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Ravens Draft Anti-Report Card

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Ravens Draft Anti-Report Card

Posted on 02 May 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

Just as quickly as we could get excited about it, the NFL draft is gone, and our football attentions are turned back to scandal, controversy and other typical off-season business. Thank goodness.

I, like most, have had more than my fill of “expert analysis” regarding the world’s biggest crap shoot, and will mostly reserve judgment until we see these guys on the field, and in some cases over the months and years to come.

 

Forget about knee-benders and waist-benders, shuttle drill and forty times, as now we can again to talk football. The undeniable (yet inconvenient) truth is that none of us can possibly know how any of these guys will transition into the NFL…but we’ll see.

 

That said, whether or not the Ravens actually found real and usable talent in this year’s draft is debatable. What’s not debatable though is that lines have been drawn in the sand, messages sent, and competitions created for a few key positions on this roster, and that has to bode well for the Ravens in general.

 

For example, the Ravens first pick (albeit in the second round) Courtney Upshaw may or may not be a productive player. I (probably unfairly) look at the Alabama defense as a system, and like the Ravens, the production in that system doesn’t necessarily translate into others. Again, that’s my own hang-up, and as it’s an Alabama defender that Upshaw will be looking to succeed, he seems as viable a candidate as any. More importantly though, he’s just a candidate. The Ravens already had decent candidates in Paul Kruger and (to a lesser degree) Sergio Kindle, so now they have a competition…may the best man win. It seems a safe bet that among those three, at least one good football player should emerge. If more than one emerges…all the better.

 

The Bernard Pierce pick sets the stage for a battle of sorts between he and Damien Berry and Anthony Allen. Given the status of Ray Rice negotiations they might need to find options urgently. If a peaceful accord with Rice is reached (ideally) there’s a battle to back him up and for a between the tackles presence.

 

Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood, Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski could all find themselves fighting for a single position on the offensive line. If more than one proves their worth this year, the Ravens may be empowered to make additional moves.

 

Asa Jackson’s picture should probably be on the nightstands and in the weight rooms of both David Reed and LaQuan Williams. And anyone who thought hey had claim to the special teals roles vacated by Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura and Chris Carr had better take notice of Christian Thompson.

 

June 1st, and then the early days of camp will provide the chance to find plenty of additional talent, jettisoned to make room for the draft day bounties of other teams too, and not only have the Ravens proven adept at playing that market, they also enjoy a reputation that makes them attractive to those types of players.

 

I won’t pretend to know what’s in the heart of any man, especially an unproven 20-22 year old; anyone who will is asking to be wrong. I will suggest however that the battles shaping up for the Ravens most key positions look to be deep and interesting, making the likelihood of finding a few good football players pretty high. That much I would take to the bank.

 

 

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve already gotten about a hundred messages via email/Facebook/Twitter/text/Pony Express that said something along the lines of “well Glenn, you got what you wanted.”

To at least an extent, the people sending those messages have been right. After pounding on the desk of the studio at 1550 Hart Rd. in Towson for months (if not years), the Baltimore Ravens acquired a size receiver in the NFL Draft.

In the 6th round of the Draft, the Ravens selected Tommy Streeter, a 6’5″ wide receiver from the University of Miami. Combined with impressive speed (Streeter posted an impressive 4.40 forty time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis), Streeter seemingly adds a more unique dynamic to Cam Cameron’s offense in 2012. Streeter’s size presents an immediate matchup problem in the red zone (and specifically in the end zone) that the team simply didn’t have in their receiving corps in 2011.

Well…mostly anyway.

You see, the Ravens actually DID briefly have a receiver like that in 2011. If you’ll remember, the Ravens acquired former Buffalo Bills WR James Hardy late in the 2010 season in hopes he could make the team out of Training Camp. Nagging injury issues and a lockout later, Hardy couldn’t crack the 53 and the lack of a size receiver played a role in the Ravens finishing 18th in the NFL in red zone offense.

So Streeter solves all of those problems, right? Right?

