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Ravens re-sign Forsett to complete strange 48-hour saga

Posted on 05 September 2016 by Luke Jones

The plot thickens indeed.

Speculation began immediately after the Ravens released running back Justin Forsett on Saturday that the veteran would still return. However, the organization did not wait until after Week 1 when the salaries of newly-signed vested veteran players are no longer guaranteed for the entire season.

The Ravens re-signed the 2014 Pro Bowl running back on Monday afternoon, roughly 48 hours after his contract was terminated. Players were off on Sunday and Monday, which means Forsett will not have missed any team activities by the time the team reconvenes for practice on Tuesday.

It’s become obvious that Forsett’s release was just a strange way for general manager Ozzie Newsome to manipulate his initial 53-man roster. Baltimore also announced Monday that safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Carl Davis were going to injured reserve, creating roster spots for the returning Forsett and newly-signed return specialist Devin Hester.

In order for any players on IR to be eligible for the designation to return later in the season, a team is required to keep them on the initial 53-man roster through final cuts, explaining why Elam and Davis were on the original roster. Players already placed on IR such as rookie defensive end Bronson Kaufusi are not eligible for the designation to return later in the season.

Unlike past seasons, teams do not have to designate the one player to return from IR ahead of time and can instead weigh their options as the season progresses and other significant injuries potentially occur.

Head coach John Harbaugh is scheduled to meet with the media on Tuesday afternoon, so it will be interesting to hear how he and the organization try to spin this odd roster manipulation. It’s fair to wonder why the Ravens would ask Forsett to do this and why the 2014 Pro Bowl running back would agree unless he’s receiving something in return such as a bonus.

Less significant veterans on the 53-man roster such as linebacker Chris Carter just as easily could have been cut with a similar unspoken agreement to re-sign a few days later and also would not have been required to pass through waivers. Of course, trust can be a significant obstacle with something as delicate as this, and the organization and Forsett have clearly been on good terms, which made Saturday’s news so surprising in the first place.

Of course, Forsett couldn’t resist announcing his return in dramatic fashion using Twitter.

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with veteran returner Hester

Posted on 04 September 2016 by Luke Jones

After failing to find an in-house return specialist to their liking this summer, the Ravens will now see if one of the greatest return specialists in NFL history has another good season left.

According to multiple outlets, general manager Ozzie Newsome has agreed to a one-year deal with four-time Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester, who worked out twice and took a physical for the team in recent days. The 33-year-old holds the league records for career return touchdowns (kickoffs and punts) and career punt return touchdowns.

Wide receivers Michael Campanaro, Keenan Reynolds, and Kaelin Clay entered the summer as the top candidates vying for the returner job, but Clay suffered a broken foot in mid-August and neither Campanaro nor Reynolds emerged as a reliable option. On Saturday, Campanaro was placed on injured reserve with a calf injury while Reynolds was waived.

Hester’s impressive résumé speaks for itself, but he is trying to come back from offseason toe injury and played in just five games with Atlanta last year, averaging 26.1 yards per kick return and 4.3 yards per punt return. Released by the Falcons in late July, Hester had missed just one game over his previous five seasons combined before 2015.

Hester, a second-round pick in the 2006 draft, spent the first eight seasons of his professional career with Chicago before spending the last two with Atlanta. He last made the Pro Bowl in 2014 when he averaged 25.1 yards per kick return and 13.3 yards per punt return — including one for a touchdown — while catching 38 passes for 504 yards and two touchdowns.

The Ravens hope Hester will finally bring some stability to a return specialist job that’s been a headache since Jacoby Jones’ disappointing 2014 season and subsequent release the following offseason. Last season, five different players registered punt returns while four different players returned multiple kickoffs.

 

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Plenty of questions stemming from Ravens cutting Forsett

Posted on 04 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With several hours to process the surprise of the Ravens cutting running back Justin Forsett, below are a plethora of questions related to the decision:

1. The possibility of this outcome crossed my mind at a few points during Forsett’s underwhelming summer, but did the Ravens really cut their starting running back who made the Pro Bowl two years ago?

2. Will Baltimore bring him back after Week 1 when vested veteran salaries are no longer guaranteed for the whole season?

3. Would Forsett even want to return under such an arrangement?

4. After holding him out of two preseason games entirely and giving him a total of seven carries this summer, did the Ravens give the 30-year-old a fair chance to keep his job?

5. Given Forsett’s past success in Gary Kubiak’s offensive system, will the Denver Broncos come calling for his services?

