Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Final chapter of Newsome’s Ravens draft legacy yet to be defined

Posted on 29 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Emotions ran high as the Ravens concluded the final draft of Ozzie Newsome’s impeccable run as general manager.

Successor Eric DeCosta choked up as he spoke about his mentor, describing how owner Steve Bisciotti switched their chairs in the draft room to signify the changing of the guard.

John Harbaugh shared his belief that this was the franchise’s best draft in his 11 seasons as head coach. Others have wasted no time heaping praise upon Baltimore’s work.

Of course, Newsome himself brought the appropriate context in judging his 23rd and final draft.

“We did address a lot of areas, but ask me two years from now,” Newsome said. “Because now we have to get them in, we have to work with them, we have to develop them. Then, two years from now, we’ll be able to determine what job we did this weekend.”

The Ravens surely checked boxes by drafting tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews as well as offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the most heartwarming pick of the weekend. On the final day, they attempted to address other needs by taking inside linebacker Kenny Young as well as wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley to develop for the future.

But make no mistake, the fate of the 2018 draft will ultimately be defined by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. That’s just reality when you take a quarterback in the first round, regardless of what Newsome might have given up in the trade or how the Ravens were able to secure a fifth-year option with shrewd maneuvering.

Just ask Super Bowl XXXV champion coach Brian Billick about the 2003 draft. The first round may have featured potential Hall of Fame linebacker Terrell Suggs, but quarterback bust Kyle Boller ultimately cost Billick his job four years later.

The Jackson pick isn’t a flier or a low risk as those attempting to soft-pedal the likely ousting of Joe Flacco have suggested. If he doesn’t become the franchise quarterback, the ramifications are substantial, ranging from a missed opportunity to really strengthen the roster to high-profile jobs potentially being lost.

Squandering a first-round pick is significant even when it isn’t a quarterback. Consider the many resources the Ravens have exhausted at the safety position since drafting Matt Elam five years ago. Baltimore is still dealing with the fallout of Breshad Perriman failing to develop into a functional wide receiver three years after being drafted.

Jackson’s selection following his electrifying career at Louisville has reinvigorated much of a disgruntled fan base over the last few days, but recent history suggests the odds are against him panning out. Of the 17 quarterbacks drafted 15th through 45th overall from 2007-16 — a range chosen to satisfy varying opinions of his value — only seven spent more than one full season as a starter and one of those was Geno Smith. Just three — Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Oakland’s Derek Carr, and Flacco — are present-day starting quarterbacks with the others either surviving as backups or out of the league entirely.

Those odds are why those now being labeled by some as Flacco apologists balked at using such valuable draft capital on his replacement rather than at another position with a higher success rate to try to help the 33-year-old who led the franchise to a championship five years ago.

Where will the Ravens be in two years?

If the talented Jackson is on his way to becoming a franchise quarterback and helping his team to the playoffs, even detractors of Thursday’s pick will need to give Newsome his due. If he isn’t, there’s no telling what the fallout could be for a team with just one playoff appearance since Super Bowl XLVII.

Of course, this is where the rest of the draft class also comes into play as any quarterback is impacted dramatically by his environment.

Is at least one of the combination of Hurst and Andrews serving as the impact tight end the Ravens have lacked since the early days of Dennis Pitta and Todd Heap before that?

Will Scott or Lasley break the mold of so many failed Day 3 wide receivers to help improve the position’s long-term outlook? That will be a critical need for the young quarterback.

Does an eventual starter and a solid backup or two emerge from the group of Brown, Young, cornerback Anthony Averett, and a quartet of sixth- and seventh-rounders?

Only the answers to these questions will determine whether the current praise for Newsome’s swansong draft is warranted.

It’s understandable for so many to want to pay tribute to the general manager after all he’s accomplished. No one can take away a body of work that includes two Super Bowl championships, 10 playoff appearances in a 15-year period, two homegrown Hall of Famers (with at least one or two more to come), and 18 homegrown Pro Bowl players. Newsome is more than deserving of being a Hall of Fame executive after being a Hall of Fame tight end.

But let’s follow his own advice and pump the brakes on declaring this draft to be his final masterpiece.

That will be determined by whether the master plan to replace Flacco with Jackson succeeds.

Remember many Ravens fans were once miffed that Jonathan Ogden was chosen over Lawrence Phillips while others initially celebrated the likes of Boller, Elam, and Perriman in past first rounds.

We’ll know the truth in two years.

