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An important #WNSTSweet16 during an important week for the Ravens

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An important #WNSTSweet16 during an important week for the Ravens

Posted on 06 May 2014 by Luke Jones

After taking a look at the rare not-so-great draft moments in the history of the Baltimore Ravens a week ago, this week’s #WNSTSweet16 recognizes an abundance of riches in ranking the most important draft picks in franchise history.

Though recent years have produced more singles and doubles than triples and home runs as they relate to the work of general manager Ozzie Newsome and his talented front office, the Ravens’ immense success over the first 18 years of their existence should be attributed first and foremost to the draft and an ability to recognize talent to fit their vision of a winning franchise. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said last week that luck is a significant factor in finding impact talent year after year, but a simple look at this week’s list shows that 11 of the 16 choices came in the first round, a reflection of just how rarely the Ravens have missed early in the draft.

It’s important to reiterate this week’s list covers the most important — not necessarily the best — draft picks as certain selections came at critical junctures for a franchise that already boasts two Super Bowl championships in its young history. A simple question to ask in determining a draft pick’s importance was, “How critical was this player to winning a championship or at least enjoying an extended run of success?”

Cracking the top five is no easy task as the Ravens already claim one Hall of Fame player selected with their first ever draft pick while two other first-round choices are slam dunks for Canton in the not-so-distant future.

Without further ado, I present the #WNSTSweet16 Most Important Draft Picks in Ravens History:

Continue to next page for No. 16

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B&B Big Story Banter: All-Time Ravens Draft Team

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B&B Big Story Banter: All-Time Ravens Draft Team

Posted on 02 May 2014 by Brett Dickinson

By: Brett Dickinson and Barry Kamen

As the NFL Draft is nearly upon us, we decided to take a look back at the history of the Ravens during this event.  Many believe general manager Ozzie Newsome to be one of the greatest draft manipulators in the history of the game.  But how good has he really been? The only stipulation for our picks was to only look at the players tenure while in Baltimore.  Barry took care of the offensive picks, while Brett handled the defensive side of things.

Take a look at our All-Time Baltimore Ravens Draft Team

LT: Jonathan Ogden (1996)- 1st round (4th overall)
 
LG: Ben Grubbs (2007)- 1 (29th)
 
C: Jeff Mitchell (1997)- 5 (134th)
 
RG: Marshal Yanda (2007)- 3 (86th)
 
RT: Michael Oher  (2009)- 1 (23th)
 
QB: Joe Flacco (2008)- 1 (18th)
 
RB: Jamal Lewis (2000)- 1 (5th)
 
FB: Le’Ron McClain (2007)- 4 (137th) 
 
TE: Todd Heap (2001)- 1 (31st) 
 
WR: Torrey Smith (2011)- 2 (58th) 
 
WR: Brandon Stokley (1999)- 4 (105th) 
 

BK: There were plenty of easy decisions when creating this offense. Jonathan Ogden was this biggest no-brainer of them all; the first pick in franchise history was an 11-time Pro Bowler who would get much more attention if it wasn’t for Ray Lewis.  As a whole, creating this offensive line was much easier than I expected. The Pro Bowl appearances for Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda made the guard position an easy decision, while the only real debate I had was deciding between Casey Rabach, Jason Brown, and Mitchell to play center. When push came to shove, for multiple positions. I went with the guy who won a Super Bowl.

Running back and wide receiver were the two positions that gave me the hardest time. I went with Jamal Lewis over Ray Rice, the position that has meant so much to this franchise since its inception. Lewis was a phenomenal power back that struck fear into divisional opponents, and he averaged 1,300 yards rushing in his six seasons in Baltimore. Some people will take Rice’s versatility over Lewis’ power, but Jamal never had a bad season with the Ravens. The same cannot be said for Mr. Rice. At wide receiver, I struggled with who would play opposite Torrey Smith. Wide receiver is the one position that the Ravens have constantly struggled with, so the talent pool was quite small. My theory on picking the Super Bowl winner prevailed, as Brandon Stokley earned the other spot, beating out the likes of Mark Clayton and Jermaine Lewis (known mainly for his return skills).

What strikes me about this offense is just how many first round picks there are. When I think of the “Wizard of Oz” never missing in the first round, my mind immediately think defense; Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed…you get the idea. But my All-Time offense has six first round picks, three of those being offensive lineman. The genius of Ozzie Newsome, Phil Savage, and Eric DeCosta over the years has been finding great players, no matter where they draft. Whether it was Jamal Lewis 5th overall, or Todd Heap with the last pick in the first round, the Ravens have always found quality players early in the draft.

 Here is the All-Time Draft Defense, presented by Brett Dickinson:

DL: Dwan Edwards (2004)- 2nd round (51st overall)

DT: Haloti Ngata (2006)- 1 (12th)

DL: Arthur Jones (2010)- 5 (157th)

OLB: Peter Boulware (1997)- 1 (4th)

MLB: Ray Lewis (1996)- 1 (26th)

MLB: Jaimie Sharper (1997)- 2 (34th)

OLB: Terrell Suggs (2003)- 1 (10th)

CB: Chris McAlister (1999)- 1 (10th)

CB: Duane Starks (1998)- 1 (10th)

FS: Ed Reed (2002)- 1 (24th)

SS: Dawan Landry (2006)- 5 (146th)

BD: Though the Ravens seem to take a defensive lineman almost every year, they do not have the best track record. Besides selecting Haloti Ngata in the first round, no one else has made a Pro Bowl from that position. While on the other hand, they have obviously hit the mark taking linebackers, as this list includes four pro bowlers, two defensvie players of the year (Lewis, Suggs) and a future Hall of Famer in Lewis (along with being one of the best players in the history of the game).

