Tag Archive | "NFL"

wallace

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to free agency

Posted on 15 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of NFL free agency only three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the Ravens, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens now have until March 1 to potentially use their franchise tag on one of their pending free agents, but a projected $13.5 million number for nose tackle Brandon Williams would cripple Ozzie Newsome’s efforts to improve the roster. I’d be surprised if it’s a real consideration.

2. With 19 teams having more than $30 million in salary cap space, it’s tough to like Baltimore’s chances of re-signing either Williams or right tackle Rick Wagner once the league-wide negotiating window begins on March 7. The clock is ticking.

3. Even if you buy into the continuity with Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, John Harbaugh not hiring a new quarterbacks coach is a tough sell in light of Joe Flacco’s body of work since Mornhinweg was hired as his positional coach in 2015. Rattling some cages wouldn’t have hurt.

4. The promotion of Chris Hewitt to secondary coach will be interesting to monitor after he was demoted in favor of Leslie Frazier after the 2015 season. The absence of Jimmy Smith aside, the defensive backfield was much more organized this past season, a credit to Frazier and safety Eric Weddle.

5. I understand the temptation to cut Mike Wallace to save $5.75 million in cap space, but the organization’s history at the wide receiver position makes it extremely difficult to trust the decision to willingly part with a 1,000-yard wideout with excellent speed.

6. Little free-agent discussion has centered around Lawrence Guy, but you wonder how easily the Ravens would replace him at the 5-technique defensive end spot. Injuries have hindered Brent Urban’s development, and Bronson Kaufusi missed his rookie year with a broken ankle. There’s a lot of unknown at that position.

7. When I hear critics say that the coaching staff has failed to develop talented draft picks in recent years, I then wonder why these “suppressed” talents aren’t catching on elsewhere to a meaningful degree. Linebacker John Simon did become a productive player in Houston, but who else?

8. I’ve opined plenty about Dennis Pitta and his $7.7 million cap figure, but there’s no diminishing the human element with what he’s been through. Asking him to take a pay cut with incentives for the second straight offseason is a tough sell, but it would probably be for the best.

9. If the Ravens covet a specific offensive playmaker, pass rusher, or cornerback in the pre-draft process, I’d like to see a greater willingness to jump up in the first round to get their guy. The roster needs a high-end difference-maker more than additional solid players in later rounds.

10. Despite much discussion about the tight end position, Maxx Williams has been all but forgotten. Few specifics are known about the procedure the 2015 second-round pick had to correct a cartilage problem in his knee, but he doesn’t turn 23 until April. You hope the issue is finally behind him.

11. The money may not make sense in the end, but I still see Pierre Garcon as the best free-agent fit at receiver. The 30-year-old eclipsed 1,000 yards in a deep receiver group and plays with toughness. The close proximity to where he’s played the last five years doesn’t hurt, either.

12. With Matt Birk eligible for Hall of Fame consideration next year, it reminds me of the issues the Ravens have had at center since his post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement. Jeremy Zuttah’s 2014 arrival brought improvement from the overmatched Gino Gradkowski, but upgrading this spot would help the offense immensely.

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marty

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Ravens officially announce subtle changes to coaching staff

Posted on 14 February 2017 by Luke Jones

After a few weeks of silence, the Ravens officially confirmed the remaining subtle changes to their coaching staff on Tuesday morning.

Head coach John Harbaugh has not hired a new quarterbacks coach, meaning offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will continue to serve in that capacity. There had been discussion about adding a quarterbacks coach to more closely work with Joe Flacco, but Mornhinweg will continue to handle those duties with offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg also helping out.

Chris Hewitt has been promoted to secondary coach and will take over for Leslie Frazier, who departed last month to become the new defensive coordinator in Buffalo. Now in his sixth season with Baltimore, Hewitt was in charge of the secondary in 2015 and served as Frazier’s assistant last season.

Mike Macdonald will work under Hewitt with the title of defensive backs coach. He served as a defensive assistant the last two seasons.

Drew Wilkins was also promoted from defensive assistant to become the assistant defensive line coach. He will work with Joe Cullen, who enters his second year as Baltimore’s defensive line coach.

