Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Walker’s death takes on different meanings for Ravens

Posted on 18 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have dealt with tragedy before in their 20-year existence, but never quite like this.

The death of 23-year-old cornerback Tray Walker takes on different meanings for various members of the organization, very little of it having to do with football. Fans were limited in their experiences watching the 2015 fourth-round pick as he played just eight defensive snaps as a rookie, but he left an impression with team executives, coaches, and teammates in his far-too-short time in Baltimore.

We’ll never know what kind of football player Walker might have become, but that pales in comparison to such a loss of young life. It’s gut-wrenching to know a family that celebrated the start of his NFL career less than 11 months ago must now bury a young man whose adulthood was just getting started.

“Tray was one of the most humble persons we brought in for a pre-draft visit,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “That was striking. After we drafted him, he and his family were so excited to receive the call that he was about to become a Raven. It was one of the calls I will always remember. There was such joy for Tray and his family.”

Reactions collected on Friday evening reflected the various ways in which Walker’s death resonates with members of the organization.

Owner Steve Bisciotti noted that his two sons aren’t much older than Walker and expressed deep sadness for his grieving mother and family. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to outlive a child.

After writing such a heartfelt letter to all of his players earlier Friday, John Harbaugh recalled Walker’s smile and how the rookie defensive back often stood next to the head coach during the national anthem, which would result in a big hug before kickoff.

Those little moments are sometimes the most important ones in life, aren’t they?

Teammates ranging from Joe Flacco and Steve Smith to C.J. Mosley and Jimmy Smith expressed their grief and heartfelt condolences, but the words of one of Walker’s closest friends on the team, safety Terrence Brooks, were particularly powerful. Much like Walker, Brooks hasn’t firmly established himself in the NFL and spoke of their bond in that journey.

It’s a struggle typically ignored by fans and media, but one that involves much hard work behind the scenes while dreaming of Sunday stardom.

“We vowed to each other to stick together and push each other as long as we remained on the same team,” said Brooks, who was drafted a year earlier than Walker. “We both shared similar life experiences growing up in Florida. We sat together every day during meetings. He was like a little brother to me. I especially remember times he would drop by my house, and we would have long talks and laughs just about the NFL and everyday life. I truly felt a brotherly bond with him.

“Tray was a young man with so much life experience. I feel like he was much more of a man just because of where he grew up. Football was his escape. Not many understood that. It hurts my heart that he’s not getting the chance to show the world just what type of man and football player he was going to be. I was looking forward to taking that field with him this year, because we both kept up with each other’s progress this offseason. I really felt he was going to have a great year.”

Even for those who didn’t know Walker well, his vow last spring to dedicate his rookie season to his father — who died of a heart attack several months before his son was drafted by the Ravens — made him easy to root for as an underdog from Texas Southern who wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. Anyone who has lost a father at a similar age understands the intense desire to make him proud and to carry on his legacy for the rest of your life.

It breaks your heart that his family experiences such a loss.

They — as well as the Ravens and everyone else — are left wondering what could have been.

In football and, much more importantly, in a longer life.

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Ravens add much-needed diversity to passing game

Posted on 15 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked in early January whether the Ravens needed more speed in the passing game, Joe Flacco answered carefully while making his stance clear.

“I don’t know if it’s something that it needs, but you see what speed does,” the veteran quarterback said. “It does a lot for football teams. You see what the Steelers are doing with the speed that they’ve added over the last couple years. It definitely makes a difference out there.”

The Ravens took a step to copy Pittsburgh’s formula on Tuesday by signing former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace to a two-year deal worth a reported $11.5 million.

Not only does the union provide the Ravens another vertical threat to pair with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but it provides Wallace the chance to get his career back on track after setting new lows in receiving yards (473) and touchdowns (two) last year. Playing the last three seasons with quarterbacks in Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater who aren’t known for their arm strength, the 29-year-old sees the strong-armed Flacco as the perfect passer for his skill set.

“I always loved his deep ball ever since I was in Pittsburgh watching Torrey [Smith] catch them,” Wallace said. “I was like, ‘Man, this guy gets like eight of them in a row!’ I need me some of that.”

After Perriman missed his entire rookie season due to a right knee injury suffered on the first day of training camp, the Ravens can hardly afford a repeat of 2015 when they lacked a speed receiver to stretch the field and create more space for Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken on short-to-intermediate routes. Baltimore finished eighth in passing offense, but the unit ranked 30th in yards per attempt (6.6), reflecting its inability to push the ball down the field.

