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Gillmore, Canady new absences at Ravens training camp

Posted on 29 July 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As quarterback Joe Flacco missed his third straight practice with a back issue, the Ravens had two new absences as they took the field on Saturday.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore and cornerback Maurice Canady did not participate in the first full-pad workout of training camp, joining Flacco and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (toe) on the sideline. Gillmore left in the final minutes of Friday’s session with what appeared to be a right leg injury, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t have an update on his condition after that workout and wasn’t available to media on Saturday. It remains unclear why Canady didn’t practice after he was a full participant the day before.

The Ravens will hope it’s only a brief absence for Canady, who emerged in the spring as the early favorite to be the nickel corner after second-year cornerback Tavon Young suffered a season-ending knee injury. In Canady’s absence, veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb was defending the slot for the first-team defense.

As you’d expect, it’s been a rough start for the offense without Flacco under center. In addition to the countless turnovers and difficulty moving the ball, the unit had an embarrassing moment when quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Terrance West, and motioning wide receiver Mike Wallace all collided in the backfield on a run play.

For now, the offensive coaching staff is taking its situation in stride while Flacco recovers.

“He’s getting himself right in the training room with [head athletic trainer Mark Smith], the staff, and all those doctors and things,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We’ll get him back out here at some point. In the meantime, we get our work done. We get our timing down. It’s a great opportunity for the other fellows.”

Mallett did improve somewhat from Friday’s brutal showing that included several interceptions, but he was still picked off by safeties Eric Weddle and Chuck Clark on Saturday. Weddle also intercepted Dustin Vaughan during another 11-on-11 period.

The four-time Pro Bowl safety wasn’t the only defensive standout as rookie Tim Williams soundly beat starting tackles Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst as well as reserve Stephane Nembot in isolated pass-rush drills. The third-round pick from Alabama has shown good burst out of his stance and is a candidate to serve as a situational pass rusher in his first NFL season.

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2017 Ravens training camp preview: Safeties

Posted on 25 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning this week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2017 Ravens every day as they aim to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

Quarterbacks
Defensive line
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Linebackers
Tight ends

SAFETIES

Projected depth chart:
FS – Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Otha Foster
SS – Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark

Why to be impressed: Weddle was the NFL’s highest-graded safety in the Pro Football Focus rankings while veteran newcomer Jefferson ranked fifth, giving the Ravens one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. The depth is also strong at this position as Webb was re-signed to a team-friendly deal and Levine, a special-teams standout, has the ability to play safety or cornerback in a pinch on game days.

Why to be concerned: The Ravens have invested a significant long-term contract in a safety in each of the last two offseasons, but neither Weddle nor Jefferson fits the mold of a ball-hawking safety. And though Weddle has shown good durability throughout his career, two of Baltimore’s top three safeties — Webb being the other — are over the age of 30.

2017 outlook: The Ravens will be looking for Jefferson to make a major impact, and much of that will depend on how he’s used as he’s particularly skilled playing the run and covering tight ends. Weddle’s cerebral presence last year immediately cleaned up the communication issues that had plagued the secondary in previous seasons, and his value stretches beyond his strong on-field production.

Prediction: The Ravens will send a safety to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season as Jefferson will receive the nod playing in a town where the defense receives much of the attention.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to training camp

Posted on 14 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of Ravens training camp now less than two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The addition of Brian Billick to the preseason broadcast team is a good move and the latest step that should lead to his induction into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor. Nearly a decade after his dismissal, it’s time for the Super Bowl XXXV champion coach to be recognized.

2. Darren Waller was hardly a sure thing to become a major contributor in 2017, but he brought the most athleticism of any tight end on the roster. I’m concerned with this group, especially if Maxx Williams’ return from knee surgery doesn’t go smoothly.

3. I wish Zach Orr nothing but the best in his attempt to play football again, but his claim late last month that he’d taken the advice of only one doctor to retire completely contradicted his comments in January and made the Ravens look bad. That wasn’t a good look.

