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Five questions for Ravens defense entering organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2018 by Luke Jones

Contrary to what you might conclude from this offseason, the Ravens do have another side of the ball.

While spending most attention and resources on revamping the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing game, general manager Ozzie Newsome parted ways with only one player — defensive back Lardarius Webb — who played defensive snaps in 2017. That’s a remarkable level of continuity in this era, but will it pay off?

The Ravens defense was exceptional at times in 2017, leading the league in takeaways and pitching three shutouts. The group ranked in the top 10 in most significant statistical categories until late in the season and still finished fifth overall in Football Outsiders’ weighted defense rankings.

But the defense struggled down the stretch, blowing a late lead in Pittsburgh for the second year in a row and suffering one of the bigger collapses in team history when Cincinnati scored on a fourth-and-12 play from the Baltimore 49 with under a minute left in Week 17 to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs. No matter what the numbers said, the defense came up small in some of the biggest moments of the season.

Below are five pressing questions for the Ravens defense as organized team activities are now underway:

1. How much will change under new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale?

Players have provided glowing endorsements of Martindale and anticipate more flexible and aggressive schemes than those employed by Dean Pees. Criticisms of the former defensive coordinator are fair — leaving Brandon Carr on an island with Antonio Brown late in the Week 14 loss to the Steelers was just one example — but these types of sentiments about new coaches are commonplace whenever teams fall short the previous season. It’s easy to subtly point fingers at individuals no longer in the picture, but Martindale’s roots with the Ryan family are definitely intriguing from a schematic standpoint. On the flip side, the former linebackers coach must prove his failed stint in Denver eight years ago was mostly due to the Broncos’ lack of talent since this defense has the talent to be a good-to-great unit.

2. Who will man the inside linebacker position next to C.J. Mosley?

This is likely a multi-pronged answer since former rookie free agent Patrick Onwuasor started 13 games at the weak-side spot and the dime package was frequently used in passing situations with an extra safety playing in the box last season. The Ravens should continue to be creative with sub packages, but they need more consistency at this position in the base defense, whether it’s Onwuasor taking the next step in his development or fourth-round rookie Kenny Young seizing the opportunity to get on the field. You’d expect Martindale to continue to use the likes of Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark in the dime package when appropriate, but Baltimore identifying another inside linebacker who can hold up in pass coverage will be vital to the overall success and flexibility of the defense.

3. Will the Ravens get more out of safety Tony Jefferson?

The prize free-agent acquisition of 2017 was ordinary in his first year with the Ravens, providing ammunition for critics who wondered why Newsome invested a four-year $34 million contract in a box safety when there were clear needs on the other side of the ball a year ago. Many point to Pees too frequently using Jefferson away from the line of scrimmage — a valid claim, especially in the first half of the 2017 season — but there were also examples of him being beaten in coverage by tight ends and not being as strong against the run as advertised. Martindale should continue using Jefferson in the box as much as possible, but Eric Weddle will need to be able to hold up in back-end coverage. Even after a restructure, Jefferson has the team’s ninth-highest cap number and must bring more to the table.

4. What will the 5-technique defensive end spot look like?

The season-ending loss of Brent Urban in Week 3 last season was unfortunate after the 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman appeared on his way to becoming an impact player, and the Ravens struggled to fill this position for much of the season, another factor that hurt their run defense in addition to the four-game absence of Brandon Williams. Re-signing Urban to a cheap one-year deal was a prudent move, but counting on a player who’s missed 39 games in a four-year career is problematic at best. Carl Davis shifted outside to do a respectable job in the second half of last season, but he’s also entering the final year of his contract, making it critical for either 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley or 2016 third-round pick Bronson Kaufusi to step up to become a real contributor at this spot.

