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Final day could make 2016 draft class special for Ravens

Posted on 01 May 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Safe and clean summarized the Ravens’ first three selections of the 2016 draft.

First-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley, second-round outside linebacker Kamalei Correa, and third-round defensive end Bronson Kaufusi looked to be picks of good value and minimal risk in terms of health and off-field conduct, but they were hardly the big splashes that make you salivate about upside. Right or wrong, general manager Ozzie Newsome preferred that route in lieu of gambling on high-risk, high-reward prospects such as edge rusher Noah Spence or inside linebacker Myles Jack in the early rounds.

Even if they prove to be quality picks in the long run, they just weren’t exciting ones. And, frankly, the Ravens would be the first ones to tell you that they better find good players when they’re choosing so early in each of the first three rounds.

But all along, the fourth round was going to be a key to this year’s draft. The Ravens had known since March that they’d be making four selections in the round and added a fifth through a trade on Friday night.

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Five choices in the fourth round would set an NFL record, but the problem was that the Ravens hadn’t done particularly well there over the previous five drafts. Since 2011, a fourth-round list consisting of Tandon Doss, Gino Gradkowski, Christian Thompson, John Simon, Kyle Juszczyk, Brent Urban, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Za’Darius Smith, Buck Allen, and the late Tray Walker had produced a solid player or two — with a few still to be determined — but it was hardly a dynamic group.

Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta set out to change that trend on Saturday.

“I think we had a great game plan, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to nail those picks,” said DeCosta, who extensively researched the historical sequencing and tendencies of teams picking in that portion of the draft. “We’ve said it lot. This was a critical part of our draft — the fourth round. It became a mission for all of us to do the best we could and get the best players we could.

“It fell that way today. We had a bunch of players and we had a sense of who might be there in different spots. The players that we targeted, they were there. We’d go back down and wait on a guy, and he’d be there. Then, we’d go back down and wait on a guy, and he’d be there. It just came out the right way for us.”

First, the Ravens netted Temple cornerback Tavon Young, who they think can compete with veteran Kyle Arrington at the nickel position after being impressed with his work at the Senior Bowl.

Then, they took receiver Chris Moore, who averaged an impressive 22.0 yards per catch over his final two seasons at Cincinnati. With Steve Smith planning to retire after 2016, Mike Wallace potentially only around for one season, and Kamar Aiken set to become a free agent next winter, Moore is an interesting name to add to a young group of receivers headlined by 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman.

Their third fourth-round pick, Nebraska offensive tackle Alex Lewis, gives Baltimore much-needed depth with Eugene Monroe’s future with the organization in doubt and right tackle Rick Wagner set to become a free agent after 2016. At the very least, the Ravens needed an upgrade from reserve tackle James Hurst and Lewis should be able to provide that. The selection came with character risk, however, as Lewis was sentenced to 45 days in jail and two years probation for pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault when he was attending the University of Colorado, but the Ravens claim to be “very comfortable” with him after talking extensively to staff at both schools and bringing the lineman to Baltimore for a daylong visit.

The Ravens had no excuse not to know what they were getting with defensive tackle Willie Henry after he was coached by John Harbaugh’s brother Jim and former Baltimore defensive coordinator Greg Mattison at the University of Michigan. Defensive tackle wasn’t a need, but the Ravens continue to build one of the deepest young defensive fronts in the NFL.

Finally, Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon was incredibly still on the board with the 134th overall pick and was immediately labeled by some pundits as one of the biggest steals of the final day. Added to a crowded group of running backs with no clear No. 1 option, Dixon could emerge as the starter sooner rather than later and was even regarded by some experts as the second-best running back in the draft behind Ezekiel Elliot, who went as the fourth overall pick on Thursday. It’s difficult not to get excited about his big-play potential as a receiver out of the backfield when you watch his college tape.

The five picks were impressive on paper as ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay even said it may have been the best fourth round he’d ever seen from any given team.