As I was also quick to point out, simply being tall wasn’t the only desirable attribute in a new Ravens receiver. Clarence Moore was tall. Randy Hymes was tall. Even Marc Lester was tall. The Ravens not only needed a tall receiver, they needed a receiver who could catch the ball and become a consistent threat in a National Football League offense.

While I liked the team’s decision to draft Streeter, I will admit that I don’t believe the Ravens (and 31 other teams) passed on him for five and a half rounds because they were TOO worried about how good he was. There have been questions about Streeter’s hands, as well as his overall ability to develop into a consistent standout receiver. Those questions may or may not be fair, as the former Hurricanes star could show 31 teams they made a mistake in the coming seasons or they could show one particular team they made the wrong decision to take him even as late as the sixth round.

I guess that’s basically the entire point of this week’s column. After the NFL Draft, analysts attempt to identify “winners” and “losers” from three days of selecting players. Some of these players will go on to outstanding pro careers, others will leave little in the way of a legacy at the NFL level and others still will never play in even a single NFL game.

So do I think the Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft? Yeah…I guess. I guess the Baltimore Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft.

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Ravens grab S.C. State safety Christian Thompson with 4th-round compensatory pick

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Ravens grab S.C. State safety Christian Thompson with 4th-round compensatory pick

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Looking to add depth at the safety position, the Ravens selected South Carolina State safety Christian Thompson with their fourth-round compensatory pick at No. 130 overall.

After backup safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura departed in free agency, the Ravens found themselves in a tenuous situation at the position with starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard entering the final year of their respective contracts. Baltimore signed veteran Sean Considine to a one-year contract, but Thompson provides a long-term option to develop as well as an immediate special-teams contributor.

Thompson began his career at Auburn but elected to transfer to South Carolina State after receiving limited action while adjusting to playing in the secondary. He was a linebacker in high school.

“He is a hard hitter,” coach John Harbaugh said. “As [secondary coach] Teryl Austin says, he is a thick hitter. He really gets after people physically. He ended up at South Carolina State for various reasons. I think he has learned from whatever mistakes he has made.”

Thompson has ideal size for the safety position at 6-foot-0 and 211 pounds and can play either safety spot.

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New Ravens safety Considine excited to be reunited with Harbaugh

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Luke Jones

The last of four signings announced by the Ravens last Friday drew the softest buzz, but veteran safety Sean Considine couldn’t pass on the chance to reunite with John Harbaugh.

Signing a one-year contract to boost the Ravens’ depth at safety, Considine now has the opportunity to join his former special teams coordinator and secondary coach from their days with the Philadelphia Eagles. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, Considine reaped the benefits from the leadership qualities shown by Harbaugh in Philadelphia that led to his hiring as the third head coach in the history of the Ravens in 2008.

Considine once showed more promise at safety in making 17 starts in four seasons with the Eagles, but the 29-year-old has settled into reserve roles while continuing to play special teams with Jacksonville, Carolina, and Arizona over the last three years. With the Ravens having lost reserve safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura in free agency, Considine saw a promising opportunity with Harbaugh in Baltimore.

“He’s a heck of a leader, and I’m looking forward to playing for him again,” Considine said on AM 1570 WNST on Monday. “Relationships in the NFL always come full circle. The people you know, they trust you. I think [the Ravens] are looking for a solid backup safety, a guy with a little veteran presence, a special teams guy like myself. Harbaugh knows who I am and what I am about, so it was easy to unite with him again.”

With Emanuel Cook the only other reserve safety on the roster to back up starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, Considine’s 6-foot, 212-pound frame is suited to play both safety positions if needed. The 29-year-old played in four games with Carolina last season before being released and picked up by the Arizona Cardinals following an injury to Kerry Rhodes.

Entering his eighth NFL season, Considine has played in 83 career games while notching 253 career tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, four interceptions, five fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles. He has also made 93 special teams tackles over his career.

Much like newly-signed cornerback Corey Graham, Considine has been a regular contributor to all special teams units and embraces the phase of the game young players sometimes view as a demotion when not in the starting offense or defense.