5. How will a deep group of cornerbacks be handled?

On paper, this is one of the deepest cornerback groups the Ravens have ever had with young talents still pursuing their ceiling. Jimmy Smith’s health is the major question as he recovers from last December’s torn Achilles tendon, but Marlon Humphrey looked the part of a future shutdown corner as a rookie and the solid veteran Carr was retained as a pricey insurance policy. Beyond that, Tavon Young is back in the fold after serving as a strong slot defender as a rookie two years ago, and Maurice Canady will try to build on his late success at the nickel last season. Those numbers don’t even take into account fourth-round rookie Anthony Averett or Jaylen Hill, who showed potential last summer before being stricken with injuries. If all are healthy — a major if — Martindale will have a good problem on his hands.

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Ravens open voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

The Ravens began their voluntary offseason workout program for the 2018 season in Owings Mills on Monday.

The opening phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and is limited to strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. Coaches are not permitted to lead players in on-field workouts during this first part of the offseason program.

This phase of the program is voluntary, but most players beyond select veterans are quietly expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Tuesday, but photos and videos released by the team showed many players in attendance on the first day, a list including new wide receiver Michael Crabtree, quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Robert Griffin III, tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive linemen Michael Pierce and Carl Davis, safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, long snapper Morgan Cox, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Tyus Bowser, and running backs Alex Collins, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon among others.

In a series of moves that were mere formalities, Baltimore officially signed Collins, wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste, tight end Vince Mayle, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and offensive linemen Maurquice Shakir and Matt Skura to their exclusive-rights tenders on Monday.

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

The third and final phase of the program lasts four weeks and permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are also voluntary. No live contact is permitted, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills.

Teams may hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

Earlier this month, the NFL released the following dates for the Ravens’ OTA and mandatory minicamp schedule, but these have been subject to change in the past:

First Day: April 16
OTA Offseason Workouts: May 21-22, May 24, May 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5, June 7-8
Mandatory Minicamp: June 12-14

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on array of offseason topics

Posted on 12 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With free agency a month away and the Ravens offseason still taking shape, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m intrigued to learn just how “significant” Ozzie Newsome’s post-2018 position will be as Eric DeCosta succeeds him as general manager. The two have a great relationship, of course, but it’s not difficult envisioning such an arrangement being problematic if DeCosta is truly supposed to be in charge.

2. The Jimmy Garoppolo deal is the latest reminder of how expensive a franchise quarterback is if you’re not willing to roll the dice in trying to draft one. That won’t stop Joe Flacco’s detractors from complaining about his contract, but it’s the cost of doing business.

3. The Ravens eyeing a bargain at inside linebacker or 5-technique end is fine, but the catalysts for defensive improvement need to come from within and from Wink Martindale’s fresh perspective. Citing the offense’s late statistical improvement as an excuse to use meaningful resources on defense would be a major mistake.

4. Speaking of coaching impact, Sports Illustrated NFL analyst Andy Benoit is a big fan of new quarterbacks coach James Urban. He offered a look into Urban’s football mind last year, and offered more insight on the new Ravens assistant from Radio Row in Minneapolis.

5. Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are already recruiting free-agent-to-be Jarvis Landry. He caught a career-high 112 passes at a career-low 8.8 yards per catch in Miami’s mess of a passing attack in 2017. His price tag as a slot receiver will be interesting, but certainly not cheap.

6. I’ve debated what should be done with Brandon Carr, who’s owed a bonus next month and brings $4 million in savings if he’s cut. Baltimore sure could use him if Jimmy Smith isn’t ready for Week 1, but Carr is a backup with a $7 million number if he is.

7. With the Ravens lacking any semblance of a consistent red-zone threat for years, Jimmy Graham is intriguing at the right price despite his lowest yardage total since his rookie season. Of course, other teams with more cap space are likely to find his 10 touchdowns just as enticing.

8. He may never hit the market, but a healthy Allen Robinson is an excellent fit for what Flacco needs in a receiver. Some have suggested his signing coming at a discount after last September’s ACL injury, but I’m not convinced that happens with the 6-foot-3 target only being 24.

9. Philadelphia winning the Super Bowl despite losing its franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl left tackle, starting middle linebacker, and a productive third-down running back sure doesn’t help the perception of the Ravens not being able to overcome injuries to sneak into the playoffs with one of the league’s easiest schedules.

