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Is paralysis by analysis hurting Ravens at receiver?

Posted on 07 April 2015 by Luke Jones

A month after watching starting wide receiver Torrey Smith depart via free agency, the Ravens have expressed a strong sentiment this offseason.

They’re not panicking at the wide receiver position. Of course, a tight salary cap left them on the outside looking in with the top options available on the free-agent market, but the Ravens have given no clear indications that they’ve actively been trying to add a solid veteran to a mix that includes a soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith and no other receiver who registered more than 24 catches last season.

Instead, the organization has talked up its current group of young receivers — Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro — while attempting to throw cold water on the notion that they’re desperate for a starter. Last week, owner Steve Bisciotti spent more time discussing the need for a pass rusher and another tight end rather than a wide receiver in a conference call with season-ticket holders.

Of course, it’s the season of smokescreens around the NFL, so anything said at Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. But you can count on general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz offering the same synopsis of the wide receiver position that they typically do.

“The wide receiver draft class is deep,” Harbaugh said at the league meetings in Arizona last month. “I think there are options for the Ravens in rounds one through seven. It’s always hard. Every position is different. We’ve done studies on that as far as the success rate in different rounds at different positions.

“Receiver is a little bit of a crapshoot in the first round. It turns out, it’s a crapshoot in every round. A lot of receivers, they’ve been seventh-round picks, fifth-round picks, third-round pick receivers that have turned out to be Hall of Fame-type players. Then, you’ve got first-round picks that have never really done anything. Obviously, your chances are higher the higher you pick a guy. But it’s hard to predict.”

Harbaugh’s right on both accounts. This year’s draft class of wide receivers is one of the best in recent memory with many analysts projecting upwards of five or six being taken in the first round with plenty of quality depth available in subsequent rounds.

Drafting a wide receiver is a tricky proposition with the results all over the map around the league. The Ravens have certainly had a slew of misses with first-round disappointments Travis Taylor (2000) and Mark Clayton (2005) as well as a number of other failed picks before finally hitting on Torrey Smith in the second round of the 2011 draft.

But the expression of being able to take a receiver in any of the seven rounds will remind observers of the Ravens’ recent years in which they haven’t drafted a wideout outside the sixth or seventh round since 2011. It’s fair to wonder if some paralysis by analysis exists with the Ravens not taking even a moderate risk at the position in any of the last three drafts when wide receiver was at least a consensus area to improve.

The run began in 2012 with the sixth-round selection of Tommy Streeter, who never played a regular-season snap in Baltimore.

“Really the whole draft, there are guys in each round that can help us,” Hortiz said prior to the 2013 draft when the Ravens needed a receiver after trading Anquan Boldin. “There is a really solid core group of guys in the middle rounds that I think will go in the second or third round that will be solid, dependable starters in the NFL.”

The Ravens came away with only Aaron Mellette in the seventh round that year and struggled in the passing game on their way to missing the playoffs for the only time in the Harbaugh era. Mellette never played a snap for the Ravens, but the organization deserves credit for signing Brown as an undrafted free agent that year and he’s exceeded expectations in his first two seasons.

Last year when Torrey Smith was entering the final season of his rookie contract and newcomer Steve Smith was entering his 14th NFL season, Newsome repeated a familiar assessment about another class of wide receivers held in high regard.

“I would say that’s a position where you could probably draft a player in any of the seven rounds, and I think our board stacks that way,” Newsome said. “If there is an opportunity for us to add another receiver, we will definitely do it based on the way our board is stacked right now.”

The Ravens did take Campanaro in the seventh round, and the 5-foot-9 Wake Forset product shows some promise to be a contributor if he can remain healthy. But he was unable to do that last year as he dealt with two different hamstring injuries and a rib injury. As Harbaugh has suggested, Campanaro can’t be counted on until he proves he can stay on the field.

The lack of movement to add a veteran through free agency or trade over the last month only raises the need to add a wide receiver in the draft. And even though the consensus top three receivers in the draft — West Virginia’s Kevin White, Alabama’s Amari Cooper, and Louisville’s DeVante Parker — are expected to be gone by the time the Ravens pick 26th in the first round, a number of intriguing options should be available over the first two days.