Now, the Ravens hope the addition of Wallace and Perriman’s healthy return will bring more diversity to the passing game and better utilize Flacco’s strengths.

Head coach John Harbaugh is excited about the potential of his top four receivers and how it might impact opponents’ preparation for his offense.

“It’s going to cause people some problems,” Harbaugh said. “You have some considerations back there on defense. If you’re going to put your defense over one guy or another guy and leave some pretty talented guys open on the other side, that’s going to create some problems for defenses.”

The Ravens may lack a true No. 1 option with Steve Smith turning 37 and coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, but Wallace doesn’t need to be a 1,200-yard receiver for the Baltimore passing game to thrive in 2016. The key is having wideouts who bring different skills to the table, whether you’re factoring in Steve Smith’s toughness and experience, Aiken’s reliable hands, or the high-end speed of Wallace and Perriman.

On paper, it could be the most talented group of pass-catchers the Ravens have had since the 2012 season that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII, and it should fulfill Flacco’s desire to have more speed on the outside.

Both Baltimore and Wallace hope their partnership will be the right fit. The Ravens need to replace the big-play ability they were missing after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure, and last year showed that they couldn’t count solely on the unproven Perriman to do it when he has yet to complete as much as a full-contact practice in the NFL. Wallace is out to prove he’s still capable of being the playmaker he was with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and isn’t just the guy who signed a mega contract with the Dolphins three offseasons ago and was all but forgotten in the Vikings offense last year.

“I’ll show everybody. I’ve been taking a lot of heat for about three years in a row,” Wallace said. “We’ll see about that though. I promise I’ll get the last laugh. Hopefully we can get where we want to get, and that’s to the championship.”

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Free-agent receiver Wallace reportedly set to visit Ravens

Posted on 12 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Looking to add more speed to their passing game, the Ravens continue to look at free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace.

According to Sports Illustrated, the 29-year-old will visit the Ravens on Monday and remains an option at the right price. Wallace was cut by the Minnesota Vikings last week after the worst season of his seven-year career in which he caught just 39 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns.

Since leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2012 season, Wallace hasn’t been the same receiver who posted back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011, but he’s also played with quarterbacks in Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater who lacked the arm strength to take full advantage of his speed. That wouldn’t figure to be an issue playing with the strong-armed Joe Flacco, who acknowledged at the end of last season that he wouldn’t mind seeing the Ravens copy Pittsburgh’s approach of having multiple vertical threats.

The Ravens would like to add another speed receiver to go along with 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who missed his entire rookie season with a partially-torn posterior cruicate ligament in his right knee. Perriman had yet to be fully cleared as of last month, and the Ravens cannot afford to put all hope for their vertical passing game in a receiver who has yet to complete a full-contact practice at the NFL level.

According to CBS Sports, Baltimore is also interested in three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, who had spent his entire career with the San Diego Chargers before becoming an unrestricted free agent last week.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2016 class of free agents

Posted on 03 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Free agency will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday, so it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ nine unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and 13 exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2016 salary cap will increase to a record-high $155.27 million, and the Ravens currently have roughly $8.5 million in cap space before the reported agreement with linebacker Albert McClellan and signing any of their restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players. Needless to say, the organization still has some work to do to clear room over the next several days after the contract extension for franchise quarterback Joe Flacco’s netted only an additional $6 million in cap savings for 2016.

The free-agent signing period officially begins on March 9, but the NFL allows teams to enter into negotiations — without officially signing contracts — with the certified agents of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents at noon on Monday, meaning rumors and speculation will pick up before the start of the signing period.

It’s time to go on the record predicting which Ravens will stay and which ones will leave in the coming weeks. To see how I fared last year, check out my 2015 free-agent forecast HERE.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

LB Chris Carter: LEAVES
Skinny: The former Steeler and Bengal appeared in two games for the Ravens late in 2015, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be any kind of a priority beyond a depth signing later in the offseason.

LS Morgan Cox: STAYS
Skinny: The 2015 Pro Bowl selection remains extremely reliable and should be retained as long as his salary demands are in line with what he’s made in recent seasons.

QB Jimmy Clausen: LEAVES
Skinny: Considering Ryan Mallett’s track record and Flacco’s uncertain status, retaining Clausen sounds like a good idea, but the Notre Dame product will likely seek a better opportunity elsewhere.

WR Chris Givens: LEAVES
Skinny: The former fourth-round pick was acquired in exchange for a 2017 seventh-round choice, but Givens did little (19 catches and one touchdown) with extensive chances (six starts in 12 games).

