Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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Ravens-related thoughts from league meetings

Posted on 24 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Even with an active start to free agency in which they’ve addressed the safety, wide receiver, and tight end positions, the Ravens still have plenty of work to do if they want to bounce back from last year’s 5-11 campaign.

While pass rusher, cornerback, and left tackle have been discussed at great length, an inside linebacker spot is wide open next to C.J. Mosley with the recently-released Daryl Smith signing with Tampa Bay, ending any thought about his potential return. John Harbaugh mentioned the predictable candidates — Zach Orr, Arthur Brown, and Albert McClellan — to replace the veteran Smith, but the head coach discussed another interesting option when speaking to reporters at the league meetings earlier this week.

“We could move a safety down in there,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of teams are doing that now, and one of those guys might move in there. We have the draft still in front of us, so there’s going to be competition. That’s how we like it.”

Harbaugh didn’t mention any names when discussing the possibility of a safety shifting to linebacker, but other safeties such as Mark Barron of Los Angeles and Arizona’s Deone Bucannon have successfully made that transition at the NFL level. Identifying a candidate among Baltimore’s current group of safeties isn’t easy since there isn’t an incumbent weighing more than 205 pounds.

It’s a moot point now with last week’s release stemming from his 10-game suspension to begin the 2016 season, but the 228-pound Will Hill would have been an intriguing candidate for a hybrid role with his pass coverage and tackling ability. The Ravens want to get faster and more athletic at the inside linebacker position, and Hill certainly would have fit that description if not for off-field concerns once again costing him as it did with the New York Giants.

“It was too bad, because we had really made a commitment to Will and to his future and the fact that he would be able to do things in a way that he could be successful,” said Harbaugh of the safety’s release. “He was doing that for quite a while and playing good football for us. It was not a football decision other than the fact that it was just going to cost us too much to wait for him at this point in time with the suspension.”

New touchback rule

The NFL owners voted to move touchbacks from kickoffs up to the 25-yard line in an obvious attempt to address player safety and further limit one of the most exciting — and dangerous — plays in the game.

Returners may now be more discouraged to run kicks out of the end zone, but how might the kicking team alter its strategy with a touchback now giving the opposition the ball at the 25 instead of the 20? Over the last few years, the Ravens have relied on standout kicker Justin Tucker booming the ball into or through the end zone with the opposing offense then starting at its own 20.

“We may kick it off down to the goal line as high as we can and go down there and try to get the return team at the 12-, 15-yard line,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be real hard for us to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to surrender the 25-yard line as a kickoff cover team every time.’ That’s really not in the spirit of competition and what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

It’s important to remember this rule change is only a one-year trial, but many speculate that it will have the opposite effect of what the league wants.

Upshaw still available

While no one expected Courtney Upshaw to fetch a record contract this month, it’s surprising to see him still unsigned more than two weeks after the start of free agency.

Though limited as a pass rusher, the 26-year-old is a solid edge-setting outside linebacker who is a nice fit in a timeshare with a situational rusher. Upshaw met with the New York Jets last week and has reportedly drawn interest from San Francisco and New England, but the underwhelming market for his services illustrates how increasingly important it’s becoming to have multiple players with the ability to get after the quarterback in any situation.

General manager Ozzie Newsome appeared content to allow Upshaw to depart this offseason, but the odds of him returning appear to improve as more time passes and teams continue to spend elsewhere.

“Ozzie’s still monitoring. I haven’t talked to Courtney at all,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not sure where he’s at, but he’s still on the radar.”

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Ravens playing “good cop, bad cop” with Monroe?

Posted on 23 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Members of the Ravens brass have presented a lukewarm attitude regarding incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe throughout the offseason, but Steve Bisciotti took a different approach speaking at the league meetings on Tuesday.