10. With many anticipating the Ravens being selected to play in the Hall of Fame Game for the first time, head coach John Harbaugh will surely like having additional training camp practices. It’s also an extra week and an extra meaningless game putting players at risk for injury.

11. Brian Dawkins being voted into the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility gives me greater confidence that Ed Reed will be inducted next year. Voters haven’t been kind to pure safeties over the years, but Reed not being a first-ballot Hall of Famer would be a joke.

12. I was glad to see both Marlon Humphrey and a fan have a sense of humor about his recent arrest. It was certainly a mistake from which the young cornerback hopefully learns, but another 2017 first-round pick is in far deeper trouble.

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How did Ravens safeties stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

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 put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, 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. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens safeties ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Inside linebackers
Offensive linemen

Eric Weddle
2017 defensive snap count: 1,085
NFL1000 ranking: 12th among free safeties
PFF ranking: tied for 26th among safeties
Skinny: The 33-year-old went to the Pro Bowl and was tied for third in the NFL in interceptions, but he wasn’t quite as consistent as he was in 2016 and had issues playing the run. Weddle has stabilized a secondary that had sorely lacked leadership, but his salary cap number rises to $8.25 million in 2018.

Tony Jefferson
2017 defensive snap count: 1,085
NFL1000 ranking: 15th among strong safeties
PFF ranking: tied for 26th among safeties
Skinny: Jefferson received $19 million guaranteed to be a difference-making force at safety, but he was too ordinary, struggling in coverage and rarely making splash plays. The Ravens wisely began deploying him closer to the line of scrimmage as the season progressed, but they still need much more from him.

Anthony Levine
2017 defensive snap count: 262
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The veteran special-teams standout was one of the defense’s unsung heroes, blitzing effectively and playing good coverage from the dime position. With the Ravens having no clear long-term solution at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley, the dime package should be used as much as possible.

Chuck Clark
2017 defensive snap count: 59
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The sixth-round rookie played sparingly, but he showed some promise at the dime spot and looks like a solid backup option for the 2018 season. Clark was a strong contributor on special teams and looks like a good find as a late-round draft pick from Virginia Tech.

 

2018 positional outlook

This position appears to be in solid shape for now, but Weddle and Jefferson are scheduled to combine for a $17.24 million cap number for 2018, making it fair to question whether the Ravens are getting enough bang for the buck. There’s reason for Jefferson to improve since he’s only 26, but that isn’t exactly what the Ravens had in mind when they gave him big money that would have been better spent on the offensive side of the ball last offseason. Weddle brings needed intangibles to the secondary, but you hope his range holds up for another year and his tackling bounces back to 2016 levels. The safety position really epitomizes the frustration of the post-Super Bowl XLVII Ravens as the organization unsuccessfully used early draft picks (Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks) and wasted too many free-agent dollars (Michael Huff, Darian Stewart, and Kendrick Lewis) before getting to this expensive point.

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Can Martindale take Ravens defense to another level?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is no stranger to feeling pressure.

Try having one of the best defensive minds in NFL history looking over your shoulder while coaching in an NCAA Division-IAA playoff game. Having worked with both Rex and Rob Ryan, Martindale called their father, the late Buddy Ryan, a “big influence” on his coaching career on Thursday. The two-time Super Bowl champion assistant and former NFL head coach spent his later years in the state of Kentucky where Martindale made his final collegiate coaching stop.

“I called a game at Western Kentucky, and he was standing next to me on the sideline at a playoff game,” said Martindale, who worked for former Hilltoppers head coach Jack Harbaugh from 2001-02 and finished his stint there a year later. “You want to talk about pressure? That was a little bit of pressure — not blitzing when he wanted to blitz.”