4. The hiring of Greg Roman has probably been undersold with much of the criticism and concern expressed for the offensive line, but he also had Pro Bowl running backs Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy at his previous stops. He’ll have a chance to cement his genius with this offensive personnel.

5. Lorenzo Taliaferro could have the opportunity to be a meaningful offensive piece, especially early in the season with Kenneth Dixon’s suspension. A Le’Ron McClain-type role at fullback wouldn’t be out of the question, but he must first prove he can stay on the field.

6. The hype for the defensive backfield is through the roof, but the re-installation of Chris Hewitt as secondary coach is worth monitoring. The talent wasn’t as good when he was in charge in 2015, but communication was a total mess. Of course, the cerebral Eric Weddle should alleviate that concern.

7. This will mark the third straight summer in which Jerry Rosburg will field questions about the return specialist job. I understand the desire not to have a one-trick pony filling the role — Devin Hester didn’t work out anyway — but this offense needs all the field position it can get.

8. Brandon Williams is a beast and Michael Pierce impressed as a rookie, but the Ravens need several unknowns to fill larger roles on the defensive line. Stopping the run shouldn’t be a problem, but the pass rush is a different story with interior rushers Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy gone.

9. The addition of Jeremy Maclin certainly helps, but it’s still tough to feel dramatically better about this offense than last year’s group. Despite the efforts of some to skew the narrative, the defensive struggles late in 2016 shouldn’t mask how inadequate the offense was all year.

10. Breshad Perriman’s development may not be as critical for 2017 with Maclin’s addition, but he needs to play well enough to look like a slam-dunk starter for 2018. As we recently witnessed with Matt Elam, it can take years — and many dollars — to recover from a first-round bust.

11. This is a pivotal time for Joe Flacco. A poor season from the 32-year-old could cost people jobs and bring a new coaching regime that wouldn’t be as invested in him. His contract makes him bulletproof through 2018, but he must be better than he’s been the last two years.

12. My final thought isn’t on the Ravens, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their old foe Peyton Manning host the ESPY Awards, a show I hadn’t watched in years. I never would have imagined that kind of comedic timing watching the often-robotic quarterback work early in his career.

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Suggs remains strong presence in new era for Ravens defense

Posted on 16 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rookie second-round outside linebacker Tyus Bowser was 7 years old when the Ravens selected Terrell Suggs with the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft.

First-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey was 6.

Having years ago referred to former teammate and soon-to-be Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis as Mufasa — a reference to the sage leader of the Pride Lands in “The Lion King” — Suggs understands he’s the last of his kind and he’s embraced that, even referring to himself as the Darth Vader of a new era.

“I like having fun with the younger guys,” said the 34-year-old, now entering his 15th season in the NFL. “They tell me how old they are, and I’m like, ‘Holy s–t.’ It’s weird, but I like it. It feels good.”

This spring was different for Suggs, who had always skipped the voluntary offseason workout program in the past and would work out on his own before showing up for mandatory minicamp in June. His weight and conditioning levels varied from year to year, sometimes sparking criticism when he wasn’t in the best of shape.

But after hearing rave reviews from those teammates who worked with Ravens director of performance Steve Saunders last offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl selection elected to give it a try. Having gone through spring workouts in Owings Mills — head coach John Harbaugh chose to hold him out of the voluntary spring practices open to the media — Suggs says he hasn’t felt this good in June in many years.

“It’s funny seeing him die in workouts and doing the running, lifting,” said safety Eric Weddle, who was one of the first to embrace Saunders’ rigorous methods. “It’s great for him. I think he knows that at this point in his career, he needs to be in the best shape of his life. He needs to be as strong as he can so he can get through the season. We need him.”