Their fifth-round selection brought the customary small-school prospect in Grand Valley State pass rusher Matt Judon, who collected 20 sacks as the consensus best defensive player in Division II football and impressed at the scouting combine. Before automatically scoffing at the lower level of competition, Ravens fans will remember that Brandon Williams was a Division II standout at Missouri Southern State a few years ago and is now one of the best nose tackles in the NFL.

Judon felt like a worthy gamble as the 146th pick of the draft.

“I remember texting [Harbaugh] and saying, ‘This kid from Grand Valley State is having a great workout,'” said DeCosta about watching Judon at the combine. “And John said, ‘I know. We’ve got to spend more time looking at this guy.’ That’s the great thing about the combine is you get a chance to see guys from all different conferences and backgrounds and levels of football competing on the same stage. He had all the skills you look for — the athletic ability, the size, and he had the production on tape [and] the ability on tape.”

But the best story of the weekend came when the Ravens tabbed Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds with their penultimate pick of the draft. Of course, it’s no sure thing that he’ll be able to make the transition to the next level as a wide receiver and return specialist, but Baltimore wouldn’t have made such a high-profile pick in the sixth round if the organization didn’t feel like he had a solid chance this summer to make the team.

Reynolds was already a household name locally after scoring an NCAA Division I record 88 touchdowns over his four years in Annapolis — amazingly breaking the record held by his new teammate Dixon — but the Ravens were impressed with the work he has already put in running routes as a receiver and working as a return specialist with former three-time Pro Bowl selection Brian Mitchell. The hope is that Reynolds could eventually turn into an effective slot receiver and returner reminiscent of former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver — and Indiana quarterback — Antwaan Randle El.

The entire area will be rooting for him.

“What a great story,” Newsome said. “We were at the East-West [Shrine] game, and Eric and I were sitting there, and on Day 2 he said, ‘Are you really paying attention to Keenan Reynolds?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, he’s doing some things that are catching our eye.’ It’s just something we kept in the back of our mind. He came here for our local pro day, and he did a good job there.”

With their final pick of the 2016 draft, the Ravens added 6-foot-1 cornerback Maurice Canady out of Virginia to give them 11 selections, their highest total since 2003.

After a nondescript first two days — at least if overlooking whether the Ravens would have drafted left tackle Laremy Tunsil had it not been for the infamous marijuana video released on Twitter — the final day had some of everything for the Ravens. It brought a high number of picks, some interesting upside, an off-field risk, the addressing of needs, a Harbaugh brother connection, a small-school sleeper, and a fantastic story involving one of the best local sports role models in recent memory.

We know at least a few of these third-day picks won’t work out. That’s just the nature of the business.

But the final day’s haul carried enough intrigue to potentially turn a solid 2016 draft into a special one. All teams around the league talked about how much they liked their draft classes on Saturday, but you could sense that the Ravens were gushing a little more than usual as Newsome went as far as saying he didn’t know if he’s ever felt as good about a collection of talent. Even with some of the Ravens’ recent drafting pains, those words shouldn’t be easily dismissed when you consider his body of work over the last two decades in Baltimore.

In a few years, we’ll remember the final day of the 2016 draft having plenty of sizzle for the Ravens — at least as much as the final four rounds are capable of having. But they’ll ultimately need the substance to be there to help them get back to a championship-caliber level after a 5-11 season a year ago.

If not, the weekend will be remembered as nothing more than a missed opportunity with so many picks.

“The board came off, basically, the way we thought it would,” Newsome said. “We were able to get some good young talent to come in here and compete to make this roster. Right now, the Baltimore Ravens are a much better football team.”

Time will reveal if they really are.

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Writing on wall clear for Monroe after Ravens tab Stanley?

Posted on 29 April 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens weren’t ready to publicly anoint first-round pick Ronnie Stanley as their starting left tackle moments after making him their earliest selection since the 2000 draft.

But you rarely take an offensive lineman that high without any other intention, especially when your incumbent left tackle has started just 17 games over the last two seasons.

