom you wish could have been a Raven for his entire career.

12. Lardarius Webb is a prime example of some of the tough luck the Ravens have experienced in recent years. He was Baltimore’s best defensive player in 2012 before suffering the second ACL injury of his career six months after signing a six-year, $50 million contract. He was never the same.

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Bisciotti call helped push Brandon Williams deal across finish line

Posted on 13 March 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked if trumping the massive deal awarded to New York Giants nose tackle Damon Harrison last year was his goal, Brandon Williams acknowledged reality before then trying to defer to his agency’s role in negotiating his five-year, $52.5 million contract with the Ravens.

He didn’t say it verbatim at his Monday press conference in Owings Mills, but the 28-year-old was aiming to become the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL.

“Obviously, it was a starting point, I guess,” said Williams of Harrison’s five-year, $46.25 million contract that included $24 million guaranteed. “You look at his deal, and I guess you kind of go from there.”

It’s hardly surprising, of course, but what was interesting was general manager Ozzie Newsome pulling back the curtain on the sequence of events that resulted in Williams ultimately receiving $27.5 million guaranteed. Newsome has often referenced Baltimore’s process of determining a value for a player and staying true to that final number during the negotiating process, but an audible was apparently called last week, a reflection of how badly the Ravens wanted to keep their fifth-year nose tackle and maintain their long-held desire to be strong up the middle defensively.

A Thursday morning conference call with owner Steve Bisciotti that included Newsome, team president Dick Cass, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and head coach John Harbaugh paved the way for the sides to get a deal done later that evening. Regardless of their many needs on both sides of the ball, the Ravens made it clear that they weren’t going to let their man get away.

“We came to a number [in January] that we felt like would be fair for Brandon and fair for us,” Newsome said. “But then, there is always an adjustment that has to happen based on, No. 1, how high the cap went, which went up $12 million [from 2016]. Then, [we considered] some of the deals that were made in the early part of the day and the early part of the week.

“Before the deal got completely done, I got another call from Steve early Thursday evening basically saying to me, ‘Do what you have to do to get the deal done.’ Having an owner like that really helps myself and [senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty] to be able to put together a deal that can keep good players on our football team.”

In the end, perhaps the owner couldn’t stand the thought of seeing another talented young player find big money somewhere else like guard Kelechi Osemele did a year ago, but his final call appeared to push negotiations across the finish line.

That revelation may provide some ammunition to those arguing that the Ravens overpaid to keep a run-stopping nose tackle, but we may never know whether another team was prepared to go as high as the Ravens did to sign Williams. Newsome reiterated on Monday that he’s comfortable with the organization’s remaining resources to address its many other needs, but only time will tell whether that proves to be the case.

For Williams, the lucrative deal brings the expectations of leading a young group of defensive linemen as well as living up to the title previously held by Harrison.

“He tweeted me out and said, ‘Good job. Looks like you’re the best now. See you on the field,'” Williams said. “Now, I’ve got to prove my worth, so I’m ready to do that.”

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Ravens re-sign nose tackle Brandon Williams to massive deal

Posted on 09 March 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens said that signing nose tackle Brandon Williams was a top priority and delivered on the declaration with a contract that makes him the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL.

With negotiations continuing through the official start of the free-agent signing period, the sides agreed to a five-year, $54 million contract with $27.5 million guaranteed on Thursday night. The deal easily exceeds the five-year, $46.25 million contract with $24 million guaranteed that the New York Giants awarded Damon Harrison in free agency a year ago.

Considered one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL since he became a starter in 2014, Williams collected 51 tackles, one sack, and one pass breakup while playing in all 16 games for the third year in a row this past season. He graded as the 39th-best interior line defender by Pro Football Focus and was 18th among defensive tackles in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings.

In 55 career games, Williams has amassed 156 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks, three forced fumbles, and three pass breakups.

A respected member of the locker room, the personable Williams became a fan favorite soon after he he was selected in the third round of the 2013 draft out of Missouri Southern State. The 6-foot-1, 340-pound nose tackle has also been very active in the community as he serves as a spokesman for the Maryland Food Bank, works closely with the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore, and has helped host the annual Goodwill Gridiron Halloween Party.

