Tag Archive | "kelechi osemele"

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Osemele thanks Ravens after critiquing their commitment

Posted on 11 March 2016 by Luke Jones

After officially signing his five-year, $58.5 million contract to join the Oakland Raiders on Thursday, Kelechi Osemele took time to thank the Ravens and the place he called home for the last four years.

But that message came after the 2012 second-round pick complimented the Raiders’ commitment to their offensive line and appeared to question his former team’s.

“They have a really up-and-coming young team [in Oakland]. That was sold to me a lot,” Osemele said in a conference call with the Bay Area media. “Going through the roster, I kind of saw what everybody was saying and the emphasis on building the offensive line, coming from a place where [that’s] not really appreciated, you know? Coming to a team where offensive line play is a focus and it matters and they want to build that up, that was a big factor.”

Head coach John Harbaugh said last month that the Ravens made an “aggressive” offer to Osemele, but it soon became clear that they weren’t going to come close to the record-setting contract Oakland handed to the fifth-year guard. It’s true that Baltimore hasn’t spent as much on its offensive line as the Raiders, but that doesn’t mean a sufficient commitment hasn’t been made to the group.

In the last two years, the Ravens have signed five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and left tackle Eugene Monroe to long-term contracts and acquired starting center Jeremy Zuttah from Tampa Bay in exchange for a fifth-round pick and promptly signed him to an extension. General manager Ozzie Newsome would have loved to have kept Osemele, but you just can’t pay everyone when there’s the reality of the salary cap.

Let’s see how much Oakland will be able to spend on its offensive line in the future when young quarterback Derek Carr is no longer playing on a cheap rookie contract.

Perhaps there are some lingering hard feelings about not getting the money he wanted with the Ravens, but Osemele made these comments speaking to Raiders reporters and was more likely focused on complimenting his new team rather than going out of his way to take a shot at his old one. The comment definitely wasn’t a good look, but remembering the context is also important.

Not long after making those remarks on Thursday evening, Osemele posted the following message on Instragram:

“I want to take this time to thank the city of Baltimore, the Ravens organization, the Bisciotti family, my Ravens teammates as well as all of the Ravens fans for all the support they gave my teammates and me while I was in the great city of Baltimore. I was blessed to experience the pinnacle achievement in the NFL when we won the Super Bowl my rookie year and have been chasing that high ever since. I can never thank the Ravens enough for taking a chance on a kid out of Iowa State that critics said was too soft to play in the NFL because he was raised in a house full of women. I hope I was able to prove them wrong through my hard work and determination on the field and wish the Ravens and the city of Baltimore nothing but the best in the future! Thanks for all the memories!!!”

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Osemele set to join Oakland when free agency opens

Posted on 08 March 2016 by Luke Jones

More than 24 hours before free agency officially opened, the Ravens have all but officially lost their best player from this year’s class.

According to NFL Network, fifth-year offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele has agreed in principle to a deal with the Oakland Raiders that’s expected to pay him more than $11 million per season. The contract will reportedly make the 2012 second-round pick one of the five highest-paid offensive linemen in the league.

The Ravens had hoped to keep Osemele and planned to permanently move him to left tackle, but it soon became apparent after they made an “aggressive” offer that interest from competing teams with more salary cap space were going to be too much to overcome. With Osemele having only started four games at left tackle in his NFL career and the Ravens already extending five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda last fall, it would have been too great a risk to pay Osemele lucrative money solely to play a position where he remains relatively unproven.

Much of the angst regarding Osemele’s status has stemmed from the disappointing return on the five-year, $37.5 million contract awarded to left tackle Eugene Monroe two years ago. Since signing that deal in March of 2013, the 28-year-old has started just 16 games and has fallen out of the good graces of the organization, evident from general manager Ozzie Newsome’s lukewarm endorsement this offseason.

As much as critics have pointed to Monroe’s health problems over the last two years, it’s worth noting that Osemele missed 13 games over the last three seasons and underwent major back surgery in 2013.

Monroe is scheduled to carry an $8.7 million cap figure for 2016, but cutting him prior to June 1 would create just $2.1 million in space and $6.6 million in dead money on the cap. With Osemele joining the Raiders, the Ravens would also be without a starting left tackle if they decided to cut Monroe.