And while much could change between now and the start of the season, the Baltimore owner sure made it sound like the man who’s been limited to just 16 starts over the last two years will again be entrusted to protect Joe Flacco’s blind side this fall. Monroe is scheduled to enter the third season of a five-year, $37.5 million contract and would carry an $8.7 million salary cap figure for 2016.

“He is our left tackle going into next year,” Bisciotti told The Sun in Boca Raton, Fla. on Tuesday. “It’s like [third-year wide receiver Michael] Campanaro. We think the world of him. But you have to know what you get out of the guy, and Eugene has been a pretty durable player these last couple years. But nobody works out harder than he does.

“I just feel bad. I think a lot of the speculation about us moving on from him clearly comes down to the fact that he’s been hurt a lot, because he’s played pretty well when he’s been in there. We’ve always been happy with him when he’s on the field.”

Bisciotti’s comments were a contrast from those made by coach John Harbaugh earlier in the day, who was asked about Monroe and said he anticipated a competition that would include right tackle Rick Wagner and reserves James Hurst and De’Ondre Wesley. Perhaps this is the Ravens’ version of “good cop, bad cop” in trying to motivate their left tackle for 2016.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Wagner enters his third season as the projected starting right tackle. The Wisconsin product played at a very high level in 2014 before a Lisfranc injury cut his season short. He started all 16 games last year, but it was apparent that he was still feeling the effects of foot surgery as he finished 49th among qualifying offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

Meanwhile, Hurst started 11 games in Monroe’s place and graded 74th among 77 tackles, according to PFF. It was Hurst who was pushed into Flacco’s left knee, causing tears to the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments of the franchise quarterback last November. Even if the Ravens elect to go with Monroe for another season, upgrading the backup left tackle spot is a crucial need.

“I don’t have any doubt that all those tackles can play both sides,” Harbaugh said. “In some ways, the NFL has changed a little bit where it’s not just left-tackle oriented like it used to be maybe 10, 15 years ago. It used to be a little more left-tackle oriented because of the way the protections were organized. Now, you can move that around a little bit.

“The blind side still is important. The quarterback doesn’t see that tackle getting beat when he’s one-on-one, so it still has value. But there are ways to protect both tackles. It’s going to be a competition with those guys and whoever else we add.”

It’s predictable for Harbaugh to speak with confidence about players currently on the roster, but envisioning any of the aforementioned names seriously challenging Monroe’s ability is a stretch. Wagner played left tackle in college, but it’s fair to doubt whether he has the quickness to be a serious candidate on the left side. As Bisciotti correctly noted, Monroe has performed well when he’s been on the field, but his lack of durability over the last two years is a major concern.

The tone of Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome might be a better reflection of how the organization feels about Monroe, but there should be no rush to part ways with him before a real replacement is added through free agency, trade, or the draft. Cutting Monroe now would clear just $2.1 million in cap space and would leave $6.6 million in dead money, making a post-June 1 release more of a possibility.

Even if Bisciotti’s thoughts can be taken at face value and Monroe is destined to return as the starting left tackle, Harbaugh clearly stated the organization’s position on the offensive lineman’s commentary on medical marijuana that has garnered much attention over the last couple weeks.

“Those are his comments,” Harbaugh said. “What’s the disclaimer? ‘He does not speak for the network.’ I promise you he does not speak for the organization.”

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Harbaugh updates health of Gillmore, Flacco, Perriman, Suggs

Posted on 22 March 2016 by Luke Jones

While speaking at length about the tragic death of cornerback Tray Walker as well as NFL rules changes and instant replay, Ravens coach John Harbaugh also provided health updates on several players at the league meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. on Tuesday morning.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, but the Ravens learned recently that he would not need surgery for torn labrums in both shoulders as was previously thought. Gillmore’s uncertain status as well as the 10-game suspension of second-year tight end Nick Boyle prompted Baltimore to sign veteran Benjamin Watson two weeks ago, but their 2015 starting tight end appears to no longer be a question mark for the start of the coming season and could even be back on the practice field for organized team activities this spring.

