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Amid many doubts, Flacco trying to win the only way he can

Posted on 22 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In many ways, Joe Flacco can’t win at this point.

The writing appears to be on the wall with the Ravens drafting a quarterback in the first round, even if former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson needs some seasoning. Despite the proclamations of Flacco still being the franchise guy, an organization wanting to win now isn’t using two second-round picks to trade up to the 32nd overall selection simply for a better backup or someone seen as a project.

Even Flacco’s biggest supporters must acknowledge the need for him to show meaningful improvement after a third consecutive lackluster season in which Baltimore once again missed the playoffs and he finished dead last among qualified passers in yards per attempt. Some fans and critics are already clamoring for Jackson and will even louder at the first hint of trouble for the 11th-year quarterback and a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season.

On the flip side, a Flacco renaissance will be chalked up by many solely to Jackson’s arrival motivating the former Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. And even if Flacco does play better, he might still receive the Alex Smith treatment next offseason as Kansas City traded its Pro Bowl quarterback in March to clear the way for 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.

Is the rookie’s presence the reason why some see more of a bounce in Flacco’s step this offseason?

“I don’t know. Does it matter what I say?” said Flacco as he smiled. “I think you guys will probably link it to Lamar anyway.”

It’s human nature in any line of work to feel more urgency when your employer hires a threat to your job, but perhaps he’s pleased with the organization making more than its typical halfhearted effort — at times, less than that — to improve the offensive side of the ball. Much is made about Flacco’s expensive price tag while the front office has frequently received a pass for investing resource after resource after resource into a defense that’s still come up too small in defining moments of the last five years.

Flacco’s hefty contract may justify more free-agent dollars going toward the defense in recent years, but using all but four of 17 total picks in the first three rounds of the 2013-17 drafts on defense was asking a quarterback to do more with less than anyone in the NFL. Exactly one of those four offensive picks (left tackle Ronnie Stanley) has made a lasting impact while the other three are either gone (tight end Crockett Gillmore) or likely soon on their way out the door (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams).

So little cheap labor with upside in addition to few impact free agents on his side of the ball for years, but it’s still all about his contract in the minds of many.

That the free-agent additions of wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead — three players all coming off down seasons — and the early-round selections of tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are viewed as a Herculean effort speaks to the lukewarm commitment to building a good offense since Super Bowl XLVII. These offseason additions still don’t make Baltimore anywhere close to a top 10 offense on paper, but they at least bring a more diverse skill set to the passing game to give Flacco a better chance to succeed in this make-or-break year.

“I know we brought in a lot of pieces, a lot of draft picks to help him do that,” said Snead, who has shown early chemistry with Flacco and caught a combined 141 passes in his first two seasons with New Orleans. “I think that’s all he needed — weapons. I think it’s all on him now to be able to make those plays, which I know he can.”

Perhaps even more important than the possibility of improved weapons is the veteran quarterback’s health. Flacco is another year removed from his 2015 knee injury and appears to be over the back injury that cost him all of last summer and hindered him well into the 2017 regular season.

Asked this past week to reflect on how challenging it was to step right into Week 1 last year after missing all of training camp and the preseason, Flacco still wasn’t interested in making excuses for his poor numbers. After registering just eight touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, a 72.7 passer rating, and just 5.3 yards per attempt over the first nine games of 2017, the Delaware product posted 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, an 89.1 passer rating, and 6.2 yards per attempt the rest of the way.

But it wasn’t enough to get the Ravens back to the postseason for the first time since 2014 or to prevent general manager Ozzie Newsome from drafting his likely successor.

“Hey, I wish we went out there last year and made the playoffs and won more games and wouldn’t have to deal with it,” Flacco said. “I wouldn’t have to deal with answering stuff, questions like that about making excuses and not getting that part of camp. That’s all in hindsight and it’s not the most ideal situation, but we should have made it work.”

The most observable difference with Flacco this spring and summer has been his mobility as his movement within the pocket has been more fluid and he’s looked faster on those rare occasions when he takes off running. That’s a reflection of better health and the arrival of new quarterbacks coach James Urban, who has emphasized improving his footwork that has slacked in recent seasons. No one ever accused Flacco of being a mobile quarterback, but better movement will be key with the Ravens trying to incorporate more run-pass options this season, another harbinger of Jackson.

With Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda not practicing on Sunday, Flacco effectively stepped up in the pocket and moved his feet in response to constant pressure from the defensive front, even taking off once or twice to gain positive yardage.

“Many of those subtle movements are important, and once again he looks really healthy,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who estimated that a quarterback must deviate from his designed drop roughly half the time. “If you remember now, it’s been a couple years since he’s been healthy. He was really a fine, fine athlete [before the injuries], and he is a fine, fine athlete, especially for his size.”