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Flacco-to-Jackson transition will prove challenging for Ravens

Posted on 27 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens took their quarterback of the future Thursday night.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh clearly stated Joe Flacco will remain their starter, but for how long? You don’t just trade back into the first round — surrendering a 2019 second-round pick in the process — and take Louisville’s Lamar Jackson to merely be a flier and long-term backup to light a fire under Flacco. Those picks are valuable commodities, especially for a team that’s made the playoffs just once in the last five years.

Drafting Jackson so early was a clear message that the Ravens have lost faith in their longtime starter.

It’s no secret that Flacco’s contract remains untouchable until next season while the consensus opinion is that the talented Jackson won’t be ready to play in the NFL right away. The Ravens would still be dealing with $16 million in dead money on their salary cap should they cut or trade Flacco next year, making it conceivable that he stays put for 2019 if he plays well this season or Jackson develops more slowly than they hope.

But how do the Ravens calibrate the present with Flacco while preparing for their future with Jackson?

Newsome said they want to win this year, but one of the major criticisms of the organization has been its inability to surround Flacco with more talent, something that wasn’t helped by drafting someone who will be standing on the sideline this season. Harbaugh cited New England as a recent example of a team contending while drafting a young quarterback early — Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of the second round in 2014 — but Flacco isn’t Tom Brady and the Patriots already had a championship-caliber roster in place. The Ravens really aren’t in a position to be using an early pick on a backup quarterback if they’re so determined to get back to the playoffs this season.

Beyond the question of whether Baltimore will adequately address its remaining needs, how do you go about developing Jackson appropriately? The idea of a first-round quarterback not playing right away was once commonplace, but that strategy is rarely executed successfully in today’s NFL for a variety of reasons, one of them being the overall shortage of practice time to adequately develop the player. There are only so many reps to go around, and an already-maligned veteran sharing valuable first-team reps with a developing backup isn’t a winning formula for Sundays.

Then again, the Ravens trying to utilize Jackson’s unique skills in some fashion during his rookie season should be a no-brainer. You can talk about practice reps and classroom time all you want, but there’s no substitute for live-game action and one of the major questions facing Jackson is his ability to handle pressure in the pocket, something not easily replicated in practice.

To little surprise, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was vague when asked how the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner would be handled during his rookie season.

“We talked about it just briefly on his visit about how we would go about these things,” Mornhinweg said. “So [quarterbacks coach James Urban] and myself and John plan together, pre-practice, all those things. It’s going to be important. As far as the future, we’ll see what happens there. Joe’s the quarterback of this football team. Lamar is going to develop all those things. So, we’ll see what happens.”

What about the coaches’ status in this equation?

Many have assumed Harbaugh and his staff would likely be dismissed without a return to the playoffs this coming season, but much has been made about the experiences of Mornhinweg and Urban resurrecting Michael Vick’s career in Philadelphia and assistant head coach Greg Roman tutoring Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor at previous stops. If Jackson’s development is truly the priority it needs to be after using a first-round pick on him, firing the coaching staff a year into his NFL career would seemingly set him back.

On Thursday, Harbaugh spoke in such glowing terms about a quarterback who doesn’t currently figure to be a major factor in 2018 that you wonder if he’s received assurances from owner Steve Bisciotti — who admitted he considered replacing him at the end of the 2017 season — that he’s not facing a playoffs-or-bust scenario and that his staff will be given sufficient time to oversee Jackson’s development. Otherwise, it’s difficult to imagine Harbaugh being thrilled about valuable draft capital being used solely for the future.

What about the relationship between Flacco and Jackson? The 33-year-old has always been viewed as a good teammate, but he’s never before been threatened by another quarterback on the roster, making you wonder how eager he’ll be to help tutor someone tabbed to take his job.

How will other Ravens players react if Flacco gets off to a lackluster start and the talented rookie is itching for his opportunity? Quarterback controversies can easily fracture a locker room if you’re not careful.

And we haven’t even mentioned how ugly it could get as soon as Flacco throws an interception or the offense has a few three-and-outs playing at home. A viable backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town, meaning fan pressure to replace Flacco with Jackson at the first sign of trouble will be immense.

It all has the potential to be a very bumpy ride.

Regardless of your view on the Ravens’ decision on Thursday night, Jackson has impressive abilities and could eventually blossom into a dangerous NFL quarterback, but he’ll need proper coaching as well as a good roster surrounding him to succeed. A less-than-ideal salary cap situation, questions about the long-term status of the coaching staff, and the incumbent still being on the roster could all prove to be significant challenges as the torch is eventually passed.

The process sure will be fascinating to watch.

And it could be very problematic.