While many mock drafts have linked the Ravens to Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick in April, the organization might be better off — for cap purposes and on the field — sticking with Monroe for another season while aiming to draft an offensive tackle with some upside in the second or third round. At the very least, this could upgrade the backup plan that includes James Hurst, who played poorly filling in for Monroe in 2015 before eventually being replaced by Osemele.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that right tackle Rick Wagner is set to become an unrestricted free agent next winter.

Young offensive linemen John Urschel and Ryan Jensen are expected to compete for the starting left guard job.

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Ravens can’t compound Monroe mistake with another

Posted on 07 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Kelechi Osemele is a heck of a football player.

In a perfect world without a salary cap, the Ravens would re-sign one of the better guards in the NFL and continue their experiment from last December to see if he can be a franchise left tackle. If Osemele couldn’t, Baltimore would just move him back to his normal position and allow him and five-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda to continue serving as the best guard tandem in the NFL.

But the league doesn’t work that way, and it’s for that reason that the Ravens are probably wise to let their 2012 second-round pick sign elsewhere this week, especially if other teams are willing to pay him upwards of $10 million per year as some reports have indicated.

Osemele is a very good guard who has shown ability to swing outside, but we don’t yet know whether that translates to being a long-term left tackle. Other teams with more cap space and less money invested in the guard position can afford to experiment knowing that they can always move Osemele back to guard where he’s established himself as a commodity approaching Pro Bowl stature. Other teams would be happy to keep Osemele at guard if tackle proves to be too much for him.

But that very scenario is the worst thing that could happen to the Ravens, who have limited cap space and an array of other positional needs after they already extended Yanda’s contract last October. The truth is that Osemele held up admirably at left tackle in his four-game tryout, but he didn’t stand out as a future Pro Bowl player, either. That’s not meant as criticism for a man who was only playing left tackle for the first time since his days at Iowa State, but it is a warning sign that the Ravens shouldn’t spend too drastically on the hope of Osemele being able to solidify the position moving forward.

You can criticize the Ravens for not trying out Osemele at left tackle much sooner — especially with Eugene Monroe having made just 16 starts over the last two years while James Hurst struggled mightily as his understudy — but smart organizations don’t step outside their comfort zone to overpay a relatively-unknown commodity at the position where they really need him.

It’s clear by now that Baltimore made a mistake investing a five-year, $37.5 million contract in Monroe, who played very well in 11 starts after being acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2013 season but hasn’t been able to stay on the field since receiving a big payday two years ago. General manager Ozzie Newsome shouldn’t compound that error by paying too much for the mere chance of Osemele being able to stick at left tackle for the long haul.

Other teams have the flexibility to keep an open mind about where the fifth-year lineman will play, but this only works for the Ravens if he becomes their long-term left tackle. Otherwise, they’ve invested an astronomical amount of money at the guard position and still have the same problem protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside.

That doesn’t seem to be a good bet at $10 million per year or more.

For that price, you need more of a sure thing.

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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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Ravens have made “really aggressive” offer to Osemele

Posted on 25 February 2016 by Luke Jones

INDIANAPOLIS — While general manager Ozzie Newsome has downplayed the need to restructure Joe Flacco’s contract to clear precious salary cap space for the start of free agency, the Ravens are pushing to keep free-agent offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens have offered to make the fifth-year lineman their second-highest paid offensive player behind their franchise quarterback. Head coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t delve into the specifics of the offer, but he made it clear what the Ravens are trying to do with Osemele, who started the final four games of the 2015 season at left tackle.

“I’m sure he’s shopping the deal. I can tell you — Ozzie said it already — it’s a really aggressive deal,” Harbaugh said. “I think it shows a lot of respect to K.O. It shows him that we really want him here, and I hope he takes it.”

Of course, incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe remains under contract as he would enter the third season of a five-year, $37.5 million contract signed two offseasons ago. However, Monroe has started only 16 games over the last two seasons, and Newsome provided a lukewarm endorsement for him when speaking to reporters at the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday.

Monroe is scheduled to carry an $8.7 million cap figure for 2016, but cutting him without a post-June 1 designation would save only $2.1 million in space and leave $6.6 million in dead money. The Ravens would save $4.3 million in space on the 2016 cap with a post-June 1 designation, but that room would not be available until long after most free-agent activity would be concluded.