Doubts surrounding his future will remain as Flacco is set to carry a $26.5 million cap figure with an $18.5 million base salary in 2019. Short of him being selected to his first Pro Bowl or making a deep playoff run, the Ravens may choose to move on from their longtime quarterback next offseason, especially if the gifted Jackson looks like the real deal in his development.

But Flacco has every intention of silencing such talk and at least delaying what many see as the inevitable in the only way he can — on the field.

“I think we’re going to win,” said Flacco, exuding the same confidence he had six years ago when he bet on himself as a pending free agent and led the Ravens to a championship. “And we’re not going to hear about it.”

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Ravens lose final two OTA days, fined for violating offseason rules

Posted on 06 June 2018 by Luke Jones

For the third time in the 11-season tenure of head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have been stripped of organized team activity sessions for violating offseason workout rules.

The NFL announced Baltimore would forfeit its final two OTA sessions scheduled for Thursday and Friday and the organization and Harbaugh would be fined. Details of the violation weren’t specified in the league’s statement, but it apparently stemmed from contact in pass coverage situations, which is not permitted during spring workouts.

“We take very seriously reading, understanding, abiding by and playing by the rules,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “Our coaches, staff and players have worked extremely hard to run the offseason program according to all the collective bargaining agreement rules. Our team has been singled out for pass coverage contact during the early part of OTAs. We have heavily emphasized these CBA pass coverage rules in meetings, and coached them diligently on the practice field. It has also been our priority to include our veteran players, along with new Ravens who have practiced and played for other teams, in the process and use their input and ideas. Even with consistent and repeated teaching, these rules pose considerable adjustments for the young players.

“We have tried very hard to eliminate contact in pass coverage during OTAs, even so far as to pull players out of practice who struggle with these adjustments. I am confident we have done everything within our power and ability to practice within the rules, and we will continue to focus on preparing, teaching and practicing the right way.”

The team will still conduct its three-day mandatory minicamp next week.

In 2016, the Ravens forfeited three days of OTA sessions and were fined after players illegally dressed in pads during rookie minicamp. In 2010, the final week of the offseason program was canceled for rules violations involving the intensity and tempo of drills as well as the length of practices.

Two years ago, Harbaugh took full accountability for the violation. General manager Ozzie Newsome said the league’s action was “appropriate” in 2010 and that the organization wouldn’t let it happen again.

Based on the organization’s reaction to Wednesday’s announcement, there could be more gray area with the latest violation, but previous transgressions have undoubtedly left the Ravens under the league’s microscope. Either way, it’s a bad look for an organization with plenty of experience in leadership positions and no excuse to not be able to follow a CBA that’s been in place since 2011.

“We are vigilant about practicing within the collective bargaining rules. I am. John and his assistants are,” Newsome stated. “I attend every practice and then watch the practices again on video. I see how the coaching staff teaches, corrects and addresses issues immediately on the field. In meetings, I have watched John’s presentation to his players and assistants regarding how to properly practice and the pace of these sessions. We have players competing, including rookies and those fighting to make our team. Sometimes breaking old practice habits of these players, especially rookies, takes more repetitions. We’ll continue to be vigilant about this.”

According to NFL Network, Harbaugh will be fined $50,000 while owner Steve Bisciotti receives a $100,000 fine.

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Veteran receiver Crabtree embracing “new start” with Ravens

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco developing chemistry with new wide receivers is nothing new in the spring, but these efforts have been severely hindered in recent years.

It’s reflected in the overall results.

Baltimore drafted Breshad Perriman in the first round of the 2015 draft to replace free-agent departure Torrey Smith, but the rookie injured his knee on the first day of training camp and missed the entire season, leaving Flacco and the passing game without a viable deep threat. Unfortunately, Perriman still hasn’t gotten his career on track three years later.

In 2016, Flacco missed spring workouts while recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery, hindering what would still turn out to be a solid rapport with free-agent newcomer Mike Wallace. The speedy veteran posted his first 1,000-yard season in five years, but the passing attack finished just 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the second straight year.

Last year, of course, Flacco missed all of training camp and the preseason with a back injury and logged only a few practices before starting the opener in Cincinnati, leading to a poor first half of the season for the Super Bowl XLVII MVP. Making matters worse, accomplished veteran Jeremy Maclin had only arrived at the end of spring workouts and never got on the same page with Flacco, leading to his disappointing campaign for Baltimore’s 29th-ranked passing attack.

For an organization that’s frequently — and deliberately — built its offense with a small margin for error, these extenuating circumstances have all but guaranteed mediocrity. But the Ravens hope 2018 will be different with Flacco healthy and throwing the ball exceptionally well this spring. General manager Ozzie Newsome followed through with his offseason promise to revamp the pass-catching positions with veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree headlining the group of additions.

The 30-year-old’s skill set resembles that of former Raven Anquan Boldin with his ability to make contested catches on third downs and make plays inside the red zone despite lacking great speed or overwhelming size. Quarterbacks and wide receivers building chemistry is a never-ending process with the spring and summer particularly valuable for both fine-tuning and experimentation.