With the Ravens coming off a second straight season in which the defense’s failure to get a late stop left them short of the playoffs, the former linebackers coach steps into a role surrounded by high expectations. And with most of the offseason focus expected to be on the other side of the ball — though we’ve made that incorrect assumption in the past — Martindale will be asked to reach another level with a defense that’s received a plethora of resources in recent years.

Upon being promoted last week, the 54-year-old received congratulatory messages from many of the greatest defensive players in franchise history, ranging from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Haloti Ngata and current 16th-year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Martindale also received strong endorsements from other current players such as Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, showing he has plenty of support in the locker room despite not being a sexy choice for fans who were intrigued by the possibility of Chuck Pagano returning to Baltimore.

This will be Martindale’s second stint as an NFL defensive coordinator after serving in that capacity with Denver in 2010. Having lost All-Pro defensive end Elvis Dumervil to a season-ending pectoral injury that summer, Martindale didn’t have much talent with which to work as the Broncos finished last in the league in total yards and points allowed and head coach Josh McDaniels was fired in December.

“I know it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to work out,” said Martindale, who was dismissed at season’s end and hired as Ravens inside linebackers coach a year later. “Not at the time, but eight years later, I’m glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It’s like I tell my guys — you either win or you learn.”

Martindale now inherits a talented defense that impressively pitched three shutouts and led the NFL in takeaways this season, but the unit finished sixth in points allowed, 10th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing yards allowed, and 12th in total yards surrendered and saw its performance slip over the final month when Baltimore blew late leads against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The stunning home loss to the Bengals on New Year’s Eve resulted in John Harbaugh’s team missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

The Ravens are already devoting more cap space to their defense than the other side of the ball and have used 13 of their last 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks on defensive players. In other words, Martindale needs to find more consistency than retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees did with the current group and probably shouldn’t be expecting major additions this offseason.

“We’re close. Obviously, the last two years it has been the last play that’s knocked us out of it,” Martindale said. “We are going to work diligently — all of us — with our package and situational football. That’s going to be the next step I think that’ll skyrocket us. That is the big thing that I see.

“We are going to take our ‘good’ and make it great. We were really good. Let’s make it great.”

With numerous holes on offense and a limited amount of projected salary-cap space for 2018, Martindale could be the X factor for the defense. Of course, some recent draft picks will need to step up in a way similar to how Matthew Judon progressed this past season with Pro Bowl veterans such as Suggs and safety Eric Weddle not getting any younger and high-priced cornerback Jimmy Smith returning from a torn Achilles tendon.

But many will be eager to see how Martindale’s fingerprints compare to Pees, who was criticized for too many late-game collapses and not being more aggressive in certain situations. The new defensive coordinator emphasized that success is ultimately about the players and putting them in the right positions to succeed.

Without being disrespectful when asked how he’d compare to his predecessor, Martindale made his intentions clear.

“I think personality-wise and just calls, there’s going to be some things that are the same,” Martindale said. “And then there’s going to be some times where I’m going to pressure more. I think I have a more aggressive personality in calling a game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That’s some of the things I’ve learned from the past, so there’s that fine line — what quarterback you’re playing and things of that nature.”

Finding that fine line could be the difference for a good defense striving to be great.

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Three Ravens named to PFWA’s All-AFC team

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Three Ravens players were named to the 2017 All-AFC team voted on by the Pro Football Writers of America, but it’s not the same trio going to the Pro Bowl later this month.

Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle also received All-AFC honors after finishing tied for second in the conference with six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown in Week 13 to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The 33-year-old finished with 63 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles in his second season with the Ravens.

Those miffed about Justin Tucker not making it to the Pro Bowl can take some satisfaction in him being named to the All-AFC team over Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker went 34-for-37 on field goals and did not miss an extra point this season, continuing his run as arguably the best kicker in the NFL over the last five years. He was also named to the PFWA’s 2016 All-AFC team.

The third Baltimore player named to the All-AFC team was punt returner Michael Campanaro, who led the conference in punt return average at 10.8 yards per attempt. He returned a fourth-quarter punt 77 yards for a touchdown to force overtime in the Week 6 loss to Chicago and was a positive contributor for one of the best special-teams units in the NFL.