The toughest decision was at the second cornerback slot, after Chris McAlister. Though Jimmy Smith or Lardarius Webb could surpass Starks in the future, his four straight seasons with at least 4 INTs is still best in franchise history. Add in making a crucial interception to essentially seal a Super Bowl victory and he was the obvious choice.

Overall the Ravens have dominated the first round, when it comes to selecting defensive talent, but surprisingly have not done much else beyond that. Selecting two players in Lewis and Reed (that could be the greatest at their position), late in the first round, certainly makes Ozzie look better than what his track record would lead you to believe.

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Rice uncertainty won’t impact Ravens’ draft plans at running back

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Rice uncertainty won’t impact Ravens’ draft plans at running back

Posted on 30 April 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2014 NFL draft may only be a week away, but the Ravens’ intentions at the running back position were clear long before running back Ray Rice got into trouble in Atlantic City back in February.

The 27-year-old is scheduled to be arraigned for third-degree aggravated assault in New Jersey on Thursday, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh knew several weeks before the incident between Rice and future wife Janay Palmer allegedly took place that the Ravens would be looking for help at the running back position. With Rice’s legal situation unresolved and the NFL possibly levying a suspension, Baltimore is almost certain to make a significant addition at the position between now and the start of the season.

But that decision had more to do with Baltimore’s 30th-ranked running game and league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average than Rice’s status for the start of the 2014 season.

“We’ll deal with Ray when that time comes,” Newsome said. “But, in talking with John all the way back to when we went to Jupiter to spend time with [owner Steve Bisciotti], we’ve been talking about adding one, maybe two running backs to our team. And this was before the incident that happened in Atlantic City. We felt like we needed to add some depth at that position coming out of the 2013 season.”

The Ravens signed veteran Justin Forsett earlier this month, but a running back will likely be a target on either the second or third day of next week’s draft. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta was complimentary of Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Auburn’s Tre Mason, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, and Jeremy Hill of LSU, who are all projected to go in the second or third round. Baltimore has also met with Hyde, Boston College’s Andre Williams, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, and Towson’s Terrance West.

With new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak implementing a new system, the Ravens will be looking for a natural fit to thrive in a zone blocking scheme.

“You’ve got guys in that second round, third-round area. You’ve got some good later-round picks, too,” DeCosta said. “I think the draft is such at that position where you can get a guy in any round – second through seventh – that can help you play some good football.”

Ravens trading back in first round?

Many pundits have labeled this year’s draft class as one of the deepest in years, and the Ravens seem to support that sentiment as DeCosta claimed they have roughly 180 players they consider to be “draftable,” which is up from the typical 140 to 150 they have on their board in a given year.

With so many talented players available, many have wondered if the Ravens would consider moving back from the 17th overall pick if the right deal comes along, and Newsome confirmed Wednesday that he’s already received calls to do just that.

“If we move back four, five or six spots, we might still have the opportunity to get one or two of those players and get the additional pick,” Newsome said. “That’s how we look at it. Can we pick at 17? We’ll be prepared to pick at 17, but also we’ll be entertaining trades to be able to move back if we have to, if we want to.”

Newsome admitted it would be difficult for the Ravens to move up to draft a player in the first round since they only have four picks they’re permitted to trade. Baltimore dealt its fourth- and fifth-round choices to Jacksonville last fall to acquire left tackle Eugene Monroe and traded its seventh-round selection to Indianapolis for offensive lineman A.Q. Shipley last spring.

The Ravens have a total of four compensatory picks — a third, two fourths, and a fifth — but those selections cannot be traded.

“I could probably say if one or two players start getting really close to us, we’d be clamoring trying to go up and get them,” Newsome said. “I can just say, I know John, I know Eric and I know [director of college scouting Joe Hortiz], and we’ll be telling Steve that we need to go get this player because we feel like he can impact us that much.”

2007 trade that wasn’t to be

Newsome confirmed a report that surfaced earlier this week about the Ravens nearly pulling off a trade in 2007 to select quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame before the Cleveland Browns ultimately made a deal with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Ravens held the 29th overall pick and began discussing the quarterback as he fell in the first round, even calling Quinn and his agent Tom Condon to gather information. However, the Browns were willing to pony up their second-round pick and 2008 first-round choice for the 22nd pick while the Ravens simply stayed put and settled for left guard Ben Grubbs, a five-year starter and one-time Pro Bowl selection in Baltimore.

“What happened is we were in the midst of making a trade – a trade with the team that ended up making the trade to Cleveland – and Cleveland offered more than we did, which was [then-general manager Phil Savage],” Newsome said. “Phil offered more than we did. And so, they ended up drafting Brady Quinn, and we did not get him, because what Dallas and Jerry [Jones] wanted in the trade from the other team, we did not feel like we should go up to that level.”