“I think it’ll pan out the way it pans out,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who left open the possibility of Stanley playing left guard like Jonathan Ogden did as a rookie in 1996. “Good coaches, we love competition. I say we throw them all in there and let them compete and may the best man win, and we’ll see who that is.”

The question remains whether incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe will be a part of that competition as it’s no secret that the Ravens have been disappointed with his inability to stay on the field over the last two seasons after they gave him a five-year, $37.5 million contract in 2014. The organization has also distanced itself from his offseason campaigning for medical marijuana use in the NFL.

Asked if Monroe still factored into the Ravens’ plans for the 2016 season, general manager Ozzie Newsome would only comment on his current status recovering from December shoulder surgery and not about what would happen when he’s cleared to play.

“Right now, Eugene is still under medical care,” said Newsome, who has offered tepid endorsements of Monroe throughout the offseason. “He’s still working with the trainers on a daily basis. Up until he becomes a healthy football player, he’s like [Terrell] Suggs and Steve Smith and Joe [Flacco] and those guys. They’re under medical care right now.”

With Monroe scheduled to make $6.5 million in base salary and to carry an $8.7 million salary cap figure in 2016, the Ravens would save $2.1 million in cap space by cutting him now and leaving $6.6 million in dead money for 2016 or they could designate him as a post-June 1 release to save $6.5 million on this year’s cap and push $4.4 million in dead money to next season.

Should they release Monroe, the Ravens would probably be in the market for more tackle depth because that would still leave James Hurst as the primary backup to Stanley and starting right tackle Rick Wagner, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season. It was Hurst who was pushed into quarterback Joe Flacco’s left knee, resulting in his season-ending injury last November.

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Stanley pick solid despite feeling like bummer for Ravens

Posted on 29 April 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — All signs point to first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley being a rock-solid pick for the Ravens.

A three-year starter at Notre Dame, the 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman had been linked to the Ravens as an option throughout the pre-draft process and head coach John Harbaugh has a lengthy relationship with Fighting Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. The debate will continue whether general manager Ozzie Newsome passed on a superior talent in Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil, but you could hardly blame the Ravens if they did shy away from the latter’s off-field baggage that was on display to the entire world via social media on Thursday night.

Some draft pundits considered Stanley the better prospect anyway and the Ravens apparently agreed.

“Our scouts get a lot of information,” said general manager Ozzie Newsome when asked if the released Twitter video of Tunsil smoking from a bong influenced his decision. “When things happen, a lot of the time we’re not surprised. We took the best player, the player that was rated the highest on the board at that point. But I cannot neglect the importance of the work that our scouts do in the fall and in the spring getting information for us.”

You can understand the Ravens’ desire to move on from incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe as he’s been held to just 17 starts over the last two years and appears more interested in medical marijuana advocacy than football these days. It’s also never a bad idea to emphasize protecting the blindside of your franchise quarterback coming back from a serious left knee injury.

But the night still felt like a bummer.

Maybe it’s because the Ravens unsuccessfully attempted to trade up to take Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey before he was claimed by Jacksonville just a pick before they were on the clock. Top pass-rushing target Joey Bosa also came off the board immediately after the two quarterbacks were taken with the first two picks of the night.

It’s fair to wonder whether the Ravens could have traded down a few spots and still tabbed Stanley while picking up an additional pick or two, but the opportunity didn’t come to fruition — Newsome said he didn’t receive a single call while Baltimore was on the clock — and it’s not as though the 22-year-old tackle was viewed as unworthy of a top 10 choice.

Drafting Stanley may have been the prudent move, but the organization still had to use its earliest pick since 2000 at a position where they invested a five-year, $37.5 million contract — $17.5 million of it guaranteed — just two years ago. It still feels more like fixing a mistake than dramatically improving your football team, even if Stanley can adjust more quickly to the NFL than other top 10 left tackles who have struggled in recent years.