Harbaugh left open the possibility of Osemele returning to left guard, but the Ravens wouldn’t be entertaining the possibility of paying big money to the 2012 second-round pick to return to his old position after they already invested more money in an extension for five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda last fall.

“I think we’ll figure it out, but I like him at left tackle,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something we talked about from the day he got drafted here that he could play left tackle. We still have Eugene, who’s still in our program. We’ll put the best five guys out there and build the best offensive line we can, no matter who’s here or who’s not here.

“As a coach, I really want K.O. here and I hope he feels the same way.”

Should the Ravens re-sign Osemele, that would presumably squash the possibility of Newsome taking a left tackle such as Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss or Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley in this April’s draft.

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Ranking the Ravens’ offensive needs for 2016

Posted on 21 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Trying to assess the 2015 Ravens offense isn’t easy.

Even if you weren’t always pleased with his play-calling and the lack of commitment to the running game, new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was without his franchise quarterback, two of his top three wide receivers, his starting running back, his starting center, his starting left tackle, and his starting tight end for large chunks of the season. In some ways, you have to be impressed that the Ravens finished 14th in total offense, but finishing 25th in points per game (20.5) reflects how much they lacked playmakers.

How can you fairly judge Trestman’s work with a starting offense in the second half of the season that resembled one you’d see in the fourth preseason game?

The good news is that the Ravens will begin consecutive seasons with the same offensive coordinator for the first time since Cam Cameron’s five-year run that concluded in 2012. That continuity will be critical with Joe Flacco spending the offseason rehabbing from surgery to repair the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.

With free agency set to begin in less than two months — March 9 at 4 p.m. — and the draft set for April 28-30, the Ravens are currently evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the first of a three-part series — with defense and special teams to follow — I offer my thoughts on the offensive side of the football and rank the positions of greatest need.

1. Left tackle

Considering Eugene Monroe is under contract for three more years, some could still argue that receiver is a bigger need, but surely no position on either side of the ball is more complicated right now for the Ravens.

I’m not completely convinced that Monroe is a goner since Kelechi Osemele will be an unrestricted free agent and the former’s release would leave $6.6 million in dead money on a salary cap that is already way too tight. Monroe’s performance over the last two years certainly doesn’t reflect the five-year, $37.5 million contract he was awarded, but his play has mostly still been solid when he has been on the field.

Can you count on Monroe to stay healthy after starting just 16 games over the last two years? Is the organization simply finished with him after he reportedly refused a simple restructure of his contract last offseason?

Osemele figures to be in high demand as either a guard or a left tackle, making it difficult to predict whether the Ravens can be a serious contender to sign him. Their best strategy might be to keep Monroe until the 2016 draft when they could potentially come away with a top left tackle such as Laremy Tunsil or Ronnie Stanley with the sixth overall pick and then part ways with the veteran. If it’s not a first-round talent, perhaps the Ravens draft a tackle in the second or third round and ride the roller coaster with Monroe for one more season.

2. Wide receiver

It’s a broken record at this position, but it was reassuring for Ravens fans to hear general manager Ozzie Newsome say at the season-ending press conference that he needs to add at least one more receiver.

There’s no reason to think Baltimore wouldn’t keep restricted free agent Kamar Aiken, but he is the group’s only fully-known commodity at the moment. No one doubts Steve Smith’s determination to return from an Achilles injury at age 37, but you can’t just bank on him being his old self, either. And even if the Ravens are confident that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman will be 100 percent for the offseason conditioning program, he has yet to complete as much as a full-contact practice in the NFL.

The Ravens averaged a league-worst 10.4 yards per catch in 2015, reflecting their inability to stretch the field with any success. Perriman can still be viewed as the primary option to provide that skill next season, but Newsome can’t be without a backup plan this time around.

Whether it’s a free agent or a pick in the first three or four rounds of this spring’s draft, the Ravens need another speed receiver with upside to add to the passing game for 2016.

3. Reserve offensive tackle

This is a need that will be based on what the Ravens ultimately do at left tackle, but they probably shouldn’t count on James Hurst as the primary backup tackle, especially if Monroe is retained.

The former undrafted free agent from North Carolina is a hard worker and a favorite of offensive line coach Juan Castillo, but he graded 78th out of 81 qualified offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus and was simply overwhelmed for large stretches of playing time. He was also the one who fell into Flacco’s left knee to cause the season-ending injury against St. Louis on Nov. 22.