How long has it taken Crabtree to feel that unspoken connection with quarterbacks at previous stops?

“You only see it in the game. You’d say the first game,” said Crabtree, who’s played with Alex Smith, Derek Carr, and Colin Kaepernick in his career. “Practice is what you practice, and then the game is show time. Once you see it in the game multiple times, then you get comfortable. It is what it is.”

Crabtree has attended voluntary workouts regularly after signing his three-year, $21 million in March. In addition to getting a head start in building timing with Flacco, the former Oakland Raider is aiming to rebound from a disappointing 2017 campaign in which he recorded just 618 receiving yards, his lowest total since 2013 when he played in only five games due to a torn Achilles tendon.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound receiver has only two 1,000-yard campaigns in his career, but the Ravens hope he’ll serve as a reliable possession receiver and continue his streak of three consecutive seasons with at least eight touchdowns. Crabtree isn’t taking his spot for granted this spring despite Baltimore returning only two wide receivers — Chris Moore and Perriman — who caught a single pass last year, only adding to the competition at the position.

“I guess it’s a little more intense because you’re learning the playbook, have a new quarterback, new offensive line, new receivers — just new guys period,” Crabtree said. “It’s definitely beneficial for me to be here early. That way, by the time camp starts, we’re rolling.”

His presence has also been a positive for a young wide receiver group. The other two veteran receivers signed this offseason — John Brown and Willie Snead — aren’t household names and are each coming off injury-plagued seasons in which they combined for 391 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

The Ravens shouldn’t expect Crabtree to suddenly become a Pro Bowl receiver in his 10th season, but they need him to be a steadying presence both on and off the field.

“‘Crab’ has done a great job. He’s a really hard worker,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He has a great feel for the game, a lot of the tricks of the trade he understands, and he’s willing to share with those guys. He’s been great for our locker room, for our meeting room.”

Crabtree has stood out in spring workouts with smooth route-running ability and was singled out by Flacco last week when he was asked for impressions of the new wide receivers. His speed may pale in comparison to the likes of Brown and Perriman — he wasn’t particularly fast even going back to his college days at Texas Tech — but Crabtree says he’s competing like he’s 21 again.

Newsome betting on a veteran receiver having a chip on his shoulder after a disappointing year is nothing new, something he’s tripled down on this year. Of course, the Ravens envision Crabtree being more Boldin or Steve Smith and less Maclin or Lee Evans.

“Hearing most of the new receivers’ stories, we’ve all had our ups and downs,” Crabtree said. “It just feels good to have a new start and keep things rolling.”

Flacco will hope things keep rolling through the spring and summer without interruption.

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Ravens sign all eight Day 3 draft picks

Posted on 05 May 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have wasted little time signing most of their team-record-tying 12 draft picks to four-year contracts.

Baltimore announced agreements with eight selections on Saturday, a list comprised of fourth-round cornerback Anthony Averett, fourth-round linebacker Kenny Young, fourth-round wide receiver Jaleel Scott, fifth-round wide receiver Jordan Lasley, sixth-round safety DeShon Elliott, sixth-round offensive tackle Greg Senat, sixth-round center Bradley Bozeman, and seventh-round defensive end Zach Sieler.

The Ravens must still sign first-round tight end Hayden Hurst, first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson, third-round offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., and third-round tight end Mark Andrews, but those tasks are considered little more than formalities with the structure of the current collective bargaining agreement in place since 2011. As first-round selections, both Hurst and Jackson will carry fifth-year options the Ravens will have the choice to exercise for the 2022 season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome had the entire 2017 draft class signed by May 17 last season.

Doubling up on joint practices

The Ravens hadn’t conducted any practices with other teams since 2015, but they’ll double up in ending that drought this summer.

Asked about his team’s already-announced plan to practice with the Los Angeles Rams for two days ahead of the Aug. 9 preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium, head coach John Harbaugh revealed the Ravens will also practice in Indianapolis ahead of their Aug. 20 contest at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“Both of those coaches called us,” said Harbaugh, referring to Rams head coach Sean McVay and new Colts head coach Frank Reich. “We have the longer training camp this year with our extra preseason game with the Hall of Fame game [on Aug. 2]. The way the training camp laid out, it looked like it would be good for us to create some breaks in the schedule where we could go against somebody else and organize the practices appropriately. We have to do a good job of that.”

The Ravens hosted joint practices with San Francisco in 2014 and practiced against the Eagles in Philadelphia in 2015.

Odds & ends

Nine days after being drafted, Jackson said he hasn’t yet talked to starting quarterback Joe Flacco. … Harbaugh said he was impressed with Jackson’s accuracy and “natural arm talent” during rookie minicamp. … Andrews having Type 1 diabetes wasn’t a consideration in the Ravens’ decision to draft him, according to Harbaugh. … Several players noted the challenge of the temperature rising north of 90 degrees on Friday, but Harbaugh was pleased with the rookies’ conditioning level and noted there were no major or soft-tissue-related injuries during the minicamp.