While no one knows how Quinn might have fared had he landed in Baltimore, the Fighting Irish product and Ohio native was a flop in Cleveland where he made only 12 starts and threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Quinn said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday that he’d never spoken to the Ravens during the pre-draft process but often thinks how his career might have turned out differently had they pulled off the trade instead of the Browns.

Ravens fans can only breathe a sigh of relief seven years later as the organization selected quarterback Joe Flacco a year later.

Looking at cornerbacks

Most attention has gone to obvious needs at the right tackle and free safety positions in the early rounds, but the Ravens have yet to add a cornerback to fill the void of veteran Corey Graham departing via free agency.

Newsome and Harbaugh have both complimented the potential of young cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson, but neither has extensive experience. Hortiz estimated that as many as 12 cornerbacks will be drafted in the first three rounds with Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, and Texas Christian’s Jason Verrett among the candidates to go in the first round.

“We’ve always felt you can’t have enough corners,” Newsome said, “especially when you’re in a league now where it’s a passing league with people putting three or four receivers in the games. You don’t have too many corners.”

Auburn guy sticks up for Alabama

In the wake of Rolando McClain’s latest retirement and left tackle prospect Cyrus Kouandjio’s medical concerns at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, the University of Alabama has received plenty of scrutiny in terms of how reliable their players are at the NFL level, a sentiment that doesn’t sit well with Newsome.

Ironically, it was Hortiz, an Auburn alum, who defended Newsome’s alma mater during Wednesday’s pre-draft press conference.

“These guys, they may fail physicals or be question marks, but they are tough players,” Hortiz said. “They play through injuries, and they play in the NFL. Last year, the running back in Green Bay (Eddie Lacy) failed physicals, and he was rookie of the year. These Alabama guys, they get beat up; they play through it. [Ravens linebacker] Courtney Upshaw had a bad shoulder, and he’s a rugged, tough guy.

“I hate to hear the Alabama guys get beat up [in the media] so much – and I’m an Auburn guy – because all they do is play through pain, and they have such a mental and physical toughness. They get in the NFL and they do the same thing. Sorry to strike a nerve, but I’ve just been hearing it so much.”

 

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B&B Big Story Banter: McClain & Ngata

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B&B Big Story Banter: McClain & Ngata

Posted on 18 April 2014 by Brett Dickinson

By; Brett Dickinson & Barry Kamen

BD: Barry, its been an interesting week for “Ravens” middle linebacker Rolando McClain.  After showing up a hour late for his team workout, he didn’t have a good outing.  McClain struggled the entire time on the field, being winded and could not even finish.  But the Ravens still activated him off the “retired” list. What do you make of the Rolando McClain situation and how will the team handle him?

BK: The case of Rolando McClain is a curious one indeed. A starter for a BCS National Championship team during his time at Alabama. A top 10 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Four arrests, including one not long after signing with the Ravens. Retirement from the NFL at age 24. Now, a potential comeback seems more like a dream than reality for McClain following this week’s workout with the team.

Seth Wickersham’s piece on Rolando McClain is a must-read for all interested Ravens fans. Written last October, it appeared that McClain’s retreat to Tuscaloosa helped clear his mind of things that were bothering him as an NFL player. The Alabama connection cannot be ignored; Rolando is a cousin of former Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain, and general manager Ozzie Newsome loves getting players from his alma mater. With the news that the team activated him off of the retired/reserved list, it appears that the Ravens are committed to having McClain as a part of their team for the summer.

What bothers me most about the situation is McClain showing up late to his workout. This is the National Football League; be punctual. If an opportunity to play for the Baltimore Ravens does not mean enough to you to show up early, or even on time, you are in the wrong profession. With the NFL Draft approaching in the next couple weeks, there will be plenty of inside linebacker prospects who were not blessed with the talent of McClain, but will be working furiously to make an NFL team. Any expectations for McClain to see the field with the Ravens seem far-fetched. The Ravens should treat him as an undrafted free agent prospect, only giving him repetitions with the third-team players in drills, to see if it lights a fire. I have my doubts that there was any passion for the game in the first.

Haloti NgataIn another curious case, it was reported earlier in the week by NFL.com’s Albert Breer  that the Ravens offered defensive tackle Haloti Ngata a long-term extension to help alleviate Ngata’s large cap number. However, the offer was turned down by Ngata’s camp. Brett, your thoughts on the Ravens making this kind of offer to Ngata, and why would Ngata turn it down?

 

BD: This whole situation would have me pulling out my hair, if only I had any (I guess I can tug on my beard for a while).  First off, the idea of extending Ngata by the team is simply ridiculous.  We already went through this once, when the team re-upped with Terrell Suggs earlier this off season.  It seems like a mistake to just push off cap issues by keeping around a player on the decline; no matter what they have done for the organization in the past.

The NFL has been progressively becoming a young man’s game, with 30-something players becoming expendable because of wear and tear and high salary demands.  Ngata has not been the dominant player he once was for years, but still can be productive in the NFL for a couple of seasons.  The problem is what does it cost against the team’s salary cap?