6. With just two healthy tailbacks entering the season opener next Sunday, do the Ravens have enough depth at the position?

7. Terrance West shed weight and clearly impressed this summer, but can the Ravens really trust him as their starter with a history that resulted in two bad teams dumping him over the last calendar year?

8. Has Buck Allen shown enough to be a reliable No. 2 running back after his own unimpressive preseason that prompted many to question his job security?

9. Are the Ravens too confident that exciting rookie Kenneth Dixon will come back from a torn MCL in his left knee to pick up where he left off this summer?

10. Why didn’t general manager Ozzie Newsome or head coach John Harbaugh issue statements recognizing Forsett’s important contributions on and off the field in the same way they have for virtually any notable veteran to be released over the years?

11. Am I the only one who thought it was strange that Ravens players weren’t tweeting farewells or their support to Forsett, who has been a popular teammate over the last two years?

12. Was there any cryptic meaning in the tweet Forsett posted shortly after the news broke on Saturday afternoon?

13. Given the veteran’s reputation for having good field vision, are the Ravens really that comfortable with a revamped offensive line and a running game that averaged 3.6 yards per carry this preseason?

14. The Ravens are saving $3 million by cutting Forsett, but will the salary cap space be worth it?

15. Are the young backs ready to pick up the slack in pass protection, an area where Forsett excelled?

16. Will fullback Kyle Juszczyk have a more meaningful role in the offense this year?

17. How much will the backfield miss Forsett’s leadership on the field and in the classroom?

18. Will a trio of tailbacks totaling only 152 more career rushing yards than Forsett had in his 2014 Pro Bowl season alone make Ravens fans forget all about the veteran?

19. Did the Ravens get too wrapped up in summer performance from younger players that can frequently turn out to be a mirage?

20. Will this long-winded list of questions look silly in the next couple days, weeks, or months, or did the Ravens just make a big mistake?

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Predicting the Ravens’ 53-man roster at the end of 2016 preseason

Posted on 02 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the 2016 preseason now history, the Ravens can turn their full attention toward the season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11.

But first, it’s time to go on the record with the final projection of the Ravens’ 53-man roster to begin the regular season as head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome will make their final decisions by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Of course, this will only be the first regular-season roster as the Ravens can explore the possibility of adding other players who will be made available over the next few days.

Though the coaching staff and the front office are aware of the number of players at each position, trying to boldly pinpoint a specific number of receivers or linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their offensive or defensive positions.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players they are projected to keep at that given position.

QUARTERBACKS (2)
IN: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
OUT:  Josh Johnson
Skinny: Johnson has played well enough this preseason to earn a job somewhere, but the Ravens appear content with Mallett backing up Flacco this season.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (5)
IN: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Terrance West, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Lorenzo Taliaferro
OUT: Stephen Houston
Skinny: It would have been interesting to see whether Allen’s job was truly in danger before the knee injury suffered by Dixon, but the Ravens appeared to be protecting the former’s health on Thursday.

WIDE RECEIVERS (7)
IN: Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler
OUT: Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
Skinny: Keeping seven receivers isn’t ideal from a roster construction standpoint, but the number of injury risks in this group makes it easier to justify carrying Butler for the present and future.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
SUSPENDED: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller
OUT: Daniel Brown
Skinny: If Williams and Pitta are bigger question marks for the opener than Harbaugh indicated this week, Brown could find his way onto the 53-man roster temporarily.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Rick Wagner, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Alex Lewis, Ryan Jensen, De’Ondre Wesley
OUT: Vlad Ducasse, James Hurst, Matt Skura, Blaine Clausell
Skinny: Lewis’ ability to play left tackle and left guard will push Hurst off the roster while Ducasse is an unfortunate victim of the numbers game despite a good summer.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
IN: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Brent Urban, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce
OUT: Kapron Lewis-Moore
Skinny: Pierce was already in the roster discussion before his exceptional performance on Thursday and is an interesting talent to retain since Williams is scheduled to become a free agent next offseason.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Kamalei Correa
OUT: Arthur Brown, Patrick Onwuasor
Skinny: Brown’s status as a former second-round pick will no longer save his roster spot, and Albert McClellan or Anthony Levine can play inside linebacker if game-day injuries were to pile up.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za’Darius Smith, Albert McClellan, Matt Judon
OUT: Chris Carter, Victor Ochi, Brennen Beyer
Skinny: The veteran Carter should find a job elsewhere with ease while Ochi is a raw and talented prospect the Ravens will hope to sneak onto the practice squad.