Starting right tackle Rick Wagner will also be an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season, so the Ravens need to be prepared to address that position a year from now.

Undrafted free agent De’Ondre Wesley finished the season on the 53-man roster, but it’s unclear whether he would be ready to step into a primary backup tackle role next year.

4. Reserve interior lineman

John Urschel is projected to take Osemele’s place as the starting left guard in 2016, but the Ravens would probably like to add another interior lineman to the roster mix if they can.

Reserve guard Ryan Jensen played well when Osemele moved to left tackle, but the organization lost rookies Kaleb Johnson and Robert Myers to other teams late in the season. Adding another interior lineman in the late rounds of the draft to develop for the future would make sense.

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What’s going on with Terrell Suggs?

Posted on 05 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Among the many interesting topics expected to be covered when the Ravens’ brass gathers for Thursday’s season-ending press conference will be the status of Terrell Suggs.

Lost for the year after tearing his left Achilles tendon in the Sept. 13 opener, the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker spent very little time at the team’s Owings Mills training facility this season and was still wearing a walking boot as he watched the Week 16 upset victory over Pittsburgh from the sideline. In contrast, Suggs was out of a boot a little over two months after tearing his right Achilles tendon in the spring of 2012 — he amazingly returned to action in less than six months to play that season — and 36-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith shed his walking boot on Monday and suffered his Achilles injury seven weeks after the 33-year-old linebacker did.

Asked on Monday if he sought advice from his teammate who has been through a similar rehabilitation process twice, Smith made a cryptic remark that could be taken any number of ways.

“Suggs is a little vulnerable right now, so I’m not going to talk to Suggs about it,” said Smith, who announced last week that he would return for another season after previously planning to retire. “He’s not a ray of sunshine like he usually is.”

It’s worth noting that Smith’s comments were made as he smiled, but the veteran receiver can occasionally be sly with the media, making one wonder if there was more to it than Suggs simply having a bad day.

Suggs hasn’t spoken with reporters since suffering the injury in Denver.

Head coach John Harbaugh said in early November that the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year told him at the time of the injury that he intended to return in 2016, but Suggs was more reflective than usual about his career this past spring and struggled to cope with the departure of his longtime teammate and friend Haloti Ngata, who was traded to the Detroit Lions last March. Suggs wore a hat with No. 92 on it — Ngata’s jersey number for nine years in Baltimore that isn’t currently worn by a Ravens player — as he cheered on his teammates during the Steelers game on Dec. 27.

General manager Ozzie Newsome holds a unique relationship with the 2003 first-round pick, so it will be interesting to hear where the veteran stands in terms of his health and status for next season.

Suggs is under contract through 2018 and is scheduled to carry a $7.45 million salary cap figure for next season.

Hindsight with Osemele

With much discussion centering around the left tackle position, it’s fair to wonder why the Ravens didn’t try Kelechi Osemele at left tackle before the acquisition of Eugene Monroe a few years ago.

Following the win in Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore considered the possibility of moving Osemele to left tackle as Bryant McKinnie hit the free-agent market, but Newsome ultimately re-signed the veteran later that spring. Of course, McKinnie did not perform well and the Ravens traded fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to Jacksonville in exchange for Monroe in early October of 2013.

Had Osemele not been dealing with a chronic back issue at the time that eventually required season-ending surgery, he could have been a real option to move outside, but it’s difficult to fault the Ravens for not wanting to try it when he was already struggling just to perform at his regular left guard position. Instead, Monroe arrived and played so well over the remainder of the season that the Ravens rewarded him with a five-year, $37.5 million contract.

If the 2012 second-round pick had been healthy, perhaps he would have gotten his chance then and become Baltimore’s long-term left tackle a few years ago.

Complicated Webb

Following the season-ending loss to Cincinnati, veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb told reporters he viewed himself as a safety moving forward, but how the Ravens elect to handle that remains to be seen.

Webb and the Ravens already reworked his contract last offseason, but he is still scheduled to carry a $9.5 million salary cap number for 2016, which would put him among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. Of course, that would come with a very limited sample of Webb playing the position.