Ozzie NewsomeThe Ravens have been pretty masterful of working around financial restrictions, but it will catch up to them sooner than later.  Player loyalty is nice to see, but is a dieing breed in the NFL.  Ozzie might have to catch up on this to keep the Ravens at a consistently high level of competition in the near future.

As far as Ngata turning down the deal, I believe the deal may have had an “out clause” where the team could cut him in a year or two.  We obviously do not have the figures, but it could have cost him money in the long term, as he is already due a large sum the next couple years.  In the end who am I to talk ill of Ozzie Newsome? But we may be seeing some faults in his approach. The team and the player may be better that this deal did not work out.

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Bisciotti vows troubled running back Ray Rice not going anywhere

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Bisciotti vows troubled running back Ray Rice not going anywhere

Posted on 25 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Echoing the sentiments offered by head coach John Harbaugh and general Ozzie Newsome in recent weeks, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti offered his support to running back Ray Rice and reiterated that he will be part of the team in 2014.

Speaking to The Baltimore Sun as the league meetings commenced in Orlando on Monday, Bisciotti described the incident as “disappointing” and one that the running back will live with for the rest of his life, but Rice’s future with the organization — at least for the upcoming season — isn’t in jeopardy regardless of how the legal situation is resolved. Rice and Janay Palmer were arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence in mid-February after the two allegedly struck one another with their hands.

“Ray will be here,” Bisciotti said. “This is a singular moment six years after we drafted him. It’s embarrassing for him and his fiancée. It is especially hard to see somebody that is proud of his reputation have to take this kind of public-relations hit.”

Atlantic City police referred the case to the county prosecutor’s office for review, but there’s been no update if any additional or different charges have been filed.

NOTES: The Ravens awarded Harbaugh with an extra year on his current contract, extending him through the 2017 season. Bisciotti said he offered an extra year to his head coach as a show of support that nothing has changed in his mind despite Baltimore missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2007. … Bisciotti also confirmed the Ravens will honor future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis with a statue planned to be unveiled outside M&T Bank Stadium before the start of the 2014 season. The likeness of Lewis will stand in Unitas Plaza.

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What’s still out there for the Ravens in free agency?

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What’s still out there for the Ravens in free agency?

Posted on 17 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Almost a week into free agency, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has been busy retaining his own free agents while also enticing veteran wide receiver Steve Smith to bring his impressive pedigree to the league’s 29th-ranked offense from a year ago.

Needs remain along the offensive line and at free safety, but the options are dwindling as is the team’s salary cap space with roughly $9 million available. That’s not to say those resources can’t be helpful to further augment the roster as preparations continue for the start of the NFL draft on May 8, but this is when teams often look for the best value in not only identifying players who truly represent upgrades from what they already have but signing them for the right price.

Secondary needs to the offensive line and free safety include a No. 3 cornerback, a blocking tight end, and another running back, but those are all areas in which the Ravens can likely use the draft to find quality depth.

Here’s a sampling of the better remaining options to address their needs:

S Ryan Clark
Skinny: The 34-year-old safety has played the last eight seasons in Pittsburgh, which would make his potential defection to Baltimore compelling if he has anything left on the field. In addition to the Ravens, Washington and the New York Jets are reportedly interested in Clark, who would give 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam a mentor in the defensive backfield. A 2011 Pro Bowl selection, Clark is nearing the end of his career and struggled in 2013 but isn’t that far removed from playing at a high level. The hard-hitting veteran doesn’t really fit the profile of the ball-hawking safety Newsome described at the start of the offseason, but he’s generally been strong in coverge in his career and collected 104 tackles and two interceptions last year.

S Thomas DeCoud
Skinny: The 28-year-old started all but two games for Atlanta over the last five seasons but has been plagued with inconsistency and is coming off a poor 2013 campaign in which he recorded 65 tackles, no interceptions, and only two pass breakups. The 2012 Pro Bowl safety had 14 interceptions from 2009 through 2012 but probably reminds Newsome and the front office too much of Michael Huff, who was one of the biggest free-agent busts in franchise history last year. DeCoud was cut by the Falcons earlier this month, meaning he wouldn’t count against the compensatory pick formula if the Ravens were to sign him.

S Chris Clemons
Skinny: Starting 32 games for the Miami Dolphins over the last two seasons, the 28-year-old has been solid but unspectacular in his five-year career. Clemons made 93 tackles and intercepted one pass last season with many observers wondering if the Dolphins downgraded in deciding to sign Louis Delmas to replace Clemons earlier this month. Much like Clark and DeCoud, Clemons doesn’t fit the part of what Newsome described in January, but the Ravens are unlikely to find a playmaking safety unless they draft one such as Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor of Louisville.

C Kyle Cook
Skinny: Cook started 66 games for the Bengals over the last five years and would represent a solid veteran option to compete with incumbent starter Gino Gradkowski and 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen at the center position this summer. The 30-year-old was the 24th-ranked center in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, but he was released by the Bengals at the start of free agency and wouldn’t cost the Ravens a compensatory pick. His experience in the AFC North is also something that could be of value in the front office’s eyes.

