Tag Archive | "ozzie newsome"

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Pitta reportedly restructures deal to remain with Ravens

Posted on 10 March 2017 by Luke Jones

After making his unlikely return to the field in 2016, Dennis Pitta is staying with the Ravens.

The veteran tight end has agreed to restructure his contract to lower his $7.7 million salary-cap figure for 2017, according to NFL Network. Pitta accepted a pay cut from $5 million to $1 million in base salary last year as he attempted his unlikely comeback from two devastating hip injuries and went on to earn $3 million back in incentives. He was scheduled to make $5.5 million in base salary this season in a contract scheduled to run through next year.

It remains unclear how the revised deal will look, but general manager Ozzie Newsome was aiming to add more cap space to continue revamping his roster after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. Asked about Pitta’s cap figure and future with the team earlier in the day on Friday, Newsome would only say that he was “still a Raven.”

Playing this past season for the first time since 2014, Pitta led all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions and was the only Baltimore tight end to play in all 16 games. However, his 8.5 yards per catch average ranked 55th of 56 players with at least 60 catches, leading many to argue that quarterback Joe Flacco was too dependent on underneath passes to his longtime teammate and close friend. Pitta managed only two touchdown receptions and often struggled to gain yards after the catch.

Pitta’s return leaves the Ravens with a very crowded tight end picture that includes fellow veteran Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Darren Waller, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams.

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Ravens begin making cuts to create salary-cap space

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Luke Jones

After weeks of speculation, the Ravens finally began making moves to clear salary-cap space just two days ahead of the start of the free agency signing period.

Baltimore terminated the contracts of cornerback Shareece Wright and safety Kendrick Lewis on Tuesday afternoon, anticipated cuts that create just under $5 million in cap space. However, their “rule of 51” replacements on the current roster make it closer to $4 million in net savings.

The moves also leave $3.1 million in dead money on the 2017 cap.

Neither termination comes as a surprise as Wright, 29, struggled in his first full season with the Ravens and eventually lost his starting job. He ranked 76th among qualified NFL cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system and finished with 52 tackles and six pass breakups in 12 games. Wright’s release comes exactly a year to the day that general manager Ozzie Newsome signed him to a three-year, $13 million contract last offseason.

Wright’s fate appeared to be sealed in January at the season-ending press conference in which owner Steve Bisciotti criticized his 2016 performance after his strong 2015 finish that earned him a contract extension.

“We had Shareece Wright, who actually graded out better than Jimmy [Smith] in the last six weeks of the [2015] season,” Bisciotti said. “We made that one of our priorities that we thought we could lock that down, and Shareece gets away from the fundamentals and loses technique and starts playing poorly. That really set us back, to be honest with you.”

Lewis saw his role diminish dramatically in his second year in Baltimore as the Ravens replaced him and fellow 2015 starter Will Hill with veteran newcomer Eric Weddle and converted cornerback Lardarius Webb at the starting safety spots. The 28-year-old Lewis collected just six tackles and a forced fumble in six games before being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury in late October.

The Ravens entered the week with $13.8 million in cap space, but much of that space will be needed to tender restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players before any attempts to re-sign their own unrestricted free agents or outside free agents. More cap-related moves are likely in the coming days as Baltimore tries to revamp its roster in hope of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

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Ravens begin week with $13.8 million in salary cap space

Posted on 06 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Counting down to the official start of the new league year on Thursday afternoon, the Ravens will need to make some moves to increase their amount of salary cap space for the beginning of free agency.

According to the NFLPA, Baltimore entered Monday with 54 players under contract — the offseason allows for a 90-man roster — and $13.801 million in cap space when considering only the top 51 cap figures. The “rule of 51” officially goes into effect at 4 p.m. on Thursday and applies until just before the start of the regular season, meaning all teams must be under the league’s $167 million salary cap for 2017 later this week.

Nearly $14 million in cap space may sound like a lot for general manager Ozzie Newsome, but resources will be needed just to tender restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players, which will exhaust a great deal of that space. That means at least a few cap-related releases, extensions, or pay cuts are all but guaranteed to occur to create room to re-sign some of their own unrestricted free agents and to pursue outside free agents.

“We’re bringing everybody back until we’re not,” head coach John Harbaugh said last week. “I think circumstances dictate that, so every one of those guys is in a little bit of a different position and different story.”

