Tag Archive | "Brandon Williams"

jefferson

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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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brandonwilliams

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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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brandonwilliams

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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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ozzie

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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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bwilliams

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Ravens face tough decision with Brandon Williams

Posted on 08 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens want Brandon Williams back, and the nose tackle would prefer to stay in Baltimore.

If only it were that simple.

Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta made it clear at the Senior Bowl last month that re-signing Williams is “a really important part of the puzzle” for the Ravens’ offseason. The fifth-year defensive lineman knows his worth — DeCosta offered him a reminder of that — but he says he won’t automatically go to the highest bidder in free agency, either.

“When you’re in Baltimore, you know what you’re getting,” Williams told WNST.net in Houston last week. “You know who you’re getting, you know who you’re dealing with, you know who your teammates are, you know who your coaches are. Going to a new team, new scheme, new plays, new playbooks, not knowing really what to expect over here. If it’s close enough to where I have to make that decision — where it comes down to that decision — I’m staying in Baltimore.

“I like Baltimore, my family is in Baltimore, my son is going to school [there], and stuff like that. I would pick that — if it’s close. If that’s the factor that makes or breaks the decision, then I’ll stay in Baltimore if it’s close.”

But where is the tipping point for each side?

Considered one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, Williams will presumably attempt to use the five-year, $46.25 million deal — $24 million of it guaranteed — the New York Giants awarded Damon Harrison last offseason as a baseline, especially with the salary cap expected to rise again in 2017. Turning 28 later this month, Williams is unlikely to have another chance for a lucrative payday and is only a month away from having other teams vying for his services. The 2013 third-round pick didn’t imply last week that contract talks with the Ravens were ongoing, but that could certainly change at any moment.

On the flip side, how should the Ravens value Williams, who has not only been strong on the field but has been a high-character guy in the locker room and active in the community?

The beefy nose tackle is a very good player and has been a linchpin of the run defense, but the Ravens have also gone 13-19 over the last two seasons and must address a plethora of needs this winter. Giving Williams north of a $50 million contract would undoubtedly hinder the ability to improve other areas of the roster that haven’t been good enough.

If the Ravens were to lose Williams, would adding another defensive tackle even become their top priority when young options such as Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry are waiting in the wings? It’s not ideal to weaken one of the roster’s biggest strengths, but Baltimore has shown a consistent ability to find talent on the defensive line through a variety of channels over the years with the undrafted Pierce being the latest example last season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t invested big money in a defensive tackle since 2011 when he signed Haloti Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract, but he was a better all-around player on a championship-caliber roster at the time. Losing Williams would definitely hurt, but exhausting too many resources to keep him could hurt a roster in need of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

When mired in mediocrity for the better part of four years, you can’t be afraid to be bold, which sometimes means taking a hit in the short term. If letting go of the talented nose tackle means the Ravens can bring in a high-impact wide receiver or cornerback, it’s worth it in the long run.

Williams is deserving of a big payday, but the Ravens doing whatever it takes to keep him isn’t going to magically get them over the hump in 2017. You can’t afford to be in love with your own players when your roster is in need of more than just subtle tweaks and there’s only so much salary-cap space to go around.

That’s why a deal may not make sense for either side in the end.

Even when they both want it.

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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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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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