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Join us in Carolina for a great weekend of Ravens football in October

Posted on 27 April 2018 by WNST Trips

Join our WNST Purple Group as we travel back to Charlotte where we had so much fun eight years ago.

We will be departing White Marsh Park and Ride at 6am on Saturday, October 27th with a stop at I-95 Catonsville at 6:30am bound for Charlotte. We’ll check in around 2:30pm and freshen up and arrive at our Purple Pep Rally at Whiskey River from 5-8pm. The rest of the night is yours and remember that the game time is 1pm on Sunday, October 28th.

We are staying just six miles from the stadium and downtown Whiskey River area. We will have a bus shuttle back to the hotel after the party on Saturday night. We’ll also be doing a Sunday pre-game tailgate before the game with a 9:30 departure from the Doubletree Airport Charlotte. Our bus will depart 90 minutes after the conclusion of the game. We expect to return home to Baltimore after midnight on Sunday night.

Here’s two videos of our last conquest of the Carolinas back in 2010:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RA0xYf3IeQk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXFJ75letqo

 

We have tried to keep this trip extremely affordable and easy. If you need any assistance, please toss me an email: nasty@wnst.net.

OUR 2018 TRIP INCLUDES:

Roundtrip luxury motorcoach from White Marsh/I-95 Catonsville to Charlotte via Gunther Motorcoach (we’ll have beer, soda, water & snacks on the ride)

One night at Doubletree Charlotte Airport

Upper ticket for Ravens-Panthers on October 28

Whiskey River admission and buffet for 5-8 Purple Pep Rally

Sunday morning tailgate w/beer and snacks

 

PRICING:

(Per person based on rooming)

SINGLE – $550

DOUBLE – $500

TRIPLE – $475

QUAD – $450

How many in your room?

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First-round quarterback would cap disappointing finish to Newsome era

Posted on 25 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will get the benefit of the doubt until they turn in their card late Thursday night.

Whether staying at 16th overall or moving elsewhere in the first round, Ozzie Newsome has a variety of directions he can go in the final draft of his Hall of Fame-caliber run as general manager that includes two Super Bowl titles and 10 playoff appearances in 22 years.

Despite signing three veteran wide receivers this offseason, Baltimore needs a pass-catching tight end and could still use another receiver with upside for both the present and future. After losing two starters from last year’s offensive line, a tackle such as Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey or even center Frank Ragnow from Arkansas would make sense despite neither being a sexy pick for an anxious fan base.

You could try to sell me on not being able to resist a special defensive talent such as Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith somehow sliding down the board, even if that would continue the post-Super Bowl XLVII theme of neglecting the offensive side of the ball. These are the defense-obsessed Ravens, after all, so that wouldn’t be all that stunning.

But a quarterback in the first round?

Nope.

Absolutely not.

Sorry, that’s a hard pass.

As owner Steve Bisciotti famously said in February, the Ravens have “bigger fish to fry.”

Yet the smoke persists with NFL Network’s Mike Mayock becoming the latest draft maven to mock Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson to the Ravens at No. 16. It’s one thing when a run-of-the-mill reporter or draft enthusiast makes the connection in the hundreds of mock drafts currently circulating the internet, but the likes of Mayock and Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer are connected throughout the league. At the very least, the Ravens are making it appear that they’re seriously considering drafting Joe Flacco’s heir apparent in the first round as Jackson reportedly even took a pre-draft visit to Baltimore.

To be clear, this isn’t an anti-Jackson stance. The former Heisman Trophy winner is an intriguing talent who has a chance to be a good NFL quarterback if he lands in the right environment, the same caveat that applies to other high-profile signal-callers in this year’s draft class.

Putting aside the warm-and-fuzzy narrative of Newsome taking the Ravens’ quarterback of the future in his final draft, let’s look at reality.

With Bisciotti admitting he considered replacing John Harbaugh at the end of last season, do you think the 11th-year head coach and his staff are going to be receptive to a first-round pick unlikely to make any meaningful impact this year when they’re in win-now mode and very likely fighting for their jobs after missing the playoffs three straight times? That puts them in an unfair position.

No matter how they spin it, taking a first-round quarterback would be a clear message that the Ravens are done with Flacco. You can point to the final year of the Alex Smith-Kansas City marriage that resulted in a trip to the playoffs as much as you’d like, but we still have no idea if Patrick Mahomes will work out for Andy Reid and the Chiefs, making that a flimsy example to use as justification.