Suggs enjoyed a fine 2016 in his return from the second Achilles tendon tear of his career — especially considering he played with a torn biceps for much of the season — but his eight sacks marked his lowest total in a year not substantially abbreviated by injuries since 2009. He may no longer stand among the elite defensive players in the NFL, but the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year is still an above-average starting linebacker who plays the run very well and can conjure up a big play in a critical spot.

His boisterous behavior is evident at practices when he’s hooting and hollering at someone or taking owner Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart for a joyride on his way out to the back fields at the team facility, but Suggs does much more than keep the mood light in the locker room and in the huddle. Having learned from obsessive students of the game like Lewis and nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed early in his career, Suggs is constantly praised by those who know him best for his football intellect.

The Ravens hope he continues passing down those lessons to young players such as Bowser, 2016 fifth-round pick Matt Judon, and fourth-round rookie Tim Williams to rebuild a pass rush that had markedly declined over the last couple years.

“You can really tell a difference in our types of practice when he is here and when he is not here,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who added that Suggs looks like he’s 25 years old again. “It’s more fun for me when he is here, too. But when it is time to be serious, there’s nobody more serious. There is really nobody smarter on this defensive football team than Terrell Suggs.”

Suggs was noncommittal when asked how much longer he hopes to play or whether he has any visions of trying to match Lewis’ 17 years with the Ravens, but he made it clear that he doesn’t feel like it’s his time to “cross that bridge” to retirement yet. His contract runs through 2018 and is scheduled to pay him $4 million in base salary for each of the next two years.

His commitment to be in the building this spring hasn’t gone unnoticed as the Ravens made a conscious effort to get younger this offseason after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. Seeing general manager Ozzie Newsome show the door to five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil likely served a reminder to Suggs about his own football mortality as he turns 35 in October.

“What I am so impressed with is the leadership by example that he has demonstrated in this offseason,” Harbaugh said. “He is out there doing it, and he is out there competing with the guys every day in the conditioning program. It is impressive to watch, and that is a great way to get guys attention if you want to be a leader.”

Fun and camaraderie aside, Suggs wants to win. He hasn’t gone through a down period like this from a team standpoint since the end of the Brian Billick era and is counting on an extensive batch of defensive additions to help him get back to the playoffs.

Suggs may not have expressed any clear intention of trying to surpass Lewis for most years spent with the Ravens, but he did mention the way his former leader was able to go out on top with a championship.

“We can’t fall short anymore,” Suggs said. “It’s a terrible thing when you don’t capitalize on your potential. We’ve always had a capable team; we’ve just haven’t always capitalized on it. I think it’s time to cash in and don’t be one of the odd teams looking in when it becomes the second season in January.”

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Ravens open 2017 voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 18 April 2017 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

Ravens players officially began preparations for the 2017 season on Tuesday, reporting to Owings Mills for the start of the voluntary offseason workout program.

Of course, most players have been working out on their own for weeks, but this is the first time in which team activities were allowed to be conducted at the practice facility. The first phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and involves strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. The coaching staff is not allowed to lead players in on-field workouts during this opening part of the offseason program.

This part of the offseason program is officially voluntary, but most players — especially younger ones — are expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Wednesday with quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith, safety Eric Weddle, and wide receiver Mike Wallace scheduled to talk, but photos and video released by the team on Tuesday showed a great number of players in attendance for the first day. That list included Flacco, Smith, Weddle, Wallace, Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Danny Woodhead, C.J. Mosley, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tavon Young, Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Breshad Perriman, Alex Lewis, Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst, Albert McClellan, Kamalei Correa, Anthony Levine, Brent Urban, Sam Koch, Michael Campanaro, Crockett Gillmore, Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, and Ryan Jensen.

The second phase of the program lasts three weeks and consists of on-field workouts that may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice. However, no live contact is permitted, and the offense and defense may not work against each other.

The final phase of the program permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are voluntary. No live contact is allowed, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills. Teams may also hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

The Ravens will also hold a rookie minicamp beginning May 5, the weekend after the 2017 NFL draft.