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Ravens decline to pick up fifth-year option on receiver Perriman

Posted on 02 May 2018 by Luke Jones

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman’s future was in doubt long before the Ravens declined to pick up their fifth-year option on the former first-round pick this week.

According to NFL Network, Baltimore will not exercise its option on Perriman, which would have paid him $9.387 million for the 2019 season. That decision was hardly a shock with the 2015 first-round pick coming off an abysmal season in which he caught only 10 passes for 77 yards on 34 targets. Pro Football Focus graded the 24-year-old last among 116 qualified wide receivers in 2017.

What remains to be seen is whether Perriman will even make the team this fall after being a healthy scratch in four of the final seven games of 2017. General manager Ozzie Newsome has revamped the wide receiver group this offseason by signing veterans Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead and taking two wide receivers — Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley — on the final day of last week’s draft. According to ESPN’s Field Yates, Perriman is owed a $649,485 bonus on the third day of training camp, which could prompt an early-summer departure if he doesn’t show dramatic improvement this spring.

The Ravens can save $1.622 million in salary cap space by cutting Perriman.

Injuries have played a substantial part in his disappointing career as he missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, was sidelined for most of the 2016 preseason with another knee injury, and missed substantial time with a hamstring injury last summer. However, his on-field regression in 2017 was alarming after he had at least been a functional contributor in 2016 with 33 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games.

Perriman is the only wide receiver to be drafted by the Ravens on Day 1 or Day 2 in their last seven drafts, a big reason why the organization has found itself in poor shape at the position on a near-annual basis.

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What to expect from Ravens’ 2018 draft picks

Posted on 29 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The picks are in for the 2018 draft, so what can we now expect from the Ravens’ 12 selections?

Below is the early look at how each rookie fits:

TE Hayden Hurst
Drafted: First round (25th overall) from South Carolina
2018 projected role: Tight ends generally struggle in their rookie season, but the 24-year-old will have every chance to become the primary guy with Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams better suited as blockers.
Long-term view: His 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame and good hands offer hope that he can become Baltimore’s best all-around tight end since Todd Heap with the ability to move around formations. He will be critical in helping Joe Flacco now and aiding in Lamar Jackson’s development for the future.

QB Lamar Jackson
Drafted: First round (32nd overall) from Louisville
2018 projected role: The quarterback of the future will need time to develop as a backup, but the Ravens would be wise to pick their spots to utilize his athleticism and expose him to some game action.
Long-term view: Jackson’s throwing mechanics and ability to function with pressure in an NFL pocket are significant questions, but his tools make him an intriguing talent the Ravens have never had at the position. The hope is he ushers in a new era for the organization, but there is much work to be done.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.
Drafted: Third round (83rd overall) from Oklahoma
2018 projected role: The son of former Ravens right tackle Orlando Brown will compete with veteran James Hurst for the starting right tackle job.
Long-term view: A historically-poor combine performance didn’t wipe out how the organization felt about his strong game tape, but questions about his weight, strength, and foot speed cannot be dismissed. You love the pedigree, but Brown has much to prove to reward the Ravens’ faith in him.

TE Mark Andrews
Drafted: Third round (86th overall) from Oklahoma
2018 projected role: The 6-foot-5 target will compete for situational snaps in the passing game as a big slot option and should have a real chance to make an impact inside the red zone.
Long-term view: Andrews is a wide receiver trapped in a tight end’s body and is not considered much of a blocker, meaning he’ll need to make substantial contributions in the pass game. In a perfect world, he slides into the old Dennis Pitta role, which was a big part of the Ravens’ success in the past.

CB Anthony Averett
Drafted: Fourth round (118th overall) from Alabama
2018 projected role: The 5-foot-11, 183-pound defensive back has a slew of names ahead of him on the depth chart, meaning he’ll need to be a good special-teams player to see the field as a rookie.
Long-term view: Being a two-year starter for the Crimson Tide speaks for itself, but Averett lacks the physicality of Marlon Humphrey and has more to prove. Eventually becoming a No. 2 starting cornerback isn’t out of the question, but Averett can provide valuable depth at the very least.

LB Kenny Young
Drafted: Fourth round (122nd overall) from UCLA
2018 projected role: Young has the athleticism to compete with Patrick Onwuasor for the weak-side inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley, a position that wasn’t stellar for the Ravens last season.
Long-term view: A full-time starter for three seasons with the Bruins, Young has coverage skills that could add a dimension the Baltimore defense sorely needs. He should contribute on special teams immediately with the chance to eventually move into a starting role.