Yes, it’s the one position in the draft in which the otherwise-shrewd Newsome has struggled, but the Ravens can’t focus so much on risk aversion that they’re caught standing on the sideline while receivers come off the board in the first few rounds.

A repeat of two years ago cannot happen if the Ravens want to be back in championship contention for 2015.

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Ravens awarded three compensatory picks in 2015 draft

Posted on 23 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The annual sting of free-agent losses brought its reward Monday as the Ravens were awarded three compensatory picks in this spring’s NFL draft.

At the league meetings in Phoenix, the NFL announced that the Ravens would receive three compensatory selections with one coming in the fourth and two in the fifth. This marks the third straight year in which Baltimore has received at least three or the maximum of four compensatory picks.

The Ravens are now scheduled to have 10 selections in the 2015 draft. They own one first, one second, one third, three fourths, three fifths, and a sixth-round pick.

After losing free agents Torrey Smith, Pernell McPhee, Owen Daniels, Darian Stewart, and Tyrod Taylor earlier this month, the Ravens learned they would officially receive the reward of three extra selections from last winter’s exodus that included defensive tackle Arthur Jones, offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Corey Graham, and safety James Ihedigbo. General manager Ozzie Newsome signed only one unrestricted free agent, safety Darian Stewart, last offseason.

Though the detailed formula has never been paid public, compensatory pick determinations are based on the salary, playing time, and postseason honors earned by unrestricted free agents who left their teams in the previous offseason. Because the Ravens lost four notable unrestricted free agents and signed only one, they received three picks.

The Ravens could have received a fourth compensatory pick for the departure of tight end Ed Dickson, but it fell outside the cap of 32 total picks awarded to teams.

Teams are not allowed to trade compensatory picks, but they serve as collateral when looking to deal regular picks to either move up the draft board or to acquire veteran players. The Ravens have used regular draft picks to acquire two starting offensive linemen — left tackle Eugene Monroe and center Jeremy Zuttah — in the last two years.

Since the program was introduced in 1994, the Ravens have led the NFL in receiving 44 compensatory picks as the organization has often refrained from signing many unrestricted free agents over the years while losing many of their own. Green Bay is a distant second with 35 compensatory picks over that period of time.

In recent years, Newsome has used compensatory choices on the likes of former Ravens linebacker Pernell McPhee, current starting fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and current right tackle Rick Wagner. In the 2014 draft, the Ravens selected tight end Crockett Gillmore, defensive end Brent Urban, running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, and guard John Urschel with compensatory picks.

Below is a history of the Ravens’ compensatory picks since 1996 with the round in which the player was selected noted in parentheses:

1996: none
1997: LB Cornell Brown (sixth), QB Wally Richardson (seventh), S Ralph Staten (seventh), DT Leland Taylor (seventh)
1998: TE Cam Qualey (seventh)
1999: G Edwin Mulitalo (fourth)
2000: none
2001: none
2002: WR Javin Hunter (sixth), RB Chester Taylor (sixth), S Chad Williams (sixth)
2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth), OT Tony Pashos (fifth), C Mike Mabry (seventh), S Antwoine Sanders (seventh)
2004: WR Clarence Moore (sixth), WR Derek Abney (seventh), G Brian Rimpf (seventh)
2005: QB Derek Anderson (sixth)
2006: RB P.J. Daniels (fourth), TE Quinn Sypniewski (fifth), P Sam Koch (sixth), CB Derrick Martin (sixth)
2007: LB Antwan Barnes (fourth), FB Le’Ron McClain (fourth), QB Troy Smith (fifth), LB Prescott Burgess (sixth)
2008: OL Oniel Cousins (third), OL David Hale (fourth), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth), RB Allen Patrick (seventh)
2009: none
2010: none
2011: CB Chykie Brown (fifth), DE Pernell McPhee (fifth)
2012: S Christian Thompson (fourth), CB Asa Jackson (fifth)
2013: FB Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), OT Rick Wagner (fifth), OL Ryan Jensen (sixth), CB Marc Anthony (seventh)
2014: TE Crockett Gillmore (third), DE Brent Urban (fourth), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth), G John Urschel (fifth)

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Ravens have lost benefit of doubt in taking chances with character

Posted on 20 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than a month ago, Steve Bisciotti said the Ravens “took a crash” last season with the Ray Rice saga and four other offseason arrests.