G/T Kelechi Osemele: LEAVES
Skinny: The Ravens shouldn’t value Osemele for what they hope he can be (a quality left tackle) more than what he is (a Pro Bowl-caliber player at a position where Marshal Yanda was already paid).

TE Allen Reisner: LEAVES
Skinny: The veteran suffered a broken ankle in the preseason and was never going to make the 53-man roster, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him re-signed to the offseason roster if healthy.

QB Matt Schaub: LEAVES
Skinny: The writing was on the wall for the former Houston Texan at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see if another team wants him as a veteran backup.

LB Courtney Upshaw: LEAVES
Skinny: Teams needing to be frugal with cap space just can’t afford to keep edge-setting linebackers with little pass-rushing ability, but Upshaw should land a decent contract elsewhere.

CB Shareece Wright: STAYS
Skinny: The free-agent market can be a volatile place for veteran cornerbacks, but the Ravens need a starter opposite Jimmy Smith and Wright looks like a reasonable stopgap.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer a first-round tender ($3.653 million based on a $155.27 million cap), second-round tender ($2.553 million), or original-round tender ($1.671 million) to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer sheet 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. If the player originally went undrafted, it simply provides the team the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation should the player sign elsewhere.

WR Kamar Aiken: STAYS (second-round tender)
Skinny: Considering how underwhelming the group of free-agent wide receivers is, the Ravens are better off paying a little more to prevent other teams from going after their young possession receiver.

WR Marlon Brown: LEAVES
Skinny: His successful rookie season feels like a long time ago, and a fresh start elsewhere would be the best thing for the disappointing 6-foot-5 receiver at this point in his career.

TE Chase Ford: LEAVES
Skinny: Ford was inactive for one game before a shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve, so there’s no reason to think he will be a priority to retain.

S Bryden Trawick: STAYS (cheaper two-year deal)
Skinny: The low tender is too expensive for the reserve safety, but the Ravens value their special-teams players and Trawick can likely be re-signed to an inexpensive contract.

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have two or fewer accrued seasons in the league and own no negotiating rights. In order for the Ravens to retain the rights to these players, they must tender contracts at the league minimum based on their service time in the NFL. Though it’s not a certainty, the Ravens generally tender all exclusive-rights players since their contracts are not guaranteed for the 2016 season.

WR Daniel Brown: STAYS
Skinny: The James Madison product flashes potential with a 6-foot-5 frame, but he’ll need a strong training camp to crack the 53-man roster.

WR Jeremy Butler: STAYS
Skinny: Butler was quite productive in a lost season for the Ravens, catching 31 passes for 363 yards, and is on the radar to make the 2016 roster as a reserve receiver and special-teams player.

WR Kaelin Clay: STAYS
Skinny: His 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in Cleveland was a highlight, and the Utah product is a strong candidate to serve as the Ravens’ return specialist in 2016.

OL Ryan Jensen: STAYS
Skinny: The 2013 sixth-round pick held his own in six starts last season and is projected to compete with John Urschel for the starting left guard job in training camp.

RB Terrence Magee: STAYS
Skinny: Given the names ahead of him on the depth chart and the Ravens’ interest in Trent Richardson, Magee figures to be a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

WR Chris Matthews: STAYS
Skinny: The Super Bowl XLIX standout caught a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 16 and will be in the mix competing for a roster spot in training camp.

CB Sheldon Price: STAYS
Skinny: Promoted to the 53-man roster in the final week of the season, the 6-foot-2 corner will compete for a reserve role in the secondary this summer.

TE Konrad Reuland: STAYS
Skinny: With Nick Boyle’s 10-game suspension and Crockett Gillmore’s offseason shoulder surgeries, Reuland’s presence on the offseason roster is more important now.

DT Micajah Reynolds: STAYS
Skinny: The Michigan State product spent the entire season on IR and will have a chance to compete for a job on a crowded defensive line in the spring and summer.

CB Jumal Rolle: STAYS
Skinny: Injuries in Week 15 forced Rolle into action and he appeared to hold his own, making him a name to watch during training camp.

OT De’Ondre Wesley: STAYS
Skinny: With the uncertainty at left tackle and right tackle Rick Wagner becoming a free agent after 2016, Wesley developing into a useful player would be very beneficial to the offensive line.

RB Terrance West: STAYS
Skinny: No one doubts the Towson product’s ability, but West will need to continue to prove himself through his commitment to getting better while competing for a roster spot.

DB Jermaine Whitehead: STAYS
Skinny: Signed off San Francisco’s practice squad in late December, the Auburn product is just another name to throw into the secondary mix.