Williams becomes the first Ravens draft pick since cornerback Jimmy Smith from the 2011 draft to receive a long-term second contract with Baltimore.

It remains to be seen how such a lucrative payday for Williams might impact general manager Ozzie Newsome’s ability to make other improvements to a roster with a plethora of needs on both sides of the ball. The 2013 third-round pick has anchored a run defense that’s ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed in his three years as a starter, but he offers little as a pass rusher and the Ravens have consistently found defensive line talent through a variety of channels over the years. The roster also had several young options such as Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry who could have been asked to fill more meaningful roles had Williams departed and those resources been used elsewhere.

Having already signed safety Tony Jefferson to a four-year, $36 million contract earlier in the day, the Ravens will likely need to make more cuts to clear room on their salary cap and to try to address other needs. To this point, the Baltimore offense has lost starting right tackle Rick Wagner and Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk in free agency, gained veteran running back Danny Woodhead, and re-signed backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The Ravens also have an obvious need at wide receiver after the retirement of Steve Smith at the end of the season.

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All-too-quiet Ravens entering franchise-defining week

Posted on 06 March 2017 by Luke Jones

The silence from the Ravens has been almost eerie in recent weeks.

That’s not to say that general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office haven’t been hard at work behind the scenes, but the Ravens are playing their hand even closer to the vest than normal, which is saying something for a franchise that makes it a point to rarely pull back the curtain. Even the most logical of salary cap-related cuts have yet to be executed a few days before the start of the new league year, leaving outsiders to continue to speculate and wonder about the future of a franchise at a crossroads.

The Ravens haven’t missed the playoffs in three straight years in this millennium, which is both a testament to their success for the better part of two decades and a reflection of how their recent fortunes have veered south. Owner Steve Bisciotti has shown patience over the last couple years, but that can only go so far, quite possibly making this a franchise-defining week in one way or another for the Ravens.

Head coach John Harbaugh said in Indianapolis last week that there was no doubt in his mind that the Ravens will contend for a championship in 2017, but those words ring more hollow based on the amount of work that needs to be done to the roster this offseason.

The argument can be made for more substantial changes, but selling a youth movement to Harbaugh and the rest of a coaching staff that may be fighting for their jobs this coming season isn’t easy. Is Newsome willing to be bold with an aging roster that hasn’t been good enough or will we see moves more reflective of tweaking than major revamping? Has Bisciotti declared 2017 to be a playoff-or-bust campaign internally or has he assured and instructed the brass and coaching staff to do what’s best for the long-term viability of the franchise?

Improving from last year’s 8-8 campaign won’t be easy with limited cap space — they have just $13.801 million in space before tendering any of their restricted free agents or exclusive-rights players — and above-average contributors such as Brandon Williams, Rick Wagner, and Kyle Juszczyk poised to officially hit the free-agent market this week. Going all out to re-sign these players makes it more difficult to improve other roster weaknesses that need to be addressed, but losing them creates even more holes to fill.

We know Baltimore needs to have a home run of a draft in April, but several busts in the first few rounds in recent years have contributed to this current purgatory and have created a decreased level of confidence in a front office and scouting department that used to make their money through the draft. It’s true that the Ravens have only one losing season to their name since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but they also have just one winning campaign over that time, leaving them stuck in the middle.

Escaping the vice grip of mediocrity is the obvious goal, but the margin for error is small when you have one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL who hasn’t performed up to previous levels — no matter who’s at fault — in the last two years. Putting all the blame on Joe Flacco is unfair, but your franchise quarterback has to be much more of a solution than a concern, regardless of other variables at work. His renaissance would go a long way toward quelling concerns and minimizing other roster weaknesses.

Even without knowing how this offseason will play out, one can easily envision this week being a turning point for the franchise.

Some savvy additions and a strong draft could not only have the Ravens back in the playoffs in 2017, but such a haul could put them back on the road to being a Super Bowl contender sooner than later. A mediocre offseason, however, could all but seal the fate of figures who’ve been a key part of past glories.

The time for speculation is almost over after the extended silence in Owings Mills.