His comments were made in the midst of director of security Darren Sanders’ legals problems and a few weeks after the release of defensive tackle Terrence Cody (felony animal cruelty). Since Bisciotti suggested these kinds of off-field problems “come in waves,” cornerback Victor Hampton and running back Bernard Pierce were each arrested on driving under the influence charges and promptly released.

Any sliver of a benefit of the doubt that might have remained following a nightmarish 2014 calendar year is now gone, regardless of the extensive list of high-character individuals who do exist in the organization.

“In order to take a hit to your reputation, you have to have a pretty good reputation to start with, and we did,” Bisciotti said on Feb. 24. “Now, it’s about proving that it was an aberration, and we believe that to be the case. Are we a little more aware? Yes, I think specifically if you go back to the Ray Rice thing, we certainly are more aware. We’ve been able to tap resources in the community that have furthered our knowledge, our sensitivity and our responsibility.”

There’s only so much that can be done to prevent current members of your organization from getting in trouble. You can look for gaps or needs in your player development program and try to monitor off-field behavior as much as you’d like, but they’re ultimately grown men who make their own choices.

The Ravens have followed through with Bisciotti’s mention of showing more responsibility by disposing of Cody, Hampton, and Pierce, even if they weren’t expected to be notable performers for the 2015 Ravens. It remains to be seen what would happen — and the Ravens hope they won’t be faced with the possibility — if a star performer were to be arrested.

But it would be even better if players — insignificant ones or not — weren’t finding trouble in the first place. Even after ridding themselves of the three players arrested this offseason, the stigma remains with the Ravens.

And that’s where the organization needs to be more proactive and vigilant with the player additions that they make, for reasons of both perception and reality. The Ravens have long taken pride in providing an environment for second chances, but they’re not in a position to do that right now.

“The one area we will definitely take a hard look – and it will be tough for us to bring a player to Baltimore – is someone who has domestic abuse in their background,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month. “Other than that, we’ll exhaust every character aspect of the player, but we believe in allowing the information to lead us to a decision when we deal with that. Our scouts do an unbelievable job of getting information when they are on the campuses.”

The standard needs to be higher with not only domestic violence concerns but in any matters that raise red flags away from the field. No breath can be wasted on draft prospects such as talent wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham or other outside additions with any inkling of past trouble.

It’s the current climate in which the organization is living in the wake of the last 13 months.

A few years ago, the Ravens enjoyed the benefit of the doubt in drafting a player with character concerns coming out of college like cornerback Jimmy Smith, but they’re no longer living in that world. While no one would have predicted what happened with Rice, let’s not pretend that Hampton and Pierce — the two most recently arrested — had spotless backgrounds.

Does staying away from questionable character narrow the talent pool? Yes, but not to the point where the Ravens won’t be able to compete given their ability to find good football players.

An isolated incident here or there is unavoidable, but eight player arrests in 13 months can’t be viewed as an aberration if you really care about your image.

The organization has a problem and must do better in bringing in players they can trust on and off the field.

Or the positive reputation the Ravens once enjoyed will be lost for good.

 

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Ravens bring back veteran defensive end Canty on two-year deal

Posted on 18 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than three weeks after releasing Chris Canty, the Ravens re-signed the veteran defensive end on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old was cut on February 27 to save $2.66 million in salary cap space, but general manager Ozzie Newsome said at the time that the Ravens wouldn’t close the door on a potential reunion. Canty was scheduled to visit the Seattle Seahawks this week before agreeing to a two-year deal that reportedly includes a team option for the 2016 season.