C Brian de la Puente
Skinny: Though New Orleans reportedly remains interested in re-signing the starting center, the 28-year-old would be more appealing than Cook and would likely find a similar market to Evan Dietrich-Smith, who signed a four-year, $14.25 million contract with Tampa Bay last week. Pro Football Focus graded De la Puente as the 16th-ranked center in the league last year, but he graded second in 2012 and would represent a clear upgrade to Gradkowski in the starting lineup. The Ravens have yet to be linked to de la Puente, but the New York Giants reportedly showed interest last week.

G Travelle Wharton
Skinny: He’ll be 33 in May, but Wharton graded out as the fifth-best guard in the NFL by Pro Football Focus this past season after missing the entire 2012 campaign with a knee injury. Entering his 11th season, Wharton played with Steve Smith in Carolina for nearly a decade, so it will be interesting to see if the Ravens ask their new wide receiver what he thinks of his former teammate, who recently reiterated that he has no intentions of retiring. Should the Ravens sign the left guard, they could move Kelechi Osemele to right tackle to address the departure of Michael Oher.

RT Eric Winston
Skinny: The 30-year-old spent six years with Gary Kubiak in Houston, which would make him an enticing fit if not for the fact that he didn’t play well in Arizona this past season. Winston was the 69th-ranked tackle this season, which was one spot below Oher in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Still, his experience with the zone blocking scheme in Kubiak’s offense would be very attractive at the right price. The acquisition of a right tackle would also allow the Ravens to keep Osemele at left guard, the position where some think he can blossom into a Pro Bowl player if he proves to be healthy after last year’s back surgery.

TE Owen Daniels
Skinny: He doesn’t really fit the mold of what the Ravens are looking for in terms of a blocking-minded tight end, but his close relationship with Kubiak is too much to overlook in wondering if the 31-year-old would be an attractive addition to the passing game. Daniels was limited to five games last year but knows the intricacies of Kubiak’s system and is a two-time Pro Bowl selection who has caught 54 or more passes four times in his career. With so many remaining needs, the Ravens would need to get excellent value in terms of price to make Daniels worth it and there hasn’t appeared to be much concrete interest beyond the initial reaction when he was released by the Texans last week.

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Ravens re-sign linebacker Daryl Smith to four-year contract

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Ravens re-sign linebacker Daryl Smith to four-year contract

Posted on 14 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Linebacker Daryl Smith received quite the present on his 32nd birthday in the form of a new four-year contract to remain with the Ravens.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the 32-year-old agreed to a deal worth $16.1 million to remain with the same defense he led in tackles last season while taking over the position occupied by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.

Smith signed a one-year deal, $1.125 million deal that included an additional $1 million in playing-time incentives after he was limited to just two games in his ninth and final season in Jacksonville where he started his career. An early-June addition to the roster, the veteran went on to collect 123 tackles, five sacks, and three interceptions to lead a defense that finished 12th in total yards and points allowed in 2013.

“I knew it was a one-year deal, but I was hoping I could come in and prove I could still play and I could still do this for a while,” Smith said in a team statement. “You really don’t know at the time. But as the season progressed, I felt better with the team and how I played, and I definitely wanted to be back.”

The sides had remained in negotiations for a couple weeks but struggled to close the gap as other veteran inside linebackers such as the 30-year-old D’Qwell Jackson and Karlos Dansby, 32, found deals averaging in the neighborhood of $5.5 million to $6 million per season. However, the market seemed to dry up inside linebackers as Smith elected to remain in Baltimore.

Smith becomes the fourth key player the Ravens have re-signed over the last two weeks, joining tight end Dennis Pitta, left tackle Eugene Monroe, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones. The Ravens also were hosting veteran wide receiver Steve Smith on a free-agent visit on Friday, adding to the excitement of the day.

“There are a lot of smiles around the building today after we got a commitment from Daryl Smith to stay a Raven,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a released statement. “He fills a need for us at a high level. Just look at his production last season, plus he gave us leadership and maturity. He’s tough, he’s consistent, he’s intelligent, and he brings his lunch pail to work every day.”

Stronger in pass coverage than against the run last year, Smith is expected to be paired with 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown in the Ravens’ 3-4 base defense with Josh Bynes serving as the primary backup. Smith and Brown should be a formidable duo in pass coverage, but questions will remain about their ability against the run as the veteran struggled to shed blocks last season and the 23-year-old Brown is trying to gain upper-body strength after being listed at a light 235 pounds during his rookie year.

The 6-2, 248-pound linebacker was one of only three NFL defensive players — the others being Lavonte David and Karlos Dansby — to post at least 100 tackles, five sacks, and three interceptions in 2013. Smith has tallied 100 tackles in eight of his 10 professional seasons.

Smith was originally a second-round pick from Georgia Tech in the 2004 NFL draft.

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Weekend negotiating window doesn’t amount to much in NFL free agency

Posted on 08 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Though most attention remains on the official start of free agency at 4 p.m. Tuesday, NFL teams were allowed to begin contacting and entering into negotiations with the agents of pending outside free agents at noon on Saturday.

The NFL has made it clear that a contract cannot be executed with a new team prior to the start of the new league year on Tuesday afternoon in fear of leaks to the media occurring over the weekend, but all this three-day window really does is provide a ceremonial tampering period that’s already existed for the last several weeks.