To be clear, the Ravens are currently in compliance with the cap and technically won’t need to make any cuts by a certain deadline, but any effort to improve the roster in a meaningful way will require some difficult decisions with veteran players over the next few days. It remains to be seen just how radical those changes might be for a team hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

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All-too-quiet Ravens entering franchise-defining week

Posted on 06 March 2017 by Luke Jones

The silence from the Ravens has been almost eerie in recent weeks.

That’s not to say that general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office haven’t been hard at work behind the scenes, but the Ravens are playing their hand even closer to the vest than normal, which is saying something for a franchise that makes it a point to rarely pull back the curtain. Even the most logical of salary cap-related cuts have yet to be executed a few days before the start of the new league year, leaving outsiders to continue to speculate and wonder about the future of a franchise at a crossroads.

The Ravens haven’t missed the playoffs in three straight years in this millennium, which is both a testament to their success for the better part of two decades and a reflection of how their recent fortunes have veered south. Owner Steve Bisciotti has shown patience over the last couple years, but that can only go so far, quite possibly making this a franchise-defining week in one way or another for the Ravens.

Head coach John Harbaugh said in Indianapolis last week that there was no doubt in his mind that the Ravens will contend for a championship in 2017, but those words ring more hollow based on the amount of work that needs to be done to the roster this offseason.

The argument can be made for more substantial changes, but selling a youth movement to Harbaugh and the rest of a coaching staff that may be fighting for their jobs this coming season isn’t easy. Is Newsome willing to be bold with an aging roster that hasn’t been good enough or will we see moves more reflective of tweaking than major revamping? Has Bisciotti declared 2017 to be a playoff-or-bust campaign internally or has he assured and instructed the brass and coaching staff to do what’s best for the long-term viability of the franchise?

Improving from last year’s 8-8 campaign won’t be easy with limited cap space — they have just $13.801 million in space before tendering any of their restricted free agents or exclusive-rights players — and above-average contributors such as Brandon Williams, Rick Wagner, and Kyle Juszczyk poised to officially hit the free-agent market this week. Going all out to re-sign these players makes it more difficult to improve other roster weaknesses that need to be addressed, but losing them creates even more holes to fill.

We know Baltimore needs to have a home run of a draft in April, but several busts in the first few rounds in recent years have contributed to this current purgatory and have created a decreased level of confidence in a front office and scouting department that used to make their money through the draft. It’s true that the Ravens have only one losing season to their name since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but they also have just one winning campaign over that time, leaving them stuck in the middle.

Escaping the vice grip of mediocrity is the obvious goal, but the margin for error is small when you have one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL who hasn’t performed up to previous levels — no matter who’s at fault — in the last two years. Putting all the blame on Joe Flacco is unfair, but your franchise quarterback has to be much more of a solution than a concern, regardless of other variables at work. His renaissance would go a long way toward quelling concerns and minimizing other roster weaknesses.

Even without knowing how this offseason will play out, one can easily envision this week being a turning point for the franchise.

Some savvy additions and a strong draft could not only have the Ravens back in the playoffs in 2017, but such a haul could put them back on the road to being a Super Bowl contender sooner than later. A mediocre offseason, however, could all but seal the fate of figures who’ve been a key part of past glories.

The time for speculation is almost over after the extended silence in Owings Mills.

Now it’s time to see what the Ravens have up their sleeve to try to get back on track.

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Marshall represents interesting case for Ravens

Posted on 03 March 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens-related noise began as soon as word leaked out Thursday night that the New York Jets were releasing wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

An accomplished veteran with size and physicality, the six-time Pro Bowl selection has long fit the mold of the receiver the Ravens seek this offseason, but it’s more complicated than that. The 12th-year wideout is an interesting case study for an organization desperate to get better after missing the playoffs in three of the last four years.

Of course, the conversation needs to begin — and could promptly end — with Marshall’s history of domestic violence, an issue the Ravens have deliberately spoken out against since their mishandling of the Ray Rice saga in 2014. Owner Steve Bisciotti has made it clear that his team will avoid players with this type of history, and it’s an admirable position despite the roster needing as much talent as it can find these days.

There should be no dismissing Marshall’s disturbing past, but he has worked to rehabilitate his image with no reported legal problems since 2012. Revealing in 2011 that he suffers from borderline personality disorder, Marshall has been an outspoken advocate for mental illness awareness, an issue that’s been neglected in our society for too long.