“When you watch his maturation throughout his career and his ability to adapt to the different things they do, you just feel confident in his ability to be able to pick things up,” said director of college scouting Joe Hortiz about Stanley coming out of Notre Dame. “They run a multiple offense, they do a lot of different things, and they change it up in the middle of the games and series of what they’re doing. [Stanley] really adjusts well. I think from intelligence, maturity, and the way he’s grown, he gives you confidence going forward.”

If we’re being completely honest, left tackle just isn’t a pick that will fire up a fan base whose team is coming off a rare losing season and needs more playmakers on both sides of the ball.

But that’s when the Ravens will remind you that they were in a similar position 20 years ago when they took a left tackle out of UCLA named Jonathan Ogden, who was far from the most exciting choice for a team in a new city. It proved to be a home-run decision, of course, and the organization has been trying to find the 2013 Hall of Fame inductee’s long-term replacement since his retirement after the 2007 season.

Jared Gaither, Michael Oher, Bryant McKinnie, and Monroe all proved to be no better than temporary placeholders. The Ravens hope they’ve finally found their long-term solution in Stanley.

To expect him to be another Ogden would be unfair, but he needs to be a player the Ravens can pencil in at left tackle and not have to worry about for a long time if this is to be a successful pick at sixth overall. At the very least, you hope Stanley can be closer to Ogden than Oher, who didn’t cut it at left tackle despite being a first-round pick in 2009.

“We’re going to have high expectations for him, but it’s going to be up to him to get the job done,” Harbaugh said. “He has to win the job just like anybody else would have to.”

No, Stanley may not have been the best-case scenario for the Ravens, but they think he can finally anchor the position that was the least of the franchise’s worries for more than a decade and has now been a headache for nearly as long now.

That’s a long-term outcome that would easily outweigh any lingering disappointment from Thursday night.

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Ravens make earliest pick in 16 years

Posted on 28 April 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After months of anticipation, the Ravens finally made Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley their earliest pick in 16 years as the NFL draft got underway in Chicago on Thursday night.

General manager Ozzie Newsome began the draft with nine scheduled selections, including seven choices in the first 134 overall picks. Coming off their first losing season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens hope to continue their tradition of draft excellence in which they’ve selected 17 Pro Bowl players and 10 first-team All-Pro players over the last two decades.

Player personnel assistants Corey Krawiec and Patrick McDonough will represent the organization in Chicago while Newsome and the rest of the Ravens’ brass will be stationed at their Owings Mills headquarters.

The three-day event will continue with the second and third rounds on Friday evening and the final four rounds on Saturday afternoon. Teams will have 10 minutes to pick in the first round, seven in the second round, and five minutes for each pick in the final five rounds.

Below is a look at where the Ravens are scheduled to pick:

Round 1 (6th overall) — LT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
Round 2 (36th overall) —
Round 3 (70th overall) —
Round 4 (104th overall) —
Round 4 (130th overall) —
Round 4 (132nd overall compensatory) —
Round 4 (134th overall compensatory) —
Round 6 (182nd overall) —
Round 6 (209th overall compensatory) —

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Options aplenty, but no perfect prospect for Ravens at No. 6

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

We’re a couple days away from the paralysis by analysis finally coming to an end.

As it stands, the Ravens will make their highest pick in an NFL draft since 2000 when they’ll be on the clock sixth overall. Or, they’ll trade up or down, which certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility with three first-round trades having already been consummated long before teams arrive in Chicago.

But the Ravens are guaranteed to have a shiny new toy by the time the first round concludes late Thursday night.

To no one’s surprise, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the organization have been very quiet while everyone else tries to figure out exactly what the Ravens want to do. The good news is that when you’re coming off a 5-11 season and have multiple needs, you don’t have to be too desperate for the draft board to fall a certain way.

But that doesn’t mean a perfect prospect exists, either, as months of analysis and over-analysis have proven.

Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil was considered the favorite to be the No. 1 pick before Tennessee traded out of the top spot two weeks ago, but a few are now speculating that even Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley could pass him in the draft rankings despite neither having played a game since January. Even with Tunsil’s impressive physical gifts, Ravens fans salivating over the thought of him replacing the oft-injured Eugene Monroe could be looking past the lineman missing time with a knee injury, a torn bicep, a dislocated ankle, and a broken leg during his collegiate career.

With the injuries, some off-field concerns, and the underwhelming track record of top 10 offensive tackles making the difficult transition from college to the pros in recent years, Tunsil doesn’t quite feel like the “safe” pick many project him to be — even if he realizes his immense upside and winds up being much closer to Jonathan Ogden than Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher in his career.

Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey has the size and speed to play anywhere in the defensive backfield, but his underwhelming hands led to few game-changing plays in college and some believe his unspectacular change-of-direction skill suggests he’s better suited as a safety in the NFL, which isn’t generally what you’re looking for with the sixth overall pick.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was regularly listed as the No. 1 pick in mock drafts before his stock took a dive in the pre-draft process with him lacking great straight-line speed and freakish athleticism. He’s a high-motor player and fits Baltimore’s pass-rushing need, but he doesn’t show great speed off the edge and is a little more of a question mark as a 3-4 outside linebacker than as a 4-3 defensive end.

UCLA linebacker Myles Jack is a phenomenal fit on paper and would be the cover linebacker the Ravens need to pair with C.J. Mosley, but there’s just too much noise concerning his knee to not feel nervous about picking him so early. Baltimore cannot afford to have another Breshad Perriman situation play out if the medical team has any legitimate concerns about Jack’s knee.

And that brings us to Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, who probably feels the most like a “Ravens” pick despite there being little noise about the sides having much communication in the pre-draft process. Buckner might have the lowest bust rate of any of the aforementioned names, but the 5-technique defensive end spot isn’t a major need and he may not have as much upside as the others, which is a very fair concern when you’re making your first top 10 selection in over a decade.

In short, you can poke holes in any of these prospects if you want to, which is exactly what happens over the exhausting pre-draft process.

Of course, these are the names discussed most often by the outside world as the consensus top five non-quarterbacks in this year’s draft. We can’t be sure where the Ravens stand with the likes of Stanley, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson as any could be rated higher on Baltimore’s board than we anticipate.

After years of watching the Ravens pick toward the end of the first round — which is where you want to be — we should be reminded that there’s no such thing as a perfect prospect, no matter how high a team is choosing. If the Ravens did their homework, they’re all but guaranteed to come away with a really good starting player for years to come, barring injury. If they are really smart and lucky, they’ll turn in a card with the name of a multi-time Pro Bowl player written on it. And if Newsome and the Ravens hit the lottery jackpot as they did twice in their first ever draft 20 years ago, they’ll come away with a player who will be enshrined in Canton one day.

There isn’t a single pick they can make on Thursday that will make everyone happy. Every possible selection can make you take pause to some degree, but there may also be more than one correct answer from which to choose, which should ease concerns for Ravens fans.

As assistant general manager Eric DeCosta likes to say, the draft is more art than it is science.

With Thursday night almost upon us, the fun part is about to begin.

And the Ravens will officially take their shot at finding a game-changing player.

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Ravens’ draft position continues to improve with latest trade

Posted on 20 April 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 NFL draft is a week away and the Ravens’ position continues to improve without general manager Ozzie Newsome even needing to pick up the phone.

With Philadelphia moving up to the second overall pick in a trade with Cleveland on Wednesday, the Eagles are clearly set on taking a quarterback, meaning another of the elite non-quarterback prospects will be available when Baltimore is scheduled to pick at No. 6. The move came less than a week after the Los Angeles Rams traded up to the No. 1 pick in a blockbuster deal with Tennessee.

Now that quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are projected to come off the board with the first two picks, at least two of the following players will be available when Newsome and the Ravens are on the clock: Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State edge rusher Joey Bosa, Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.