In today’s NFL, the benefit of hitting on a quarterback in the draft is the flexibility it provides with the salary cap, but the Ravens will have essentially wasted the first year of that rookie contract and would still be dealing with $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap by cutting Flacco next offseason. Sure, you could give his release a post-June 1 designation to push $8 million of that dead money to 2020, but that does you no good during free agency, meaning you’ve now minimized the benefits of the second season of that four-year rookie contract. That’s not a good start, and that’s assuming Jackson or whichever first-round quarterback you’d like to envision actually pans out.

Beyond those realities, does the current regime really deserve to reboot at the quarterback position yet? Why should the Ravens be trusted to build around another quarterback when they’ve done such a dismal job putting talent around the one who led them to their second NFL championship five years ago?

And please spare me the talk about Flacco’s contract.

The Ravens rank last in the NFL in non-quarterback money invested in the offensive side of the ball, according to OverTheCap.com. They’ve used just four of their 17 total picks in the first, second, and third rounds of the last five drafts on offensive players while attempting to recreate the 2000 defense with underwhelming results.

Since investing nine figures in the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player, the Ravens have consistently asked Flacco to do more with less than virtually any quarterback in the NFL.

To be clear, Flacco has underperformed and needs to own his share of the team’s shortcomings like anyone else, including the front office and coaching staff. There are legitimate reasons to doubt his future, ranging from his steadily-declining yards per attempt to concerns about his durability as he enters his mid-30s.

The end could very well be near for Flacco.

But the Ravens owe it to themselves and to their longtime quarterback to put their best foot forward for 2018 in Newsome’s final draft. They’ve hired a new quarterbacks coach in James Urban, who has a good reputation around the league and will hopefully address Flacco’s mechanics that have regressed since Gary Kubiak’s departure three years ago. Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead are each coming off down seasons, but they bring diverse skills to the passing game and have all tasted NFL success to varying degrees in the past. Investing meaningful draft picks on the offensive side of the ball would put the finishing touches on an offseason in which the Ravens brass can at least say they made more of an attempt to help Flacco than the usual dollar-store signings and Day 3 draft picks of recent years.

If he shows no meaningful improvement in 2018 from what we’ve seen the last few years, I’ll be the first to say it’s time to move on. New general manager Eric DeCosta can then begin his own quest for a new quarterback as the organization would likely be in transition in more ways than one.

This isn’t a special case like the New York Giants having the second overall pick and wondering if they’ll have another golden opportunity to replace their aging quarterback. The Ravens are picking in the middle of the first round and would be taking the fourth- or fifth-ranked quarterback in the class at best. Starting over by drafting a quarterback is never a high-percentage play and shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially when you’d be moving on from someone who once got you to the pinnacle when he had enough talent around him.

Newsome taking a quarterback Thursday would essentially be letting Flacco take the fall for his own shortcomings in recent years.

I’m still not buying it being the Ravens’ true play, but such an outcome would cap a lackluster finish to his long and successful run as general manager.

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Flacco saying right things entering critical year for him and Ravens

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never come across as someone who peruses the mock drafts circulating this time of year.

But he’s aware of the smoke coming from even some of the more respected reporters and draft pundits suggesting general manager Ozzie Newsome may select a quarterback such as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State in the first round. The Ravens are either seriously considering taking a quarterback early or doing their best to make it look that way.

“It is what it is. It’s a business,” said Flacco, entering his 11th season in Baltimore. “Eventually, at some point, that’s going to have to happen. It’s not really for me to worry about. I come in here and you worry about what’s here and now and doing your job, which is for me right now getting guys out there working hard and making sure we’re moving towards our goal of getting to that championship.”

Whether the Ravens are serious or not, taking a quarterback in the first round would seem to contradict many circumstances facing the organization as owner Steve Bisciotti even said in early February that the Ravens had “bigger fish to fry” then finding Flacco’s successor. After Bisciotti acknowledged considering replacing head coach John Harbaugh at the end of last season, would the front office really give a coaching staff presumably fighting for its jobs a first-round pick who won’t see the field unless Flacco is injured or completely ineffective? The Ravens cited their late-season improvement as justification for retaining offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but they’re suddenly ready to move on from Flacco, who played well down the stretch despite little help at the pass-catching positions?

An organization having missed the playoffs four out of five seasons and facing an attendance crisis is going to use its first-round pick on a player unlikely to make any meaningful impact while Flacco carries a $24.75 million salary cap number this year and would still cost the Ravens another $16 million in dead money if he’s released next season? So much for maximizing the first couple years of having a young quarterback on a cheap rookie contract, and that’s assuming the drafted signal-caller pans out, which is far from the sure thing teams and their fans want it to be this time of year.