WR Jaleel Scott
Drafted: Fourth round (132nd overall) from New Mexico State
2018 projected role: The 6-foot-5 receiver will compete for situational snaps and could get looks as a contributor inside the red zone if he shows enough during the spring and summer.
Long-term view: You love the size and Scott made some acrobatic catches last year, but he lacks speed and is the kind of raw prospect the Ravens have rarely had success developing into anything of consequence. Baltimore has lacked a jump-ball threat for years, so Scott has a chance to be just that.

WR Jordan Lasley
Drafted: Fifth round (162nd overall) from UCLA
2018 projected role: Lasley will compete for a roster spot and will need to play special teams, but he showed the big-play ability in college to potentially earn some chances at the receiver position.
Long-term view: Off-field issues and bad hands led to Lasley’s slide down the draft board, but he averaged 18.3 yards per catch and accumulated 1,264 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games last season. He’s the proverbial boom-or-bust prospect, making him a decent gamble in the fifth round.

S DeShon Elliott
Drafted: Sixth round (190th overall) from Texas
2018 projected role: Much like Chuck Clark a year ago, the first-team All-American safety will need to shine on special teams to secure a roster spot in a deep secondary.
Long-term view: Opinions are mixed, but many seem to view Elliott as more of a box safety needing to play closer to the line of scrimmage to succeed. He’ll have a difficult time carving out a defensive role early, but he has the potential to eventually develop into a hybrid option.

OT Greg Senat
Drafted: Sixth round (212th overall) from Wagner
2018 projected role: The former college basketball player has good length and will compete for a roster spot or an opportunity on the practice squad.
Long-term view: Senat needs to get stronger and unsurprisingly needs to improve his blocking technique, but this is the kind of prospect that makes perfect sense late in the sixth round. At the very least, offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has a good athlete with which to work.

C Bradley Bozeman
Drafted: Sixth round (215th overall) from Alabama
2018 projected role: The 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman will compete for a roster spot or a place on the practice squad at a position lacking a long-term answer.
Long-term view: You like the pedigree of someone who made 31 career starts for the Crimson Tide, but Bozeman’s lack of athleticism and strength explain him lasting until the sixth round. His instincts and success in the SEC make him a decent developmental option with limited upside.

DE Zach Sieler
Drafted: Seventh round (238th overall) from Ferris State
2018 projected role: The Division II All-American selection will compete for a roster spot or a place on the practice squad with the defensive line being so deep.
Long-term view: Ozzie Newsome taking a defensive lineman from a small school as his final draft choice is fitting, but Sieler’s 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame fits the mold of an NFL 5-technique lineman. With Brent Urban and Carl Davis not signed beyond 2018, Sieler is at least worth keeping an eye on.

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Final chapter of Newsome’s Ravens draft legacy yet to be defined

Posted on 29 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Emotions ran high as the Ravens concluded the final draft of Ozzie Newsome’s impeccable run as general manager.

Successor Eric DeCosta choked up as he spoke about his mentor, describing how owner Steve Bisciotti switched their chairs in the draft room to signify the changing of the guard.

John Harbaugh shared his belief that this was the franchise’s best draft in his 11 seasons as head coach. Others have wasted no time heaping praise upon Baltimore’s work.

Of course, Newsome himself brought the appropriate context in judging his 23rd and final draft.

“We did address a lot of areas, but ask me two years from now,” Newsome said. “Because now we have to get them in, we have to work with them, we have to develop them. Then, two years from now, we’ll be able to determine what job we did this weekend.”

The Ravens surely checked boxes by drafting tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews as well as offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., the most heartwarming pick of the weekend. On the final day, they attempted to address other needs by taking inside linebacker Kenny Young as well as wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley to develop for the future.

But make no mistake, the fate of the 2018 draft will ultimately be defined by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. That’s just reality when you take a quarterback in the first round, regardless of what Newsome might have given up in the trade or how the Ravens were able to secure a fifth-year option with shrewd maneuvering.

Just ask Super Bowl XXXV champion coach Brian Billick about the 2003 draft. The first round may have featured potential Hall of Fame linebacker Terrell Suggs, but quarterback bust Kyle Boller ultimately cost Billick his job four years later.

The Jackson pick isn’t a flier or a low risk as those attempting to soft-pedal the likely ousting of Joe Flacco have suggested. If he doesn’t become the franchise quarterback, the ramifications are substantial, ranging from a missed opportunity to really strengthen the roster to high-profile jobs potentially being lost.

Squandering a first-round pick is significant even when it isn’t a quarterback. Consider the many resources the Ravens have exhausted at the safety position since drafting Matt Elam five years ago. Baltimore is still dealing with the fallout of Breshad Perriman failing to develop into a functional wide receiver three years after being drafted.