Juney Barnett has also been named the strength and conditioning coach after serving as an assistant the past five years. He replaces Bob Rogucki, who had been with the Ravens since 2008.

The Ravens had already made two significant coaching hires last month with Greg Roman coming on as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach and Joe D’Alessandris becoming the new offensive line coach. Juan Castillo left last month to become Buffalo’s offensive line coach and run-game coordinator.

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judon

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017

Posted on 13 February 2017 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens are facing one of their most critical offseasons in franchise history.

Most focus in the coming weeks will be on the quest to find the next Steve Smith or Terrell Suggs via the draft, free agency, or trade, but a team with as many needs as the Ravens must see real improvement from within. It’s not realistic to expect general manager Ozzie Newsome to be able to address every positional concern by external channels, and the lack of contributions from several early draft picks in recent years is a big reason why the Ravens have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. When you’re also picking in the middle of each round in the draft and don’t have a lucrative amount of salary-cap space, young players already on your roster must be ready to take a meaningful step forward.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017 in order to make it back to the postseason:

1. LB Matt Judon

The edge rusher topping the list is a product of need more than a reflection of his 2016 performance as Judon collected four sacks and played as well as you could expect from a fifth-round rookie hailing from a Division II program. With Suggs turning 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil potentially being a cap casualty, the Ravens view Judon as their best internal option to boost a pass rush that lacked punch. At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, he possesses the ideal frame to go along with a great deal of confidence to eventually step into a starting role. The Ravens should seek a real addition in this department, but improvement from Judon would go a long way in helping make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

2. WR Breshad Perriman

The 2015 first-round pick would move to the top of the list if the Ravens were to cut speedy veteran Mike Wallace for cap purposes, but it’s difficult to project Perriman being anything more than a No. 2 option without dramatic improvement in his third season. Injuries have stunted his development, but he hasn’t shown the route-running ability or hands to make you believe he can be a No. 1 guy, making this a big offseason for him. Of course, this doesn’t mean he can’t become a productive vertical threat along the lines of former Raven Torrey Smith, but expecting more than that feels too ambitious at this point.

3. LB Kamalei Correa

The debate continues whether Correa is better suited to play inside or outside linebacker, but the fact that he saw only 48 defensive snaps as a rookie is eerily familiar to failed 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown. Whether it’s replacing the retired Zach Orr inside or working as an edge defender, Correa should find ample opportunities in 2017 if he’s able to play at this level. After spending minimal time with him during the pre-draft process, the Ravens probably weren’t thrilled to run into some coachability issues with Correa, but he wouldn’t be the first to initially struggle with the maturity learning curve of the NFL.

4. LB Za’Darius Smith

Appearing on this list two years in a row is never a good sign for a player’s development, but Smith was unable to establish himself as an every-down edge defender despite receiving extensive playing time in the absence of Dumervil over the first three months of the season. The 2015 fourth-round pick managed only one sack in 494 defensive snaps and struggled to set the edge as a run defender, which led to him being a healthy scratch in three of the final six games of 2016. There’s still hope that Smith can become an effective defensive player, but regression from his rookie season was hardly an encouraging sign.

5. G Alex Lewis

Like Judon, Lewis’ inclusion on this list is a product of circumstance more than his performance as he played respectably as a rookie shifting between left guard and left tackle. The 2016 fourth-round pick fared much better at left guard, and the Ravens would love to see him become their third-best offensive lineman behind perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley. With right tackle Rick Wagner a free agent and the Ravens ideally seeking an upgrade from Jeremy Zuttah at center, Lewis needs to make left guard a spot at which the organization need not worry.

Honorable mentions: RB Kenneth Dixon, DE Bronson Kaufusi, DT Carl Davis, DT Willie Henry

Dixon possesses more upside than any other back on the roster, but the presence of the effective Terrance West and the bigger need to improve the offensive line — and overall commitment to the running game — keep him out of the top five after a solid rookie campaign. The status of free-agent defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Lawrence Guy will factor heavily into how much need the Ravens will have for the development of these three defensive linemen, but they’d still like to get some real bang for their buck with talents selected in the third and fourth rounds of the draft.