Below is the Ravens’ 2017 offseason training program schedule:

First Day: April 18
OTA offseason workouts: May 23-25, May 30-June 1, June 5-6, June 8-9
Mandatory minicamp: June 13-15

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Webb re-signing can offer more than depth to Ravens defense

Posted on 12 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The re-signing of veteran Lardarius Webb should be about more than just depth for the Ravens.

Yes, the 31-year-old is a good insurance policy behind starters Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, but his play in his first year as a safety in 2016 was more than respectable, ranking 15th among qualified safeties by Pro Football Focus and 10th among free safeties in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 system. Relegating him to a strict backup role and special teams would seem to be a waste of his talents, especially for a versatile player who received a three-year deal for a reported maximum value of $10.5 million.

How then might defensive coordinator Dean Pees use Webb in the Baltimore defense?

Though the former starting cornerback can no longer play an outside spot in anything but an emergency situation, his coverage skills and tackling ability still make him a decent option for the inside nickel spot. The problem is that you wouldn’t want Webb playing in place of 2016 fourth-round pick Tavon Young, who was one of the great successes of last season. It remains to be seen whether the 5-foot-9 Young can thrive as an every-down corner lining up on the outside in the base defense — a major reason why the Ravens signed veteran Brandon Carr last month — but the second-year corner showed impressive ball skills and should be a mainstay in the nickel package at the very least.

Might a little more creativity be in the works with the secondary?

It’s no secret that the Ravens value Jefferson a great deal, evident by the four-year, $34 million contract they awarded him at the start of free agency. The former Arizona Cardinal’s greatest strengths are playing the run and clamping down on opposing tight ends, which are certainly useful skills but not reminiscent of a deep center-field safety like Ed Reed. Frankly, it’s a steep financial commitment to make if the Ravens are only going to use Jefferson in a standard safety role, making you think there’s more to it.

Baltimore is in need of a three-down linebacker to fill the void left by the retired Zach Orr. Perhaps 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa will be ready to assume that job, but it’s easier to find a capable two-down inside linebacker than it is to find the kind of talent who can consistently hold up in pass coverage. That’s where the arrival of Jefferson and the return of Webb could come into play.

Despite rarely ever using the dime package — which consists of six defensive backs and usually one linebacker — in Pees’ five-year tenure as the defensive coordinator, the Ravens practiced it extensively in the spring and summer of 2016 before it disappeared in the regular season. Reserve defensive back and special-teams standout Anthony Levine saw the most practice time at the dime spot last year, but he saw only 109 defensive snaps last season.

Jefferson would appear to be a good fit to serve in a hybrid linebacker-safety role next to C.J. Mosley in many passing situations. It’s obvious that the Ravens have made it a priority to improve their pass defense this offseason, but Jefferson also tackles like a linebacker, which would diminish the chances of the run defense being too vulnerable in a dime look. His strength is playing closer to the line of scrimmage, and the presence of Webb at safety next to Weddle in the sub package would allow Pees to be more aggressive with Jefferson in the box and to match him up with tight ends.

Such an alignment would not only better showcase the 25-year-old safety’s skills, but it would put less pressure on Orr’s replacement in 2017. The dime would make Webb’s re-signing more impactful than simply improving conventional depth in the secondary.

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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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Ravens sign safety Jefferson, veteran running back Woodhead

Posted on 09 March 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens appear on the verge of signing the top safety on the free-agent market for the second straight year.

According to ESPN, Arizona Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson is expected to sign with Baltimore when free agency officially opens on Thursday afternoon. Terms of the agreement were unknown as of late Wednesday night, but Jefferson’s expected signing comes a year after general manager Ozzie Newsome inked four-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle to a four-year, $26 million contract.