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Flacco extension more about future than short-term relief

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were never going to “win” the contract negotiations with franchise quarterback Joe Flacco and agent Joe Linta, who held all of the leverage like they did three years ago.

Sure, senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty could have negotiated a structure that would have created more salary cap space for 2016 than the extra $6 million provided by Flacco’s three-year, $66.4 million extension, but the Ravens have been down that road before and didn’t want to be forced to go back to the negotiating table three years from now. Instead, they sacrificed some immediate cap relief in favor of the long-term balance that will provide the organization more flexibility when Flacco reaches the back end of his contract.

“Going forward, it’s a very flat deal, especially with the rise of the salary cap as we’ve seen over the last couple years,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “The deal is a lot flatter. And if he wins three Super Bowls in a row, then we might have to revisit this thing — I don’t know.”

Flacco’s $40 million signing bonus is an NFL record — an emphatic win for Linta and his client — but the extension includes no future option bonuses that can eventually make cap figures untenable like we witnessed with the original six-year, $120.6 million contract that included numbers of $28.55 million for 2016 and $31.15 million for 2017. His deal now runs through the 2021 season.

To be clear, the Ravens didn’t get a favor from their longtime quarterback — he is now scheduled to be paid a whopping $125 million over the next six years — but they undid some of the cap damage from the first time around. The move wasn’t about any generosity from Flacco as much as it was about cooperation.

“It’s tough to say you give up anything when you’re signing these kinds of deals,” said Flacco as he laughed when asked if he had made any sacrifices by extending. “I mean, come on, I’m sure there are a couple things I could probably pick and say, ‘Man, I wish you guys could have done this and that,’ but no. This thing happened pretty quickly, and I took a couple days to at least sleep on it, because this only happens [a few] times in a career.”

For years, the Ravens have rewarded star players with back-loaded contracts, a practice that provides short-term cap benefits before a team ultimately pays the cap price in latter years. Lucrative contracts given to the likes of Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ray Rice in recent years fell into that category, and the organization faced difficult decisions of whether to further extend aging star players with high cap figures or be forced to part ways altogether.

Flacco’s original deal was severely back-loaded as $25.85 million of the $62 million he was paid over the first three years of the deal had yet to be accounted for on the salary cap. That balance doesn’t just go away, no matter how you try to rework a contract. You can only kick the can so far down the road.

The 2008 first-round pick’s cap figures will remain north of $22 million over the duration of the contract, but the Ravens will have some flexibility over the final years. As a result, Newsome can feel more confident in constructing his roster knowing a dramatic spike in Flacco’s cap number isn’t looming.

Should the quarterback’s play diminish to the point that Baltimore is ready to move on, cutting him prior to 2020 — when he is 35 — will result in just $8 million in dead money. Parting ways before the final season of the deal would not leave any dead money, and if a 36-year-old Flacco is still playing at a high level then, the Ravens could easily rework his 2021 non-guaranteed base salary of $24.25 million into a short-term extension of another season or two with minimal cap ramifications.

For the time being, Flacco has again become the highest-paid player in the NFL, but the salary cap has also increased 26 percent since he signed the original deal in 2013. Newsome citing the money Washington and Philadelphia will pay Kirk Cousins and Sam Bradford, respectively, shows how expensive even unproven quarterbacks are becoming. The price was steep, but the Ravens can now take solace in knowing they’re off the quarterback contract carousel for the next several years.

Flacco certainly doesn’t come cheap, but the flatter structure of his deal coupled with an ever-increasing salary cap should keep the Ravens in position to be successful as long as they’re wise with other resources, something they’ve struggled to do over the last few seasons. The harshest detractors blame Flacco’s contract for the Ravens missing the playoffs twice in the last three years, but he accounted for a reasonable total of $36.15 million in cap space over those seasons.

“It’s all about winning football games,” Flacco said. “Once this thing is signed and over with, that’s all that we’re worried about. This gives us the best chance to move forward. Over the next six years, it’s a huge window to go win another Super Bowl — another two, another three, whatever it may be. At the end of the day, that’s our goal.”

And at the end of day, teams who have quarterbacks — whether they’re future Hall of Famers, elite, or merely good enough to get you over the championship hump — must do what it takes to keep them. Critics will say the Ravens overpaid for Flacco’s services again — his regular-season statistics would say they’re correct —  but you can’t value quarterbacks in a vacuum. Teams would rather have the right guy than to simply be right about how much to pay him.

Just ask the Cleveland Browns.