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After injury-plagued year, Gillmore intends to be “the guy” in 2017

Posted on 09 February 2017 by Luke Jones

2016 was a lost season for Crockett Gillmore, but that hasn’t stopped the Ravens tight end from expressing a strong goal going into the final year of his rookie contract.

Even with so much competition at his position.

“I don’t want to come off the field. All downs, every down, and [I want to be] the guy,” Gillmore told WNST.net in Houston last week. “There’s no reason I shouldn’t be. There’s no reason I can’t be. That’s great we have nine tight ends. They’re going to enjoy the bench. That’s just reality. I’ll tell them. They know.”

Of course, it’s a bold statement coming from a player who’s appeared in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of injuries. Gillmore appeared to be on his way to becoming an established NFL starter by catching 33 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns in 2015 before back and shoulder injuries ended his season in early December.

Shoulder surgery disrupted Gillmore’s offseason a year ago, and the surprising return of veteran Dennis Pitta limited the third-year tight end’s opportunities in the passing game as he made just eight receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore’s first seven games. A serious hamstring injury resulted in Gillmore sitting out the final nine games of the season.

Despite being removed from the injury report in Week 16, Gillmore was deactivated against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati while the Ravens went with the trio of Pitta, Nick Boyle, and Darren Waller at tight end. But instead of viewing the long-term absence as a missed opportunity, the 2014 third-round pick put a positive spin on the ordeal.

“It was the best injury I’ve ever had,” Gillmore said. “I got to sit back. I got to learn. I got to change my attitude about what happens and what you can control and what you can’t. I came back faster and stronger and healthier than ever [at the end of the season], and we were just short. I got to see the changes in myself as well as everything else that was going on. I really got to be ready to go.

“Honestly, I feel better than I ever have physically and I was ready to go. They make the decisions, but I was ready to go. That’s all I could do. To be able to have the opportunity, that’s all I could ask for.”

Gillmore is just one of many options the Ravens currently have at a tight end position that has plenty of inventory but few clear answers. His 6-foot-6, 260-pound frame and above-average ability as a blocker make Gillmore an enticing option on paper, but the Colorado State product has already missed 16 games in his first three seasons.

This offseason, the Ravens must evaluate the pricey salary-cap figures of both Pitta ($7.7 million) and the 36-year-old Benjamin Watson ($4 million), who missed the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon. Much like Gillmore, 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams has flashed ability when he’s been on the field, but he appeared in just four games last season before undergoing surgery to repair a chronic cartilage problem in his knee. Boyle and Waller round out the list of question marks as both have already served drug-related suspensions in their brief NFL careers.

Regardless of who does it, the Ravens need more production from a position that was viewed as one of their greatest strengths entering 2016. Pitta was the only Baltimore tight end to record more than 10 receptions and led the team with 86, but his 8.5 yards per catch average ranked 131st among qualified pass-catchers in the NFL, reflecting the Ravens’ inability to push the ball down the field.

After making clear his intentions to be “the guy” at tight end in 2017, a healthy Gillmore isn’t wasting any time getting a head start on his offseason work. Like his many competitors at the position, he has plenty to prove.

“I’ve been lifting. Once I got hurt, I was lifting every day,” Gillmore said. “I got healthy there by the end [and was] getting ready to go for the playoffs and then we didn’t make it. I was healthy, so I just kept going. No reason not to.”

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bwilliams

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Ravens face tough decision with Brandon Williams

Posted on 08 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens want Brandon Williams back, and the nose tackle would prefer to stay in Baltimore.

If only it were that simple.

Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta made it clear at the Senior Bowl last month that re-signing Williams is “a really important part of the puzzle” for the Ravens’ offseason. The fifth-year defensive lineman knows his worth — DeCosta offered him a reminder of that — but he says he won’t automatically go to the highest bidder in free agency, either.

“When you’re in Baltimore, you know what you’re getting,” Williams told WNST.net in Houston last week. “You know who you’re getting, you know who you’re dealing with, you know who your teammates are, you know who your coaches are. Going to a new team, new scheme, new plays, new playbooks, not knowing really what to expect over here. If it’s close enough to where I have to make that decision — where it comes down to that decision — I’m staying in Baltimore.