“We talked weeks ago about the possibility of Chris coming back,” Newsome said in a team release, “and we are happy he is.”

His new deal is worth a total of $4.65 million and includes a $1.5 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary for the 2015 season, according to The Sun. This would create a $1.75 million cap figure for this season.

Canty spent the last two seasons with the Ravens and appeared in 26 games, collecting 63 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks. Though Canty didn’t make a huge impact on the field, Baltimore will welcome back his veteran leadership on a young defensive line after five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was traded to the Detroit Lions last week.

With veteran Lawrence Guy currently an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens would have been leaning heavily on the returns of injured defensive linemen Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore at the 5-technique defensive end spot with neither having taken an NFL snap in their respective careers. Second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is expected to step into Ngata’s spot on the starting defensive line.

Canty missed five games during the 2014 season while recovering from a staph infection in his wrist in October and an ankle injury at the end of the regular season. In his 10-year career, he has also played for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants, serving as a member of the Super Bowl XLVI championship team.

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Webb reportedly restructures deal with Ravens

Posted on 17 March 2015 by Luke Jones

A week after the Ravens traded one of the best players in franchise history because of a negotiating impasse, veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb is reportedly staying put.

According to CBS Sports, the sides agreed to renegotiate what remains of a six-year, $50 million contract signed in 2012. Originally scheduled to make $8 million in base salary in 2015, Webb will instead receive $6 million, which would appear to lower his cap figure from $12 million to $10 million for the coming season if no other maneuvering was done.

Armed with less than $8 million in cap space before the signing of veteran safety Kendrick Lewis to a three-year deal, the Ravens knew they would need to clear more cap room to make further additions this offseason. Webb can now make roughly $18 million over the final three years of his deal if playing-time incentives are reached, according to The Sun. This would indicate Webb’s scheduled base salaries of $8 million in 2016 and $8.5 million in 2017 were also reduced.

The restructuring appears to be a reasonable compromise after the sides had been negotiating for weeks. Coming off a disappointing 2014 campaign even by his own admission, Webb will still receive a $6 million base salary, which would currently be the 13th-highest in the NFL for 2015. However, a look at the bloated contracts a number of cornerbacks have received in free agency indicated there would have been a good market for Webb despite his underwhelming play.

Had the Ravens cut Webb, they would have received only $2 million in cap savings, which is what they’ll pick up with the adjusted contract while still retaining the 29-year-old defensive back’s services. A release with a post-June 1 designation would have saved the Ravens $8 million in space, but those resources would not have been available until long after most free agents of any substance had already found homes.

General manager Ozzie Newsome traded five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions last week after the sides failed to agree to a contract extension to reduce a $16 million cap hit for the 2015 season.

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Ngata trade puts Ravens in enviable 2015 draft position

Posted on 11 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Moving beyond the initial disappointment of trading one of the greatest players in franchise history, the Ravens should feel good about the return they received in trading defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions.

Baltimore’s salary cap issues were no secret to anyone, so general manager Ozzie Newsome fetching fourth-round and fifth-round choices in this year’s draft for a 31-year-old entering the final year of a contract paying him $8.5 million this season is a strong haul, especially when most expected Ngata to be released if the Ravens couldn’t sign him to an extension. Mid-round picks shouldn’t be dismissed for an organization that’s seen two recent fifth-round choices — Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee — receive big deals in free agency in the last two offseasons after strong runs in Baltimore.

The Ravens are now projected to have no fewer than 10 selections in this year’s draft as they currently hold seven picks and are expected to be rewarded at least three compensatory picks later this month. Newsome has his original draft choices in the first four rounds, the two picks from the Lions, and a sixth-round selection acquired from the Dallas Cowboys in last summer’s Rolando McClain trade.

Newsome dealt his original 2015 fifth-round pick to Tampa Bay for center Jeremy Zuttah last year and his 2015 sixth-round pick to Cleveland in order to draft wide receiver Michael Campanaro last year. The Ravens also traded a seventh-round choice to Detroit as part of the Ngata trade.