But no writer is likely to sway your stance on Marshall the person or any other individual with such a history. Ultimately, Bisciotti and the Ravens will make the call, knowing they’ll be criticized by many if they sign him or bashed by others if they choose to pass on him and seemingly ignore the strides that he’s made off the field over the last five years.

If the Ravens do decide they’re comfortable with the person Marshall is in 2017, then what?

An obvious victim of the Jets’ disastrous quarterback situation in 2016, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound wideout caught only 59 passes for 788 yards and three touchdowns after making 109 catches for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns in his debut season with New York. Few would dispute that Marshall has more left in the tank, but how much more and at what price?

The Ravens’ history with Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith makes it seem like a foregone conclusion that Marshall — who will turn 33 later this month — would be the latest success story of a receiver coming to Baltimore and thriving in the November of his career, but there’s no guarantee of that occurring. For every Smith or Mason who thrived well into his mid-30s — keep in mind that the Ravens acquired Boldin when he was only 29 and jettisoned him when he was 32 — there are other accomplished receivers who saw their production fall off a cliff much sooner.

Possessing a similar skill set and size to Marshall, former Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson caught 109 passes for 1,407 yards as a 32-year-old in 2013 and then saw his production dip to 85 receptions for 936 yards a year later. Citing the uncertainty at quarterback for the Texans and the emergence of the younger DeAndre Hopkins as the primary reasons for his 2014 decline, AFC South rival Indianapolis signed Johnson to a three-year, $21 million deal and cut him after just one 503-yard season.

The incomparable Randy Moss went from a 1,264-yard receiving season as a 32-year-old in 2009 to being a player who was all but finished a year later.

Even with some of the all-time greats, it’s a slippery slope when a receiver gets to this age.

The Ravens should proceed with caution, especially in a receiver market with only so many attractive options and plenty of teams flush with cash. Marshall still averaged 13.4 yards per catch in 2016 — slightly less than his 13.8 mark the previous year — but that kind of overall drop-off in production from a player his age shouldn’t be completely overlooked, either.

Marshall the player appears to be a good fit for any team that’s only one accomplished receiver away from serious contention in 2017, but are the Ravens in that kind of position with so many needs on both sides of the ball and limited resources? Can they reasonably expect Marshall to age as well as Smith did when Baltimore could be better positioned to compete for a Super Bowl in 2018? Would a younger veteran such as the 30-year-old Pierre Garcon be a better investment for the next few years?

It’s not an easy answer.

As much as the focus has been on whether the Ravens should go after Marshall, it might be more relevant to ask if they would be one of his top choices. Baltimore certainly remains an attractive destination, but is it still so appealing to prompt Marshall to forgo a potential bidding war in the way Smith did three years ago?

We know all of this is moot if Bisciotti and the Ravens decide not to look beyond Marshall’s past with domestic violence and other off-field transgressions. But if they determine he can be the right player, general manager Ozzie Newsome better be sure he’s paying the right price as they’re currently pondering the future of several veterans being paid more for their past accomplishments than their current value.

Marshall very well could be the right fit, but it’s a continuation down the path of relying on players well past the age of 30, something for which the organization has been criticized.

It worked with Mason, Boldin, and Smith, but history isn’t guaranteed to repeat itself if they choose to sign another accomplished receiver past his prime.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2017 class of free agents

Posted on 02 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Free agency will begin at 4 p.m. next Thursday, so it’s time to predict who stays and who leaves among the Ravens’ 11 unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents, and seven exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2017 salary cap will increase to a record-high $167 million, and the Ravens reportedly have just under $14 million in cap space before signing any of their restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players. Needless to say, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office still have work to do to clear room over the next several days, but no cap-saving cuts had been made as of Thursday afternoon.

The free-agent signing period officially begins on March 9, but the NFL permits teams to negotiate — without finalizing contracts — with the certified agents of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at noon on Tuesday. This means rumors and even reported agreements will begin surfacing well before the start of the official signing period.

It’s time to go on the record predicting which Baltimore free agents will stay and which ones will leave in the coming weeks. To see how I did last year, check out the 2016 free-agent forecast HERE.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any team beginning on March 9 at 4 p.m.

WR Kamar Aiken: LEAVES
Skinny: There probably would be more talk about the Ravens re-signing their leading receiver from 2015, but Aiken was unhappy with his role last year and has made clear his desire to hit the market.