Now it’s time to see what the Ravens have up their sleeve to try to get back on track.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2017 class of free agents

Posted on 02 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Free agency will begin at 4 p.m. next Thursday, so it’s time to predict who stays and who leaves among the Ravens’ 11 unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents, and seven exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2017 salary cap will increase to a record-high $167 million, and the Ravens reportedly have just under $14 million in cap space before signing any of their restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players. Needless to say, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office still have work to do to clear room over the next several days, but no cap-saving cuts had been made as of Thursday afternoon.

The free-agent signing period officially begins on March 9, but the NFL permits teams to negotiate — without finalizing contracts — with the certified agents of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at noon on Tuesday. This means rumors and even reported agreements will begin surfacing well before the start of the official signing period.

It’s time to go on the record predicting which Baltimore free agents will stay and which ones will leave in the coming weeks. To see how I did last year, check out the 2016 free-agent forecast HERE.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

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

WR Kamar Aiken: LEAVES
Skinny: There probably would be more talk about the Ravens re-signing their leading receiver from 2015, but Aiken was unhappy with his role last year and has made clear his desire to hit the market.

G Vlad Ducasse: LEAVES
Skinny: The 29-year-old started the final eight games at right guard, but the Ravens need to go younger and cheaper for depth along the offensive line.

S Matt Elam: LEAVES
Skinny: Any small chance of a future with the Ravens vanished when Elam was arrested in Miami last Sunday, closing the book on the worst first-round pick in team history.

DE Lawrence Guy: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens have Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for the 5-technique spot, but neither is proven, making Guy’s return a real possibility if the market is cool for this underrated contributor.

FB Kyle Juszczyk: STAYS
Skinny: Fullbacks are making a bit of a comeback in terms of usage, but the Ravens still figure to value the 2016 Pro Bowl selection more than other potential suitors.

DB Anthony Levine: STAYS
Skinny: He brings limited value as a reserve in the secondary, but Levine has been one of the Ravens’ top special-teams contributors over the last four years and should be of minimal cost.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris: LEAVES
Skinny: Despite injuries and inconsistency plaguing the secondary down the stretch, Lewis-Harris saw just 16 defensive snaps and doesn’t appear to be a good bet to be re-signed.

QB Ryan Mallett: LEAVES
Skinny: After a little more than a year in Baltimore, Mallett has done a nice job rebuilding his professional reputation and will likely seek an opportunity elsewhere to compete for a starting job.

CB Jerraud Powers: LEAVES
Skinny: The slot corner had some good performances early in the 2016 season, but he struggled down the stretch and Tavon Young is the optimal fit as the inside guy in the nickel package.

OT Rick Wagner: LEAVES
Skinny: The Ravens would love to keep this above-average starter, but the shortage of quality offensive tackles in free agency and the draft will make his price too high for a team with so many other needs.

DT Brandon Williams: LEAVES
Skinny: Losing Williams would be a serious blow, but giving him a blank check at a spot where there’s depth and where the Ravens have consistently found talent feels unwise with the roster’s other flaws.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer the first-round tender (estimated at $3.91 million, per OverTheCap.com), the second-round tender (estimated $2.746 million), or the low tender ($1.797 million) to any of the following players, which gives them the right to match any offer sheet from another team or to receive that team’s draft choice matching the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. If the player originally went undrafted, it only provides the Ravens the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation should they decide not to match.

In lieu of the more expensive tender amounts, the Ravens have often offered cheaper one- or two-year contracts to role players in this category, but they risk exposing them to other potential suitors in free agency with this method.

WR Michael Campanaro: STAYS (low tender)
Skinny: Everyone sees what kind of ability the River Hill grad has, but it’s difficult to plan on him being a meaningful contributor with his history of injuries.

S Marqueston Huff: STAYS (cheaper one-year deal)
Skinny: Huff is a former fourth-round pick and carries enough intrigue to bring back to compete at a position that could be light if both Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis become cap casualties.

OL James Hurst: STAYS (cheaper one-year deal)
Skinny: The idea of keeping the maligned Hurst may not sit well with fans, but the Ravens will likely want to keep him around at least for depth in the spring and summer, especially if Wagner departs.

OL Ryan Jensen: STAYS (low tender)
Skinny: The former sixth-round pick has the toughness you like in a lineman, but he appeared to fall out of favor in the second half of last season, making what the Ravens decide to do here interesting.