Flacco’s extension was more about righting the structure of the original deal and setting the Ravens up for the next six years with a quarterback who has already won a Super Bowl and plays his best football in the postseason. After spending more than a decade in Baltimore without a franchise signal-caller, Newsome isn’t about to question Flacco’s value, especially after watching the Ravens play without him this past season.

“I just spent about five days with GMs [at the scouting combine in Indianapolis] who are looking for a Joe Flacco, and they’re not sleeping at night, I can tell you,” Newsome said. “We did that, and no one can appreciate a good quarterback [like] Ozzie Newsome can after going through what we went through. I learned a lot of lessons along the way of what a good quarterback really is.”

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Flacco agrees to three-year extension through 2021

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Knowing a $28.55 million salary cap figure for the 2016 season could cripple their offseason, the Ravens and veteran quarterback Joe Flacco have agreed to a three-year contract extension through 2021.

The deal reportedly includes $66.4 million in new money and an NFL record $40 million signing bonus. That amount coupled with the $58.6 million he was already owed over the next three seasons will give the 31-year-old a total of $125 million over the next six years.

Flacco will now carry a $22.55 million cap figure for 2016, giving the Ravens an additional $6 million with which to maneuver this offseason.

“We did not do a deal to gain cap room,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We did a deal so Joe Flacco could be on this football team for the next six years. That was probably the most important thing that [we] were working toward.

“The cap will take care of itself. But, is it going to be helpful? Yes.”

The Ravens entered Wednesday projected to be less than $3 million under the salary cap without even addressing their restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players, making it clear that they needed to adjust Flacco’s cap figure after the worst season of the John Harbaugh era. They will now have more flexibility to try to re-sign offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and make other improvements to a team that finished 5-11 in 2015.

Despite plenty of posturing from both sides about whether Flacco’s original six-year, $120.6 million contract needed to be addressed, talks began between the Ravens and agent Joe Linta at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last week. Unlike the tense negotiations after Super Bowl XLVII three years ago, discussions were more cooperative this time around as optimism grew about an extension.

“My biggest priority is winning and going out there and being the best football player I can be over the rest of my career,” Flacco said. “I want a little help, and I want to go out there and I just win another Super Bowl. I remember how good that feels, and I can think back to just how jealous I was of other guys this year and the year before that who were playing in that game.”

The Ravens paid Flacco $62 million from 2013-2015 with just $36.15 million of that counting against the cap over that time. The extension clearly helps, but that charge doesn’t just disappear as the goal all along was to try to flatten out his annual cap numbers. The days of Flacco carrying an affordable cap figure between $14 million and $15 million like he did in 2014 and 2015 are long over, however.

Flacco, who continues to rehab his surgically-repaired left knee, will be 36 when his new contract is scheduled to expire. The organization is optimistic that Flacco will be ready for the start of training camp.

“I don’t have anything to compare it to, but I feel like it’s going really well,” Flacco said. “I’m coming in here every day and doing what they tell me to do, and I think that’s really all I can do at this point. I don’t have any real outlook on what the future’s going to bring, but I know that I’m attacking it 100 percent every day and doing the best I can.”

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Seven Ravens takeaways from NFL scouting combine

Posted on 28 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As the 2016 NFL scouting combine winds down in Indianapolis, we came away with plenty of headlines related to the Ravens as the countdown to the start of free agency and the new league year continues.

Below are seven takeaways from the week:

1. The Joe Flacco contract talks between the Ravens and agent Joe Linta have appeared to be more harmonious than expected. Given the acrimonious negotiations from three years ago, you had to wonder how willing Linta and Flacco would be to cooperate since they once again have all the leverage like they did in 2013 and didn’t have to touch the original six-year, $120.6 million deal. But more signs were pointing to an agreement eventually being reached as the weekend concluded in Indianapolis, which reflects the comments Flacco made earlier this winter in which he acknowledged wanting to win and his $28.55 million salary-cap figure making that difficult. Nothing is official, but the Ravens appear closer to gaining much-needed space to maneuver with free agency rapidly approaching.

2. On the other hand, Justin Tucker receiving the franchise tag early meant a deal wasn’t close. Tucker’s agent, Robert Roche, announcing on Friday that the kicker had been tagged wasn’t surprising after general manager Ozzie Newsome indicated on Wednesday that the Ravens would use it if a long-term agreement wasn’t reached. The organization hasn’t announced the move — probably because it doesn’t want the $4.572 million franchise amount to kick in against the cap any earlier than Tuesday’s deadline — but the early nature of the decision reflects how far apart the sides remained. The Ravens have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal with Tucker before he must play out 2016 for the tag amount, but it would be in Newsome’s best interest to strike a deal sooner rather than later to clear cap room.