Jackson’s selection following his electrifying career at Louisville has reinvigorated much of a disgruntled fan base over the last few days, but recent history suggests the odds are against him panning out. Of the 17 quarterbacks drafted 15th through 45th overall from 2007-16 — a range chosen to satisfy varying opinions of his value — only seven spent more than one full season as a starter and one of those was Geno Smith. Just three — Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Oakland’s Derek Carr, and Flacco — are present-day starting quarterbacks with the others either surviving as backups or out of the league entirely.

Those odds are why those now being labeled by some as Flacco apologists balked at using such valuable draft capital on his replacement rather than at another position with a higher success rate to try to help the 33-year-old who led the franchise to a championship five years ago.

Where will the Ravens be in two years?

If the talented Jackson is on his way to becoming a franchise quarterback and helping his team to the playoffs, even detractors of Thursday’s pick will need to give Newsome his due. If he isn’t, there’s no telling what the fallout could be for a team with just one playoff appearance since Super Bowl XLVII.

Of course, this is where the rest of the draft class also comes into play as any quarterback is impacted dramatically by his environment.

Is at least one of the combination of Hurst and Andrews serving as the impact tight end the Ravens have lacked since the early days of Dennis Pitta and Todd Heap before that?

Will Scott or Lasley break the mold of so many failed Day 3 wide receivers to help improve the position’s long-term outlook? That will be a critical need for the young quarterback.

Does an eventual starter and a solid backup or two emerge from the group of Brown, Young, cornerback Anthony Averett, and a quartet of sixth- and seventh-rounders?

Only the answers to these questions will determine whether the current praise for Newsome’s swansong draft is warranted.

It’s understandable for so many to want to pay tribute to the general manager after all he’s accomplished. No one can take away a body of work that includes two Super Bowl championships, 10 playoff appearances in a 15-year period, two homegrown Hall of Famers (with at least one or two more to come), and 18 homegrown Pro Bowl players. Newsome is more than deserving of being a Hall of Fame executive after being a Hall of Fame tight end.

But let’s follow his own advice and pump the brakes on declaring this draft to be his final masterpiece.

That will be determined by whether the master plan to replace Flacco with Jackson succeeds.

Remember many Ravens fans were once miffed that Jonathan Ogden was chosen over Lawrence Phillips while others initially celebrated the likes of Boller, Elam, and Perriman in past first rounds.

We’ll know the truth in two years.

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First-round quarterback would cap disappointing finish to Newsome era

Posted on 25 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will get the benefit of the doubt until they turn in their card late Thursday night.

Whether staying at 16th overall or moving elsewhere in the first round, Ozzie Newsome has a variety of directions he can go in the final draft of his Hall of Fame-caliber run as general manager that includes two Super Bowl titles and 10 playoff appearances in 22 years.

Despite signing three veteran wide receivers this offseason, Baltimore needs a pass-catching tight end and could still use another receiver with upside for both the present and future. After losing two starters from last year’s offensive line, a tackle such as Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey or even center Frank Ragnow from Arkansas would make sense despite neither being a sexy pick for an anxious fan base.

You could try to sell me on not being able to resist a special defensive talent such as Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith somehow sliding down the board, even if that would continue the post-Super Bowl XLVII theme of neglecting the offensive side of the ball. These are the defense-obsessed Ravens, after all, so that wouldn’t be all that stunning.

But a quarterback in the first round?

Nope.

Absolutely not.

Sorry, that’s a hard pass.

As owner Steve Bisciotti famously said in February, the Ravens have “bigger fish to fry.”

Yet the smoke persists with NFL Network’s Mike Mayock becoming the latest draft maven to mock Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson to the Ravens at No. 16. It’s one thing when a run-of-the-mill reporter or draft enthusiast makes the connection in the hundreds of mock drafts currently circulating the internet, but the likes of Mayock and Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer are connected throughout the league. At the very least, the Ravens are making it appear that they’re seriously considering drafting Joe Flacco’s heir apparent in the first round as Jackson reportedly even took a pre-draft visit to Baltimore.

To be clear, this isn’t an anti-Jackson stance. The former Heisman Trophy winner is an intriguing talent who has a chance to be a good NFL quarterback if he lands in the right environment, the same caveat that applies to other high-profile signal-callers in this year’s draft class.

Putting aside the warm-and-fuzzy narrative of Newsome taking the Ravens’ quarterback of the future in his final draft, let’s look at reality.

With Bisciotti admitting he considered replacing John Harbaugh at the end of last season, do you think the 11th-year head coach and his staff are going to be receptive to a first-round pick unlikely to make any meaningful impact this year when they’re in win-now mode and very likely fighting for their jobs after missing the playoffs three straight times? That puts them in an unfair position.

No matter how they spin it, taking a first-round quarterback would be a clear message that the Ravens are done with Flacco. You can point to the final year of the Alex Smith-Kansas City marriage that resulted in a trip to the playoffs as much as you’d like, but we still have no idea if Patrick Mahomes will work out for Andy Reid and the Chiefs, making that a flimsy example to use as justification.