During this negotiating window, prospective free agents may not visit a club at its permanent facility — or any other location — and may not have any direct contact with an employee or representative of the organization. Only certified agents are officially permitted to communicate with outside teams, but the truth is these discussions have been ongoing, with last month’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis long considered a haven for free-agent tampering.

How else do you explain a number of blockbuster deals being announced in the first hour — or opening minutes — of free agency in past years?

In reality, outside teams have already inquired about the likes of upper-tier free agents such as Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe and defensive tackle Arthur Jones just like general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore front office have slyly looked into outside free agents that could be a good fit for their 2014 roster. The three-day window set up by the league is merely a perception mechanism to help explain why a top free agent potentially has a new contract and a new team by 4:01 p.m. on Tuesday.

The negotiating window is only designed for unrestricted free agents and does not allow teams to reach out to franchise or transition tag players, restricted free agents, and exclusive-rights free agents. Of course, any free agents who were released earlier this offseason such as linebacker Jameel McClain and fullback Vonta Leach are already free to sign with other teams.

Here is the press release that was published by the NFL regarding free agency earlier this week:

Q. When does the 2014 free agency signing period begin?

A. At 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 11.

Q. What is permitted during the three-day negotiating period prior to the start of free agency?

A. Beginning at 12:00 noon ET on Saturday, March 8 and ending at 3:59:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 11, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2013 player contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 11. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m. ET on March 11.

During this negotiation period, a prospective unrestricted free agent cannot visit a club (other than the player’s current club) at its permanent facility or at any other location, and no direct contact is permitted between the player and any employee or representative of a club (other than the player’s current club). If a player is self-represented, clubs are prohibited from discussions with the player during the negotiating period.

Clubs (other than the player’s current club) may not discuss or make any travel arrangements with prospective unrestricted free agent players, their certified agents, or anyone else associated with the player until the expiration of those players’ 2013 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 11.

The three-day negotiating period applies only to potential unrestricted free agents; it does not apply to players who are potential Exclusive Rights Players or Restricted Free Agents, or to players who have been designated as Franchise Players or Transition Players.

Q. What are the categories of free agency?

A. Players are either “Restricted Free Agents” or “Unrestricted Free Agents.” A Restricted Free Agent may be subject to a qualifying offer. A Restricted or Unrestricted Free Agent may be designated by his prior club as its Franchise Player or Transition Player.

Q. What is the time period for free agency signings this year?

A. For Restricted Free Agents, from March 11 to May 2. For Unrestricted Free Agents who have received the June 1 tender from their prior club, from March 11 to July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). For Franchise Players, from March 11 until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season, November 11. For Transition Players, from March 11 until July 22. If the above-listed players do not sign by November 11, they must sit out the season.

Q. What is the difference between a Restricted Free Agent and an Unrestricted Free Agent?

A. In the 2014 League Year, players with three accrued seasons become Restricted Free Agents when their contracts expire at the conclusion of the 2013 League Year. Unrestricted Free Agents have completed four or more accrued seasons. An Unrestricted Free Agent is free to sign with any club with no draft choice compensation owed to his old club.

Q. What constitutes an “Accrued Season”?

A. Six or more regular-season games on a club’s active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists.

Q. What could restrict the ability of a Restricted Free Agent to sign with a new club?

A. If he has received a “qualifying offer” (a salary tender predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players) from his old club. He can negotiate with any club through May 2. If the Restricted Free Agent signs an offer sheet with a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because the qualifying offer entitles it to a “right of first refusal” on any offer sheet the player signs. If the old club does not match the offer, it may receive draft choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed on or before May 2, the player’s negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club. In addition, a player who would otherwise be a Restricted Free Agent may be designated by his old club as its Franchise Player or Transition Player. No Restricted Free Agents were designated as Franchise or Transition players this year.

Q. What determines an Unrestricted Free Agent?

A. A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any club, with no draft choice compensation owed to his old club, through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). At that point, his negotiating rights revert exclusively to his old club if by June 1 the old club tendered the player a one-year contract for 110 percent of his prior year’s salary. His old club then has until the Tuesday following the 10th week of the regular season (November 11) to sign him. If he does not sign by that date, he must sit out the season. If no tender is offered by June 1, the player can be signed by any club at any time throughout the season.

Q. What determines a Franchise Player?

A. The salary offer by a player’s club determines what type of franchise player he is: exclusive or non-exclusive.

An “exclusive” Franchise Player – not free to sign with another club – is offered the greater of (i) the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position for the current year as of the end of the restricted free agent signing period on May 2; or (ii) the amount of the required tender for a non-exclusive franchise player, as explained below.

Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the CBA sets forth the methodology, known as the “Cap Percentage Average,” for calculating the required tender for such a player:

The Nonexclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position . . . at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year, which average shall be calculated by: (1) summing the amounts of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the five preceding League Years; (2) dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the Salary Caps for the five preceding League Years . . . ; and (3) multiplying the resulting percentage by the Salary Cap for the upcoming League Year . . . (the “Cap Percentage Average”) . . . ; or (B) 120% of his Prior Year Salary, whichever is greater . . . .