G Vlad Ducasse: LEAVES
Skinny: The 29-year-old started the final eight games at right guard, but the Ravens need to go younger and cheaper for depth along the offensive line.

S Matt Elam: LEAVES
Skinny: Any small chance of a future with the Ravens vanished when Elam was arrested in Miami last Sunday, closing the book on the worst first-round pick in team history.

DE Lawrence Guy: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens have Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for the 5-technique spot, but neither is proven, making Guy’s return a real possibility if the market is cool for this underrated contributor.

FB Kyle Juszczyk: STAYS
Skinny: Fullbacks are making a bit of a comeback in terms of usage, but the Ravens still figure to value the 2016 Pro Bowl selection more than other potential suitors.

DB Anthony Levine: STAYS
Skinny: He brings limited value as a reserve in the secondary, but Levine has been one of the Ravens’ top special-teams contributors over the last four years and should be of minimal cost.

CB Chris Lewis-Harris: LEAVES
Skinny: Despite injuries and inconsistency plaguing the secondary down the stretch, Lewis-Harris saw just 16 defensive snaps and doesn’t appear to be a good bet to be re-signed.

QB Ryan Mallett: LEAVES
Skinny: After a little more than a year in Baltimore, Mallett has done a nice job rebuilding his professional reputation and will likely seek an opportunity elsewhere to compete for a starting job.

CB Jerraud Powers: LEAVES
Skinny: The slot corner had some good performances early in the 2016 season, but he struggled down the stretch and Tavon Young is the optimal fit as the inside guy in the nickel package.

OT Rick Wagner: LEAVES
Skinny: The Ravens would love to keep this above-average starter, but the shortage of quality offensive tackles in free agency and the draft will make his price too high for a team with so many other needs.

DT Brandon Williams: LEAVES
Skinny: Losing Williams would be a serious blow, but giving him a blank check at a spot where there’s depth and where the Ravens have consistently found talent feels unwise with the roster’s other flaws.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer the first-round tender (estimated at $3.91 million, per OverTheCap.com), the second-round tender (estimated $2.746 million), or the low tender ($1.797 million) to any of the following players, which gives them the right to match any offer sheet from another team or to receive that team’s draft choice matching 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 only provides the Ravens the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation should they decide not to match.

In lieu of the more expensive tender amounts, the Ravens have often offered cheaper one- or two-year contracts to role players in this category, but they risk exposing them to other potential suitors in free agency with this method.

WR Michael Campanaro: STAYS (low tender)
Skinny: Everyone sees what kind of ability the River Hill grad has, but it’s difficult to plan on him being a meaningful contributor with his history of injuries.

S Marqueston Huff: STAYS (cheaper one-year deal)
Skinny: Huff is a former fourth-round pick and carries enough intrigue to bring back to compete at a position that could be light if both Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis become cap casualties.

OL James Hurst: STAYS (cheaper one-year deal)
Skinny: The idea of keeping the maligned Hurst may not sit well with fans, but the Ravens will likely want to keep him around at least for depth in the spring and summer, especially if Wagner departs.

OL Ryan Jensen: STAYS (low tender)
Skinny: The former sixth-round pick has the toughness you like in a lineman, but he appeared to fall out of favor in the second half of last season, making what the Ravens decide to do here interesting.

CB Jumal Rolle: LEAVES
Skinny: It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Ravens bring him back for a look at some point, but the young cornerback must first prove he’s fully healthy after tearing his Achilles tendon last spring.

RB Terrance West: STAYS (low tender)
Skinny: Even if Kenneth Dixon has more upside, West established himself as a legitimate NFL running back last year and no team will be willing to part with a third-round pick in order to sign him.

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have two or fewer accrued seasons in the league and own no negotiating rights. In order for the Ravens to retain the rights to these players, they must tender contracts at the league minimum based on the player’s service time in the NFL. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights players since these contracts are cheap and not guaranteed for the 2017 season.

LB Brennen Beyer: STAYS
Skinny: Baltimore rewarded the former rookie free agent from Michigan with a roster spot late last season, but he will need to compete for a job on the 53-man roster this year.

LB Lamar Louis: STAYS
Skinny: Signed late last season, the LSU product will compete for a roster spot and a role on special-teams this spring and summer.

WR Chris Matthews: STAYS
Skinny: The 6-foot-5 target was a forgotten man after spending all of last season on injured reserve, but it’s no secret that the wide receiver position is lacking depth at this point.