CORNERBACKS (5)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young, Will Davis
OUT: Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady, Julian Wilson, Carrington Byndom
Skinny: The Ravens will gamble that Price or Canady — or both — will make it to the practice squad, but depth is a clear concern at this position with the play of Wright and Powers in the preseason.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Terrence Brooks, Anthony Levine, Kendrick Lewis
OUT: Matt Elam
Skinny: Kendrick Lewis missed the final three preseason games, but his veteran experience should count for something as a backup to Weddle and Webb.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
OUT: None
Skinny: This trio stays together for the fifth consecutive season, a rarity in this day and age in the NFL.

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Sizing up the 2016 Ravens roster before the third preseason game

Posted on 26 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the “dress rehearsal” of the preseason now upon us, it’s time for our newest look at the Ravens’ 53-man roster with the last projection taking place after the first preseason game.

My current look at the roster suggests 46 players are locks if the deadline to trim the roster to 53 took place today. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the preseason roster lists 19 players on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain positions lacking depth and others enjoying extensive talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the remainder of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of keeping a balanced number of players at each position, trying to boldly pinpoint a specific number of wide receivers or linebackers or safeties isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens will look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their respective offensive or defensive positions.

The Ravens must trim the roster from 90 players to 75 on Aug. 30 and will go down to the regular-season number of 53 on Sept. 3.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players’ names that are underlined are part of the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 26.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
LOCK: Joe Flacco
BUBBLE: Ryan Mallett, Josh Johnson
LONG SHOT: Jerrod Johnson
Skinny: If the backup competition were based solely on summer performance, Josh Johnson would likely be in the lead despite Mallett’s skill set more closely resembling Flacco’s. Harbaugh said Mallett hasn’t yet locked up the job, but I’m still not convinced that his roster spot is in real jeopardy, either.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Stephen Houston
PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Lorenzo Taliaferro
Skinny: Keeping four tailbacks is unusual, but Forsett’s experience is too valuable and the upside of the three young backs is too enticing to pass up. It remains to be seen how the carries will be distributed, but the rookie Dixon flashes the look of a potential home-run hitter out of the backfield.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
LOCK: Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace, Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro
BUBBLE: Jeremy Butler, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Chuck Jacobs, Dobson Collins, Darius White
Skinny: Trying to find roster room for Butler is likely one of Baltimore’s biggest headaches now, but what does the preseason standout offer that’s truly unique from the other six on the projected roster? Reynolds is improving, but it still looks like too tall of an order to keep him on the 53-man roster.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
LOCK: Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Daniel Brown
SUSPENDED: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller
Skinny: Health is a concern here as only the 35-year-old Watson has avoided missing extensive practice time this summer. Pitta is more of an unknown than you’d like, but Harbaugh did not indicate that his roster spot was in danger while bemoaning his long-term absence due to a broken finger.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Rick Wagner, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Alex Lewis
BUBBLE: Ryan Jensen, Vlad Ducasse, De’Ondre Wesley, James Hurst
LONG SHOT: Anthony Fabiano, Matt Skura, Jarell Broxton, Blaine Clausell, Stephane Nembot
Skinny: This eight-man group would leave the Ravens light at offensive tackle, but Lewis can play there and Yanda can certainly move out to right tackle in a game-day pinch. Wesley would appear to be a good candidate to land on the practice squad if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Willie Henry, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Michael Pierce
LONG SHOT: Trevon Coley
INJURED RESERVE: Bronson Kaufusi
Skinny: It’s been an underwhelming summer for Henry, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens cutting a fourth-round pick in his rookie season. Lewis-Moore has improved from last season, but keeping more than six defensive linemen is difficult with so many needs elsewhere.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Kamalei Correa
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown
LONG SHOT: Kavell Conner, Patrick Onwuasor
Skinny: Brown hasn’t done much to distinguish himself as worthy of making the team this summer, making it the potential end of the road for the disappointing 2013 second-round pick. The versatility of this overall linebacker group is a strength with a few players like Correa able to play inside or outside.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za’Darius Smith, Albert McClellan, Matt Judon
BUBBLE: Chris Carter
LONG SHOT: Victor Ochi, Brennen Beyer, Mario Ojemudia
Skinny: With McClellan and Orr now playing bigger defensive roles, Carter might be a good fit as a veteran easing some of their workload on special teams. Ochi is an intriguing prospect who has barely played in the preseason, making you think the Ravens are trying to sneak him onto the practice squad.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young
BUBBLE: Will Davis, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady, Kyle Arrington
LONG SHOT: Julian Wilson, Carrington Byndom
Skinny: The Ravens would probably like to find room for Price or Canady, but they have safeties who can play the nickel and dime spots. Arrington’s extended absence due to a concussion has really hurt his chances of making the team after his salary was already cut this offseason.