“I play all four phases [of special teams], and I really enjoy it,” Considine said. “It’s an important part of the game and you can put in the same amount work in film study that you do if you are defensive or offensive starter. That’s what I like to do. I take it seriously, and I usually have pretty good success playing special teams.”

With veteran linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo questioning the effort of the team’s young players on special teams last season, the additions of Graham and Considine speak to a concerted effort to improve kick coverage and generate more production in the return game. The Ravens finished 30th in special teams, according to FootballOutsiders.com, while ranking 31st in kickoff coverage and 24th in punt coverage.

Considine hopes his experience and commitment to special teams will help reverse the misfortune that has placed special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg under scrutiny for the 2012 season.

“I know coach Harbaugh, and I know how much pride he takes in the special teams units coming from his background,” Considine said. “They weren’t playing up to their standards in special teams last year, and they are looking to improve just like every other team is looking to improve in all phases. So, hopefully I’ll be a part of that solution.”

To hear Sean Considine’s entire conversation with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark, click HERE.

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Plenty of work remains, but Friday’s activity a modest step forward for Ravens

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Plenty of work remains, but Friday’s activity a modest step forward for Ravens

Posted on 23 March 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The first 10 days of free agency had been anything but smooth for the Ravens, even if it was expected by anyone paying attention.

With limited salary cap room and 12 unrestricted free agents becoming available, coach John Harbaugh knew there would be difficult decisions to make, including waving goodbye to veterans Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Corey Redding, Haruki Nakamura, and Tom Zbikowski. Even when the Ravens targeted a potential outsider to help fill one of those voids — such as their flirtation with Eagles guard Evan Mathis — they found themselves without sufficient funds to close the deal.

Other than the re-signing of veteran center Matt Birk last week, the lack of activity was causing some restless nights among the fan base. But with the second week of free agency nearing its conclusion, this is typically when general manager Ozzie Newsome begins hunting for the best value.

Newsome and the Ravens apparently found it on Friday, re-signing linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo and inking former Bears cornerback Corey Graham and veteran safety Sean Considine to contracts.

“[Waiting] probably wasn’t as hard for me as it was for the fans, because I had a little bit more of a front seat into what we were doing and those conversations are happening every day,” Harbaugh said. “We were involved with guys all the time, but we had our limits as to what we were going to be able to pay certain players.”

While none of the four moves should be labeled as significant splashes, the retaining of McClain allows the Ravens to cross off inside linebacker as one of their most pressing needs this offseason. Though not an elite player, McClain acquitted himself nicely in the absence of fellow inside linebacker Ray Lewis for four games last season.

The 26-year-old repeatedly stated his preference to remain with the organization that took a chance on him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, but many expected McClain to find a new home somewhere else once he hit the open market on March 13.

“There’s always that possibility, because this game is unpredictable,” McClain said. “We never know what’s going to happen at the end of the day. But in the back of my heart, I always knew that Baltimore was home.”

With a deep group of available inside linebackers and a slow pace to the market, McClain’s only visit came with the Denver Broncos, who eventually re-signed inside linebacker Joe Mays. Those circumstances led to increased optimism that the Ravens would be able to keep McClain in Baltimore, which became reality on Friday afternoon.

“I probably wasn’t real confident early on because we just know what kind of a player he is,” Harbaugh said. “I think you guys have seen him. Our fans know how good of a player he is. For whatever reason, the inside backer market just didn’t really go crazy.”

McClain represents a rock-solid starting option next to Lewis and quells concerns at the position, but the Ravens will still look to address the inside linebacker position in April’s draft with an eventual replacement for Lewis in mind. Pass coverage still remains an issue, but the re-signing of Ayanbadejo does give the Ravens another option in the nickel package.

Friday also represented an encouraging day for the Ravens’ special teams with two Pro Bowl selections secured for a unit that finished 30th in the NFL in 2011, according to FootballOutsiders.com. The returning Ayanbadejo as well as Graham and Considine will try to help the Ravens improve on their 31st-ranked kickoff coverage and 24th-ranked punt coverage last season.

Of the three signings, Graham represents the most intriguing upside. Regarded as one of the best gunners in the league, he will start on all special teams units and be a focal point for which other teams will have to game-plan. Though clearly behind Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith, Graham does have secondary experience in addition to his special teams prowess.