Of course, Wednesday’s trade could just intensify the rest of the quarterback sweepstakes with other teams hunting for a signal-caller now knowing Goff and Wentz will be gone early. Does Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch now enter the conversation as a potential top 10 pick? If so, would Newsome and the Ravens forgo selecting one of the top players on their board if another team desperate enough to hand over a lucrative bounty of picks comes calling to move up?

It’s interesting to note that Lynch took an official visit with the Ravens, according to agent Leigh Steinberg. No one could possibly expect the Ravens to draft Lynch with their first-round pick, so Newsome could be trying to gauge which teams have expressed the most interest in the quarterback to explore trade scenarios at the sixth spot.

Regardless of how it ultimately plays out on Thursday night, the latest trade just improves the chances of the Ravens either landing a player they truly covet or setting up the possibility of obtaining terrific value in a trade-down scenario.

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Ravens officially sign Trent Richardson to offseason roster

Posted on 18 April 2016 by Luke Jones

After nearly two months of anticipation, the Ravens officially signed running back Trent Richardson for the start of the offseason training program in Owings Mills on Monday morning.

Baltimore was first linked to the third overall pick of the 2012 draft during the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, but the organization wanted the former Cleveland and Indianapolis running back to get into better shape. Head coach John Harbaugh said last month that the Ravens had reached an “unofficial agreement” with Richardson, but the 25-year-old is now an official member of the 90-man offseason roster.

The University of Alabama product wasn’t sure if his NFL career was over after he was cut by the Oakland Raiders last August and sat out the 2015 season. However, general manager Ozzie Newsome — also a former Crimson Tide great — and the Ravens were willing to give Richardson another chance despite a disappointing start to his career.

After a solid rookie season with the Browns in which he rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns, Richardson quickly fell out of favor in Cleveland and wasn’t any better following a trade to Indianapolis as both organizations were dissatisfied with his weight and lack of commitment to the game. In 46 career games, Richardson has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.

The 5-foot-9, 230-pound back rushed for over 3,000 yards in a brilliant collegiate career.

Richardson will still have to earn his way onto the 53-man roster this summer as he’ll compete in a crowded backfield that already includes Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West.

Wide receiver Kamar Aiken signed his restricted second-round tender on Monday, and Baltimore also announced the signings of three exclusive-rights free agents: wide receiver Jeremy Butler, return specialist Kaelin Clay, and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen.

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Major trade at top of draft only helps Ravens at No. 6

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Luke Jones

A colossal shakeup at the top of the 2016 draft should improve the Ravens’ chances of landing an elite player with the sixth overall pick.

Thursday morning brought news of the Tennessee Titans trading the first overall pick to Los Angeles, who gave up a king’s ransom to move up from 15th overall. The Rams didn’t make such a blockbuster trade not to take a quarterback — whether it’s Jared Goff of Cal or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz — so the trickle-down effect will only help the rest of the teams in the top 10.

Do the Cleveland Browns take a quarterback second overall as many believe they will? If so, the Ravens would be guaranteed to have their choice of at least two of the following players at No. 6: Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil, Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Ohio State edge defender Joey Bosa, Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.

Of course, the Browns taking a quarterback isn’t a guarantee and they are reportedly willing to trade the pick, but the Ravens didn’t want to be in a position where all five aforementioned names were off the board when they were on the clock. Now, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens brass can rest easier knowing at least one of those top prospects will still be available when they are slotted to make their earliest selection since the 2000 draft.

All it took was another quarterback-needy team jumping into the fray.

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Ravens “excited to help” Pitta with comeback attempt

Posted on 13 April 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens officially announced a restructured contract with veteran tight end Dennis Pitta on Wednesday.

Terms of the revamped deal were not announced, but it includes a reduction of his scheduled $5 million salary for the 2016 with the opportunity to earn money back through incentives. Pitta still hopes to play again after a second devastating hip injury suffered on Sept. 21, 2014, but the restructure limits the financial risk for the Ravens to allow him to pursue that comeback.