Despite being named to this year’s Pro Bowl, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs were not voted to the All-AFC team. Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier was voted the middle linebacker while Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and Denver’s Von Miller were the outside linebackers for the conference.

No Ravens players were named to the 2017 PFWA All-NFL team.

Below are the full All-NFL, All-AFC, and All-NFC teams:

2017 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers&; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys#

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks*

CB – Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams#

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots&

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers+; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders*

T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs and Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers (tie)

Defense

DE – Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers; Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals#; Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars

OLB – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Von Miller, Denver Broncos+

MLB – Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers

CB – A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars; Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens*

P – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans

KR – Dion Lewis, New England Patriots

PR – Michael Campanaro, Baltimore Ravens

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots@

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

@ – consecutive selections from 2011-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

RB – Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams; Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

WR –Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons#; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

TE – Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints; DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

CB – Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints; Darius Slay, Detroit Lions

S – Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings; Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams+

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

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Examining the Ravens’ top 10 cap numbers for 2018

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face an all-too-familiar offseason after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but concerns about the 2018 salary cap have already surfaced with free agency still two months away.

It’s no secret that the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to create and sustain long-term success, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for championships. As things stand now, the Ravens will devote $109.503 million in 2018 cap space to their 10 players with the highest cap numbers. The 2018 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s believed to fall somewhere between $174 million and $178 million.

Below is a look at those 10 players:

1. QB Joe Flacco
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $24.75 million
Synopsis: This is hardly a new topic of discussion with most opinions formulated over the last five years unlikely to budge. Flacco certainly needs to play at a much higher level, but consider just two other members of the top 10 are offensive players and $17.625 million of the remaining $84.753 million in 2018 cap dollars for spots No. 2 through No. 10 are devoted to offensive talent. On top of that, only four offensive players have been taken with Baltimore’s 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since Super Bowl XLVII. Is this a recipe for a balanced roster setting up its quarterback for success? The results don’t lie.

2. CB Jimmy Smith
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $15.675 million
Synopsis: Smith is a great example of the dangers of restructuring contracts as adjustments made the last two years to create cap relief have added more than $4 million to his original 2018 cap number from when he signed his big extension in 2015. Smith will be coming back from a torn Achilles tendon and has played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his career, but cutting him would create more than $13 million in dead money for 2018. He was having the best season of his career before the early-December injury, but the organization is now stuck and can only hope he makes a successful comeback.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2018 Week 1 age: 29
2018 cap number: $11.545 million
Synopsis: There was a fair argument to be made whether re-signing Williams was the best use of cap resources last offseason, but the Ravens allowing more rushing yards than anyone in the NFL during his four-game absence in September and October made a very strong case in support of the decision. You’d like to see more productivity from Williams as a pass rusher at that salary, but he’s as good as interior defensive linemen come at stopping the run. His age makes you nervous from a long-term standpoint, but his cap figures remain relatively flat over the duration of his deal that runs through 2021.

4. G Marshal Yanda
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $10.125 million
Synopsis: There’s no underselling how much the Ravens missed the man regarded by many as the best guard in football over the last six or seven years, but the six-time Pro Bowl selection will be coming off a serious ankle injury and is entering his 12th NFL campaign, making his cap number something to monitor next season. If he returns to his previous level of play, his eight-digit cap cost remains well worth it, but it’s fair to worry if this is when Father Time begins catching up with Yanda, who will turn 34 in the first month of the new season.

5. S Tony Jefferson
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.99 million
Synopsis: I never understood the organization’s infatuation with giving a box safety — accomplished as he may have been in Arizona — a four-year, $34 million contract, and nothing about Jefferson’s play in his first season refuted that notion as he often struggled in pass coverage. In fairness to him, the coaching staff needs to be more creative to better utilize his skills as a blitzer and run defender, but there was little evidence of him making the kind of splash plays that justify this price tag. This signing might be the poster child of the Ravens’ obsession with defense while neglecting the other side of the ball.