SAFETIES (6)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Terrence Brooks, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: Kendrick Lewis
LONG SHOT: None
INJURED RESERVE: Matt Elam
Skinny: Elam seems like a logical candidate to land on injured reserve where the Ravens could potentially activate him after Week 6 if there’s a need at safety. Coaches like Lewis, but he has missed a lot of time this summer, making you wonder if he’s losing his grip on a roster spot.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Wil Lutz
Skinny: There’s still nothing to see here with Lutz occasionally easing the workload of Tucker and Koch during practices.

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It’s unwise to count out and easy to root for Steve Smith

Posted on 18 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith did it all in his first day back at practice for the Ravens.

On the field, he made a touchdown catch and spun the football in the end zone, adding his trademark flavor to what was an otherwise bland walk-through session. Displaying his veteran leadership and his willingness to learn despite being in his 16th NFL season, Smith talked at length with rookie — and roster long shot — Darius White and said he even picked up a new route-release technique from former CFL wideout Dobson Collins, another player unlikely to make the 53-man roster.

Speaking to local reporters for the first time since mid-June, he got choked up explaining why he had decided to return, chastised media “jackasses” for doubting his 2016 prospects, and warned defensive backs that their vacation was over with the “bully” back on the field. Smith wouldn’t say directly whether this will be his final season, only acknowledging it was his last year “contractually” and that he’s only focused on playing this season.

The veteran then spent time posing for pictures and signing autographs with young Ravens fans and military personnel attending practice. He did make a point to say he’s going to smile more and have fun in what most assume to be his final season.

We know that conventional thinking says a 37-year-old can’t and won’t be the same player after a ruptured Achilles tendon, but what has ever been that conventional about Steve Smith?

A wide receiver standing 5-foot-9 and hailing from the University of Utah isn’t supposed to rank 15th on the NFL’s career receptions list, but he is one of the all-time greats when it comes to surprising people. Guys in their mid-30s aren’t supposed to play like a top 10 receiver, but that’s exactly what he was doing last year before the injury, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three touchdowns in only seven games.

Of course, these feats aren’t surprising to Smith, who thrives on — arguably even obsesses over — proving his critics wrong. He was asked Thursday about the possibility of having more left in the tank than even he can imagine right now.

“Than I imagine?” Smith replied. “I’ve been rehabbing for nine months. I know exactly what’s left.”

It’s never been easier to doubt Smith than it is right now, but doing so feels no less unwise if you’ve paid attention to his career. General manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens made contingency plans by signing veteran Mike Wallace and drafting Chris Moore in the fourth round to fortify their wide receiver group that also includes Kamar Aiken and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but they’re not viewing Smith’s return solely through the lens of nostalgia, either.

The Ravens demanding him to be an 1,000-yard receiver this season would be unfair, but no one should be shocked if he turns out to be. It would be just like Smith to spike the ball and laugh in the face of Father Time once more before finally calling it a career.

Such a competitor is easy to root for and impossible not to respect.

“All I’m going to do is play ball,” Smith said. “You all worry about all of the wrong things, and all the good things that happen, you glance over. We’re going to have a good time. We’re going to have some fun, and we’re going to make some plays.

“Oh yeah, and I happen to be 37 years old while I’m doing it.”

It was anything but an easy rehabilitation process for Smith, who acknowledged there were a few different points along the way when he thought he might be done. We don’t have a clear picture of what he will do against younger opponents — some of whom were in kindergarten when he was a rookie with Carolina in 2001 — but Smith made it clear that this isn’t just a feel-good farewell tour.

As he so eloquently worded it, he still plans to rip his opponents to shreds.

Who are we to say he won’t?

If nothing else, it will be a blast watching him try to prove us “jackasses” wrong again.

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Sizing up the 2016 Ravens roster before the second preseason game

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the preseason opener against Carolina now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to project the Ravens’ 53-man roster for the first time since the end of mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

My current look at the roster suggests 45 players are locks if the deadline to trim the roster to 53 took place today. My rough assessment of the 90 players currently on the preseason roster lists 22 players on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, with certain positions lacking depth and others enjoying extensive talent.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the remainder of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of keeping a balanced number of players at each position, trying to boldly pinpoint a specific number of wide receivers or linebackers or safeties isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens will look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their respective offensive or defensive positions.