“It turned out that as time went on, the other shoulder didn’t need to be done,” Harbaugh said. “He’s had one shoulder done, and they say now that the other one does not need to be done. He’s going to be fine, probably for OTAs — certainly for training camp. That [information came] within the last two weeks, so that was great news for us.”

Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco remains “right on schedule” to be ready for training camp, but Harbaugh reiterated that the Ravens will “just have to see how he feels” as they move closer to the summer.

Second-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman continues to rehab from a partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, but the Ravens are still saying that the 2015 first-round pick should be ready for spring workouts. Of course, observers will remain skeptical until the Central Florida product is back on the practice field and can prove he is healthy after initially injuring his knee on the first full day of training camp last July and suffering a setback in late September.

“The expectation for Breshad is to be back for OTAs,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know what percentage [the knee] is right now, but I know that everybody seems to be happy with his progress. He looks strong. I’ve seen him in there a few times in rehab. Everybody tells me that he’s right where he should be.”

Meanwhile, Harbaugh offered an update on veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the season opener last Sept. 13 and didn’t have extensive contact with the organization after the injury. The 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors in Arizona earlier this month for driving with a suspended license and failing to notify after striking a fixture.

The fact that Suggs was still in a walking boot when he stood on the Ravens’ sideline during their Week 16 win over Pittsburgh raised some eyebrows regarding his recovery last December, but the organization continues to express an optimistic outlook for his 2016 status. The six-time Pro Bowl selection will be entering his 14th season and turns 34 in October.

“Just texting with Terrell back and forth and talking to Mark Smith, he seems to be on schedule,” Harbaugh said. “I have not seen him, so I have not done my own eyeball test yet. Terrell’s going to work hard. He’s going to be ready.”

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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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Harbaugh sends powerful letter to players after Walker’s accident

Posted on 18 March 2016 by WNST Staff

As Ravens cornerback Tray Walker remained in critical condition following a dirt bike accident in Miami on Thursday night, head coach John Harbaugh reached out to his players with some powerful words on Friday.

The following letter was sent to Ravens players and posted on the team’s official site as team officials were flying to Miami to offer their support to Walker and his family:

An Open Letter to Our Team

Men,

Right now, this moment is an incredibly difficult time for our Team and our Family. One of our Brothers, Tray Walker, is fighting for his life. I know we are showering him, and covering he and his family, with Prayer and hope.

That was the kind of phone call you never want get as a coach, as a parent, as a brother, as a friend. This shook me and all of us. Like some of you, I haven’t been able to rest since hearing the news late last night.

As I focused about Tray this morning, some thoughts came to mind that I wanted to share. What would I say to my own son, if I had a son, in a situation like this? You guys are that important to me.

This is what I would be saying to you in the team meeting room if we were together today: There is a lot going on out there and you are going to be involved in tough and difficult situations. You are making and will continue to make important choices pretty much every day. That’s okay.  That’s our reality. It can even be very good to be put in different circumstances. To make it right, you are going to have to grow up fast. Probably faster than many of your friends and family.

Please remember to…

Lead in your home. Take care of Your Family and Yourself every single day. Think about who you are and where you are going, and what you stand for. Look after one another. Only then can you be your most effective on the job and in every area of your life.

Please consider your actions and choices. There are always consequences. Choose who you allow to advise you. Consider the quality of the council you take. Put yourself in positions to succeed. Turn away from unnecessary and risky behavior. Take care of your physical well-being. Live a healthy lifestyle. Pursue those things that make you better. Rest well. Eat well. Laugh with those who you love and love you. Fulfil your obligations effectively.

Be your own best friend. Do not be an enemy onto yourself. Turn away from trouble and harm. Walk away from foolish behavior. Ignore silly and unwise advice – You’ll know it when you see it.