With obvious needs at wide receiver, tight end, running back, and in the secondary and just under $10 million in cap space to address them, Newsome and the Ravens will need to seize their opportunities in the draft beginning on April 30.

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Suggs restructure puts band-aid on Ravens’ cap woes

Posted on 10 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Needing to be under the 2015 salary cap by 4 p.m. Tuesday, the Ravens found a temporary band-aid by restructuring the contract of veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs.

According to The Sun, Baltimore has converted $3 million of Suggs’ scheduled $4 million base salary for 2015 into a bonus, which will create an additional $2.25 million in cap space for this season. The move also adds an extra $750,000 to Suggs’ cap figures for 2016, 2017, and 2018, which isn’t substantial but is still something the Ravens try to avoid doing.

Last offseason, Suggs signed a four-year extension that gives the six-time Pro Bowl selection an excellent chance to finish his career in Baltimore.

The move was necessary to get the Ravens below the salary cap after they had tendered their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents on Monday. However, it still leaves them with work to do if they want to re-sign any of their unrestricted free agents or explore other players available on the open market.

General manager Ozzie Newsome would still like to get something done with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to provide relief from his current $16 million cap figure in the final year of his contract. However, the NFL Network reported Tuesday morning that the “status quo” is likely remain between the Ravens and Ngata, which would do the organization no favors in trying to add other players to the current roster this offseason.

The restructuring of Suggs’ deal is a sign that the Ravens are trying to buy more time to work something out with Ngata, but it’s difficult to imagine this offseason being a productive one without movement on the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s contract.

The Ravens are also trying to restructure the contract of veteran cornerback Lardarius Webb, who currently carries a $12 million cap figure for the 2015 season.

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Series of unfortunate events led to Ravens’ 2015 cap woes

Posted on 09 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to officially begin on Tuesday, the Ravens find themselves in a familiar position of lacking salary-cap space.

It’s the cost of doing business when you draft well and strive to keep as many of your own young players as you can. That’s the proven method for sustained success compared to those teams who draft poorly and subsequently throw around money on the volatile free-agent market to try to build a winning team.

Of course, the reminder must be delivered to those Ravens fans who panic every March after seeing some players depart and are too impatient to wait for general manager Ozzie Newsome to act. The more levelheaded fans recognize this yearly process and remind anyone who will listen of the old mantra, “In Ozzie we trust.”

But this offseason is unique as the Ravens are dealing with the fallout from a series of unfortunate events that have wreaked havoc on their salary cap, leaving them with just $4.639 million in space before tendering their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Much attention has fallen on the future of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who carries a $16 million cap figure for the 2015 season, but three other events have left Newsome and the Ravens in even worse shape than they might have been under normal circumstances.

The most obvious is the lingering fallout from the Ray Rice saga as the Ravens are still carrying $9.5 million in dead money on their 2015 cap after cutting the running back last Sept. 8. Even though the 28-year-old free agent hasn’t even been on the roster for over six months, his ghost carries the fourth-highest cap figure on the team for the coming season.

Some argued at the time of his signing in 2012 that the Ravens shouldn’t commit to a long-term contract with Rice, but no one could have foreseen the circumstances that led to the termination of his contract.

The second example remains more open-ended, but tight end Dennis Pitta’s second hip injury in 14 months last September has not only left his career in jeopardy but has created another gaping hole of dead resources. Though nothing is official in terms of his playing status, Pitta’s $4 million base salary is guaranteed for 2015 and it would be more costly to cut him than to keep him this year, meaning his $6.2 million cap figure will stay on the books despite the strong possibility that he sits out the season.

It’s fair to question whether the Ravens should have been more conservative before committing to Pitta last offseason — they could have used the franchise or transition tag to make sure his surgically-repaired hip was sound after the first injury — but they had received assurances from doctors that the 29-year-old had no greater risk to injure his hip again.