“I like Baltimore, my family is in Baltimore, my son is going to school [there], and stuff like that. I would pick that — if it’s close. If that’s the factor that makes or breaks the decision, then I’ll stay in Baltimore if it’s close.”

But where is the tipping point for each side?

Considered one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, Williams will presumably attempt to use the five-year, $46.25 million deal — $24 million of it guaranteed — the New York Giants awarded Damon Harrison last offseason as a baseline, especially with the salary cap expected to rise again in 2017. Turning 28 later this month, Williams is unlikely to have another chance for a lucrative payday and is only a month away from having other teams vying for his services. The 2013 third-round pick didn’t imply last week that contract talks with the Ravens were ongoing, but that could certainly change at any moment.

On the flip side, how should the Ravens value Williams, who has not only been strong on the field but has been a high-character guy in the locker room and active in the community?

The beefy nose tackle is a very good player and has been a linchpin of the run defense, but the Ravens have also gone 13-19 over the last two seasons and must address a plethora of needs this winter. Giving Williams north of a $50 million contract would undoubtedly hinder the ability to improve other areas of the roster that haven’t been good enough.

If the Ravens were to lose Williams, would adding another defensive tackle even become their top priority when young options such as Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry are waiting in the wings? It’s not ideal to weaken one of the roster’s biggest strengths, but Baltimore has shown a consistent ability to find talent on the defensive line through a variety of channels over the years with the undrafted Pierce being the latest example last season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t invested big money in a defensive tackle since 2011 when he signed Haloti Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract, but he was a better all-around player on a championship-caliber roster at the time. Losing Williams would definitely hurt, but exhausting too many resources to keep him could hurt a roster in need of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

When mired in mediocrity for the better part of four years, you can’t be afraid to be bold, which sometimes means taking a hit in the short term. If letting go of the talented nose tackle means the Ravens can bring in a high-impact wide receiver or cornerback, it’s worth it in the long run.

Williams is deserving of a big payday, but the Ravens doing whatever it takes to keep him isn’t going to magically get them over the hump in 2017. You can’t afford to be in love with your own players when your roster is in need of more than just subtle tweaks and there’s only so much salary-cap space to go around.

That’s why a deal may not make sense for either side in the end.

Even when they both want it.

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Ravens narrowly avoided Atlanta’s fate four years ago

Posted on 06 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Atlanta Falcons are predictably the butt of many jokes after surrendering the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history on Sunday night.

Coughing up a 25-point lead in the second half will do that to you, but Ravens fans should pause a moment or two before piling on Matt Ryan and company with too much enthusiasm. After all, Baltimore nearly suffered a similar fate in Super Bowl XLVII four years ago.

No one will forget the image of Joe Flacco raising the first Vince Lombardi Trophy or Ray Lewis celebrating the euphoric conclusion of his “last ride” in New Orleans, but the Ravens came dangerously close to squandering a 22-point lead in the second half. Such a notion felt impossible after Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to begin the third quarter, but San Francisco finally found its offense while the Ravens offense couldn’t run and managed only two field goals in the second half.

It didn’t take long for a comfortable 28-6 lead to become a heart-stopping affair.

You can blame the Superdome blackout if you’d like, but a defense led by Lewis and Ed Reed at the end of their careers gave up three second-half touchdowns and a field goal, which is exactly what the Falcons did before the Patriots marched down the field for the winning touchdown in overtime.

Just imagine how differently we’d view Super Bowl XLVII had Jimmy Smith been flagged on fourth-and-goal from the 5 or the 49ers hadn’t forgotten over their final four plays inside the 10 that Frank Gore was gashing a Baltimore front playing without the injured Haloti Ngata. Of course, unlike the Falcons, the Ravens were able to make a few plays to protect their narrow lead in the end, and that’s all that matters.

Super Bowl LI reminded us that you should never count out the New England Patriots and that the margin between winning and losing can be so razor thin. It also might help to run the ball when you’re protecting a 28-20 lead and are comfortably in field-goal range with under five minutes remaining.