In today’s NFL, the benefit of hitting on a quarterback in the draft is the flexibility it provides with the salary cap, but the Ravens will have essentially wasted the first year of that rookie contract and would still be dealing with $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap by cutting Flacco next offseason. Sure, you could give his release a post-June 1 designation to push $8 million of that dead money to 2020, but that does you no good during free agency, meaning you’ve now minimized the benefits of the second season of that four-year rookie contract. That’s not a good start, and that’s assuming Jackson or whichever first-round quarterback you’d like to envision actually pans out.

Beyond those realities, does the current regime really deserve to reboot at the quarterback position yet? Why should the Ravens be trusted to build around another quarterback when they’ve done such a dismal job putting talent around the one who led them to their second NFL championship five years ago?

And please spare me the talk about Flacco’s contract.

The Ravens rank last in the NFL in non-quarterback money invested in the offensive side of the ball, according to OverTheCap.com. They’ve used just four of their 17 total picks in the first, second, and third rounds of the last five drafts on offensive players while attempting to recreate the 2000 defense with underwhelming results.

Since investing nine figures in the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player, the Ravens have consistently asked Flacco to do more with less than virtually any quarterback in the NFL.

To be clear, Flacco has underperformed and needs to own his share of the team’s shortcomings like anyone else, including the front office and coaching staff. There are legitimate reasons to doubt his future, ranging from his steadily-declining yards per attempt to concerns about his durability as he enters his mid-30s.

The end could very well be near for Flacco.

But the Ravens owe it to themselves and to their longtime quarterback to put their best foot forward for 2018 in Newsome’s final draft. They’ve hired a new quarterbacks coach in James Urban, who has a good reputation around the league and will hopefully address Flacco’s mechanics that have regressed since Gary Kubiak’s departure three years ago. Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead are each coming off down seasons, but they bring diverse skills to the passing game and have all tasted NFL success to varying degrees in the past. Investing meaningful draft picks on the offensive side of the ball would put the finishing touches on an offseason in which the Ravens brass can at least say they made more of an attempt to help Flacco than the usual dollar-store signings and Day 3 draft picks of recent years.

If he shows no meaningful improvement in 2018 from what we’ve seen the last few years, I’ll be the first to say it’s time to move on. New general manager Eric DeCosta can then begin his own quest for a new quarterback as the organization would likely be in transition in more ways than one.

This isn’t a special case like the New York Giants having the second overall pick and wondering if they’ll have another golden opportunity to replace their aging quarterback. The Ravens are picking in the middle of the first round and would be taking the fourth- or fifth-ranked quarterback in the class at best. Starting over by drafting a quarterback is never a high-percentage play and shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially when you’d be moving on from someone who once got you to the pinnacle when he had enough talent around him.

Newsome taking a quarterback Thursday would essentially be letting Flacco take the fall for his own shortcomings in recent years.

I’m still not buying it being the Ravens’ true play, but such an outcome would cap a lackluster finish to his long and successful run as general manager.

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snead

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New Orleans elects not to match Snead’s offer sheet with Ravens

Posted on 20 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Monday 11:15 a.m.)

The Ravens have taken another step in addressing the wide receiver position by signing restricted free agent Willie Snead to a two-year offer sheet that won’t be matched by New Orleans.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $7 million, which includes a $2 million signing bonus and an additional $3.4 million in incentives. New Orleans had until Wednesday to match the offer and will not receive any compensation for the former undrafted free agent’s departure. According to the NFLPA, the Saints entered Monday with just over $6 million in salary cap space, a limited amount for a team that recently signed wide receiver Cameron Meredith.

Snead is coming off a forgettable season in which he caught only eight passes for 92 yards in 11 games. He was suspended for the first three games of 2017 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, a penalty stemming from charges of driving while intoxicated and failing to maintain proper control of a vehicle last June. The Ball State product also dealt with a hamstring injury for a large portion of last season, another factor leading to him falling out of the mix.

However, the 25-year-old was a major contributor for Drew Brees and the Saints offense in the previous two seasons, catching a combined 141 passes for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Snead will serve as Baltimore’s slot receiver, a position general manager Ozzie Newsome had yet to fill after Jeremy Maclin was released and Michael Campanaro signed a one-year deal with Tennessee.

With the Ravens landing Snead, they have added a possession receiver and red-zone weapon in Michael Crabtree, an outside speed target in John Brown, and now a slot receiver to a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. The three offer diverse skills and have all enjoyed success in the past, but they combined for just 87 catches for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns last season with Crabtree accounting for most of that production. In other words, Newsome has invested quite a bit in a trio of targets needing bounce-back seasons.

Signing Snead is expected to take the Ravens out of the running for former Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, who hasn’t publicly expressed any interest in signing with Baltimore. The Ravens would be wise to still make drafting another receiver or two a priority this week since none of the aforementioned receivers can be viewed as long-term solutions at this point.