Those two players alone are responsible for $15.7 million in cap space with Rice no longer on the roster and Pitta potentially unable to play again. It’s akin to having another Ngata weighing on the cap without the benefit of having either player on the field.

A third event more open for debate than the others was the second anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered by cornerback Lardarius Webb only six months after he signed a six-year, $50 million contract in 2012. Prior to his second ACL injury in less than three years, Webb was emerging as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, receiving the fourth-highest grade of all players at his position from Pro Football Focus in 2011.

Few would argue that Webb has ever been the same since then and injuries are surely part of the game, but it was also terrible luck when he had just become one of the highest paid players on the roster. If he had continued on his pre-injury track, the Ravens would likely be able to live with his $12 million cap figure for the 2015 season and their concerns at the corner position would be less severe. Instead, they’re facing the possibility of cutting him and further depleting a position that was Baltimore’s Achilles heel in 2014.

No team — good or bad — is immune to making mistakes as there will always be signings and draft picks that don’t work out, but the three events outlined above have contributed to the Ravens’ worst predicament in several years despite the NFL’s salary cap increasing by $20 million over the last two offseasons.

This isn’t meant as an excuse for Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens as they’ll find a way to make additions to the roster, but it’s a simple reality to keep in mind as you brace for the start of free agency and what figures to be a difficult series of departures.

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Replacing Torrey Smith even more difficult than saying goodbye

Posted on 09 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The reasons why it’s difficult to say goodbye to Torrey Smith go far beyond receiving yards and touchdown catches for the Ravens and the city of Baltimore.

Others have played better and longer for a franchise approaching its 20th season in Charm City, but few have left the kind of impression the 26-year-old wide receiver did in his four seasons with the Ravens. His heartfelt farewell released Sunday night only scratches the surface in revealing the man as both a football player and, more importantly, a citizen who’s made a difference in the community — and will apparently continue to do so with his stated intention of continuing to make Baltimore his offseason home.

From the heartbreaking — but inspirational — story of his upbringing in Virginia to his days with Ralph Friedgen at the University of Maryland, Smith has grown up before our eyes in some ways. We watched him handle the tragedy of his younger brother’s death with courage and grace while excelling on the field and ultimately helping the Ravens taste the glory that was two division titles, three playoff appearances, and a win in Super Bowl XLVII.

But it can be a cruel business as the Ravens have deemed Smith’s price tag too expensive — a difficult salary-cap picture certainly didn’t help — and the 2011 second-round selection is seizing his first and best chance to receive a lucrative payday elsewhere. You can understand general manager Ozzie Newsome’s decision to walk away from a player who never lived up to the billing of becoming a true No. 1 receiver in the same way that you can respect Smith not being willing to leave millions of dollars on the table in a sport that only guarantees so much.

Even with that common ground of understanding for both sides, it doesn’t change the reality of the Ravens needing to replace Smith on the field.

It’s going to be difficult.

His critics frequently bring up his shortcomings and reiterate that he isn’t a true No. 1 wideout, but those weaknesses shouldn’t sell short his talents as a strong No. 2 option who has suited the strong-armed Joe Flacco perfectly over the last four seasons. His ability to both stretch the field and make big plays shouldn’t be discredited because of a disappointing 2014 season that still included a career-best 11 touchdown catches.

It isn’t only about speed as fast but limited receivers such as Jacoby Jones, Yamon Figurs, and Patrick Johnson have proven over the years. Even if his route-running and hands aren’t as consistent as you’d like, Smith has shown much more talent than straight-line speed.

The six-foot, 205-pound receiver finishes his four-year run in Baltimore ranking third on the franchise’s all-time list in receiving yards and second in touchdown catches, numbers that bring two distinct thoughts to mind. One, he’s been one of the most productive receivers in team history despite having only played four seasons. Second, it reflects how little success Newsome and the Ravens have found at the position in nearly two decades.