The 30-year-old may very well be an upgrade from recent options such as Kendrick Lewis and Darian Stewart, but the Ravens would need Pro Bowl-quality play to justify that price tag. There’s just no way of knowing he can do that, making it likely that Webb will be cut if he isn’t willing to further adjust his contract that expires after the 2017 season.

Need for speed

Asked whether the passing game needs more speed next season, quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t answer with a definitive yes, but he was quick to point out how much it helps an AFC North rival.

“It does a lot for football teams,” said Flacco, who discussed the need to be able to push the ball down the field more at different times this past season. “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. I’m not saying that it’s something that we need, but when we’ve had it here, it’s definitely made a little bit of a difference.”

Should the Ravens re-sign restricted free-agent receiver Kamar Aiken, they would have the trio of Aiken, Smith, and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but the latter two have questions about their health and only Perriman brings impact speed. The roster would benefit greatly from another speed option with upside.

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Ravens thoughts on winning vs. draft pick, 2016 opponents, more

Posted on 29 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens took great satisfaction in sweeping the Pittsburgh Steelers and putting their playoff hopes in serious danger, but the 20-17 win didn’t do any favors to Baltimore’s 2016 draft positioning.

Entering Week 16 holding the third overall pick in the first round of next year’s draft, the Ravens dropped all the way to eighth after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in franchise history. And it only added more fuel to the ongoing debate over whether it’s better for the Ravens to win now or to lose with an eye toward April.

To be clear once again, this isn’t a question of whether the Ravens themselves should be trying to win. The sheer number of injuries they’ve suffered has already cut John Harbaugh’s team off at the knees in the second half of the season, but many players and coaches are still fighting for their jobs and their efforts were rewarded on Sunday by completing the third season sweep of Pittsburgh in team history.

This also isn’t about the pointless debate of what it means to be a “true” fan, a concept that sounds elitist and is impossible to define. It’s perfectly acceptable to root for the instant gratification that the Ravens experienced against the Steelers on Sunday or to be thinking about the future of your favorite team and wanting a larger talent pool from which general manager Ozzie Newsome can choose in every round of this spring’s draft.

Ultimately, fans want to see their team win every Sunday and also win championships, right?

Harbaugh as well as some media and fans have spoken about the value of finishing the season on a high note, but that’s difficult to quantify when you’re considering the patchwork roster currently playing and how many of those players will either be gone or will have diminished roles next season. Winning these final two games would provide a short-term emotional boost, but that doesn’t equate to success in 2016 without some marked upgrades to the roster.

What isn’t as difficult to quantify, however, is how many draft prospects will be unavailable to the Ravens over the course of a seven-round draft should they finish 6-10 as opposed to 5-11 or 4-12. And that’s where the win over Pittsburgh followed by a potential upset at Cincinnati would leave fans with a hollow feeling in the offseason.

Even with potential wins over the Steelers and the Bengals to wrap the season, Baltimore will still be sitting at home watching the playoffs like the rest of us next week.

Good players can be found in every round of the draft if your talent evaluation is sound and you have some luck along the way. You can whiff picking at any spot in the draft, but you are improving the chances of landing better players the earlier you select.

It’s true that a better draft pick won’t guarantee that the Ravens land a future Pro Bowl player, but you won’t convince me that winning games when you’re playing out the string is all that valuable to the future, either. This is the equivalent of September baseball for a losing club, something Orioles manager Buck Showalter always warns can fool you when evaluating players.

The reality lies somewhere in between. It’s perfectly acceptable to be happy with a win over the Steelers, but you can also choose not to be distraught if the Ravens lose to the Bengals to wrap up the season. And I won’t accuse you of not being a “true” fan no matter what.

Brown done?

It was two years ago Tuesday when wide receiver Marlon Brown caught his seventh touchdown of his rookie season in a season-ending loss at Cincinnati.

Despite the Ravens missing the playoffs at 8-8 a year after winning the Super Bowl, the rookie free agent out of Georgia was one of the bright spots of 2013 and caught 49 passes for 524 yards. Since then, however, Brown has made just 38 receptions for 367 yards and no touchdowns in 24 games.

“Marlon is one of my favorite guys, and he works really hard at it, has a great attitude and, to my eyes, is very talented,” Harbaugh said. “But it just hasn’t worked in the last two years like we all expected after his rookie year, especially how Marlon expected to continue to improve. It’s going to be a really important offseason for him, and it’s going to be a critical season for him when he comes back.”