6. LB C.J. Mosley
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.718 million
Synopsis: The 2014 first-round pick made his third Pro Bowl in four years, but nagging injuries took their toll at times and his pass coverage wasn’t as strong as you’d like to see from a player on the verge of a massive pay day. Signing Mosley to an extension this spring would lower his 2018 cap figure and keep him in Baltimore for the long haul, but he ranked an underwhelming 37th among qualified linebackers in Pro Football Focus’ grading system in 2017. Mosley will always be judged unfairly against the memory of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but he’s certainly lived up to his first-round billing.

7. S Eric Weddle
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $8.25 million
Synopsis: It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that a once-turnover-starved defense recorded more takeaways than anyone in the NFL over the last two seasons upon Weddle’s arrival. He shook off a shaky start to 2017 to finish tied for second in the league with six interceptions and serves as the quarterback of a secondary that has had fewer communication breakdowns over the last two years. Weddle has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years, but his increasing cap number does make you a bit nervous about his advancing age as he enters his 12th season. Two years in, this has been a very good signing.

8. WR Jeremy Maclin
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $7.5 million
Synopsis: The Ravens hoped they were getting their next Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith as Maclin was envisioned as the next just-past-his-prime wide receiver to save the day in Baltimore, but Flacco’s back injury as well as Maclin’s various ailments never allowed the two to get on the same page, making this a very disappointing signing. Whether those realities will be enough to earn Maclin a second chance with the Ravens remains to be seen, but he’s never really felt like a good fit and you’d have to think both sides are probably better off moving on. Cutting him would save the Ravens $5 million in 2018 cap space.

9. CB Brandon Carr
2018 Week 1 age: 32
2018 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: The veteran served his purpose as an acceptable No. 2 cornerback and would have been a likely cut before Jimmy Smith’s Achilles injury that now makes it unclear whether the top corner will be ready for the start of next season. The Ravens may need to roll the dice on the promising trio of Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Maurice Canady holding down the fort if Smith isn’t quite ready to go by Week 1. Electing to keep Carr around would be understandable, but that’s an expensive insurance policy when the roster has so many other needs. Cutting him would save $4 million in space this offseason.

10. LB Terrell Suggs
2018 Week 1 age: 35
2018 cap number: $6.95 million
Synopsis: While Suggs is approaching the end of a brilliant career, I haven’t quite understood some of the speculation out there about him being a potential cap casualty as he comes off an 11-sack season and his first Pro Bowl invitation since 2013. Of the Ravens’ young edge defenders, only Matthew Judon has emerged to look the part of a rock-solid starter while the likes of Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams still have much to prove. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale would be wise to limit Suggs’ snaps more to keep him fresh next year, but he’s still a good value compared to some other names in the top 10.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-27 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years in a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I initially called it the most devastating home loss in team history and was quickly reminded by several folks on Twitter of the crushing 2006 playoff defeat to Indianapolis. They were right, but I’ll still say this was the most stunning home defeat in 22 seasons of Ravens football.

2. Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd will be remembered, but don’t forget the horrendous first half that put the Ravens in a hole. His team looking flat and unprepared with the season on the line was a poor reflection on John Harbaugh, especially after a shaky performance against Indianapolis.

3. Maurice Canady was a Week 16 hero, but he was picked on during the final drive and was out of position to make a play on the ball or the tackle on Boyd’s touchdown. Eric Weddle was also in no man’s land in zone after showing blitz before the snap.

4. Remember the talk about the Ravens not letting A.J. Green beat them? The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver finished with two catches for 17 yards. Feel any better that the “Tylers” — Boyd and Kroft — did it instead? Yeah, didn’t think so.

5. We certainly saw a less-accurate Joe Flacco than we’d seen in recent weeks and his third-down throwaway before Cincinnati’s final drive was terrible — Mike Wallace was wide open underneath to at least attempt to keep the clock moving — but five drops from his receivers did him no favors.