A 2013 undrafted free agent from Oklahoma, Jefferson became a full-time starter in the talented Arizona secondary in 2016 and graded fifth among all NFL safeties, according to Pro Football Focus. The 25-year-old is one of the best run-stopping safeties in the league, but he’s also considered capable in pass coverage despite having only two career interceptions. In 15 games last season, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Jefferson accumulated 96 tackles, two sacks, five pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

A San Diego native, Jefferson had been recruited by Weddle — who spent nine years with the Chargers — to join the Ravens with the two even interacting on Twitter in recent weeks.

Jefferson’s arrival is likely bad news for veteran safety Lardarius Webb, who is scheduled to carry a $7.5 million salary-cap figure in the final year of his contract. After a slow start at his new position in 2016, the former cornerback performed well in the second half of the season, but he will turn 32 in October.

Jefferson wasn’t the only free agent the Ravens were targeting on Wednesday night as they came to an agreement with former San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead, according to NFL Network. The 32-year-old missed most of last season with a torn ACL, but he has been one of the better third-down backs in the league in recent years.

The 5-foot-8 Woodhead caught a career-high 80 passes for 755 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.

NFL Network also reported that the Ravens have re-signed quarterback Ryan Mallett to return as the backup to Joe Flacco.

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Ravens receive compensatory pick in third round of 2017 draft

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens officially learned Friday that they will receive a third-round compensatory pick in the 2017 draft in April.

This marks the first time since 2010 that Baltimore will not have multiple compensatory picks in the draft. The maximum number of compensatory picks allotted to a team in a single draft is four.

Trying to revamp a roster that missed the postseason for the third time in four years, general manager Ozzie Newsome will have a total of eight selections — his standard choice in each round as well as the third-round compensatory pick at 99th overall — in this year’s draft. It’s worth noting that compensatory picks are permitted to be traded beginning this year.

The Ravens lost guard Kelechi Osemele, quarterback Matt Schaub, and linebacker Courtney Upshaw as unrestricted free agents and signed unrestricted free agents Benjamin Watson and Eric Weddle last offseason, a net loss of one free agent that put them in line for the single compensatory pick. Osemele signed a five-year, $58 million contract with the Oakland Raiders, which fetched the Ravens the third-highest overall compensatory pick in this year’s draft and their earliest one since 2014.

Determinations for compensatory picks are based on a formula considering the salary, playing time, and postseason honors earned by unrestricted free agents who left their teams the previous offseason.

Since the compensatory pick program started in 1994, the Ravens have led the NFL in receiving 48 compensatory choices as the organization has often resisted signing unrestricted free agents over the years while losing many of their own. Green Bay is second with 38 compensatory picks over that same period of time.

Compensatory choices have been used on the likes of Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk and starting right tackle Rick Wagner in recent years. Baltimore selected defensive tackle Willie Henry (fourth round), running back Kenneth Dixon (fourth round), and cornerback Maurice Canady (sixth round) with three compensatory choices last year.

Below is a history of the Ravens’ compensatory picks since 1996 with the round in which the player was selected noted in parentheses:

1996: none
1997: LB Cornell Brown (sixth), QB Wally Richardson (seventh), S Ralph Staten (seventh), DT Leland Taylor (seventh)
1998: TE Cam Qualey (seventh)
1999: G Edwin Mulitalo (fourth)
2000: none
2001: none
2002: WR Javin Hunter (sixth), RB Chester Taylor (sixth), S Chad Williams (sixth)
2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth), OT Tony Pashos (fifth), C Mike Mabry (seventh), S Antwoine Sanders (seventh)
2004: WR Clarence Moore (sixth), WR Derek Abney (seventh), G Brian Rimpf (seventh)
2005: QB Derek Anderson (sixth)
2006: RB P.J. Daniels (fourth), TE Quinn Sypniewski (fifth), P Sam Koch (sixth), CB Derrick Martin (sixth)
2007: LB Antwan Barnes (fourth), FB Le’Ron McClain (fourth), QB Troy Smith (fifth), LB Prescott Burgess (sixth)
2008: OL Oniel Cousins (third), OL David Hale (fourth), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth), RB Allen Patrick (seventh)
2009: none
2010: none
2011: CB Chykie Brown (fifth), DE Pernell McPhee (fifth)
2012: S Christian Thompson (fourth), CB Asa Jackson (fifth)
2013: FB Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), OT Rick Wagner (fifth), OL Ryan Jensen (sixth), CB Marc Anthony (seventh)
2014: TE Crockett Gillmore (third), DE Brent Urban (fourth), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth), G John Urschel (fifth)
2015: CB Tray Walker (fourth), TE Nick Boyle (fifth), G Robert Myers (fifth)
2016:
DT Willie Henry (fourth), RB Kenneth Dixon (fourth), CB Maurice Canady (sixth)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to free agency