If a club extends a required tender to a “non-exclusive” Franchise Player pursuant to this section, the player shall be permitted to negotiate a player contract with any club, except that draft choice compensation of two first-round draft selections shall be made in the event he signs with a new club.

Q. How many Franchise Players and Transition Players can a team designate each season?

A. A club can designate one “Franchise” Player or one “Transition” Player among its potential restricted or unrestricted free agents.

Q. Can a club decide to withdraw its Franchise or Transition designations on a player?

A. Yes. A club can withdraw its Franchise or Transition designation, and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent, either immediately or when his contract expires.

Q. What is the salary cap for 2014?

A. The salary cap is $133,000,000 per club.

Q. When must teams be in compliance with the cap?

A. At the start of the 2014 League Year, which begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on March 11.

Q. If a team is under the salary cap at the end of a given season, can the team carry over room to the next season?

A. Yes. A team may “carry over” room from one League Year to the following League Year by submitting notice to the NFL prior to 4:00 p.m. ET on the day before the team’s final regular-season game indicating the maximum amount of room that the club wishes to carry over.

Q. What is the maximum amount of room that a club can carry over?

A. One hundred percent of its remaining room.

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Big picture key as Ravens enter free agency with much uncertainty

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Big picture key as Ravens enter free agency with much uncertainty

Posted on 07 March 2014 by Luke Jones

After more than two months of preparation following a disappointing 8-8 season, the Ravens will officially see offseason business pick up with the start of free agency on Tuesday afternoon.

General manager Ozzie Newsome has already taken care of two of his own — signing linebacker Terrell Suggs and tight end Dennis Pitta to long-term contracts — as well as parted ways with two key veterans — linebacker Jameel McClain and fullback Vonta Leach — but plenty of work remains as the Ravens try to rebound from the first non-playoff campaign of the John Harbaugh era. Even with roughly $25 million in salary cap space prior to the tendering of exclusive-rights and restricted free agents, the concerns are plentiful with gaping holes on the offensive line as well as needs at wide receiver, free safety, and inside linebacker.

Just 13 months removed from their second Super Bowl title, the Ravens are facing heat to bounce back from a failed season in their eyes, but the cupboard is far from bare considering they were just one win away from the postseason despite their many issues — particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Pitta returning next season at full strength as well as the addition of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will be viewed by many as instant improvements for an offense that finished 29th in the NFL last season.

“There are teams that are a whole lot more disappointed,” owner Steve Bisciotti said at the season-ending press conference. “If we found ourselves at 3-13, like the Falcons, then I think that they’re sitting there thinking, ‘We’ve got to make a lot of changes.’ I really don’t think that we do. If 8-8 is a failure, I hope it’s a long time before I feel worse than this. That’s just the way it goes.”

With the offseason ready to kick into high gear as teams can begin negotiating with other free agents this weekend before the market officially opens for business at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, here are a few themes to remember between now and the start of the 2014 season:

1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

With a few rare exceptions such as the quick signings of wide receiver Derrick Mason and cornerback Samari Rolle in 2005, the Ravens haven’t been swift to act in free agency, instead allowing other teams to overspend in an effort to make a splash in March.

This lesson is forgotten annually as many confuse Newsome’s methodical ways with hesitancy and indecision. The temptation can be strong to throw money at a top wide receiver such as Hakeem Nicks or Eric Decker or a top offensive tackle like Branden Albert or Jared Veldheer, but the market will be full of potential suitors for their services, potentially driving up the price to unreasonable levels.

Typically, the best free-agent value comes in the second and third wave of activity where the Ravens pride themselves in identifying so-called “80-20″ guys who theoretically provide 80 percent of the production of an incumbent or marquee free agent for 20 percent of the cost. Examples of such players might be Cincinnati left tackle Anthony Collins or a cheaper slot option such as Philadelphia’s Jason Avant who could presumably be coupled with a rookie in the draft.

The abundance of cap space now compared to recent years provides flexibility but encourages stupidity if you’re not careful. Newsome made it clear in January that the Ravens have every intention of adding an impact wide receiver and laid out the avenues in which that goal — along with others — can be achieved.

“That player will be available between now [and September], whether it’s in free agency, whether he’s a cap casualty, whether it’s in the draft or whether it’s through trade,” Newsome said. “There is no reason that he might not be here at the beginning of the season, but I always try to leave myself a little leeway to give us a chance to get it right.”

Remember that there’s no Lombardi awarded in mid-March.

2. Use all outlets in moderation.

It isn’t solely about re-signing your own free agents, playing the open market, looking for trades, or relying on the draft.

Everything in moderation.

We’ve already seen this play out to some degree as the Ravens elected not to use the franchise tag on left tackle Eugene Monroe, who is reportedly looking for upwards of $10 million per season. Even after giving up fourth- and fifth-round picks last October to acquire the former Jaguars tackle, the Ravens simply didn’t feel Monroe was worth the $11.65 million franchise tag tender and are likely to lose him as a result of not seeing eye to eye over his value.

“If things don’t happen before Tuesday, then we’re going to have to build a team the way we build it in other directions,” Harbaugh said. “But we’re working really hard to get that done right now. We want to keep our guys, and we want our guys to be here just like Dennis. We want to keep those guys.”