3. Baltimore sounds perfectly convinced that Lardarius Webb will be the answer at safety this season. Despite the 30-year-old having a $9.5 million cap figure for the 2016 season, the Ravens were once again adamant that they view Webb as a starting safety. Asked whether he was comfortable with Webb having a cap number that would put him among the most expensive safeties in the league, Newsome went as far as to say it’s a “very good number” when you consider what this offseason’s top safeties are expected to fetch on the open market. Still, it’s a risky assumption to think Webb will play at a level deserving of that kind of price tag. What the Ravens’ stance might mean for the roster standing of other safeties such as Kendrick Lewis, Will Hill, and Matt Elam will be interesting to watch.

4. Concerns remain about wide receiver Breshad Perriman. It’s been seven months since the 2015 first-round pick partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the first day of training camp, but Newsome indicated he has yet to be fully cleared, which is an all-too-familiar update. The general manager noted Perriman’s smile and good spirits around the team’s Owings Mills training facility in recent weeks, but Newsome only saying he anticipates “at some point this spring that he’ll be out there ready to play” leaves plenty of room for doubt. The Ravens should be looking for another speed receiver to add to the mix, but the passing game needs Perriman on the practice field as much as possible since we’re talking about a player who isn’t yet a proven commodity at the NFL level.

5. The tight end position suddenly doesn’t look so deep anymore. Even with Dennis Pitta likely to be cut if he doesn’t retire, the Ravens appeared to be in great shape at the position. But with the suspended Nick Boyle’s “double down on dumb” — in John Harbaugh’s words — and Crockett Gillmore undergoing surgery on each shoulder that could sideline him into training camp, the Ravens may need to add another tight end to the mix after all. There is plenty of talent at this position, but Gillmore’s health concerns and Boyle’s ban for the first 10 games of the regular season will leave Maxx Williams as Baltimore’s only sure option during spring workouts. The team could re-sign a fringe guy like Konrad Reuland, but drafting a tight end in the later rounds now appears more likely than it did a few weeks ago.

6. Depth at running back won’t be a problem. The group could grow if 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson is added to the mix, but Harbaugh reiterated on Thursday that Justin Forsett “certainly fits the bill” of a starter and is “absolutely” expected to be part of the team in 2016. Of course, you never know for sure with the Ravens’ cap situation, but that should answer questions about his roster standing as he carries a $3.7 million cap figure for the coming season. The Baltimore coach didn’t go as far as anointing Forsett his starter for 2016, but you just didn’t see quite enough from Buck Allen as a rookie to assume he’s ready to become a No. 1 back. It will be fun watching a group that already includes Forsett, Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West compete for playing time this summer.

7. It’s all about the defense in this draft. The Ravens have needs on both sides of the ball after a 5-11 season, but the combine reiterated just how deep this draft is with defensive talent compared to the other side of the ball. Many mock drafts continue to link Baltimore to Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley — especially if Kelechi Osemele isn’t re-signed — but there are so many directions Newsome can go in finding a high-impact defensive player. Whether staying put at No. 6 or moving up or down in the first round, there are intriguing pass rushers (Joey Bosa, Noah Spence, and Shaq Lawson), talented cornerbacks (Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, and Mackensie Alexander), and even a dynamic linebacker (Myles Jack) who could be sitting there for a defense in need of a game-changing talent.

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NFL combine figures to jump-start Flacco contract talks

Posted on 22 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The start of the new league year is quickly approaching and the Ravens have yet to adjust Joe Flacco’s $28.55 million salary cap figure for the 2016 season.

That process figures to heat up this week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis where team officials and player agents discuss plenty of business ahead of the official start of free agency on March 9. Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, expects to meet with the Ravens this weekend, according to Pro Football Talk.

To this point, both sides have played poker, with Linta saying he wasn’t aware that negotiations were necessary and general manager Ozzie Newsome discussing the possibility of putting together the roster without adjusting his franchise quarterback’s cap number. However, Flacco himself has acknowledged it being unrealistic to play under such a prohibitive figure for 2016 with the Ravens coming off a 5-11 campaign and needing to make improvements to both sides of the ball.

In truth, it was acknowledged at the time it was signed in 2013 that the six-year, $120.6 million contract would need to be revisited after three seasons.