Posted on 15 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of NFL free agency only three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the Ravens, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens now have until March 1 to potentially use their franchise tag on one of their pending free agents, but a projected $13.5 million number for nose tackle Brandon Williams would cripple Ozzie Newsome’s efforts to improve the roster. I’d be surprised if it’s a real consideration.

2. With 19 teams having more than $30 million in salary cap space, it’s tough to like Baltimore’s chances of re-signing either Williams or right tackle Rick Wagner once the league-wide negotiating window begins on March 7. The clock is ticking.

3. Even if you buy into the continuity with Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, John Harbaugh not hiring a new quarterbacks coach is a tough sell in light of Joe Flacco’s body of work since Mornhinweg was hired as his positional coach in 2015. Rattling some cages wouldn’t have hurt.

4. The promotion of Chris Hewitt to secondary coach will be interesting to monitor after he was demoted in favor of Leslie Frazier after the 2015 season. The absence of Jimmy Smith aside, the defensive backfield was much more organized this past season, a credit to Frazier and safety Eric Weddle.

5. I understand the temptation to cut Mike Wallace to save $5.75 million in cap space, but the organization’s history at the wide receiver position makes it extremely difficult to trust the decision to willingly part with a 1,000-yard wideout with excellent speed.

6. Little free-agent discussion has centered around Lawrence Guy, but you wonder how easily the Ravens would replace him at the 5-technique defensive end spot. Injuries have hindered Brent Urban’s development, and Bronson Kaufusi missed his rookie year with a broken ankle. There’s a lot of unknown at that position.

7. When I hear critics say that the coaching staff has failed to develop talented draft picks in recent years, I then wonder why these “suppressed” talents aren’t catching on elsewhere to a meaningful degree. Linebacker John Simon did become a productive player in Houston, but who else?

8. I’ve opined plenty about Dennis Pitta and his $7.7 million cap figure, but there’s no diminishing the human element with what he’s been through. Asking him to take a pay cut with incentives for the second straight offseason is a tough sell, but it would probably be for the best.

9. If the Ravens covet a specific offensive playmaker, pass rusher, or cornerback in the pre-draft process, I’d like to see a greater willingness to jump up in the first round to get their guy. The roster needs a high-end difference-maker more than additional solid players in later rounds.

10. Despite much discussion about the tight end position, Maxx Williams has been all but forgotten. Few specifics are known about the procedure the 2015 second-round pick had to correct a cartilage problem in his knee, but he doesn’t turn 23 until April. You hope the issue is finally behind him.

11. The money may not make sense in the end, but I still see Pierre Garcon as the best free-agent fit at receiver. The 30-year-old eclipsed 1,000 yards in a deep receiver group and plays with toughness. The close proximity to where he’s played the last five years doesn’t hurt, either.

12. With Matt Birk eligible for Hall of Fame consideration next year, it reminds me of the issues the Ravens have had at center since his post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement. Jeremy Zuttah’s 2014 arrival brought improvement from the overmatched Gino Gradkowski, but upgrading this spot would help the offense immensely.

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