LB Patrick Onwuasor: STAYS
Skinny: Listed at just 217 pounds, Onwuasor doesn’t look like a strong candidate to become a starting inside linebacker, but he led the Ravens in special-teams tackles as a rookie, making him one to watch.

CB Sheldon Price: STAYS
Skinny: The 6-foot-2 defensive back was on the cusp of getting a real opportunity to play in the secondary before getting hurt early in his first NFL start in early October.

WR Keenan Reynolds: STAYS
Skinny: The former Navy quarterback was promoted to the 53-man roster in Week 17, but this is a huge offseason for him to make meaningful strides as a receiver and return specialist.

OT De’Ondre Wesley: STAYS
Skinny: After spending all of last year on IR and appearing in seven games as a rookie in 2015, the 6-foot-6, 326-pound lineman is a name to monitor if Wagner does leave via free agency.

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Harbaugh planning to have Wallace back with Ravens

Posted on 01 March 2017 by Luke Jones

Of the many names considered to be potential salary-cap casualties this offseason, wide receiver Mike Wallace has largely been viewed as the veteran the Ravens most need to retain.

With Steve Smith now retired and Kamar Aiken likely to depart via free agency, Baltimore has little experience behind Wallace on its current wide receiver depth chart. And while his $8 million cap figure for 2017 isn’t exactly cheap, an organization that’s frequently struggled at the receiver position shouldn’t be quick to part ways with a 1,000-yard receiver who will only turn 31 in August.

Speaking to reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday, head coach John Harbaugh didn’t confirm that the Ravens would be picking up their 2017 option on the speedy veteran, but he made it clear what his preference is.

“Mike Wallace was a big, integral part of our team last year,” Harbaugh said. “Mike Wallace is a topflight competitor. Mike Wallace is a guy that has a chip on his shoulder. That’s what you love about him. The guy wants to compete, he wants to be great, and he works that way, so I want Mike Wallace on our football team.

“Circumstances, contracts, salary cap — all that — are another conversation that you have about every single guy, but my anticipation is that Mike Wallace will be a part of our team. I know he’s working to be a part of our team, and I’m planning to have him back next year.”

Wallace caught 72 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns, but his production faded in the second half of the season as he recorded just 24 catches for 282 yards over the final six games. The six-foot receiver did not record a 100-yard game or catch a touchdown over the last eight contests as quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing attack struggled to push the ball down the field.

The Ravens must exercise their $4.75 million option for Wallace by the end of the league year next week or he would become a free agent. Should they use that option, Wallace would then be owed a $1 million option bonus a few days later.

It remains unclear whether general manager Ozzie Newsome intends to use the option or is attempting to work out a contract extension that would presumably lower Wallace’s cap figure and keep him beyond 2017. As for the other candidates to be cap casualties, Harbaugh wasn’t giving anything away despite the start of free agency being just over a week away.

“We’re bringing everybody back until we’re not,” Harbaugh said. “I think circumstances dictate that, so every one of those guys is in a little bit of a different position and different story.”

NOTES: Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens would not be applying the franchise tag to nose tackle Brandon Williams or any of their other pending free agents. However, the organization remains in talks to re-sign him as well as right tackle Rick Wagner and Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk. … The Ravens have had discussions about re-signing backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, but they could also look to the draft to fill that need, according to Harbaugh. … Despite missing the postseason for the third time in four years and entering the offseason with a plethora of needs, Harbaugh expressed confidence that the Ravens will be back to playing at a high level in 2017. “I know we can be a great football team. There’s no doubt in my mind we will contend for a championship next year.”

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Ravens receive compensatory pick in third round of 2017 draft

Posted on 24 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens officially learned Friday that they will receive a third-round compensatory pick in the 2017 draft in April.

This marks the first time since 2010 that Baltimore will not have multiple compensatory picks in the draft. The maximum number of compensatory picks allotted to a team in a single draft is four.

Trying to revamp a roster that missed the postseason for the third time in four years, general manager Ozzie Newsome will have a total of eight selections — his standard choice in each round as well as the third-round compensatory pick at 99th overall — in this year’s draft. It’s worth noting that compensatory picks are permitted to be traded beginning this year.