And that’s where the real concern lies as Smith represents the franchise’s only significant success story in drafting and developing an impact wide receiver. They finally hit in 2011, but the Ravens have selected a laundry list of disappointments or outright busts at the position that includes Johnson, Travis Taylor, Ron Johnson, Devard Darling, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Figurs, Marcus Smith, David Reed, and Tandon Doss.

Yuck.

To be fair, Newsome has found success over the years in plucking veterans off the market including Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and, most recently, Steve Smith, but a few duds have been mixed in there as well in Lee Evans, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Kevin Johnson. Of course, Newsome has been one of the best executives in the NFL for almost 20 years and no organization bats 1.000, but the Ravens have routinely been lacking at the receiver position and that’s without even mentioning the decision to dump Boldin two offseasons ago without replacing him for the 2013 season.

Yes, I know that dead horse doesn’t need to be beaten again.

There might be enough of a track record to trust Newsome to at least find a respectable veteran band-aid — Houston’s Andre Johnson would provide more than that if the cost is within the Ravens’ modest means this offseason — but finding a vertical threat as effective as Smith won’t be as easy. The goal is improving the passing game — not treading water or getting slightly worse — and veteran free-agent options such as Michael Crabtree, Cecil Shorts, Eddie Royal, and Nate Washington hardly make you do cartwheels and won’t all be cheap, either.

Not having a vertical threat for Flacco is akin to asking a home-run hitter to try to settle for more singles and doubles. It doesn’t mean he won’t succeed, but you’re not going to maximize your return.

Maybe the Ravens will hit on a future No. 1 receiver with the 26th overall pick in this year’s draft, but their track record suggests finding Torrey Smith’s replacement won’t be that simple and Steve Smith will be 36 this year. The organization is optimistic about its young receivers like Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Butler, but none have shown enough ability to reasonably project a starting role without a major drop-off.

You can understand and respect the Ravens needing to make a difficult financial decision in watching Torrey Smith depart. Newsome has six months to figure it out before the 2015 season kicks off, so it would be silly to push the panic button now.
But there have been too many failures and not enough successes at the wide receiver position over the years to feel great about what will come next.

You just hope the Ravens won’t take as long replacing Torrey Smith as they did to find him.

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Ravens’ cap issues linger as free-agent negotiating window opens

Posted on 07 March 2015 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency only days away, the Ravens still have work to do to improve a tight salary-cap situation that threatens to hinder their ability to not only re-sign their own free agents but to add outside talent to the roster.

On Saturday, teams were allowed to enter contract negotiations with the certified agents of other NFL teams’ unrestricted free agents, but they are not allowed to complete a deal until 4 p.m. Tuesday when free agency officially begins. Of course, the reality is that teams and agents have been talking through back channels for weeks — February’s scouting combine in Indianapolis has long been considered a tampering haven — and a number of deals will be all but official before Tuesday afternoon.

The Ravens are currently just $4.639 million under the salary cap, resources that will be exhausted when they tender their list of restricted and exclusive-rights free agents by Tuesday’s deadline.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and cornerback Lardarius Webb remain the two biggest names who will impact the salary cap as the Ravens continue to try to rework their existing deals. Carrying a $16 million cap figure in the final season of his five-year, $61 million contract, Ngata is expected to be released if the Ravens cannot work out an extension by Tuesday and there have been no indications that a deal is close to happening. Cutting the five-time Pro Bowl selection would save $8.5 million in savings while leaving $7.5 million in dead money on the 2015 salary cap.

Webb’s situation is more complex as he carries a $12 million cap figure and the Ravens would like him to accept a cut from the $8 million base salary he’s owed for 2015. Cutting the 29-year-old would result in only $2 million in savings — in addition to further weakening the cornerback position — unless the Ravens designate him a post-June 1 release, which would mean his cap figure would remain on the books until long after most free-agent activity is already over.

Of course, the Ravens could make other cap-saving releases after parting ways with veterans Jacoby Jones and Chris Canty in the last two weeks. Other potential casualties include center Gino Gradkowski, linebacker Albert McClellan, and punter Sam Koch.

But the entire offseason remains in a holding pattern until resolutions are found with both Ngata and Webb.

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