CB Jumal Rolle: LEAVES
Skinny: It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Ravens bring him back for a look at some point, but the young cornerback must first prove he’s fully healthy after tearing his Achilles tendon last spring.

RB Terrance West: STAYS (low tender)
Skinny: Even if Kenneth Dixon has more upside, West established himself as a legitimate NFL running back last year and no team will be willing to part with a third-round pick in order to sign him.

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have two or fewer accrued seasons in the league and own no negotiating rights. In order for the Ravens to retain the rights to these players, they must tender contracts at the league minimum based on the player’s service time in the NFL. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights players since these contracts are cheap and not guaranteed for the 2017 season.

LB Brennen Beyer: STAYS
Skinny: Baltimore rewarded the former rookie free agent from Michigan with a roster spot late last season, but he will need to compete for a job on the 53-man roster this year.

LB Lamar Louis: STAYS
Skinny: Signed late last season, the LSU product will compete for a roster spot and a role on special-teams this spring and summer.

WR Chris Matthews: STAYS
Skinny: The 6-foot-5 target was a forgotten man after spending all of last season on injured reserve, but it’s no secret that the wide receiver position is lacking depth at this point.

LB Patrick Onwuasor: STAYS
Skinny: Listed at just 217 pounds, Onwuasor doesn’t look like a strong candidate to become a starting inside linebacker, but he led the Ravens in special-teams tackles as a rookie, making him one to watch.

CB Sheldon Price: STAYS
Skinny: The 6-foot-2 defensive back was on the cusp of getting a real opportunity to play in the secondary before getting hurt early in his first NFL start in early October.

WR Keenan Reynolds: STAYS
Skinny: The former Navy quarterback was promoted to the 53-man roster in Week 17, but this is a huge offseason for him to make meaningful strides as a receiver and return specialist.

OT De’Ondre Wesley: STAYS
Skinny: After spending all of last year on IR and appearing in seven games as a rookie in 2015, the 6-foot-6, 326-pound lineman is a name to monitor if Wagner does leave via free agency.

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wallace

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Harbaugh planning to have Wallace back with Ravens

Posted on 01 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Of the many names considered to be potential salary-cap casualties this offseason, wide receiver Mike Wallace has largely been viewed as the veteran the Ravens most need to retain.

With Steve Smith now retired and Kamar Aiken likely to depart via free agency, Baltimore has little experience behind Wallace on its current wide receiver depth chart. And while his $8 million cap figure for 2017 isn’t exactly cheap, an organization that’s frequently struggled at the receiver position shouldn’t be quick to part ways with a 1,000-yard receiver who will only turn 31 in August.

Speaking to reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday, head coach John Harbaugh didn’t confirm that the Ravens would be picking up their 2017 option on the speedy veteran, but he made it clear what his preference is.

“Mike Wallace was a big, integral part of our team last year,” Harbaugh said. “Mike Wallace is a topflight competitor. Mike Wallace is a guy that has a chip on his shoulder. That’s what you love about him. The guy wants to compete, he wants to be great, and he works that way, so I want Mike Wallace on our football team.

“Circumstances, contracts, salary cap — all that — are another conversation that you have about every single guy, but my anticipation is that Mike Wallace will be a part of our team. I know he’s working to be a part of our team, and I’m planning to have him back next year.”

Wallace caught 72 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns, but his production faded in the second half of the season as he recorded just 24 catches for 282 yards over the final six games. The six-foot receiver did not record a 100-yard game or catch a touchdown over the last eight contests as quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing attack struggled to push the ball down the field.

The Ravens must exercise their $4.75 million option for Wallace by the end of the league year next week or he would become a free agent. Should they use that option, Wallace would then be owed a $1 million option bonus a few days later.

It remains unclear whether general manager Ozzie Newsome intends to use the option or is attempting to work out a contract extension that would presumably lower Wallace’s cap figure and keep him beyond 2017. As for the other candidates to be cap casualties, Harbaugh wasn’t giving anything away despite the start of free agency being just over a week away.

“We’re bringing everybody back until we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “I think circumstances dictate that, so every one of those guys is in a little bit of a different position and different story.”