Finding a new franchise quarterback is a proposition never to be taken lightly.

Regardless of what happens next week, the pressure is mounting on Flacco, who is coming off a third straight subpar statistical campaign and is facing his most pivotal season since the final year of his rookie contract in 2012. The Ravens have done a poor job building an offense around him since Super Bowl XLVII, but that doesn’t absolve him from criticism as even his biggest supporters should be concerned with his declining yards per attempt average and questions about his durability moving forward as the 33-year-old missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury, an absence that severely stunted the offense. For what it’s worth, Flacco said he feels “really good” after placing an emphasis in his offseason training on keeping his back healthy.

Newsome has followed through on his vow to change the look of the wide receiver room this offseason with the free-agent additions of Michael Crabtree and John Brown, but it’s still debatable whether that duo is markedly better than Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and the Ravens still don’t have a pass-catching tight end on the roster after Benjamin Watson’s exit. To his credit, Flacco says he’s already spoken to Crabtree and Brown about working out away from the team’s Owings Mills facility before training camp. It’s an activity that’s been overrated by both media and fans on an annual basis, but there’s also no downside to it and such a commitment would likely garner some favor after both Newsome and Harbaugh mentioned the need for him to get on the same page with his new targets.

“I think sometimes those things are just as much, or more, about developing a relationship with those guys and developing that trust,” Flacco said. “For those guys to see that I really like who they are as football players, and for them to see that hopefully they like who I am as a football player. I think when you can get that relationship going, that’s going to help your football team out a ton.”

The Ravens have more work to do with their offense, further making the notion of taking a quarterback in the first round a puzzling one. After taking just four offensive players — left tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and tight ends Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore — with their last 17 Day 1 and Day picks in the last five drafts, tight end, wide receiver, right tackle, and center remain among the roster’s biggest needs.

If Flacco has his way, the Ravens won’t wait until next week’s draft to add another pass catcher or two as he provided a ringing endorsement when asked about the possibility of adding former Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“I got used to throwing to a guy like that when Anquan [Boldin] was here,” Flacco said. “He was a guy that even if he didn’t have the separation, it may have taken me a couple games, but you got used to throwing him the ball and having trust that he was going to get it. At the end of the day, in order to win big games, you have to have guys that can do that, because eventually, you’re not going to have guys running wide open – you’re going to have guys that can deal with traffic, winning in traffic, catching the ball in traffic. I think he’s another one of those guys.”

If Newsome finishes the job of improving the offensive cast, there will be no more excuses for the veteran quarterback. Flacco’s current deal runs through 2021, but new general manager Eric DeCosta — and perhaps even a new head coach — could elect to move on next year if 2018 offers more of the same from Flacco and an offense that’s consistently been below average in recent years.

His renaissance would likely save jobs and change the outlook of the organization as it enters a new era with Newsome stepping down as general manager.

Yes, time very well could be running out. How the Ravens proceed next week could say plenty about just how much remains, but Flacco still deserves the chance to hit pause with an improved 2018 campaign.

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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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Dez Bryant could help, but is he the best fit for the Ravens?

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens still have much work to do to their offense with the NFL draft looming.

One of those positions remains wide receiver, but Baltimore has yet to add a pass-catching tight end following the free-agent departure of Benjamin Watson and has also lost two starters from last year’s offensive line. And while some help figures to come by way of a few draft choices next week, you never want to be in a position where you’re reaching with too many picks to fill out a depth chart, leaving a team at the mercy of how the draft board plays out and how other teams value the players you covet most.

That brings us to former Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was released Friday after eight seasons with the Cowboys that included three trips to the Pro Bowl and three 1,000-yard seasons. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver won’t turn 30 until November, making it reasonable to think he still has some good football left despite his statistical decline, recent health concerns, and his exit from a now receiver-needy team that moved ahead of the Ravens to draft him in the first round eight years ago.

It’s easy to be mesmerized by the memory of Bryant catching 273 passes for 3,935 yards and 41 touchdowns from 2012-2014 when he was one of the NFL’s top play-makers, but any interested team must have blinders to focus on the receiver he is today. That’s where the Ravens must determine if Bryant is the best fit for what they currently need.

With just over $10 million in salary cap space entering Monday and the ability to create more room with another contract restructure or two as well as a potential C.J. Mosley extension, general manager Ozzie Newsome can likely make it work. The Ravens can’t offer Bryant the opportunity to play against Dallas this season, but a contract in the neighborhood of Michael Crabtree’s three-year, $21 million deal inked last month would be doable if he wants to catch passes from Joe Flacco.