The Ravens must trim the roster from 90 players to 75 on Aug. 30 and will go down to the regular-season number of 53 on Sept. 3.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players’ names that are underlined are part of the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 17.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Josh Johnson, Jerrod Johnson
Skinny: Mallett hasn’t had a sharp training camp, but he remains entrenched as the backup quarterback with a similar style of play to Flacco. Josh Johnson is having a decent summer, but Flacco not missing a single practice rep to this point speaks to how little the Ravens need a No. 3 quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
LOCK: Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West
BUBBLE: Lorenzo Taliaferro
LONG SHOT: Stephen Houston
Skinny: No one has done more to solidify his roster standing this summer than West, who is making a strong push for an extensive role in the Baltimore rushing attack. Taliaferro’s best bet might be to start the year on the physically unable to perform list where the Ravens can reassess his status after Week 6.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
LOCK: Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Michael Campanaro, Jeremy Butler, Keenan Reynolds, Chris Matthews
LONG SHOT: Chuck Jacobs, Dobson Collins, Darius White
Skinny: On ability alone, Campanaro would be a lock, but the Ravens would probably hate to lose a solid option like Butler while the former has shown little ability to stay on the field to this point in his career. With Perriman still not practicing, the reserve PUP list becomes a greater possibility.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
LOCK: Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Dennis Pitta
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Daniel Brown
SUSPENDED: Nick Boyle, Darren Waller
Skinny: Pitta has missed over two weeks with a finger injury, but he showed in the spring and the early days of camp that he is still good enough to contribute if healthy. Waller has shown potential at his new position and would have made for a difficult decision if not for his pending four-game suspension.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Rick Wagner, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel, Alex Lewis
BUBBLE: Ryan Jensen, Vlad Ducasse, De’Ondre Wesley, James Hurst
LONG SHOT: Anthony Fabiano, Matt Skura, Jarell Broxton, Blaine Clausell, Stephane Nembot
Skinny: The Ravens probably wouldn’t mind adding a veteran tackle to back up Stanley and Wagner, but Lewis is considered a future starter and handled left tackle well in the first preseason game. Hurst appears to be the odd man out as he has flipped between tackle and guard all summer.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
LOCK: Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Michael Pierce
LONG SHOT: Trevon Coley
INJURED RESERVE: Bronson Kaufusi
Skinny: The Ravens have enough depth to survive the season-ending loss of the third-round rookie Kaufusi, but Urban needs to show more as the primary backup to Guy. There might be one roster spot for Lewis-Moore or Pierce, and the latter is built similarly to Williams at the nose tackle spot.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
LOCK: C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Kamalei Correa
BUBBLE: Arthur Brown
LONG SHOT: Kavell Conner, Patrick Onwuasor
Skinny: Correa initially looked like he was the early favorite to start next to Mosley, but Orr has seized control of the job over the last week or so. The ability of other players on the roster such as Albert McClellan and Anthony Levine to shift to inside linebacker leaves Brown in serious trouble.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (9)
LOCK: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Za’Darius Smith, Albert McClellan, Matt Judon
BUBBLE: Chris Carter, Victor Ochi
LONG SHOT: Brennen Beyer, Mario Ojemudia
Skinny: Carter excelled against Carolina and can play outside and inside, making him an interesting bubble player. Meanwhile, Ochi, a rookie free agent from Stony Brook, has flashed potential in practices and appears to be a player the Ravens might try to hide and sneak onto the practice squad.

CORNERBACKS (10)
LOCK: Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young
BUBBLE: Will Davis, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady, Kyle Arrington
LONG SHOT: Julian Wilson, Carrington Byndom
Skinny: Davis has looked healthier and quicker over the last couple practices after a slow start to the summer, but depth is again a concern with even Wright and Powers struggling in the preseason opener. Price, Canady, and Arrington have dealt with recent injuries to further cloud the competition.

SAFETIES (6)
LOCK: Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb
BUBBLE: Anthony Levine, Kendrick Lewis, Terrence Brooks, Matt Elam
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: This might be the toughest position group to gauge as Lewis is a favorite of the coaches while Elam and Brooks have had solid camp performances. Levine is a very good special-teams player and has worked extensively as a hybrid linebacker this spring and summer.

SPECIALISTS (4)
LOCK: Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Wil Lutz
Skinny: There’s still nothing to see here with Lutz merely easing the workload of Tucker and Koch.

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

Posted on 15 July 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 14 July 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As deadline approaches, Ravens in good position with Tucker

Posted on 11 July 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tight end clarity

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

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

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

One who fortunately got away

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

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

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

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