Brown’s back injury that cost him the final six games of 2015 doesn’t mask the disappointing of his last two seasons. And with the 6-foot-5 wideout scheduled to become a restricted free agent this winter, you wonder if he’s played his final game with the Ravens.

It’s remarkable to think that Brown was catching touchdowns for the Ravens two years ago while Kamar Aiken was on the practice squad and to see how different their careers have gone since then.

2016 opponents

Having clinched third place in the AFC North on Sunday, the Ravens officially learned their full slate of opponents for the 2016 season. The schedule itself is typically released in late April.

Below is a look at those opponents:

HOME: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, Oakland
AWAY: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New England, New York Jets, Dallas, New York Giants, Jacksonville

It’s too soon to know what the Ravens or any of these opponents will look like from a talent standpoint  — only five of their 13 opponents in 2016 enter Week 17 with a winning record — but the travel schedule will lighten considerably with just one game (Dallas) played outside the Eastern time zone. After the Ravens played four games out west in the first seven weeks of the 2015 season, that should be a pleasant change as they try to bounce back from the first losing season of the Harbaugh era.

Good shape at guard

It remains to be seen what the Ravens will do at left tackle moving forward, but the last couple weeks make you think that the interior offensive line will be in good shape without Kelechi Osemele.

The organization has long been confident in John Urschel’s ability to play guard, but 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen has improved substantially over the last couple weeks and earned high marks for his blocking against Pittsburgh on Sunday. With starting center Jeremy Zuttah under contract for next season, the Ravens could elect to have Urschel and Jensen compete for the starting left guard spot in training camp.

Even if Osemele is re-signed, he won’t be playing left guard, but the Ravens should feel confident about their options to replace him.

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Ravens continue chasing ghost at left tackle position

Posted on 15 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has used high draft picks, made trades, and even handed out long-term contracts, but the same pursuit continues beyond a stopgap or two.

He’s still chasing the on-field ghost of Jonathan Ogden, the Hall of Fame left tackle and the first player selected in the history of the franchise with the fourth pick of the 1996 draft. With every passing year, appreciation grows deeper for what Ogden did for more than a decade as they complete their eighth season since his retirement at the end of the 2007 campaign.

Finding a future Hall of Famer at the position is one thing, but Newsome and the Ravens would settle for a guy who they can pencil into the lineup for the next four or five years and be able to sleep well at night.

Not counting backups filling in due to injuries, there’s been Jared Gaither, Michael Oher, Bryant McKinnie, and Eugene Monroe, none holding down the position for more than a season or two before concerns resurface. Fourth-year left guard Kelechi Osemele has become the latest man to receive a shot as he started his first NFL game at left tackle in Sunday’s loss to Seattle.

Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, Osemele will remain at left tackle for the final three games of 2015, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

“I thought he looked good. There are some things that he can do better,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes the sets and the angles and the timing the movement, sometimes it’s something that he’ll get a feel for more and more as he plays. But he had lots of good blocks [in] pass protection and the run game. I thought he was a bright spot.”

A left tackle at Iowa State before being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft, Osemele expressed his enjoyment for the position after Sunday’s 35-6 loss, but the Ravens may only be enhancing the lineman’s value on the open market instead of finding a long-term solution for themselves. With a less-than-enviable salary cap situation going into the offseason, Newsome signed four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda to a four-year extension earlier this fall, leading many to believe that Osemele will receive a big payday elsewhere.

Even if the above-average guard looks the part of a long-term left tackle over these final three games, there’s still the matter of what the Ravens will do with Monroe, who is only in the second season of a five-year, $37.5 million contract that clearly hasn’t worked out. Placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury over the weekend, Monroe has started just 17 games over the last two seasons and finished only three of the six contests he started this season.

Though he’s generally been solid when he’s played over the last two years, his performance still hasn’t been as strong as it was in 2013 when the Ravens traded fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to Jacksonville to acquire him in early October of that season. After concluding that Oher, their 2009 first-round pick, wasn’t suited for the blind side and having concerns about McKinnie’s commitment to the game, the Ravens felt Monroe would finally be the long-term answer they had sought from the time that Ogden retired.

After missing only four games in his first five seasons in the NFL, Monroe has missed 17 starts in the last two years, including two playoff games last season. After he left the Nov. 22 game against St. Louis with a shoulder injury, backup James Hurt rolled into quarterback Joe Flacco’s left knee, causing a season-ending injury.

