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Ravens need youth movement for 2016 and beyond

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Your outlook on the Ravens this season likely depends on how you viewed a forgettable 2015 in which they finished 5-11.

If you point to more than 20 players suffering season-ending injuries — the most in the John Harbaugh era — and nine losses decided by one possession, a dramatic turnaround feels inevitable with any reasonable shift in luck.

Or, you remember the myriad of reasons that contributed to a 1-6 start long before the losses of Steve Smith, Joe Flacco, and Justin Forsett transformed a lost season into one more conveniently excused by injuries. From that perspective, those failures were less about bad fortune and more the culmination of a series of missteps over the previous few years.

No matter where your assessment of last season lies, the 2016 Ravens are relying on a slew of older players at key positions, which is a slippery slope. According to Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com, Baltimore had the sixth-oldest 53-man roster in the NFL on final cut-down day. That was before general manager Ozzie Newsome re-signed the 30-year-old Justin Forsett and added 33-year-old return specialist Devin Hester at the beginning of the week.

Fifteen players on the active roster are 30 or older. Of their 12 former Pro Bowl selections, only two — linebacker C.J. Mosley and kicker Justin Tucker — are currently in their 20s.

Their projected starting outside linebackers, wide receivers, safeties, and running back are all 30 or older. Experience is certainly valuable, but those are positions where you don’t want to be sparring too frequently with Father Time.

The Ravens have obvious exceptions to the rule — a few of them will eventually be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame — but this is largely a young man’s game.

And that brings us to the biggest key for the Ravens in 2016 and certainly beyond.

The youth movement needs to start now.

Seeing the likes of Smith and Terrell Suggs return from injuries to lead the Ravens back into postseason contention would be fun, but it would be in vain if several younger players don’t take significant steps forward. At 31, Flacco should have several more productive seasons ahead of him at quarterback, but this is an otherwise aging core of difference-makers, which was true even before pass rusher Elvis Dumervil suffered a setback from offseason foot surgery that will keep him sidelined for the start of the season.

It’s time for the next wave of great Ravens to emerge. In fact, it’s overdue, which is a significant reason why 2015 was such a disappointment.

Excluding players yet to take an NFL snap like rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley and wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who are the under-30 talents on this roster that other teams truly covet?

Brandon Williams might be the best run-stopping nose tackle in the league and Tucker is arguably the NFL’s top kicker, but who else?

Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith? Maybe in 2014, but not based on the way they performed a year ago.

Others have potential, but the Ravens thought the same about failed draft picks such as Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, and Terrence Brooks not long ago. The proof will be in the results on the field.

Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, or Kamalei Correa needs to become as a significant pass-rushing threat to complement Suggs and Dumervil. The defense will be even more dangerous if more than one can do it.

As their earliest first-round pick in 16 years, Stanley must make fans forget every left tackle the Ravens have had since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.

Perriman needs to stay healthy and show why he was the first receiver the organization drafted in the first round in a decade.

Jimmy Smith and Mosley have to look more like the players they were in 2014.

If others step up along the way, the Ravens will really be in business — not just for this season but for the future.

If young players fail to develop, they will once again be depending too heavily on aging talent trying to stay healthy enough to play at a high level for another year.

Baltimore can bounce back with the combination of veterans returning and young play-makers emerging.

But it’s difficult to imagine it happening to any meaningful degree without the latter.

The Ravens need their youth to take the baton and step to the forefront.

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Ten Ravens thoughts on first week of training camp

Posted on 02 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens approaching the end of their first week of training camp, I’ve offered 10 early thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens have numerous injury questions, but Joe Flacco is looking less and less like one. Other than the brace on his left knee, you’d never know he’s eight months removed from surgery. He’s moving and throwing like he always did and says he’s not even thinking about the knee.

2. Everyone is rooting for Keenan Reynolds to make an impact after his brilliant career at Navy, but he’s a substantial work in progress. It’s still very early, but he hasn’t played with much confidence and has dropped more passes and kicks than you’d like to see even in practices.