Snead worked out for the Ravens in late March and caught passes from quarterback Robert Griffin III, who also signed with the team earlier this month.

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flacco

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Flacco saying right things entering critical year for him and Ravens

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never come across as someone who peruses the mock drafts circulating this time of year.

But he’s aware of the smoke coming from even some of the more respected reporters and draft pundits suggesting general manager Ozzie Newsome may select a quarterback such as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State in the first round. The Ravens are either seriously considering taking a quarterback early or doing their best to make it look that way.

“It is what it is. It’s a business,” said Flacco, entering his 11th season in Baltimore. “Eventually, at some point, that’s going to have to happen. It’s not really for me to worry about. I come in here and you worry about what’s here and now and doing your job, which is for me right now getting guys out there working hard and making sure we’re moving towards our goal of getting to that championship.”

Whether the Ravens are serious or not, taking a quarterback in the first round would seem to contradict many circumstances facing the organization as owner Steve Bisciotti even said in early February that the Ravens had “bigger fish to fry” then finding Flacco’s successor. After Bisciotti acknowledged considering replacing head coach John Harbaugh at the end of last season, would the front office really give a coaching staff presumably fighting for its jobs a first-round pick who won’t see the field unless Flacco is injured or completely ineffective? The Ravens cited their late-season improvement as justification for retaining offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but they’re suddenly ready to move on from Flacco, who played well down the stretch despite little help at the pass-catching positions?

An organization having missed the playoffs four out of five seasons and facing an attendance crisis is going to use its first-round pick on a player unlikely to make any meaningful impact while Flacco carries a $24.75 million salary cap number this year and would still cost the Ravens another $16 million in dead money if he’s released next season? So much for maximizing the first couple years of having a young quarterback on a cheap rookie contract, and that’s assuming the drafted signal-caller pans out, which is far from the sure thing teams and their fans want it to be this time of year.

Finding a new franchise quarterback is a proposition never to be taken lightly.

Regardless of what happens next week, the pressure is mounting on Flacco, who is coming off a third straight subpar statistical campaign and is facing his most pivotal season since the final year of his rookie contract in 2012. The Ravens have done a poor job building an offense around him since Super Bowl XLVII, but that doesn’t absolve him from criticism as even his biggest supporters should be concerned with his declining yards per attempt average and questions about his durability moving forward as the 33-year-old missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury, an absence that severely stunted the offense. For what it’s worth, Flacco said he feels “really good” after placing an emphasis in his offseason training on keeping his back healthy.

Newsome has followed through on his vow to change the look of the wide receiver room this offseason with the free-agent additions of Michael Crabtree and John Brown, but it’s still debatable whether that duo is markedly better than Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and the Ravens still don’t have a pass-catching tight end on the roster after Benjamin Watson’s exit. To his credit, Flacco says he’s already spoken to Crabtree and Brown about working out away from the team’s Owings Mills facility before training camp. It’s an activity that’s been overrated by both media and fans on an annual basis, but there’s also no downside to it and such a commitment would likely garner some favor after both Newsome and Harbaugh mentioned the need for him to get on the same page with his new targets.

“I think sometimes those things are just as much, or more, about developing a relationship with those guys and developing that trust,” Flacco said. “For those guys to see that I really like who they are as football players, and for them to see that hopefully they like who I am as a football player. I think when you can get that relationship going, that’s going to help your football team out a ton.”

The Ravens have more work to do with their offense, further making the notion of taking a quarterback in the first round a puzzling one. After taking just four offensive players — left tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and tight ends Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore — with their last 17 Day 1 and Day picks in the last five drafts, tight end, wide receiver, right tackle, and center remain among the roster’s biggest needs.

If Flacco has his way, the Ravens won’t wait until next week’s draft to add another pass catcher or two as he provided a ringing endorsement when asked about the possibility of adding former Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“I got used to throwing to a guy like that when Anquan [Boldin] was here,” Flacco said. “He was a guy that even if he didn’t have the separation, it may have taken me a couple games, but you got used to throwing him the ball and having trust that he was going to get it. At the end of the day, in order to win big games, you have to have guys that can do that, because eventually, you’re not going to have guys running wide open – you’re going to have guys that can deal with traffic, winning in traffic, catching the ball in traffic. I think he’s another one of those guys.”

If Newsome finishes the job of improving the offensive cast, there will be no more excuses for the veteran quarterback. Flacco’s current deal runs through 2021, but new general manager Eric DeCosta — and perhaps even a new head coach — could elect to move on next year if 2018 offers more of the same from Flacco and an offense that’s consistently been below average in recent years.

His renaissance would likely save jobs and change the outlook of the organization as it enters a new era with Newsome stepping down as general manager.

Yes, time very well could be running out. How the Ravens proceed next week could say plenty about just how much remains, but Flacco still deserves the chance to hit pause with an improved 2018 campaign.

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