NOTES: Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens would not be applying the franchise tag to nose tackle Brandon Williams or any of their other pending free agents. However, the organization remains in talks to re-sign him as well as right tackle Rick Wagner and Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk. … The Ravens have had discussions about re-signing backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, but they could also look to the draft to fill that need, according to Harbaugh. … Despite missing the postseason for the third time in four years and entering the offseason with a plethora of needs, Harbaugh expressed confidence that the Ravens will be back to playing at a high level in 2017. “I know we can be a great football team. There’s no doubt in my mind we will contend for a championship next year.”

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pitta

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Ravens shouldn’t fret about making substantial changes

Posted on 22 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency just two weeks away, we all know which Ravens players stand out as potential salary-cap casualties by now.

A few are easy calls while others have accomplished plenty in their NFL careers and are fan favorites. Most are over the age of 30, which is when you need to ask whether you’re paying too much for what a player used to be rather than what he is today.

After missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years and lacking difference-making talent atop the roster, what is the realistic goal for 2017? Is the Ravens brass aiming to improve just enough to sneak into the playoffs to avoid being fired — a perceived ultimatum that exists at least in the minds of many outsiders — or is the organization focused on building its next championship team? Of course, incremental improvement and eyeing the long term aren’t mutually exclusive, but these two ideas may offer different viewpoints of the following veterans with questionable cap figures for 2017.

2017 cap figure Pre-June 1 cut savings 2017 dead money
CB Kyle Arrington $2.767M $2.1M $667K
LB Elvis Dumervil $8.375M $6M $2.375M
S Kendrick Lewis $2.267M $1.8M $467K
TE Dennis Pitta $7.7M $3.3M $4.4M
WR Mike Wallace $8M $5.75M $2.25M
TE Benjamin Watson $4M $3M $1M
S Lardarius Webb $7.5M $5.5M $2M
CB Shareece Wright $5.33M $2.667M $2.667M
C Jeremy Zuttah $4.607M $2.393M $2.214M

How many of these potential cap casualties can you envision being as good as or better than they were in 2016? Which of these talents are instrumental to the next championship-caliber team?

With the retirement of Steve Smith and the lack of other established talent at wide receiver on the current roster, cutting Wallace would be a tough pill to swallow without knowing what’s to come in free agency and the draft and also acknowledging the organization’s poor track record at the position. The rest of the players on the list have different degrees of remaining value, but it’d be difficult to say any would be terribly difficult to replace when factoring in either the cost to retain them or the depth at their positions — or even both.

It’s no secret how dependent the Ravens have been on older players the last couple seasons, which is fine when on the cusp of a championship like they were five years ago. But continuing down the same road with a group that’s proven to not be good enough seems counterintuitive when you’re in need of game-changing talent and more cap space. Some of the best teams in franchise history had obvious flaws and positions of weakness, but they had enough playmakers capable of masking them.

Cleaning house doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome should be hellbent on spending lucrative money on free agents just for the sake of doing it. But if cutting Webb and Pitta means the Ravens can have a healthier cap to go sign an established talent like Pierre Garcon, I’ll take my chances leaning on more youth at those other positions. The same even goes for the tipping point in trying to re-sign a free agent such as Brandon Williams, who is a very good player but plays a position at which the Ravens have consistently found talent over the years.

This roster has many needs and very few free agents or potential cap cuts who are indispensable. The known is more comfortable than the unknown, but the Ravens can’t afford to be in love with their own ingredients when the recipe just hasn’t added up in recent years.

To be clear, adding dynamic playmakers to the roster is easier said than done, no matter how much pundits have hammered the Ravens about it over the last few years. It often involves luck as much as anything else, evident by the fact that Baltimore had two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — fall late into the first round in the franchise’s first seven drafts. The Ravens are certainly aiming to find a few playmakers in this April’s draft, but they will still hope that a Kenneth Dixon takes a giant leap like Ray Rice did in his second year or that a Breshad Perriman finally takes off in his third season.

Still, the idea shouldn’t be to spend to the cap on an OK collection of veterans in the meantime. Focusing on more of a youth movement might result in some early 2017 pains, but it can yield more meaningful future gains than retaining veterans with steep price tags and rapidly-approaching expiration dates.

You either have something special or you need to be building something special.

The Ravens have been stuck in between for too long now.

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