“Dennis wants to continue his playing career, and we want to give him that opportunity,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement released by the team. “We have reworked his contract, and we’re excited to help him with his comeback. Everyone here wants Dennis to succeed.”

Pitta signed a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed in 2014, but he appeared in just three games that season before suffering a second fracture and dislocation of his right hip on a play in which he wasn’t touched. The 30-year-old injured his hip for the first time on July 27, 2013, but he returned to play in the final four games that season.

The 2010 fourth-round pick returned to the practice field last October for a 21-day window to see if he was ready to be activated, but he ultimately remained on the physically unable to perform list all season. Pitta acknowledged at the time that his hip hadn’t responded as well as he’d hoped, but he has never given up on the notion of eventually returning to the field after appearing in just seven games since Super Bowl XLVII.

“I am thankful for this opportunity to continue my career,” Pitta said in a statement. “I’m excited to get back to work with my teammates and for this organization. Physically, I feel great and am ready to begin building toward a successful 2016 season.”

Pitta has recorded 138 receptions for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns in his regular-season career. In six career postseason games, he has collected 21 receptions for 233 yards and four touchdowns.

In addition to waiving Chase Ford a day earlier, the Ravens also parted ways with Harold Spears on Wednesday, leaving them with seven tight ends on the 90-man offseason roster: Pitta, Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Konrad Reuland, and converted wide receiver Darren Waller.

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Ten Ravens thoughts counting down to draft

Posted on 13 April 2016 by Luke Jones

With the offseason training program starting next week and the 2016 draft just two weeks away, I’ve offered 10 Ravens-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dennis Pitta restructuring his contract in an attempt to continue his career was newsworthy, but I’m not convinced it changes much as it relates to the Ravens’ 2016 plans. It merely gives them financial protection for a player who’s a health risk even taking the practice field this spring.

2. The Ravens raised eyebrows when they gave restricted free agent tight end Chase Ford a non-guaranteed $1.671 million tender, but they did it when the status of Crockett Gillmore was uncertain and they hadn’t signed Benjamin Watson. He became expendable after those realities came into focus, especially at that price.

3. It was interesting to see ESPN’s Mel Kiper mock Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott to Baltimore, but it only makes sense if you’re convinced he’s going to be a top 3 running back in the NFL over the next five years. If not, there’s not enough value there at No. 6.

4. A few others have already touched on this, but there’s little reason to think the Ravens will exercise their fifth-year option on 2013 first-round safety Matt Elam that would cost more than $5 million in 2017. He’ll need to worry about simply making the 53-man roster at this point.

5. I don’t love the idea of drafting Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley at No. 6, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take an offensive tackle in the early rounds. Perhaps they find an eventual replacement for Eugene Monroe or Rick Wagner, but they must improve their depth at the very least.

6. Whether it’s asking a Charlotte teenager with autism to prom or taking down Greg Hardy on Twitter, Steve Smith has certainly stood out in very positive ways. No matter what he brings to the field returning from injury in his final season, the Ravens are lucky he passed their way.

7. Reporters are just as fatigued as fans are from the vague updates regarding Breshad Perriman, but the true test will be whether the 2015 first-round receiver is out there running around during organized team activities open to media next month. Until then, I’ll remain as skeptical as anyone.

8. I rarely read much into what’s said before the draft and he was asked specifically about Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, but director of college scouting Joe Hortiz mentioning him being a coach’s son certainly made him sound like a “Ravens” kind of player. He wouldn’t be a bad first-round choice.

9. The Ravens hope at least one of Joey Bosa, Myles Jack, and DeForest Buckner makes it to No. 6, but trading back for an extra pick or two wouldn’t be the worst development if they can come away with a player like Hargreaves or Clemson edge defender Shaq Lawson.

10. Ozzie Newsome was wise to temper expectations when asked if he expected Baltimore to contend this year. There’s value with the signings of Watson, safety Eric Weddle, and receiver Mike Wallace, but finding high-impact talent in the draft will be more important to bouncing back significantly from a 5-11 season.

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