Get to know those people in your life who manage to walk free from the weight of self-created obstacles. Get close to those who have gone where you want to go, and have accomplished what you want to accomplish. Grow Spiritually. Think about what and who you want to become.

I am asking you to consider what is at stake in your life. Consider what your thoughts, actions and choices mean to those around you. Live your life fully and with purpose. Have fun and share your happiness. Find Your Faith, and allow God to Grow Your Faith.

Let’s look out for one another. Be a great brother and friend. Inquire. Listen. Ask. Investigate. Reach out. Be There. Take a Step. Go For It.

Remember, We are Brothers in Arms. And, again, take care of each other.

John

 

 

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Ravens propose two rule changes to discuss at league meetings

Posted on 17 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The NFL announced Thursday an extensive list of proposed rule changes for the 2016 season that will be discussed at the league meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., and the Ravens offered two of their own.

The Ravens were one of a few teams to propose changes to the instant replay challenge system as they would like to see coaches have three challenges instead of two and for the system to be expanded. Under Baltimore’s proposal, replay would cover all play situations except offensive or defensive holding, offensive or defensive pass interference, illegal contact, illegal use of hands, whether a forward passer has been forcibly contacted, whether a defenseless receiver has been forcibly contacted, whether a kicker has been forcibly contacted, and unsportsmanlike conduct.

The second proposal is the silliest of the entire list of proposed rule changes on the docket and would require an offensive player to wear a jersey vest with a number appropriate to the position at which he’s lining up for a given play. In other words, instead of an offensive player with an ineligible number reporting as eligible to the referee — or one with an eligible number reporting as ineligible — the Ravens are suggesting that the player instead put on a pinnie matching the team uniform with a number not already issued to another player that would then make him “eligible” or “ineligible” for that play.

This likely stems from last season’s incident against Arizona in which offensive lineman John Urschel clearly reported as an eligible receiver to referee Ron Torbert but was then penalized after catching a pass on the play. The NFL admitted the officiating mistake after the game.

Of course, many predictably mocked the Ravens’ latest proposal with the fresh memory of John Harbaugh’s strong objection to New England’s use of eligible and ineligible receivers — which was perfectly legal at the time — in the 2014 postseason. Last offseason, a rule was passed requiring an eligible-numbered player lining up as ineligible to do so inside the tackle box.

If the specific mistake committed by Torbert was a common occurrence around the league with players trying to report as eligible or ineligible, the Ravens might have a real argument. Instead, the proposal comes across as excessive and wouldn’t figure to garner much support, but you never know.

At the very least, the Ravens don’t appear to care about being chastised for their complaints related to eligible-ineligible situations and could just be trying to send a message to the league.

Below is a full list of the proposed changes and you can read the entire document HERE:

1. Permanently move the line of scrimmage for try kicks to the defensive team’s 15-yard line and allow the defense to return any missed try for two points.

2. Permit the offensive and defensive play callers on the coaching staffs to use the coach-to-player communication system, regardless of whether they are on the sideline or in the coaches’ booth.

3. Makes all chop blocks illegal.

4. Disqualify a player who is penalized twice in one game for certain types of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.

5. Change the spot of the next snap after a touchback on a kickoff from the 20-yard line to the 25.

6. Require players to wear jersey vests with numbers appropriate for their positions.

7. Provide each team with three challenges and expand reviewable plays.

8. Permit a coach to challenge any official’s decision except scoring plays and turnovers.

9. Expand the definition of intentional grounding.

10. Add penalty yards to the distance needed to gain a first down on half-the-distance situations.

11. Prohibit quarterbacks from falling to the ground, getting up, and throwing a forward pass.

12. Eliminate the requirement that a team be successful on each of its first two instant replay challenges in order to be awarded a third.

13. Eliminate overtime periods in preseason games.

14. Subject personal foul penalties to instant replay review.

15. Expand the horse collar rule to include when a defensive player grabs the jersey at the nameplate or above and pulls a runner toward the ground.