Assuming there’s mutual interest and a financial match, what would the Ravens be getting at this stage of his career?

Bryant never had elite wheels as he used his leaping ability and physicality to complement his speed in making big plays in his prime, but knee, foot, and ankle problems have slowed him considerably. Making that more problematic is that he’s never been a disciplined route-runner, making a transition to the slot more difficult to envision as his physical tools aren’t what they once were to win as consistently on the outside. While acknowledging the physical challenges that limited him to just 150 catches for 2,035 yards and 17 touchdown in 38 games over the last three years, Bryant also had to adjust to a new quarterback and a greater emphasis on running the ball in Dallas over the last two seasons, variables that can also limit a receiver’s production.

That brings us to how he’d fit in the Baltimore passing game with Crabtree and fellow free-agent acquisition John Brown already in the mix.

Neither Crabtree nor Brown have shown great productivity in the slot in the past, a reason why the Ravens expressed interest in the likes of Cam Meredith, Willie Snead, and Eric Decker in recent weeks. Crabtree’s prime never approached Bryant’s best years, but the two are similar receivers at this point, lacking good speed and relying on making contested catches in tight coverage and in the red zone to remain productive. Many might prefer Bryant to Crabtree, but the latter is already under contract and on the roster, making that argument rather inconsequential.

We often get caught up in the labels of a No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, but passing games need receivers with diverse skill sets. With the Ravens employing two tight ends more frequently than anyone in the NFL last season — a staple in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes — the starting duo of Bryant and Crabtree sounds good in terms of name recognition, but it doesn’t leave much speed on the field and the Ravens still lack a tight end who can beat a defender down the seam, potentially leaving them even more vulnerable to tight underneath coverage. On top of that, the Ravens offensive line will be replacing two starters and wasn’t exactly elite in pass protection last year, leaving one to wonder how long Bryant and Crabtree would have to maneuver against coverage before Flacco must get rid of the ball in the pocket.

Of course, there are ways around this and you wouldn’t assume the Ravens offense to remain exactly the same as last year with different personnel at wide receiver. Perhaps even more critical, however, would be how Bryant meshes with another wideout who would be used in similar ways. It’s no secret that Bryant can be a handful from an emotional standpoint, but Crabtree has also been viewed as a mercurial player at previous stops.

Is Bryant prepared to come to a new team with an internal understanding that he isn’t the same star he was five years ago? No one expects the Ravens to morph back into a pass-happy attack, so would both veterans remain patient when the targets aren’t coming their way as frequently? What about those game situations when Baltimore simply needs to have more speed on the field?

Looking at the rest of the roster and the salary cap, would a Bryant signing make it more difficult to add a veteran offensive lineman or a tight end who might shake free between now and the start of the season? Would his addition prompt the Ravens to once again forgo using a meaningful draft pick on a wide receiver who could still contribute now and then develop into a long-term answer?

Is the juice worth the squeeze for a volatile receiver whose last 1,000-yard season came a year before Jeremy Maclin’s?

The answer very well might still be yes, but these are all factors that must be considered carefully. And they should far outweigh the attraction of simply adding another big name at a position of need.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following pre-draft press conference

Posted on 04 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their pre-draft press conference on Wednesday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I have no strong opinion on Robert Griffin III, but the notion that an oft-injured quarterback who was out of the league last year pushing Joe Flacco is silly. Perhaps he sticks as the backup, but the signing shouldn’t impact any plans to draft a quarterback in the middle rounds.

2. Ozzie Newsome has been criticized for rarely talking to media, but he said he’s taking “all the blame” for missing the playoffs three straight times and was complimentary of John Harbaugh. He remains measured, but you can tell he really wants to right the ship in his final season.

3. Asked about last year’s draft, Newsome quipped that he hopes the Ravens won’t be taking four defensive players with their first four picks, but he reiterated — as he always does — they’ll stay true to their draft board. I can only imagine the fan reaction if that were to happen again.

4. Newsome remains open to signing another wide receiver before the draft, but he wouldn’t discuss any specifics, ranging from whether he’s had discussions with the New York Giants about Odell Beckham Jr. to potential contract talks with restricted free agents Cameron Meredith and Willie Snead.

5. Eric DeCosta offered interesting thoughts HERE (4:25 mark) about whether the Ravens have undervalued wide receivers in the draft compared to other teams, but he admitted “you’ve got to swing” and that the organization hasn’t done much of that at receiver. We’ll see if that finally changes.