The Ravens lost guard Kelechi Osemele, quarterback Matt Schaub, and linebacker Courtney Upshaw as unrestricted free agents and signed unrestricted free agents Benjamin Watson and Eric Weddle last offseason, a net loss of one free agent that put them in line for the single compensatory pick. Osemele signed a five-year, $58 million contract with the Oakland Raiders, which fetched the Ravens the third-highest overall compensatory pick in this year’s draft and their earliest one since 2014.

Determinations for compensatory picks are based on a formula considering the salary, playing time, and postseason honors earned by unrestricted free agents who left their teams the previous offseason.

Since the compensatory pick program started in 1994, the Ravens have led the NFL in receiving 48 compensatory choices as the organization has often resisted signing unrestricted free agents over the years while losing many of their own. Green Bay is second with 38 compensatory picks over that same period of time.

Compensatory choices have been used on the likes of Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk and starting right tackle Rick Wagner in recent years. Baltimore selected defensive tackle Willie Henry (fourth round), running back Kenneth Dixon (fourth round), and cornerback Maurice Canady (sixth round) with three compensatory choices last year.

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)
2015: CB Tray Walker (fourth), TE Nick Boyle (fifth), G Robert Myers (fifth)
2016:
DT Willie Henry (fourth), RB Kenneth Dixon (fourth), CB Maurice Canady (sixth)

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Ravens shouldn’t fret about making substantial changes

Posted on 22 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency just two weeks away, we all know which Ravens players stand out as potential salary-cap casualties by now.

A few are easy calls while others have accomplished plenty in their NFL careers and are fan favorites. Most are over the age of 30, which is when you need to ask whether you’re paying too much for what a player used to be rather than what he is today.

After missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years and lacking difference-making talent atop the roster, what is the realistic goal for 2017? Is the Ravens brass aiming to improve just enough to sneak into the playoffs to avoid being fired — a perceived ultimatum that exists at least in the minds of many outsiders — or is the organization focused on building its next championship team? Of course, incremental improvement and eyeing the long term aren’t mutually exclusive, but these two ideas may offer different viewpoints of the following veterans with questionable cap figures for 2017.

2017 cap figure Pre-June 1 cut savings 2017 dead money
CB Kyle Arrington $2.767M $2.1M $667K
LB Elvis Dumervil $8.375M $6M $2.375M
S Kendrick Lewis $2.267M $1.8M $467K
TE Dennis Pitta $7.7M $3.3M $4.4M
WR Mike Wallace $8M $5.75M $2.25M
TE Benjamin Watson $4M $3M $1M
S Lardarius Webb $7.5M $5.5M $2M
CB Shareece Wright $5.33M $2.667M $2.667M
C Jeremy Zuttah $4.607M $2.393M $2.214M

How many of these potential cap casualties can you envision being as good as or better than they were in 2016? Which of these talents are instrumental to the next championship-caliber team?

With the retirement of Steve Smith and the lack of other established talent at wide receiver on the current roster, cutting Wallace would be a tough pill to swallow without knowing what’s to come in free agency and the draft and also acknowledging the organization’s poor track record at the position. The rest of the players on the list have different degrees of remaining value, but it’d be difficult to say any would be terribly difficult to replace when factoring in either the cost to retain them or the depth at their positions — or even both.

It’s no secret how dependent the Ravens have been on older players the last couple seasons, which is fine when on the cusp of a championship like they were five years ago. But continuing down the same road with a group that’s proven to not be good enough seems counterintuitive when you’re in need of game-changing talent and more cap space. Some of the best teams in franchise history had obvious flaws and positions of weakness, but they had enough playmakers capable of masking them.

Cleaning house doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome should be hellbent on spending lucrative money on free agents just for the sake of doing it. But if cutting Webb and Pitta means the Ravens can have a healthier cap to go sign an established talent like Pierre Garcon, I’ll take my chances leaning on more youth at those other positions. The same even goes for the tipping point in trying to re-sign a free agent such as Brandon Williams, who is a very good player but plays a position at which the Ravens have consistently found talent over the years.

This roster has many needs and very few free agents or potential cap cuts who are indispensable. The known is more comfortable than the unknown, but the Ravens can’t afford to be in love with their own ingredients when the recipe just hasn’t added up in recent years.

To be clear, adding dynamic playmakers to the roster is easier said than done, no matter how much pundits have hammered the Ravens about it over the last few years. It often involves luck as much as anything else, evident by the fact that Baltimore had two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — fall late into the first round in the franchise’s first seven drafts. The Ravens are certainly aiming to find a few playmakers in this April’s draft, but they will still hope that a Kenneth Dixon takes a giant leap like Ray Rice did in his second year or that a Breshad Perriman finally takes off in his third season.