16. Make it a foul for delay of game when a team attempts to call a timeout when it is not permitted to do so.

17. Eliminate the five-yard penalty for an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and reestablishing himself inbounds and make it a loss of down.

18. Eliminate multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.

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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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What’s next at safety after Ravens bring on Weddle?

Posted on 15 March 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens already had a crowded safety group before agreeing to a four-year deal with three-time Pro Bowl selection Eric Weddle on Monday.

The 31-year-old should bring the stability, high-impact play, and leadership that the Ravens have lacked at the position since the days of Ed Reed, but what Weddle’s arrival means for the other safeties on the roster remains to be seen. There was already a prevailing thought that the organization would part ways with at least one safety from a group that includes Lardarius Webb, Will Hill, Kendrick Lewis, and Matt Elam, and the arrival of the longtime San Diego Charger would appear to make that a certainty.

But who would be the likeliest candidate to go?

The Ravens would save $3.5 million in salary cap space by cutting Webb, who only converted from cornerback to safety late last season and is scheduled to carry a $9.5 million cap figure for the 2016 season. However, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh have both talked up the veteran’s potential at his new position and have spoken with conviction about him being a starter. Of course, that all came before the Ravens gave $13 million in guaranteed money to their new safety, and Weddle and Webb would be a smaller duo compared to most safety tandems around the league.

It’s worth noting that a pre-June 1 release of Webb would leave $6 million in dead money, but a post-June 1 designation would leave his heavy commitment on the salary cap until most offseason activity has already concluded.

Releasing Hill would save $3 million in cap space, but he was the NFL’s 17th-highest-graded safety in Pro Football Focus’ rankings and his 6-foot-1, 228-pound frame would appear to be the perfect complement to the undersized Weddle (5-foot-11 and 200 pounds). The Ravens love having interchangeable safeties capable of playing the free or strong spot, and the combination of Weddle and Hill would appear to fit that vision perfectly.

There wouldn’t appear to be much use for Lewis in the base defense anymore, but releasing him would save just $933,000, which is very little when you account for the player taking his place in the “Rule of 51” list that counts against the salary cap. He would appear to be a reasonable backup option with just a $1.867 million cap figure for 2016.

Elam might be the most interesting name as the Ravens have never given up on a first-round pick prior to the conclusion of his rookie deal, but he carries a $2.14 million cap figure for 2016 and his release would save $1.33 million in space. Coaches said last summer that the University of Florida product had a strong offseason prior to tearing his biceps in training camp, but Elam didn’t show enough in his first two seasons to make you believe he’s a long-term fit.

The Ravens aren’t in a position where they need to make a decision immediately as Weddle’s signing leaves them with roughly $8 million in cap space for 2016, but this position group has become too crowded and too expensive to not make an adjustment as the offseason progresses.

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Ravens get “positive news” on Gillmore, move receiver to tight end

Posted on 10 March 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day veteran Benjamin Watson was introduced to the local media, the Ravens continued making news at the tight end position.

After signing the 35-year-old to a two-year, $7 million contract on the first day of free agency and surprisingly tendering the relatively-unknown restricted free agent Chase Ford $1.671 million, general manager Ozzie Newsome said the organization received “some positive news” on Crockett Gillmore last week. The third-year tight end needed surgeries for torn labrums in both shoulders this offseason.

Newsome first revealed that Gillmore might not be ready for the start of training camp at last month’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, but he remains confident that the 2014 third-round pick will play this season.

“He’s still has a recovery road that he has to go down in order to get himself ready for the beginning of the year,” said Newsome, who admitted that Gillmore’s health and Nick Boyle’s 10-game suspension turned the tight end position into an unexpected priority that needed to be addressed. “But I feel very good about it, barring any setbacks.”

The Ravens also revealed that they are moving 2015 sixth-round pick Darren Waller from wide receiver to tight end. The Georgia Tech product caught two passes for 18 yards in six games before being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.