But before mocking Atlanta too much, remember that the Ravens nearly became the Falcons four years ago and breathe a quick sigh of relief that a storybook ending didn’t turn into a nightmare.

** Many Ravens fans predictably went to social media to use Sunday’s result as validation for Flacco being better than Ryan — a tired debate that needs to end — but I’d hardly pin that loss on the quarterback as much as I would on the offensive play-calling of Kyle Shanahan and a defense that couldn’t stop a nosebleed in the second half.

Regardless, Flacco and the Ravens have a lot of work to do to give fans something more current to brag about. Even with the fallout of a devastating Super Bowl defeat, Ryan and the Falcons have a lot more going for them right now.

** After watching his limitations as a pass rusher with just five total sacks in his four seasons in Baltimore, Courtney Upshaw collecting the first quarterback takedown of Super Bowl LI wasn’t what I expected to see.

The former Ravens linebacker added weight to play on the Falcons defensive line this year, and that sack was his only tackle of the postseason.

** Every organization and fan base would love to be the Patriots, but Ravens director of public relations Patrick Gleason offered some perspective hours before Sunday’s kickoff in Houston.

It’s understandable to be discouraged by the Ravens missing the playoffs in three of the last four years and improvements certainly need to be made from top to bottom, but this organization has built up a ton of equity over the last two decades and is still just four years removed from winning the ultimate prize. Relative to most teams around the NFL, the Ravens have spoiled their fans for a long time, which isn’t easy to do.

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Continuity still rules at top of organization for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Luke Jones

As open positions go, the Indianapolis general manager job figured to present some appeal to Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

Baltimore’s bitter feelings aside, the Colts have built a nice tradition of winning over the last two decades with much of the credit going to the arrival of Peyton Manning in 1998. Indianapolis currently has a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career in Andrew Luck, something most teams with a GM opening can’t proclaim.

DeCosta obviously knows head coach Chuck Pagano, who served as a defensive assistant for the Ravens for four years.

Colts owner Jim Irsay hardly has a spotless reputation, but Bill Polian ran his football team for 14 years before the recently-fired Ryan Grigson was in charge over the last five seasons. He’s far from perfect, but there are worse — and less patient — owners for which to work.

Still, DeCosta didn’t surface among the candidates the Colts announced they’d interview despite a report earlier this week about their wish to talk to him about the job. He’s once again staying put.

Perhaps it’s a sign that the Ravens brass doesn’t perceive things to be as dire and broken as some critics do. Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in early January that “the pitchforks are out” for head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, but the Ravens owner also spent plenty of time expressing confidence in his guys and never gave the impression that 2017 was a nonnegotiable “playoffs-or-bust” scenario.

“You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can’t get along and things like that, and we just don’t have that,” Bisciotti said. “I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that’s carrying a burden. They’re all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve. To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership.”

Bisciotti is a man of conviction and won’t fire people simply because the outside world is calling for it. It’s become obvious that DeCosta has a similar will after passing on plenty of chances to run other football teams over the last several years.

If DeCosta sensed the boss was on the verge of blowing things up next offseason, you’d think he would have at least wanted to explore the possibility with the Colts.

We’ll see if valuing continuity pays off for both Bisciotti and DeCosta over the next few years.

“I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and Eric can draft better. I think Joe [Flacco] can play better,” Biscotti said earlier this month. “If all of them do it — and I think they’re capable and determined to be better — then I think next year we’re sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that. If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence.”

Birds of a feather

I wouldn’t expect many fans to be pulling for New England in Super Bowl LI anyway, but there are several former Ravens with the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

The list is headlined by 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who has converted from outside linebacker to the defensive line for the Falcons. Guard Chris Chester was a reliable member of the Ravens’ offensive line for the first five years of his career and started 16 games for Atlanta in his 11th season.

Of course, Matt Schaub served as the Baltimore backup in 2015 and became the first Ravens quarterback not named Flacco to start a game since Troy Smith at the end of the 2007 season. Cornerback Deji Olatoye and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had brief stints with the Ravens.