How easily a deal comes together remains to be seen as Flacco and Linta hold all negotiating leverage and the Ravens can’t force them to make any changes to the current deal. Baltimore clearly wouldn’t want to cut its quarterback, whose release would bring just $2.7 million in cap savings and $25.85 million in dead money anyway.

A simple restructuring that involves converting Flacco’s most of $18 million base salary for 2016 into a bonus would only provide cap relief for this season and would increase his scheduled cap figures for 2017 and 2018 that already stand at $31.15 million and $24.75 million, respectively. That means a contract extension is in order, and Linta is unlikely to welcome one in which Flacco is playing for peanuts — relatively speaking, of course — in his mid-30s.

Of course, Newsome and the Ravens can appeal to Flacco by reminding him that it will be difficult to put together a championship-caliber roster if he isn’t willing to be reasonable. The days of the 2008 first-round pick playing at a cap figure below $15 million — like he did in each of the last three seasons — are over, but the goal of leveling out his cap numbers closer to the $20.1 million average annual value of the original contract would appear to be a realistic goal.

It won’t be easy as just $36.15 million of the $62 million paid to Flacco over the first three years of the deal have been accounted for on the salary cap. That difference still needs to hit the cap while the Ravens continue to pay Flacco an annual salary and whatever bonuses an extension could bring.

Envisioning what kind of offseason the Ravens can have is very difficult until they address the Super Bowl XLVII MVP’s contract.

Deadlines typically spur movement, and the clock is ticking for Baltimore to get its salary cap in order.

Business is about to pick up in Indianapolis with the start of free agency just over two weeks away.

 

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Ravens-related thoughts on Super Bowl 50

Posted on 08 February 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but notice parallels between Peyton Manning’s improbable run to a win in Super Bowl 50 and Ray Lewis finishing his “last ride” with a championship in New Orleans three years ago.

The future Hall of Famers both missed substantial time with injuries in the regular season before returning in time for the playoffs. Each made important contributions on the playoff path to the Super Bowl as Lewis averaged just under 15 tackles per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 postseason and Manning threw for 222 yards against Pittsburgh — overcoming a number of dropped passes — and had two touchdown passes against New England in the AFC championship game.

But as much as we might have enjoyed seeing two of the greatest players in NFL history go out on top, it was apparent that each needed to retire after watching them play in the Super Bowl. While we remember Joe Flacco earning Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors, we try to forget Lewis looking slow and hopeless covering San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis or chasing after 49ers running back Frank Gore in that game.

Like the great Ravens linebacker against the 49ers, Manning had little to do with Denver winning its third Super Bowl title as the Broncos defense suffocated Carolina on Sunday night. Perhaps the 39-year-old Manning was owed one by the football gods after playing with some less-than-stellar defenses over the years in the same way that Lewis had some of his best years wasted by ineptitude on the other side of the ball.

If you’re a Ravens fan struggling to be happy for the quarterback who twice broke Baltimore’s heart in the playoffs — including the 2006 postseason defeat that was the most devastating home loss in franchise history — don’t forget his touching gesture in the playoffs three years ago. More than an hour after the Ravens had defeated the Broncos in an epic double-overtime contest in the divisional round, Manning and his family waited in the Baltimore locker room to congratulate Lewis personally.

Despite dealing with one of the most disappointing losses of his storied career, Manning still wanted to offer his respect to Lewis after the last of their many entertaining chess matches over the years.

It doesn’t matter if Manning — or Lewis — was no longer the same player when tasting championship glory for a final time. Seeing one of the all-time greats exit that way is special and rare.

Let’s just hope Manning actually retires now as most people expect.

Miller time

Four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller already had a résumé impressive enough to land a lucrative contract this offseason, but the Super Bowl 50 MVP took his performance to another level in the postseason.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March, the 26-year-old had a combined five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl. That’s the kind of timing that Flacco can appreciate after the Ravens quarterback threw for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2012 postseason to fetch a six-year, $120.6 million contract a few weeks later.

ESPN has already reported that Denver will use the franchise tag if a long-term deal isn’t reached, meaning Ravens fans should stop dreaming about Miller reuniting with Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore.

Kubiak turns to dark side

Former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did a masterful job of handling a difficult quarterback situation this season.

Leading 16-10 and facing a third-and-9 from his own 26 with less than six minutes remaining, the Broncos head coach didn’t allow Manning to even attempt a pass and ran the ball with C.J. Anderson before punting. It was both the right decision and a clear sign that Manning needs to retire.