The 6-foot-6 target was a solid special-teams player in his first NFL season, but the organization sees his size better utilized at a different position.

“We just feel like a 250-pound wide receiver who can run like he can has a chance to maybe grow into a tight end,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s embraced it, and he’s working on that right now in the offseason. Ben will have a chance to kind of work with him a little bit, too. It’s pretty exciting.”

The Ravens currently have nine tight ends on their 90-man offseason roster: Watson, Gillmore, Boyle, Ford, Waller, Maxx Williams, Konrad Reuland, Harold Spears, and Dennis Pitta. Of course, most expect Baltimore to release Pitta if he doesn’t retire, and a post-June 1 designation would create $5 million in salary cap space for the 2016 season and $4.4 million in dead money on the 2017 cap.

In other news, the organization created an additional $4.5 million in cap space by restructuring cornerback Jimmy Smith’s contract. The Ravens converted $6 million of his original $7 million base salary for 2016 into a bonus, lowering his cap figure from $9.6 million to $5.1 million for the coming season.

According to the NFL Players Association, the Ravens began Thursday with just over $12.5 million in cap space, but that did not reflect all maneuvers from the last couple days, making the actual amount slightly lower than that.

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As free agency opens, new concern becomes apparent for Ravens

Posted on 09 March 2016 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens entered the offseason, one of the few strengths of a 5-11 team appeared to be its depth at tight end.

Even with the serious doubts surrounding Dennis Pitta’s future in Baltimore, the position consisted of 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore and 2015 draft picks Maxx Williams (second round) and Nick Boyle (fifth round). The trio combined to make 83 receptions for 833 yards and five touchdowns, making one assume that tight end was one of the few spots on either side of the ball that general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t need to touch.

Then came last month’s news of Boyle being suspended for the first 10 games of the 2016 season for a second violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The following week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh revealed that Gillmore — who finished the 2015 season on injured reserve with a back injury — needed surgery for torn labrums in each of his shoulders.

Newsome said Gillmore would “hopefully” be ready for the start of training camp in late July, but the executive’s moves at the start of free agency make you wonder if concerns are even greater than he and Harbaugh indicated late last month.

The signing of veteran tight end Benjamin Watson to a two-year, $7 million contract was surprising because of the Ravens’ typical patience at the start of free agency, but it still made sense with Boyle gone until late November and the offense’s heavy reliance on tight ends. Even at age 35, Watson caught a career-high 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns with New Orleans last season and brings strong character and leadership to a position with very young talent.

But Newsome followed that acquisition with the surprising tender of restricted free agent Chase Ford, who didn’t play a snap for the Ravens last year and was sent to IR shortly after being signed in mid-November. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Ford caught a combined 34 passes for Minnesota in 2013 and 2014, but the $1.671 million low tender is steep for a player who didn’t play a snap last year and was on the Vikings practice squad before Baltimore signed him.

To be clear, the right-of-first-refusal tender isn’t guaranteed, but that amount currently counts toward the salary cap and it’s no secret that the Ravens don’t have an abundance of room to maneuver. Perhaps the organization thinks Ford is a diamond in the rough, but it’s more likely a reflection of the uneasiness about Gillmore’s status for the start of the season.

The Ravens are already facing the brutal reality of Pitta retiring or releasing him with either outcome leaving a total of $6.6 million in dead cap space that will likely be split over the next two seasons with a post-June 1 designation. But Boyle’s foolishness and Gillmore’s health concerns transformed one of the roster’s deepest positions into a concern on which Newsome felt compelled to act.

These may have been the right moves under the current circumstances, but a $32 million contract to Pitta and three draft picks had already been devoted to the position over the last two years before Watson and Ford were added to the picture over the last couple days, exhausting more resources at tight end.

And that’s a disappointing development when the Ravens have an assortment of needs on both sides of the ball and only so much cap space and so many draft picks to go around.

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