Falcons tight ends coach Wade Harman spent 15 years with the Ravens and was part of the coaching staffs that won Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

If that’s not enough, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is a Salisbury graduate, adding another local flavor to the mix.

Give Tucker a chance

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit a 75-yard field goal during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl practice.

There was no defensive line for Tucker to kick over and the ball was on a tee, but I’d still like to see AFC head coach Andy Reid give him a chance to try one from 65 yards or longer at some point during Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It’s a meaningless game, so why not?

No love for Juszczyk

It’s bad enough that Kyle Juszczyk’s last name was misspelled on his Pro Bowl practice shirt on Wednesday, but then the fullback was left out of the dodgeball tournament, something in which he wanted to take part.

I guess fullbacks still aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

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DeCosta not among announced interviewees for Indianapolis job

Posted on 25 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Another year and the same apparent outcome involving Eric DeCosta.

After a Sports Illustrated report said Tuesday that Indianapolis was seeking permission to interview the Ravens assistant general manager, DeCosta is not among the six candidates the Colts formally announced they’d be interviewing for their general manager position. Currently at the Senior Bowl, DeCosta hadn’t commented on the initial report as of early Wednesday afternoon.

The 45-year-old has long been considered the successor to general manager Ozzie Newsome and has been with the organization for over 20 years despite countless interview requests for other general manager openings in recent offseasons. It’s believed that owner Steve Bisciotti pays DeCosta as well as some other top executives around the league.

Bisciotti has often boasted publicly that he has two general managers as DeCosta has taken on more responsibilities over the years. The 60-year-old Newsome has given no indication that he is nearing retirement when asked periodically in recent years, insisting how much he still enjoys the job.

“He has too much at stake here in his relationship with Ozzie, and Ozzie’s relationship with him is just strong,” said Bisciotti about DeCosta last January. “I commend him for his patience, because I know there are other guys that are GMs after they chose [to leave]. Because Eric wasn’t interested in the last five, six years — and he probably could’ve had 10 different jobs. But I will say that seven of those 10 [general managers] have been relieved of their duties already. I think that’s where Eric would say [he has] his patience.

“Because we promote continuity, Eric can afford to be patient.”

Unlike other opportunities that may have lacked appeal, the Colts already have a franchise quarterback in place, making it a more attractive job than the typical GM opening. Of course, DeCosta is also familiar with Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano, who worked in Baltimore from 2008-2011.

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Critical Ravens offseason even more unsettling after Orr retirement

Posted on 24 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We already knew the Ravens were facing a critical offseason.

Having missed the playoffs in three of the last four years and sporting an underwhelming 31-33 record since winning Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore knows it has work to do to reclaim its place as an annual contender in the AFC. Sure, you could try to argue that the Ravens are “close” since they were a tackle away from topping Pittsburgh in Week 16 to take the AFC North lead, but an 8-8 record with such a veteran-dependent roster doesn’t exactly scream that they’re moving in the right direction. It also means that they’re picking in the middle of each round of the 2017 draft, making it more difficult to land the kind of elite game-changing talent they desperately need.

And then the news broke last Friday that 24-year-old inside linebacker Zach Orr was retiring due to a rare congenital spine condition.

The former undrafted free agent wasn’t going to be the next Ray Lewis, but Orr was one of the few second- and third-year Ravens to take a major step forward, establishing himself as a quality talent in his first year as a starter. While general manager Ozzie Newsome has recently counted on many veterans to fight off Father Time to maintain a high level of play, Orr had the potential to get even better, the kind of upside the Ravens need more of to climb out of their rut of mediocrity.

The young linebacker’s unexpected retirement only makes the offseason to-do list longer.

Their 2016 starters at nose tackle, 5-technique defensive end, right tackle, and fullback are unrestricted free agents. The Ravens need to add starting-caliber options at wide receiver, cornerback, and edge pass rusher. They would like to upgrade at center and may need a starting safety if Lardarius Webb ends up being among their salary-cap casualties.

And inside linebacker has now been added to the list of concerns after that position was regarded as one of the most stable. Perhaps they will find an internal option to take Orr’s place, but the Ravens aren’t in a position where they can afford to downgrade their strengths.