6. Wallace had a few and is no better than a No. 2 wideout, but letting him walk would feel similar to Torrey Smith’s exit. I also have doubts about Jeremy Maclin’s future, so do you trust the Ravens to add at least two impactful receivers this offseason? I certainly don’t.

7. The defense allowed a whopping 126 rushing yards in the first half and surrendered over 4.0 yards per carry in a season for the first time in team history. Brandon Williams’ four-game absence explains much of that, but the run defense was still quite disappointing relative to expectations.

8. After all the discussion about the impact of Danny Woodhead returning, the 32-year-old caught 30 passes for 167 yards after the bye and eclipsed 40 yards from scrimmage in a game twice. The Ravens touted his signing as their major offensive addition last offseason before Maclin fell into their laps.

9. Breshad Perriman was a healthy scratch in favor of an undrafted rookie receiver who was making his NFL debut in Quincy Adeboyejo. What else is there to say about the 2015 first-round pick?

10. Speaking of underwhelming draft choices, Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, and Tim Williams combined for seven defensive snaps Sunday. The last three are rookies and absolutely deserve more time before judgment, but that’s not much of an early return from Day 2 of the last two drafts.

11. Flacco throwing well short of the chains on fourth-and-14 was a fitting way to close the book on the 2017 Ravens, but there were only two healthy wide receivers on the field and one was a rookie who had been on the practice squad all year. Not ideal.

12. This had to be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen in terms of time of possession. The Ravens held the ball for barely more than nine minutes in the first half while Cincinnati possessed it for less than eight minutes after intermission. Strange.

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Suggs was fitting choice for Ravens MVP in grind-it-out season

Posted on 29 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Identifying a team MVP wasn’t a slam-dunk proposition in a grind-it-out season for the Ravens.

There were a number of reasonable candidates, ranging from surprising running back Alex Collins to Pro Bowl selections Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley, but none jumped off the page as the obvious choice. If not for injuries that cost them substantial portions of the season, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Jimmy Smith would have garnered stronger consideration. And when you consider how dependent the Ravens have been on field position, even punter Sam Koch deserved mention for his strong campaign.

But the strong play, mental prowess, and veteran leadership of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs made him a fitting choice to receive the local media’s award. Amazingly, it’s the first time the 35-year-old has received the honor, but his mere candidacy in his 15th season — along with his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl — may have helped cement his eventual place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Looking and sounding genuinely touched and surprised to be named team MVP, Suggs says his primary focus is on the Ravens clinching their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

“This is flattering. I’m speechless. I didn’t know this was this award,” said Suggs, who initially thought he was receiving the local media’s “Good Guy” award on Friday. “This is awesome. It would be a sour note if we don’t win on Sunday, so that is pretty much my big focus right now. This is great among the achievements that we all have achieved this year, but we want to be having a football game next week.”

After changing up his offseason routine by training at the team’s Owings Mills facility rather than in his home state of Arizona, Suggs has enjoyed his finest season in a few years, recording a team-leading 11 sacks and forcing four fumbles. The 2003 first-round pick will play in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2014 and has played just over 76 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps, dismissing any notions about him becoming more of a situational player this season.

It’s an outcome few would have predicted after he suffered the second torn Achilles tendon of his career just two years ago.

Suggs has credited the revamped offseason regimen for improved health and conditioning, helping him record double-digit sacks for the seventh time in his career. His veteran teammates have also pointed to his presence at spring workouts and meetings as a positive influence on younger players as the Ravens were coming off their second straight season without a playoff berth.

His on-field production and colorful personality have been givens for years, but his underrated cerebral approach to the game has allowed him to continue playing at a high level despite his advancing age. Over the years, opponents have repeatedly noted Suggs’ ability to sometimes call out their offensive plays before the snap, a product of his rigid preparation.

“You see how much fun he is and how much energy he brings to practice,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I don’t think you fully understand what he’s like off the field studying. He is from the book of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and those guys.”