“He’s kind of a guy like me who you’re going to have to scheme against him and double-team him and come up with ways to stop him,” Ayanabadejo said about his former Chicago teammate. “And anytime you double-team one guy, that’s going to leave someone else open.”

While Friday can be regarded as a modest sigh of relief for the Ravens and their fans, plenty of holes remain with the draft nearly a month away. Identifying starting replacements for Grubbs at left guard and Johnson at outside linebacker are still the top priorities. After that, the Ravens will look to address the third receiver spot as well as to try to find a viable return specialist.

The four signings eat away most of the near-$5 million in cap room the Ravens held entering the day, meaning they will likely need to sit tight until the draft and reassess the roster and the open market after selections have been made.

Yes, Friday represented a satisfying move in the right direction, but it will likely put the Ravens back in the familiar position of waiting.

With plenty of work still to do between now and the start of the season.

Hear interviews with John Harbaugh, Jameel McClain, and Corey Graham in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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Your Monday Reality Check-I Got A Nice Reminder Sunday

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Your Monday Reality Check-I Got A Nice Reminder Sunday

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Glenn Clark

It’s been a tough start to National Football League free agency for Baltimore Ravens fans.

Even for the most realistic fan of the Purple And Black (I’d like to think of myself in that group), it’s impossible to be excited about a six day span that has seen five players (LB Jarret Johnson, DL Cory Redding, G Ben Grubbs, S Tom Zbikowski, S Haruki Nakamura) depart, just one free agent (C Matt Birk) return and no free agents added to the roster.

The realistic Ravens fan knew this could be coming. Between them, the five players share just one Pro Bowl appearance (Grubbs was invited to Hawaii this season as an injury replacement) and all were able to cash in on the open market. The Ravens, having spent significant money during the regular season to extend would-be free agent DT Haloti Ngata decided none were “cornerstone” players and wouldn’t overpay to keep them.

The Ravens are instead working to spend a boatload of money to extend QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice, both players they do believe are “cornerstone” parts of the organization.

The realistic fan also knows the Ravens still have work to do in free agency before the process is finished. It was revealed this week that return specialist (and part time Wide Receiver) Ted Ginn Jr. visited Owings Mills last week. The team could still look to find help along the Offensive Line and at Linebacker as well, and could even add another Safety at some point.

Additionally, the realistic fan is aware that the upcoming NFL Draft is likely to help shape the 2012 season for the defending AFC North champs, with some players (like WR Torrey Smith and DE Pernell McPhee) not likely to fully develop into contributors until after the season has started.

AND the realistic fan knows the 2012 season will also be defined in part by the continued development of young players. Entering the 2011 season, the team’s secondary was considered to be one of the bigger question marks about the roster. Just months later, the CB trio of Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith represents one of the more solid units in football.

Yet even the most realistic Ravens fan still agonizes over the thought “can enough be done to get this team over the hump and into a Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years?”

A reasonable level of concern is understandable at this point. In addition to the pre-existing question marks facing the team (uneven O-Line play, lack of a size receiver, age and injury related decline from defensive playmakers, Special Teams issues), there are additional depth issues created by the first batch of free agent departures.

It’s an uneasy time for Ravens fans.

The majority of Ravens fans have not swayed far from reality in how they’ve viewed Week 1 of the actual NFL offseason. As can be expected, some have gone off the deep end entirely. The reminder I got Sunday could serve as a nice “reality check” itself for fans in both groups. It’s probably something you already know about.

I assume you’ve heard that free agent quarterback Matt Flynn agreed to a three year, $26 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks. As the deal involved only $10 million of guaranteed money, most analysts agreed it was a particularly fair and perhaps very good deal for a team that is trying to improve on a third place finish in the NFC West last season.

I actually think the deal was a great move for the Seahawks. In fact, just days ago during our weekly “Free Advice” segment on “The Reality Check” (weekdays 2-6pm on AM1570 WNST.net for the one of you that doesn’t listen already) I encouraged the Seahawks to pull the trigger on the move. I can only assume my endorsement was the final approval the team needed to get the deal done.