In addition to Monroe reportedly refusing a simple contract restructuring that would have provided some salary-cap relief this past offseason, his inability to stay on the field at such an important position has frustrated the organization.

“It’s just disappointing, because here’s a guy that you’re counting on, we trade two picks for him, and he has played well,” Harbaugh said. “As he said, he was playing the best football of his career this year when he came back for two or three weeks or whenever he was back. I think that was the most crushing thing for him, because he felt like he was really playing really good football.

“It’s not what we hoped for. We hoped that he’d be in the lineup and playing, and that’s not what he hoped for [either]. Nobody works harder. This guy trains like you can’t believe, so it’s a tough deal.”

Many fans are clamoring for Monroe to be released in the offseason as he is scheduled to make $6.5 million in base salary and carry an $8.7 million figure for 2016. Cutting him with a pre-June 1 designation would save $2.1 million in cap space while leaving $6.6 million in dead money, a sizable chunk considering the many weaknesses Baltimore will need to address on both sides of the ball before next season. A post June-1 designation would push most of that dead money to 2017, but the Ravens would not be able to take advantage of that cap space until most free-agent activity would long be over.

Even if Newsome and the Ravens elect to move on from Monroe, it remains unclear whether Osemele would be within their price range, making it possible that they could turn to the draft to find their answer. Currently set to pick in the top five of April’s draft, the Ravens may find Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss or Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley as attractive — and more affordable — options at left tackle with their first pick.

Regardless of what happens over the next few months, the Ravens find themselves back in an all-too-familiar position.

They’re still trying to replace No. 75.

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Ravens-Seahawks: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 13 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It’s 65 degrees in mid-December and Jimmy Clausen is the quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens.

Thanks a lot, climate change.

Yes, Clausen will start against the two-time defending champion Seattle Seahawks, becoming the sixth quarterback in NFL history to start twice against the same opponent in the same season while playing for two different teams. Playing for an injured Jay Cutler in Week 3, Clausen and the Chicago Bears were shut out in a 26-0 defeat on Sept. 27.

After being listed as questionable on the final injury report and missing practices all week, Matt Schaub is inactive with what was listed as a chest injury. The 34-year-old veteran was banged up significantly in last week’s loss to Miami, slamming his head against the ground and finishing the game with knee and shoulder soreness.

Promoted to the practice squad on Saturday, Bryn Renner will serve as the backup quarterback to Clausen. Renner spent the entire offseason and summer with the Ravens before being released from the practice squad in mid-December.

Perhaps an even more intriguing development than the quarterback situation is the Baltimore offensive line where Kelechi Osemele lined up at left tackle during pre-game warm-ups. Eugene Monroe was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a shoulder ailment on Saturday, but it appears that the Ravens have seen enough from second-year lineman James Hurst at the position.

Osemele is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, so it appears that the Ravens want to at least explore the possibility of him playing left tackle, the position he played at Iowa State before he was selected in the second round of the 2012 draft. This would be his first NFL start at left tackle.

As expected, tight end Crockett Gillmore (back) is inactive, meaning rookie Maxx Williams moves to the top of the depth chart. Despite sitting out last Sunday’s game with a concussion, Williams is active and will start with Gillmore out and fellow rookie Nick Boyle suspended for the rest of the season. Former practice-squad member Konrad Reuland will serve as the No. 2 tight end.

Former Seahawks receiver Chris Matthews is active for the Ravens after being promoted from the practice squad on Saturday. Third-year receiver Marlon Brown will miss his third straight game with a back injury.

The Ravens and Seahawks will be meeting for the fifth time in the regular season with the teams splitting the first four contests. Seattle is visiting M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since 2003, but the Seahawks have won the last two games played between these teams.

Sunday’s forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and winds up to four miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Walt Coleman.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Seattle dons its white tops with blue pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Matt Schaub
WR Marlon Brown
CB Tray Walker
TE Crockett Gillmore
TE Richard Gordon
DT Carl Davis
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore

SEATTLE
WR B.J. Daniels
CB Tye Smith
FS Steven Terrell
RB Marshawn Lynch
OL Kristjan Sokoli
DE Demarcus Dobbs
DT Jordan Hill

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