3. With other running backs currently sidelined, Terrance West is taking advantage of the reps and has looked the part of a motivated young player vying for a significant role in the offense. West has shed 15 pounds from last season and is noticeably more explosive running the football.

4. After missing spring workouts to have the screws removed from his right foot, Jimmy Smith has had a quiet start. He hasn’t practiced poorly, but he’s still working his way back to full strength. The defense sorely needs him to return to his pre-surgery 2014 form this season.

5. An understated need in 2016 will be for Za’Darius Smith to become an impact player. He looks comfortable in pass coverage and has shown good pass-rush ability. If he can handle responsibilities formerly held by Pernell McPhee and Courtney Upshaw, less pressure falls on Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

6. Though Jerraud Powers remains the favorite to play slot cornerback in sub packages, rookie Tavon Young has displayed good ball skills and has shown good aggression in coverage. He also looked smooth and fast returning a kickoff at Monday’s stadium practice. He’s someone to watch in the preseason.

7. Much has been written about Kamalei Correa competing to start at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley, but he plays with an edge, evident by the skirmishes on Monday. The Ravens need more attitude and higher-end talent, and Correa has a chance to bring both to the defense.

8. It’s unclear how much time he’ll miss, but it was a shame to see rookie receiver Chris Moore walking with his left foot in a boot on Monday. It was only a couple practices, but his acceleration going after the deep ball reminds a little bit of Torrey Smith.

9. It was interesting to see Justin Tucker repeatedly pop kickoffs into the air that landed inside the 5-yard line on Monday. With touchbacks on kickoffs moving to the 25, John Harbaugh said this offseason that the Ravens could alter their approach instead of just booting it through the end zone.

10. Crockett Gillmore has a rare combination of size and quickness that is fun to watch, but you wonder if his physical style of play will continue hindering his durability. He’s already had quite a few injuries in two-plus years with a hamstring strain the latest ailment to sideline him.

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Wallace turns in strong performance after rough start to camp

Posted on 01 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Mike Wallace didn’t get off to the kind of start he envisioned in his first training camp with the Ravens, but the speedy receiver finally made his mark on Sunday.

Though initially failing his conditioning test and being quiet over his first couple practices, Wallace stood out with several receptions and beat Shareece Wright for a touchdown from Joe Flacco during a red-zone drill. With Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman currently sidelined with injuries, Wallace looked like the best receiver on the field for the Ravens on Sunday.

The strong showing came after a drop early in practice that drew an animated pep talk from head coach John Harbaugh. After only being able to work with Flacco in the meeting room during the spring, Wallace is relishing the opportunity to build a rapport with his new quarterback, who has returned to practice less than eight months removed from major knee surgery.

“I’m just trying to get better every day,” Wallace said. “Obviously, I’m on a new team, so I’m just trying to get comfortable with my quarterbacks — all of them, especially Joe. It’s just great to be out there with a guy who has been around for so long and just knows the game.”

Though failing the conditioning test wasn’t the best look for a veteran player in his first season with the Ravens, Wallace has made a good impression with coaches and teammates since signing a two-year, $11.5 million in March. He also downplayed the challenge of learning the Baltimore offense, noting that this is his sixth offensive system in the last six years.

Wallace hopes the latest change will bring a career renaissance after he was held to a career-low 473 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota last season. The 30-year-old made it no secret that working with the strong-armed Flacco was one of the biggest draws in deciding to come to Baltimore.

“Just seeing Joe is like, ‘This guy is really good,'” Wallace said. “The play-calling is just aggressive, and that’s what I was looking for. I’ve been on some great teams. My quarterbacks before were really good quarterbacks. I have no problems with those guys. It’s just this style of offense fits what I want to do.”

Sunday camp highlights

** After receiving the largest amount of guaranteed money for any kicker in NFL history earlier this month, Justin Tucker connected on a 69-yard field goal to conclude Sunday’s practice, which earned a chest bump from Harbaugh. The NFL record is a 64-yarder.