In a season in which the Ravens rebounded from a rash of early injuries and a 4-5 start, a healthy and productive Suggs receiving the MVP nod was an appropriate outcome as he moves closer to his eventual place in Canton.

Weddle receives “Good Guy” honor

The local media named Weddle the 2017 recipient of the “Good Guy” award, an honor bestowed upon the player deemed most helpful to reporters.

In his second season with the Ravens, the veteran safety has regularly been available after losses and during tough times when it isn’t as easy to talk to the media.

“The media out here is great. It’s always an obligation for us and for myself,” said Weddle, who was named to his fifth Pro Bowl earlier this month. “I’ve always said that I will always be honest and upfront — good, bad, or indifferent. I’m a man of my word and respect everyone’s jobs. It’s pretty sweet that you guys think that highly of me.”

As a token of their appreciation for Weddle’s cooperation this season, the local media will make a donation in his name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

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Suggs, Mosley, Weddle named to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 19 December 2017 by Luke Jones

At an age when many of the greatest players in NFL history were already a couple years into retirement, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is instead going back to the Pro Bowl.

The 35-year-old was one of three Baltimore players to receive this year’s honor, joining inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle. Suggs was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and first since the 2013 season, a feat that could cement his case for an eventual invitation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 14 games, Suggs leads the Ravens with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while holding the franchise’s career record in each category. This is the seventh time in his career that the 2003 first-round pick and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year has reached double-digit sacks.

Suggs ranks 16th among all NFL edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system entering Week 16. He will serve as the reserve behind Denver’s Von Miller and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC.

“I’m speechless,” said Suggs, who credited good health and hard work in the offseason for his best campaign in several years. “Every time you make it, it’s like making it for the first time all over again. It’s a really great feeling.”

Mosley continues an impressive start to his NFL career with his third invitation to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. The 2014 first-round selection ranks sixth in the NFL with 121 tackles while adding two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The 25-year-old ranks 39th among qualified linebackers in PFF’s grading and will be the starting middle linebacker for the AFC.

“It’s always great to represent your teammates and the organization,” said Mosley, who gave much credit to his coaches. “All the blood, sweat, and tears you go through during the season — it’s all worth it to make the All-Star game. I give a lot of credit to the [defensive] line for keeping linemen off me.”

After being named an alternate and eventually being invited to play in last year’s game, Weddle has received the fifth Pro Bowl nod of his 11-year career with his first three coming as a member of the San Diego Chargers. The 32-year-old is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and has six pass breakups and two forced fumbles in his second season with Baltimore.

His slow start to the season helps explain why he ranks 30th among qualified NFL safeties in PFF’s grading system, but he has risen to 18th in pass coverage with a strong second half. His leadership and experience have been major reasons why the Ravens have ranked in the top 10 in pass defense all year and lead all 32 teams with 22 interceptions.

He will be the starting free safety for the AFC.

“I’ve never worked as hard as I did this past year to try and get better from last season and help this team and lead even more so,” said Weddle, whose 10 interceptions over the last two seasons lead all NFL safeties. “I’m ecstatic because I’ve done so much over the last year to get back to this point, to help my team win, and to hopefully get back to the playoffs.”

The biggest Ravens snub was kicker Justin Tucker, who was denied his third career trip to the Pro Bowl despite having missed only three field goal tries and not missing an extra point all season. He had misfires from 58 and 62 yards while a 46-yard attempt was blocked, but he has connected on five other field goals of 50 or more yards.

Tucker was named the first alternate behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell, who has benefited from the opportunity to make four game-winning field goals in the final minute this season. Considered the best kicker in the league by many, Tucker hasn’t had the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter all season.

Punter Sam Koch was also left out of the Pro Bowl despite leading the NFL with 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tennessee’s Brett Kern was named the AFC punter and leads the league in both gross and net average, but he has placed only 22 inside the 20.

This marks the 12th consecutive year that the Ravens will have had at least three players in the Pro Bowl.

The exhibition game will take place on Jan. 28 in Orlando with selections from the two teams playing in Super Bowl LII not taking part.

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