Still, the idea shouldn’t be to spend to the cap on an OK collection of veterans in the meantime. Focusing on more of a youth movement might result in some early 2017 pains, but it can yield more meaningful future gains than retaining veterans with steep price tags and rapidly-approaching expiration dates.

You either have something special or you need to be building something special.

The Ravens have been stuck in between for too long now.

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Five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017

Posted on 13 February 2017 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens are facing one of their most critical offseasons in franchise history.

Most focus in the coming weeks will be on the quest to find the next Steve Smith or Terrell Suggs via the draft, free agency, or trade, but a team with as many needs as the Ravens must see real improvement from within. It’s not realistic to expect general manager Ozzie Newsome to be able to address every positional concern by external channels, and the lack of contributions from several early draft picks in recent years is a big reason why the Ravens have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. When you’re also picking in the middle of each round in the draft and don’t have a lucrative amount of salary-cap space, young players already on your roster must be ready to take a meaningful step forward.

Below is a look at five young players the Ravens need more from in 2017 in order to make it back to the postseason:

1. LB Matt Judon

The edge rusher topping the list is a product of need more than a reflection of his 2016 performance as Judon collected four sacks and played as well as you could expect from a fifth-round rookie hailing from a Division II program. With Suggs turning 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil potentially being a cap casualty, the Ravens view Judon as their best internal option to boost a pass rush that lacked punch. At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, he possesses the ideal frame to go along with a great deal of confidence to eventually step into a starting role. The Ravens should seek a real addition in this department, but improvement from Judon would go a long way in helping make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

2. WR Breshad Perriman

The 2015 first-round pick would move to the top of the list if the Ravens were to cut speedy veteran Mike Wallace for cap purposes, but it’s difficult to project Perriman being anything more than a No. 2 option without dramatic improvement in his third season. Injuries have stunted his development, but he hasn’t shown the route-running ability or hands to make you believe he can be a No. 1 guy, making this a big offseason for him. Of course, this doesn’t mean he can’t become a productive vertical threat along the lines of former Raven Torrey Smith, but expecting more than that feels too ambitious at this point.

3. LB Kamalei Correa

The debate continues whether Correa is better suited to play inside or outside linebacker, but the fact that he saw only 48 defensive snaps as a rookie is eerily familiar to failed 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown. Whether it’s replacing the retired Zach Orr inside or working as an edge defender, Correa should find ample opportunities in 2017 if he’s able to play at this level. After spending minimal time with him during the pre-draft process, the Ravens probably weren’t thrilled to run into some coachability issues with Correa, but he wouldn’t be the first to initially struggle with the maturity learning curve of the NFL.

4. LB Za’Darius Smith

Appearing on this list two years in a row is never a good sign for a player’s development, but Smith was unable to establish himself as an every-down edge defender despite receiving extensive playing time in the absence of Dumervil over the first three months of the season. The 2015 fourth-round pick managed only one sack in 494 defensive snaps and struggled to set the edge as a run defender, which led to him being a healthy scratch in three of the final six games of 2016. There’s still hope that Smith can become an effective defensive player, but regression from his rookie season was hardly an encouraging sign.

5. G Alex Lewis

Like Judon, Lewis’ inclusion on this list is a product of circumstance more than his performance as he played respectably as a rookie shifting between left guard and left tackle. The 2016 fourth-round pick fared much better at left guard, and the Ravens would love to see him become their third-best offensive lineman behind perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley. With right tackle Rick Wagner a free agent and the Ravens ideally seeking an upgrade from Jeremy Zuttah at center, Lewis needs to make left guard a spot at which the organization need not worry.

Honorable mentions: RB Kenneth Dixon, DE Bronson Kaufusi, DT Carl Davis, DT Willie Henry

Dixon possesses more upside than any other back on the roster, but the presence of the effective Terrance West and the bigger need to improve the offensive line — and overall commitment to the running game — keep him out of the top five after a solid rookie campaign. The status of free-agent defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Lawrence Guy will factor heavily into how much need the Ravens will have for the development of these three defensive linemen, but they’d still like to get some real bang for their buck with talents selected in the third and fourth rounds of the draft.

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