** Rookie inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor continues to turn heads with his physicality as he delivered a crushing blow to knock over defensive tackle Trevon Coley, who was holding a blocking pad during a kickoff coverage drill. Onwuasor later decked Kyle Juszczyk on a run play, which prompted the fullback to get up and push the 217-pound undrafted free agent from Portland State.

** It was another sloppy day for the offense as Kamar Aiken, Chris Matthews, Daniel Brown, and Wallace were among the receivers with drops. There were also a few quarterback-center exchange problems.

** Veteran safety Eric Weddle continues to impress as he made a nice breakup on a Flacco pass intended for Wallace on a deep out along the sideline.

** Wanting to see more interceptions in 2016 after the Ravens set a franchise worst with only six last year, secondary coach Leslie Frazier had an assistant hit tennis balls in the air for his defensive backs to practice catching in an unusual drill.

Injury report

Guard Marshal Yanda and wide receiver Michael Campanaro received the day off and did not practice.

Rookie cornerback Maurice Canady was the other new absence on Sunday, but Harbaugh would only say that he has a “little issue” that’s going to keep him out for “a little while.” The head coach said he will no longer describe player injuries or speculate about recovery timetables, citing what happened with Perriman last season.

Rookie receiver Chris Moore missed his second straight practice with what Harbaugh described as “a little tweak” that he’ll have to work on. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (ribs) is “fine” despite missing Sunday’s workout, according to Harbaugh.

Others missing from Sunday’s practice included Perriman (knee) and Smith (Achilles), tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), linebackers Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and Elvis Dumervil (foot), and running backs Kenneth Dixon (knee), Trent Richardson (knee), and Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot).

Super Bowl XXXV champions visit practice

The Ravens had two special visitors to Sunday’s practice as former head coach and current NFL Network analyst Brian Billick broadcasted live from Owings Mills and former Pro Bowl return specialist Jermaine Lewis was there with family.

Billick interviewed Harbaugh after practice while Lewis spent time chatting with Smith and Harbaugh.

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More questions than answers for Ravens entering training camp

Posted on 20 July 2016 by Luke Jones

We’re finally a week away from the curtain rising on the 2016 Ravens.

Sure, we caught a brief glimpse during last month’s mandatory minicamp, but how much could we really learn from non-contact practices that didn’t even include the starting quarterback, their No. 1 receiver, the starting outside linebackers, the top cornerback, and their 2015 first-round pick?

Trying to rebound from the worst season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens are hoping for better health after a team-record 21 players finished 2015 on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list. They believe the free-agent additions of safety Eric Weddle, tight end Benjamin Watson, and wide receiver Mike Wallace and the continuing development of young players will provide the upside to return to the playoffs after failing to qualify in two of the last three years.

With a pedigree that includes two Super Bowl championships, four division titles, and 10 playoff appearances in the last 16 years, the Ravens bouncing back from a 5-11 campaign to once again become an AFC contender in 2016 would hardly be shocking. But there are more questions to ask than answers to offer as players report to Owings Mills over the next week.

What about this roster truly makes the Ravens brass rest easy at night?

Coming back from the first significant injury of his career, Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback capable of playing at a championship level, even if his regular-season numbers don’t always reflect that. Coaches will need to be smart with him less than eight months removed from major knee surgery, but it’s comforting to know that the 31-year-old will be back on the field for the first day of training camp.

The Ravens offense has the best guard in football in Marshal Yanda and veteran starters at center and right tackle as well as arguably the deepest collection of tight ends in the NFL. The defense has one of the NFL’s best nose tackles, a 2015 Pro Bowl outside linebacker, a young inside linebacker who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and a three-time Pro Bowl safety in Weddle, who should bring more leadership and order to a volatile secondary.

Baltimore has an elite trio of specialists in kicker Justin Tucker, punter Sam Koch, and long snapper Morgan Cox, who have all been to Pro Bowls and have signed long-term contracts over the last 12 months.

The talent and potential strengths don’t end there, but the serious questions begin at this point.