6. Director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said he thinks there are tight ends throughout the draft who could help the Ravens, but he acknowledged the challenge of even most standout tight ends not coming on strong as rookies, citing Dennis Pitta as an example. That position remains a major concern.

7. DeCosta estimated as many as eight or nine quarterbacks in this class have a real chance to start and be productive during their rookie contract. I’d still be surprised to see the Ravens take one in the first round, but you sense they’d really like to nab one with upside.

8. Hortiz described Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore as “holding his water” in the pre-draft process and was complimentary of his college production and talents without sounding overly enthusiastic. Interpret that as you wish.

9. Newsome’s role with the organization beyond 2018 is yet to be determined, but DeCosta welcomes as much involvement as his mentor prefers. Let’s not forget Newsome went into a scouting role immediately after his Hall of Fame playing career concluded in 1990. He may want more of a breather.

10. It wasn’t surprising to hear DeCosta stick up for younger Ravens scouts after owner Steve Bisciotti noted in February how many experienced ones the organization has lost in recent years. However, the real proof will come after the draft when you typically see changes to scouting departments among teams.

11. You could sense DeCosta’s deep respect for Newsome as he labeled him “probably the best GM in the history of football.” They both downplayed this draft feeling any different than past ones, but you know it has to be with the changing of the guard looming next year.

12. Listening to Newsome speak (3:20 mark) about the draft still giving him the same butterflies he felt running out of the tunnel before a game as a player offers a glimpse into what’s made him so successful in both roles. What a competitor with a remarkable a body of work.

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Ravens among teams with most adjusted games lost in 2017

Posted on 24 March 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret the Ravens endured a slew of serious injuries in 2017, especially before the regular season even began.

But where did their health rank compared to the other 31 NFL teams?

You’ll typically see the number of players on injured reserve cited in these discussions, but that alone doesn’t really paint the most insightful picture from team to team. How many on IR were starters compared to reserves or training camp bodies who had no realistic chance of even making the roster before getting hurt? How many on each team went to IR in September as opposed to the last week or two of the season? What about the teams that had more players pushing through injuries than those having cleaner injury reports on a weekly basis?

Football Outsiders uses a metric called adjusted games lost to attempt to quantify how much teams were stricken with injuries. Instead of simply counting the number of games lost with each player on IR, the metric weighs the projected role of each injured player (starter, key reserve, bench-warmer, etc.) and even accounts for those listed on weekly injury reports who ended up playing despite being less than 100 percent. In other words, the metric doesn’t treat the absence of six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda or starting cornerback Jimmy Smith the same as developmental players Brandon Kublanow and Stephane Nembot being on IR and doesn’t completely ignore players battling through documented ailments.

The Ravens finished with the sixth-most adjusted games lost in 2017 with only Arizona, Houston, Miami, Chicago, and Washington having more than their 101.6. Ten of the 12 teams who qualified for the postseason — the exceptions being Kansas City and New Orleans — finished among the 14 teams with the fewest adjusted games lost, reinforcing just how critical health is to success. The Chiefs (80.0) and the Saints (95.9) were the only teams with more than 62.0 adjusted games lost to make the playoffs last season.

Before giving the Ravens a total pass for missing the playoffs for the third straight season, however, it’s fair to note Football Outsiders ranked their schedule as the second easiest in the NFL. It’s no secret the Ravens faced an unusual number of teams with poor quarterback situations, and they finished with the third-lowest strength of victory in the AFC with just one win against a team finishing with a winning record in 2017. That said, you wonder where Baltimore might have finished with even a middle-of-the-pack injury situation and such an advantageous schedule.

Football Outsiders also observed that the Ravens used the second-highest number of questionable designations on their weekly injury reports and finished with the second-highest percentage of questionable players to play, prompting the site to conclude they’re probably listing too many players as questionable that are much more certain to play that week. That likely skewed their adjusted games lost total a little bit on the high side.

Philadelphia winning the Super Bowl after losing several key players reminds us that it’s not impossible to overcome injuries with a deep roster and great coaching, but there is a breaking point, a reality reflected by the adjusted games lost totals and how they related to teams qualifying for the playoffs in 2017.

“Next man up” sounds great as a rallying cry or as a slogan on a t-shirt, but there are only so many injuries most teams can take. And when you acknowledge the number of early season-ending injuries sustained on an offense that didn’t look particularly impressive on paper to begin with and then consider the difficult-to-quantify impact from Joe Flacco’s preseason absence, Baltimore couldn’t persevere.