But the facts about Flynn don’t change. The quarterback was believed to have so little pro talent coming out of LSU that he slid to the seventh round of the NFL Draft. While they’ve been impressive, he’s made only two starts with the Green Bay Packers as is still mostly an unknown commodity.

An unknown commodity who has $10 million guaranteed coming his way.

You see, the Seahawks are in a place where they had to make a significant move that could backfire. Matt Flynn might be more Rick Mirer than Matt Hasselbeck in the Emerald City, which could possibly doom Pete Carroll’s tenure.

Yet if the team didn’t pull the trigger, they could face a reality that involves more Tavaris Jackson. That would almost certainly doom Carroll to a sub .500 record until he was dismissed.

The Seahawks had to pull the trigger partly due to desperation. It’s a feeling the Baltimore Ravens have experienced in the past with mixed results. It’s a feeling that Baltimore Ravens fans should enjoy not experiencing this year.

The Ravens haven’t been able to accomplish much during free agency, but they haven’t had to. They’re not a desperate organization seeking a single fix to exit mediocrity. They’re a superior organization merely looking to make a few moves to reach “the next level.”

The Ravens have a quarterback. The Ravens have talented players at other offensive skill positions. The Ravens (still) have one of the best defenses in the league.

Desperation isn’t a word General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Head Coach John Harbaugh and Owner Steve Bisciotti even have to consider. Neither do Ravens fans.

It’s a significantly better place to be. I appreciated the reminder.

Carry on.

-G

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Former Ravens safety Zbikowski joining Redding, Pagano in Indianapolis

Posted on 16 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Backup safety and kick returner Tom Zbikowski has reportedly agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts.

The fifth-year safety will be reunited with former Baltimore defensive coordinator and Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano, according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. Former Ravens defensive end Cory Redding signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract to join the Colts on Wednesday, making Zbikowski the second Baltimore player to follow his coordinator to Indianapolis.

Much like fellow reserve safety Haruki Nakamura, who signed a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers earlier in the day on Friday, Zbikowski’s departure is more about a desire to earn more playing time than it was about money. A third-round pick in the 2008 draft, Zbikowski made 14 career starts in his four seasons with the Ravens, including filling in for the first six games of the 2010 season while All-Pro safety Ed Reed was on the physically unable to perform list due to a hip injury.

Zbikowski began the 2011 season starting at strong safety opposite Reed before a concussion sidelined him for two games and he was replaced by Bernard Pollard. The former Notre Dame product became the team’s primary kick returner late in the season.

His departure now leaves special-teams contributor Emanuel Cook as the only reserve safety remaining from last season’s roster. The Ravens claimed Cook off waivers from the New York Jets in late November last season.

An Illinois native, Zbikowski will now have the opportunity to play closer to home as well as compete for a starting job in Indianapolis.

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Reserve safety Nakamura latest to leave Ravens in free agency

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Reserve safety Nakamura latest to leave Ravens in free agency

Posted on 16 March 2012 by Luke Jones

The free agency news didn’t get any better for the Ravens on Friday as reserve safety Haruki Nakamura has reportedly become the fourth unrestricted free agent to leave Baltimore.

Nakamura has reportedly agreed to a three-year contract with the Carolina Panthers, according to a Scout.com report. A sixth-round pick in the 2008 draft, the 25-year-old defensive back was one of the Ravens’ top special teams players and a key defensive reserve in his four years with the Ravens.

“Having the teammates that I had, I don’t know if I’ll be able to find teammates like I had in Baltimore,” Nakamura told AM 1570 WNST before the start of free agency. “My four years here in Baltimore were unbelievable. There’s a true tradition here in the building.”

With Nakamura and fellow 2008 draft pick Tom Zbikowski stuck behind starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard on the depth chart at safety, it was expected that the Ravens would have difficulty keeping either player without an immediate opportunity to earn more playing time.

Able to play both safety positions and occasionally filling in as a nickel or dime back when needed, Nakamura expressed a preference to find a free-agent destination where he would receive more defensive snaps despite his fondness for Baltimore.