What can we reasonably expect from Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs coming back from Achilles tendon injuries?

It’s been a difficult recovery for the veteran receiver, who originally intended to make 2015 his last season. Doubting Smith’s heart and determination is foolish, but we know Father Time is undefeated, making it fair to question whether the 37-year-old can play close to the level he did prior to last year’s injury when he was still a No.1 option.

The little we’ve seen from Suggs since his injury last September includes a traffic-related arrest in Arizona in March and a guest appearance on HBO’s Ballers in which he played himself getting into a scrap with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character. Set to turn 34 in October, the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker has been working out at the team’s facility in Owings Mills, but his conditioning and explosiveness will be scrutinized after his second Achilles injury in a four-year period. A substantially-diminished Suggs puts even more pressure on fellow veteran Elvis Dumervil as well as unproven options such as Za’Darius Smith and Kamalei Correa as pass rushers.

Will a second foot procedure allow Jimmy Smith to recapture his No. 1 cornerback form?

The 28-year-old had the screws removed from his surgically-repaired right foot this spring after he was still experiencing soreness from the 2014 Lisfranc procedure. The Ravens paid him handsomely last spring to be a difference-making presence in the secondary and need him to be the player he was in 2013 and 2014 if this defense is going to take a significant step forward this season.

What’s the reality with the Breshad Perriman injury?

It was great news that Dr. James Andrews didn’t recommend full ACL reconstruction surgery for Perriman in June, but the fact that he still prescribed a stem-cell injection makes you wonder about the healing process and stability of his left knee. The young receiver missed his entire rookie year with a right knee injury originally considered to be minor, so you hope this isn’t a cruel repeat of 2015.

For a team in desperate need of dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball, Perriman may possess more upside than anyone on the roster if he can just stay on the field.

The questions go beyond players coming off injuries.

Even if 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley proves to be more like Jonathan Ogden and less like the many who have tried to replace the Hall of Fame left tackle over the last decade, how confident can the organization honestly feel about a rookie and a new starter at left guard — projected to be John Urschel — protecting the blindside of a quarterback coming off a serious knee injury?

Baltimore has a collection of talented running backs, but is there truly a No. 1 guy in the bunch?

Who is going to play inside linebacker next to Mosley?

Is the rest of the defensive backfield ready to build on its second-half improvement from last year to be more of a force under new secondary coach Leslie Frazier?

Who might step forward to make a difference in the return game?

Finally and perhaps most importantly, are there at least a couple of young players ready to step forward to become special?

The Ravens have solid-to-good football players; they need more great ones.

All teams face questions this time of year, but there are more than usual for Baltimore entering 2016. It’s understandable after a 5-11 season that fell apart even before the injuries piled up at a record level.

We’ll soon get to see what’s behind the curtain.

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Ravens, Tucker strike four-year deal ahead of Friday deadline

Posted on 15 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Despite reportedly feeling “disillusioned” with negotiations a day earlier, kicker Justin Tucker came to a new four-year agreement with the Ravens less than an hour before Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline to sign franchise players.

According to ESPN, the sides agreed to a four-year, $16.8 million contract that included a $6 million signing bonus and a total of $10.8 million guaranteed, the highest guaranteed amount awarded to a kicker in NFL history. The total money falls just short of the four-year, $17.2 million deal signed by New England’s Stephen Gostkowski last summer, the contract many viewed all along as the framework for a Tucker contract.

“Justin has become a cornerstone for our team, and we are happy to get this contract completed,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement released by the team on Friday afternoon. “What is good for the Ravens right now is that we have our Pro Bowl special teams group — Sam [Koch], Morgan [Cox], and Justin — signed through the next three seasons.”

Tucker had been scheduled to play under the kicker franchise tag amount of $4.572 million, but his agent, Robert Roche, told ESPN that his client would not negotiate with the Ravens after the 2016 season if he did not get a long-term deal by Friday. Baltimore would have had the option of again using the franchise tag on Tucker next offseason under such a scenario.

Asked about his feelings over the last couple days, Tucker downplayed there being any animosity moving forward.