That’s not an excuse as the Ravens certainly have other deficiencies to address, but poor health was very much a part of their reality in 2017.

Below is a look at where the Ravens have ranked in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost in recent years:

2017 – 101.6 (sixth most in NFL)
2016 – 62.0 (11th fewest in NFL)
2015 – 96.1 (third most in NFL)
2014 – 52.6 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2013 – 49.8 (ninth fewest in NFL)
2012 – 57.4 (13th fewest in NFL)
2011 – 18.8 (fewest in NFL)
2010 – 50.9 (15th fewest in NFL)
2009 – 28.8 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2008 – 95.0 (third most in NFL)

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Ravens still paying for past mistakes at start of free agency

Posted on 13 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Owner Steve Bisciotti declared last month that the Ravens could “make a splash” to improve one of the NFL’s worst passing attacks, but it was always going to need to come at their price.

Free agency hasn’t yet officially begun, but dreams of a discounted rate for a high-impact wide receiver like Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins are long gone as both agreed to deals for a combined $55 million in guarantees. Former Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham is going to Green Bay. Even second- and third-tier free-agent receivers such as Paul Richardson and Albert Wilson are fetching deals with an average annual value of $8 million despite underwhelming production in their careers.

If the Ravens wanted to hand out a contract or two along those lines — many of them aren’t exactly looking wise — entering the week with less than $5 million in salary cap space left them in poor position. And as Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer noted, the popular three-year structure being used in many deals this offseason makes it difficult for a cap-strapped team to spread out high guarantees and keep a free agent’s 2018 cap number affordable.

That isn’t an excuse, but it serves as a reminder that the Ravens continue to pay for past mistakes that have piled up since Super Bowl XLVII. And it’s why fixing their passing attack in one offseason isn’t going to be easy. Yes, these free-agent prices have looked outrageous, but Baltimore hasn’t shown the ability — or used the necessary resources — to draft and develop its own receivers over the years, either, meaning something has to give at some point.

To their credit, the Ravens have spent to the salary cap on an annual basis, but how they’ve used it is certainly open to criticism as too many back-loaded deals and veteran restructures have frequently left them in tight spots. It’s a vicious cycle that’s contributed to the current era of mediocrity, leaving one to wonder if some type of reset is needed sooner than later. Of course, try selling that strategy to John Harbaugh and his staff, who are likely coaching for their jobs after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Joe Flacco’s biggest critics will point solely to his $24.75 million cap figure and label the remainder of his lucrative contract as holding the roster hostage. Of course, they’d be overlooking the fact that the Ravens felt compelled to give a box safety (Tony Jefferson) a $34 million contract last offseason when it was clear the offense was what needed more help, just a recent example of that side of the ball being neglected in favor of the defense. Two of the three modest veteran additions (running back Danny Woodhead and right tackle Austin Howard) made to the offense last year have already been jettisoned with the other (wide receiver Jeremy Maclin) possibly going next, illustrating the minimal impact they made.

Only four of Baltimore’s 17 combined picks in the first three rounds of the last five drafts have been used on offensive players with all four of their Day 1 and Day 2 selections last year spent on defense. Exactly one of those four offensive picks — left tackle Ronnie Stanley — has panned out with wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams standing out as major disappointments at positions of great need. Making matters worse, several of those early picks on defense didn’t pan out, either, which compelled general manager Ozzie Newsome to pump even more resources into positions like safety.

The Ravens did re-sign offensive lineman James Hurst on Monday, but it’s difficult selling that move as a positive after the decision to cut Howard, who was solid at right tackle last season. Neither Hurst nor Alex Lewis is a proven starter at the position, creating another question mark on offense to go with the gaping holes at wide receiver and tight end. And should center Ryan Jensen receive the lucrative deal elsewhere that many are predicting, it would mark the third straight offseason in which the Ravens have lost an above-average offensive lineman in free agency.

When you haven’t spent major free-agent money or used meaningful draft capital on your offense, what exactly do you really expect from Flacco, who clearly has his own flaws?

Perhaps this offseason and this draft will be different. A number of marquee free agents have already come off the board, but potential value remains and some cap casualties are still to come with Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson being the latest cut loose on Tuesday. Maybe the organization will actually focus on the offense for this year’s draft and hit on multiple picks in a way similar to how New Orleans reversed its fortunes last year.

It’s only mid-March and much will happen between now and the start of the season, but the Ravens’ needs are too great and their resources too limited to simply trust that everything will be OK.

Too many mistakes in recent years leave them no longer enjoying the benefit of the doubt like they once did.

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