He’ll have that opportunity in Carolina.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the fate of Ravens’ free agents

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the fate of Ravens’ free agents

Posted on 08 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 12 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and seven exclusive rights free agents.

As of Thursday afternoon, the 2012 salary cap had yet to be set, but most reports indicate it will remain right around the $120 million used for the 2011 season. The Ravens are projected to have somewhere between $11 and $12 million in cap space, depending on what the final cap number will be.

Franchise tag

RB Ray Rice: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement with Rice or he will play for the $7.7 million salary mandated by the franchise tag for running backs.

Unrestricted free agents

G Ben Grubbs: LEAVES
Skinny: General manager Ozzie Newsome expressed optimism at the NFL Combine, but the Ravens won’t engage in a bidding war when Grubbs hits the open market. 

C Matt Birk: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens will meet with Birk’s agent Joe Linta next week and could sign the veteran to a cap-friendly, short-term deal to finish his career in Baltimore. 

LB Jarret Johnson: LEAVES
Skinny: Despite little depth at outside linebacker, the Ravens appear ready to move on and won’t be able to afford Johnson in a thin market for linebackers. 

LB Jameel McClain: LEAVES
Skinny: Assuming the Ravens do not strike a deal for Grubbs, some of that money could be allocated to retain McClain, but other teams historically throw too much money at Baltimore linebackers in the open market. 

DE Cory Redding: STAYS
Skinny: Though third-year defensive lineman Arthur Jones could step into the starting lineup, Redding might have more value to the Ravens than other potential suitors at this stage in his career. 

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo: STAYS
Skinny: With the lack of depth at inside linebacker and Ayanbadejo’s ability in pass coverage, the Ravens will hold onto the 35-year-old at a lower rate than the four-year contract he signed with the team in 2008. 

S Tom Zbikowski: LEAVES
Skinny: After four years serving primarily as a backup, the former Notre Dame product is looking for an opportunity to start elsewhere and doesn’t bring enough to the table as a special teams player to warrant overpaying. 

S Haruki Nakamura: STAYS
Skinny: In the same position as Zbikowski, Nakamura’s versatility as a defensive back as well as his special teams prowess will force the Ravens to pony up a little extra to keep him in Baltimore. 

OL Andre Gurode: LEAVES
Skinny: With the Ravens looking to select an interior lineman or two in April’s draft, the five-time Pro Bowl center will continue his career elsewhere. 

DT Brandon McKinney: STAYS
Skinny: A solid member of the defensive line rotation, McKinney won’t figure to draw a ton of interest on the open market, and the Ravens want to maintain their depth up front. 

TE Kris Wilson: LEAVES
Skinny: Adding a veteran tight end was a shrewd move after Todd Heap’s release last season, but Wilson’s spot will be assumed by a younger, cheaper option. 

LB Edgar Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: Injuries opened the door for Jones’ return last season, but he wouldn’t figure to fit into the team’s plans for the 2012 season. 

Restricted free agents

(The Ravens can offer a first-round, second-round, or low tender to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted.)

CB Lardarius Webb: STAYS
Skinny: Webb will receive the first-round tender worth roughly $2.75 million as the Ravens will explore a long-term agreement with the fourth-year cornerback. 

CB Cary Williams: STAYS
Skinny: A report indicated the Ravens will offer Williams a first-round tender, but the second-round designation (an estimated $1.9 million) saves money and would still deter teams from trying to pry away the biggest surprise of the 2011 season.

LB Dannell Ellerbe: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens could roll the dice and offer the low tender ($1.25 million) to the inconsistent linebacker, but that would mean they wouldn’t receive a pick (Ellerbe was an undrafted free agent) if they declined to match a potential offer sheet.

RB Matt Lawrence: LEAVES
Skinny: Even with little depth at running back behind Ray Rice, there’s no way to justify even offering the low tender to the oft-injured running back entering his fourth season.