With only so much cap space at their disposal, the Ravens won’t be able to address all of the aforementioned needs to the degree they’d like and frankly will need good fortune along the way, whether it’s finding some late-round gems or a diamond-in-the-rough free agent or two.

Losing Orr is the opposite of good luck and is unsettling in a crucial offseason that hasn’t really started yet.

Pro Bowl shuffling

With safety Eric Weddle and center Jeremy Zuttah added to the AFC roster on Monday, the Ravens now claim a total of seven players invited to the Pro Bowl, one shy of the franchise high.

At what point does the madness end with this charade of a game in which many players don’t even want to participate and many fans don’t want to watch?

Even if fans and media were too hard on Zuttah this season, it’d be very tough to argue that his play warranted an invitation to Orlando as an alternate. What about Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian, who reportedly would have been invited to play in the game if not for recent shoulder surgery?

Ask Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert if playing in the game is worth it after an ankle injury suffered in last year’s Pro Bowl cost him half of the 2016 season.

If the NFL wants to preserve whatever prestige that remains for being a Pro Bowl selection, the game needs to be discontinued. Maybe they could instead hold a rousing game of musical chairs, a much better reflection of the roster shuffling.

Keep the honor, but please dump the game.

Second-round suffering

With Orr’s retirement, many have pointed to Kamalei Correa as his potential replacement with the Ravens currently viewing the 2016 second-round pick as more of an inside linebacker than an outside option.

To do that, Correa will need to buck the trend of second-round disappointments after he played just 48 defensive snaps as a rookie. Baltimore’s last four selections in the second round have made a total of 31 starts with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan making 24 of those.

Jernigan may not blossom into a Pro Bowl player, but he’s at least been a productive starter, a fair standard for a second-round choice. In contrast, inside linebacker Arthur Brown didn’t make it through his rookie contract, tight end Maxx Williams is coming off major knee surgery for a cartilage problem, and Correa couldn’t crack an outside linebacker rotation that had playing time up for grabs in 2016.

This is a big offseason for the Boise State product to prove he’s not the latest second-round disappointment.

Patriots Invitational

Perhaps a healthy Derek Carr would have made the Oakland Raiders an intriguing foe, but it was clear how big the divide was between New England and everyone else after Pittsburgh was demolished in the AFC championship game on Sunday.

Even in past years in which the Patriots ultimately advanced to the Super Bowl, you usually felt there were at least a couple AFC teams who had a real chance to beat them, but that simply wasn’t the case this season.

A league that champions parity had more mediocrity than usual with most of the 12 playoff teams not posing a serious threat to the contenders at the top. Eight of the 10 playoff games being blowouts helped support that notion.

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Zuttah in, Mosley out as Pro Bowl shuffling continues for Ravens

Posted on 24 January 2017 by Luke Jones

A seventh Ravens player was named to the Pro Bowl while another officially backed out due to injury on Monday.

After safety Eric Weddle was added to the AFC roster earlier in the day, center Jeremy Zuttah received the invitation to play in the game as a replacement for Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey. It is Zuttah’s first Pro Bowl invitation after he was the only Baltimore offensive lineman to start all 16 games in 2016.

Another Baltimore-for-Pittsburgh Pro Bowl swap was made at the linebacker position where C.J. Mosley officially pulled out of the game with the calf injury he sustained in the season finale at Cincinnati. The third-year Ravens linebacker is being replaced by Ryan Shazier of the Steelers.

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Mosley is the second Raven to decline participating in the game after six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda withdrew earlier this month with a shoulder injury. Zuttah will join Weddle, kicker Justin Tucker, long snapper Morgan Cox, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk for Sunday night’s game in Orlando.

Zuttah’s inclusion came as a surprise to some after he was criticized for uneven play throughout the season. Pro Football Focus graded the 30-year-old as the 13th-best center in the NFL while Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked Zuttah 26th among the league’s centers.

The Ravens are still expected to seek an upgrade at the position this offseason as Zuttah is set to carry a $4.607 million salary cap number for the 2017 season.

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