“It’s definitely an emotional rollercoaster; there’s no other way to put it,” Tucker said in a conference call with local media. “You do everything you can to try to compartmentalize your feelings and realize that whatever happens off the field, business is just business. The nature of my position is one that I put everything I have mentally, and emotionally, and spiritually into every single kick that I go out there and attempt during the football season.”

The second-most accurate kicker in NFL history among those with 100 attempts (87.8 percent) and the fastest kicker to both 100 field goals and 500 career points in league history, Tucker missed just one field goal try under 50 yards last season and has never missed an extra point in his career. However, his seven field goal misses in 2015 were a career worst, and Tucker has gone 8-for-19 on tries from 50 yards or more over the last two seasons.

Tucker converted “walk-off” field goals in three of Baltimore’s five wins last season and is considered one of the best clutch kickers in the NFL with 10 game-winning field goals in his first four seasons. He proved his great worth as an undrafted rookie from the University of Texas when he hit the game-winning 47-yarder in double overtime to beat Denver in the 2012 divisional round, one of the defining moments in the Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl XLVII title.

His 2013 season in which he converted 38 of 41 field goal tries resulted in him being voted the team MVP by local media and receiving an invitation to the Pro Bowl.

“It does me no good as a football player to look in the past and to celebrate my own accomplishments,” said Tucker when asked if the record contract has prompted him to reflect on his success. “I can’t ever think about it like that. I’ll have plenty of time to do that when I retire; hopefully, that is a long way away. All I’m focusing on is remaining and becoming, all at the same time, the best player that I can be.”

Newsome has now successfully signed the last five players on which he’s used the franchise tag to long-term contracts as Tucker joins running back Ray Rice (2012), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (2011), linebacker Terrell Suggs (2009), and cornerback Chris McAlister (2004).

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Tucker reportedly won’t re-sign with Ravens if no deal by Friday

Posted on 14 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Less than 24 hours prior to the deadline to sign franchise players to long-term contracts, negotiations have apparently turned ugly between kicker Justin Tucker and the Ravens.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the 26-year-old says he will not entertain the possibility of signing a long-term deal with Baltimore after the 2016 season if an agreement is not reached by Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Tucker has repeatedly expressed optimism about signing a long-term contract, but his agent, Robert Roche, painted a different picture on Thursday.

“Justin’s disillusioned with the process right now and the Ravens position with him on his contract,” Roche told ESPN. “If we don’t get a long-term deal done by Friday, Justin will not entertain offers from the Ravens after the season.”

The report claims that Baltimore lowered its latest offer from previous ones on Thursday and the amount was less than the four-year, $16.1 million deal signed by Green Bay’s Mason Crosby earlier this offseason.

Of course, Roche’s comments are being viewed by most as a negotiating tactic, but it’s no secret that media-driven ploys do not sit well with general manager Ozzie Newsome, who rarely speaks to reporters. Still holding nearly $13 million in salary cap space with Tucker’s $4.572 million tag on the books, the Ravens are hardly in a position where they need to give in if he is looking to set a new and lucrative standard for kicker contracts.

Tucker signed his franchise tender in early March and attended spring organized team activities and June’s mandatory minicamp.

The four-year, $17.2 million agreement with $10.1 million guaranteed awarded to New England’s Stephen Gostkowski last summer is the richest kicker deal in NFL history with many outsiders considering it a reasonable point of reference for the negotiations with Tucker, who is five years younger but has three fewer Pro Bowl invitations to his name.

It’s also worth noting that the Ravens would have the option to use the tag on Tucker again next year if he were to follow through with the intention not to negotiate after the 2016 season. Giving him the franchise tag in 2017 would cost 120 percent of this year’s salary, which would come out to just under $5.5 million.

With that reality in mind, Tucker would be justified asking for nothing less than $10 million guaranteed in any long-term deal, which would be the sum of the tag amounts for 2016 and 2017.

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As deadline approaches, Ravens in good position with Tucker

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Justin Tucker deserves to be made one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL by the Ravens.