Possessing a championship defense, the offensive-minded Kubiak turned to the “dark side” in a way reminiscent of how Brian Billick handled the 2000 Ravens by deferring to his defense and being conservative. The difference is that it was much easier to do such a thing with Trent Dilfer than with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Stewart shines

Darian Stewart was a nondescript performer in his lone year with the Ravens, but the Denver safety stood out in the Super Bowl.

He collected three tackles, a sack, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble when he put his helmet right on the ball to knock it away from Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert. It wasn’t just a one-game aberration, either, after Pro Football Focus graded Stewart 14th among NFL safeties during the 2015 season.

It really makes you wonder where that player was in Baltimore a year ago.

False start

After Panthers left tackle Michael Oher committed a false start late in the second quarter, you couldn’t help but be amused by the social-media reaction of Ravens fans who had seen that act often in Baltimore.

The 2009 first-round pick deserves much credit for working hard to get his career back on track in Carolina, but Super Bowl 50 was a forgettable performance for him and the rest of the Panthers offensive line.

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Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton greets Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, left, at midfield after a preseason NFL football game in Baltimore, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013. The Panthers defeated the Ravens 34-27. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Ravens-related thoughts on conference championship weekend

Posted on 25 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The lack of weapons surrounding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been a major topic of discussion in two of the last three years.

That’s why Cam Newton’s season for the NFC champion Carolina Panthers is nothing short of exceptional. The fifth-year quarterback wasn’t exactly a popular pick to be the league MVP — especially after the Panthers lost No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a season-ending knee injury in August — but he’s done everything he can to silence critics about his play on the field.

To be clear, Newton hasn’t done it alone as he has a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen and the league’s No. 1 rushing attack — to go along with an excellent defense — but to watch him throw for 35 touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating with former first-round bust Ted Ginn Jr., journeyman Jerricho Cotchery, 2014 undrafted free agent Philly Brown, and second-round rookie Devin Funchess as his top four wide receivers?

That’s not exactly a group that instilled fear in the hearts of defensive coordinators.

We’re used to seeing the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers put up impressive passing numbers despite not always having elite talent around them, but Newton deserves the praise he’s receiving as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl. He’s always been dangerous with his legs — he’s rushed for 500 or more yards in each of his five NFL seasons — but to see his passing prowess take off this season with a less-than-stellar group of receivers is worthy of praise.

This isn’t meant as a knock on Flacco as plenty of good quarterbacks struggle to post big numbers without enough high-end talent around them, but Newton has had a special season.

Blind side surprise

Another reason that Newton has had such a successful year has been the play of Carolina’s offensive line, which includes former Raven Michael Oher playing left tackle.

Oher was mostly solid but still considered a disappointment in Baltimore as a first-round pick in the 2009 draft. The Ole Miss product was even worse with Tennessee in 2014 and was cut just one year after signing a four-year, $20 million contract with the Titans.

So, why the turnaround with the Panthers?

Oher has been reunited with John Matsko, the Ravens’ offensive line coach in his first two NFL seasons. The two share a good relationship, and perhaps it’s no coincidence that Oher has gotten his career back on track working with his old offensive line coach.

According to Pro Football Focus, Oher has graded 32nd among all offensive tackles in the NFL — Eugene Monroe was 22nd and Rick Wagner was 53rd — so it’s not as though he’s suddenly blossomed into a Pro Bowl player in his seventh season. But there’s no doubt that he’s played a key part in transforming what was a poor offensive line in 2014 into one of the better ones in the league.

Orange crush pass rush

The Denver Broncos registered a remarkable 20 quarterback hits on Tom Brady — the most any quarterback had taken in a game all season — over the course of Sunday’s 20-18 win in the AFC championship game.

But even more impressive was the fact that Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips blitzed a season-low 17.2 percent of the time, according to PFF. It certainly helps when you have a special pair of edge rushers like Von Miller — who will be a free agent this offseason — and DeMarcus Ware, but the Broncos’ success was a reminder that you need to be able to disrupt quarterbacks without leaving your pass coverage compromised.

After losing Terrell Suggs in the opener and having already lost Pernell McPhee via free agency, Dean Pees was left with a front unable to generate consistent pressure with a four-man rush for most of the season. As a result, the Ravens defensive coordinator felt compelled to blitz more, which left an underwhelming secondary even more vulnerable in coverage if the pressure didn’t get there in time. It wasn’t until late in the year with the improvement of rookie Za’Darius Smith that Baltimore started to be more disruptive without blitzing.

It’s easier said than done, but the Ravens need to improve their pass rush for 2016 and can’t just hope that the healthy return of Suggs alone will do the trick.

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