Exclusive rights free agents

(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

Continue >>>

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest defensive needs

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest defensive needs

Posted on 15 February 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on March 13 and the draft to follow in late April, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

After evaluating the biggest offensive needs on Monday, I offer my thoughts on the defensive side of the football by ranking the biggest positions of need entering the offseason.

1. Outside linebacker

For a team as rich as any at the linebacker position over the last 15 years, it’s unusual to see the Ravens with such glaring needs within the unit. Veteran Jarret Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and will be 31 by the start of the 2012 season, suggesting he would be a necessary casualty when addressing a list of 13 unrestricted free agents.

However, there isn’t a single option on the roster with which the Ravens would feel comfortable as a starting strongside linebacker. Paul Kruger shows ability as a pass rusher but has not shown the necessary ability in pass coverage or run defense to consider him an option as a three-down player at this point.

After appearing in only two games this past season, former second-round pick Sergio Kindle is probably more likely to be cut than to find himself in the starting lineup next season. The former Texas product has struggled to learn the Baltimore defense and still feels effects of a fractured skull suffered just days before what would have been his first training camp in 2010, but the 24-year-old will benefit from a full offseason at the team’s Owings Mills facility. Along the same lines as Kindle, Michael McAdoo — who spent the 2011 season on injured reserve — is an intriguing name to monitor but shouldn’t be in the discussion for a starting position at this point.

With that in mind, the Ravens might be more inclined to re-sign Johnson than many would think. Much like they did with Ray Lewis in the winter of 2009, the Ravens will allow the veteran linebacker to explore his value in the open market and see if they can come to an agreement that makes sense for both sides. Of course, new Indianapolis head coach and former Ravens defense coordinator Chuck Pagano could try to overpay for Johnson to bring a Baltimore flavor to the Colts defense. One factor working against the Ravens is a relatively-thin market for outside linebackers, which would not only drive up the price for Johnson but also mean they’d still have to pay handsomely for a replacement.

The Ravens would love to find a young outside backer who can play the run as effectively as Johnson while showing more ability in pass coverage. They could look to a draft prospect such as North Carolina’s Zach Brown, Oklahoma’s Ronnell Lewis, or Utah State’s Bobby Wagner in the early rounds, but the Ravens have rarely shown enough confidence in rookies to step into a starting job at the linebacker position.

The dream scenario would be to find an outside linebacker with enough pass-rushing ability to alleviate attention from Terrell Suggs on the opposite side, but Kruger did an adequate job in getting after the quarterback in passing situations.

2. Inside linebacker

The talk has only grown louder regarding the need to find the heir apparent to future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but the Ravens first need to figure out who will be playing next to him in 2012.

Jameel McClain is an unrestricted free agent and while the Ravens have to be pleased with his development after signing him as a rookie free agent in 2008, the 26-year-old will likely command more money than Baltimore is willing to pay to retain his services. This would leave Dannell Ellerbe, Albert McClellan, and Josh Bynes as potential replacements. Ellerbe is an restricted free agent while the latter two are exclusive rights players, meaning all three are very likely to return.

Veteran Brendon Ayanbadejo is also a free agent, meaning the Ravens could be in danger of losing arguably their best linebacker in terms of pass coverage.

Ellerbe has shown impressive potential in limited doses, but his work ethic has come into question on a number of occasions to draw the ire of coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens might be content with plugging Ellerbe into the other inside linebacker spot for now, but he’s far from a safe bet to be an answer beyond the 2012 season.

The Ravens face a difficult proposition in how to handle Lewis, who still plays the run effectively but is a liability in pass coverage. The prudent answer would be to limit the veteran to action on first and second down, but explaining that to one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history is easier said than done. You also need to have a viable replacement before you tell the defensive leader he comes off the field in passing situations.

While there has been plenty of talk over the last year or two to find Lewis’ eventual replacement, this year’s draft appears to be a critical time to find an up-and-coming inside linebacker. The Ravens have been linked to both Dont’a Hightower of Alabama and Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State in various mock drafts. The problem is Hightower may be off the board by the time the 29th pick rolls around and Burfict’s character has come into question with a reputation for delivering cheap shots and reportedly sucker-punching a teammate in practice last August.

3. Safety*

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