In fact, the 26-year-old has a good argument to top the list as he enters his fifth season as the second-most accurate kicker in league history among those with 100 field goal attempts. There’s no disputing the value he’s brought to Baltimore with only six career misses inside 50 yards and just one over the last two seasons combined.

But as Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline to sign franchise-tag players to long-term contracts rapidly approaches, general manager Ozzie Newsome shouldn’t feel too desperate to get a deal done. Even with Tucker’s $4.572 franchise tender currently on the books, the Ravens have almost $13 million in salary cap space, more than enough to make another veteran signing or two and to have flexibility going into the regular season when injuries are bound to occur.

The franchise amount would give Tucker the second-largest cash payout among kickers for 2016, behind only Green Bay’s Mason Crosby after he signed a long-term deal this winter. That outcome would hardly be a sign of disrespect for Tucker, who was originally undrafted from the University of Texas in 2012.

Despite Tucker expressing nothing but confidence this spring about a long-term deal getting done, it remains unclear what he and agent Robert Roche are asking for in terms of compensation. The four-year, $17.2 million deal with $10.1 million guaranteed signed by New England’s Stephen Gostkowski — a four-time Pro Bowl selection — last summer would appear to be a fair framework, but the Ravens shouldn’t feel obligated to set a new standard for kickers if that’s Tucker’s vision.

Kicker success can be fleeting — don’t forget that Baltimore signed Billy Cundiff to a five-year, $15 million deal just one year before his fateful miss in Foxborough — and it’s worth noting that Tucker has gone only 8-for-19 from 50 or more yards over the last two seasons. His incredible accuracy inside 50 cannot be discounted, but the Ravens would surely like to see him rediscover some of the long-ball success he displayed over his first two years when he went 10-for-11 from 50 or longer.

That’s a reasonable expectation if Tucker is looking to become the highest-paid kicker on the planet. And it’s fair to wonder if that’s the sticking point if the 2013 Pro Bowl kicker is seeking a lucrative and trend-setting contract.

Tight end clarity

Much has been written about the Ravens’ extensive depth at tight end, but these types of competitions often have a way of sorting themselves out as we witnessed with 2015 sixth-round pick Darren Waller being suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy earlier this month.

This news coupled with the 10-game suspension for second-year tight end Nick Boyle will make for some easier roster decisions for the Ravens, who already have Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Dennis Pitta on the depth chart. What remains to be seen is whether there will be roster room — or enough forgiveness — for Waller and Boyle when their bans expire.

This is Boyle’s second suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy while Waller is facing his first NFL discipline after being suspended twice at Georgia Tech for testing positive for marijuana.

One who fortunately got away

Remember when the Ravens signed Rolando McClain to potentially take over for Ray Lewis in 2013 before the troubled linebacker got arrested and abruptly retired? Remember how they gave the former Oakland Raider another chance a year later before he flopped during a workout and retired again?

Newsome netted a sixth-round pick by sending McClain and a seventh-round choice to Dallas in the summer of 2014, but the Ravens clearly dodged a bullet with the 26-year-old now being suspended for a second time with the Cowboys for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The Ravens may currently face uncertainty at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley, but McClain did them a favor — twice — by demonstrating his lack of commitment to be a successful NFL player. He’s played well at times over the last two years, but he’s fortunately the Cowboys’ problem and wasn’t worth the trouble.

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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 kicker Tucker officially signs franchise tender

Posted on 04 March 2016 by Luke Jones

A week after becoming the sixth player in Ravens history to receive the franchise tag, kicker Justin Tucker officially signed his tender.

The team announced Friday that Tucker signed his franchise tender worth $4.572 million, diminishing the possibility of the fifth-year kicker holding out like other franchise players have done in the past. Of course, the Ravens would like to sign the 2013 Pro Bowl selection to a long-term extension to lower his hefty salary cap number for the 2016 season.

The sides have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement before the 26-year-old would be forced to play out the season under the franchise tag amount.

Tucker is the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history

 

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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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