Beyond Monroe, the Ravens would like to keep inside linebacker Daryl Smith and a couple others such as wide receiver Jacoby Jones and cornerback Corey Graham, but you can’t fall in love with your own players in the same way that you don’t want to throw lucrative money at a free agent on the first day of business. It’s for this reason that Baltimore is pretty much resigned to the idea of defensive tackle Arthur Jones walking away for a bigger contract elsewhere since Brandon Williams, DeAngelo Tyson, and Kapron Lewis-Moore are waiting in the wings and they have many needs elsewhere.

Though patience is key, the Ravens shouldn’t — and can’t — wait until the draft and expect their many positional needs to be filled with only four scheduled picks as well as four anticipated compensatory picks.

Again, rely on everything in moderation.

3. Don’t alter how you value players because of a greater amount of salary cap space.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2014 class of free agents

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2014 class of free agents

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin at 4 p.m. next Tuesday, it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 13 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents, and six exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2014 salary cap was officially set to a record-high $133 million last week and the Ravens have just under $25 million in cap space after signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract that includes a cap figure of just $3.2 million for the 2014 season. Most media attention focuses on unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens’ list of restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players will take up a noticeable portion of that available cap space when tendered.

In much better cap position than they’ve been in a few years, the Ravens will likely have the ability to be a bigger player in the free-agent market than they are in most years, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has also valued compensatory picks over the years and signing unrestricted free agents hurts the formula in determining those.

Though the signing period officially begins on March 11, the NFL allows teams to enter into negotiations with the certified agents of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in the three days leading up to the start of the new league year, meaning the rumors and speculation will pick up this weekend before the start of the signing period.

To see how I fared last year, check out my 2013 free-agent forecast HERE.

Unrestricted free agents

TE Dallas Clark: LEAVES
Skinny: Earlier this offseason, Clark expressed uncertainty whether he would play again in 2014, but it’s all but guaranteed that he won’t be back with the Ravens after he was no longer a factor when Pitta returned from injury last December.

NT Terrence Cody: LEAVES
Skinny: The 2010 second-round pick wasn’t quite the bust that fellow 2010 class member Sergio Kindle was, but he was certainly a disappointment in his four-year run with the Ravens and never really improved.

TE Ed Dickson: LEAVES
Skinny: He may have been the best blocking tight end on the roster the last couple years, but that was still an issue for the Ravens in 2013 and both sides appeared ready to move on by the end of last season.

CB Corey Graham: STAYS
Skinny: Viewed more as a luxury than a pressing need, Graham may ultimately fit into the Ravens’ plans with an improved cap position and the lack of quality cornerback depth behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

DT Arthur Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: Emerging as one of the better 3-technique defensive tackles in the AFC in his first full year as a starter, Jones figures to fetch the kind of deal that will be more than the Ravens are willing to pay with so many needs on the other side of the ball.

WR Jacoby Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: The door will remain open for a return at the right price, but the shortage of quality wide receivers on the open market will likely lead to another team overvaluing Jones’ limited ability as a wideout.

S James Ihedigbo: LEAVES
Skinny: All things being equal, the Ravens would like to have Ihedigbo back, but he deserves to start somewhere and 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam is a better fit at the strong spot than at the free safety position where he struggled as a rookie.

S Jeromy Miles: STAYS
Skinny: Plucked from Cincinnati’s roster early last season, Miles is a strong special-teams player and shouldn’t command more than the veteran minimum to remain with the Ravens.

OT Eugene Monroe: LEAVES
Skinny: The 26-year-old remains the Ravens’ top priority, but it’s clear that the sides have a difference in opinion of his value and a number of teams are looking for a left tackle, which doesn’t bode well for the chances of him re-signing.

OT Michael Oher: LEAVES
Skinny: A high-ranking member of the organization expressed the belief that Oher would be viewed as a left tackle if he were to remain with the Ravens, but he appears to be no more than a Plan C or D at this point.

RB Bernard Scott: LEAVES
Skinny: With Ray Rice dealing with legal problems and Bernard Pierce coming back from shoulder surgery, the No. 3 running back job has suddenly become a bigger priority and the Ravens will be looking for a substantial upgrade over Scott.

LB Daryl Smith: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens took a chance on Smith last summer and he rewarded them handsomely with a strong 2013 season, so it makes too much sense to re-sign him after Jameel McClain was cut due to cap reasons last week.

WR Brandon Stokley: LEAVES
Skinny: The man who caught the first touchdown of Super Bowl XXXV announced his retirement at the end of last season but will always be a popular figure in Baltimore.

Restricted free agents

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer a first-round ($3.113 million), second-round ($2.187 million), or original-round tender ($1.431) million to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer sheet from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. If the player originally went undrafted, it simply provides the team the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation should the player sign elsewhere.

WR Tandon Doss: STAYS
Skinny: The 2011 fourth-round pick has disappointed as a receiver, but his ability as a punt returner will lead to the Ravens either offering him the low tender or re-signing him on a cheap two-year contract.

LB Albert McClellan: STAYS
Skinny: McClellan was a non-factor defensively last season but is a strong special-teams player and has the ability to play all four linebacker spots, making him a likely choice to receive the low tender or an inexpensive two-year deal.

Exclusive-rights free agents

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