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wallace

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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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osemele

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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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pitta

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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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judon

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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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bwilliams

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Ravens face tough decision with Brandon Williams

Posted on 08 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens want Brandon Williams back, and the nose tackle would prefer to stay in Baltimore.

If only it were that simple.

Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta made it clear at the Senior Bowl last month that re-signing Williams is “a really important part of the puzzle” for the Ravens’ offseason. The fifth-year defensive lineman knows his worth — DeCosta offered him a reminder of that — but he says he won’t automatically go to the highest bidder in free agency, either.

“When you’re in Baltimore, you know what you’re getting,” Williams told WNST.net in Houston last week. “You know who you’re getting, you know who you’re dealing with, you know who your teammates are, you know who your coaches are. Going to a new team, new scheme, new plays, new playbooks, not knowing really what to expect over here. If it’s close enough to where I have to make that decision — where it comes down to that decision — I’m staying in Baltimore.

“I like Baltimore, my family is in Baltimore, my son is going to school [there], and stuff like that. I would pick that — if it’s close. If that’s the factor that makes or breaks the decision, then I’ll stay in Baltimore if it’s close.”

But where is the tipping point for each side?

Considered one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, Williams will presumably attempt to use the five-year, $46.25 million deal — $24 million of it guaranteed — the New York Giants awarded Damon Harrison last offseason as a baseline, especially with the salary cap expected to rise again in 2017. Turning 28 later this month, Williams is unlikely to have another chance for a lucrative payday and is only a month away from having other teams vying for his services. The 2013 third-round pick didn’t imply last week that contract talks with the Ravens were ongoing, but that could certainly change at any moment.

On the flip side, how should the Ravens value Williams, who has not only been strong on the field but has been a high-character guy in the locker room and active in the community?

The beefy nose tackle is a very good player and has been a linchpin of the run defense, but the Ravens have also gone 13-19 over the last two seasons and must address a plethora of needs this winter. Giving Williams north of a $50 million contract would undoubtedly hinder the ability to improve other areas of the roster that haven’t been good enough.

If the Ravens were to lose Williams, would adding another defensive tackle even become their top priority when young options such as Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry are waiting in the wings? It’s not ideal to weaken one of the roster’s biggest strengths, but Baltimore has shown a consistent ability to find talent on the defensive line through a variety of channels over the years with the undrafted Pierce being the latest example last season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t invested big money in a defensive tackle since 2011 when he signed Haloti Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract, but he was a better all-around player on a championship-caliber roster at the time. Losing Williams would definitely hurt, but exhausting too many resources to keep him could hurt a roster in need of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

When mired in mediocrity for the better part of four years, you can’t be afraid to be bold, which sometimes means taking a hit in the short term. If letting go of the talented nose tackle means the Ravens can bring in a high-impact wide receiver or cornerback, it’s worth it in the long run.

Williams is deserving of a big payday, but the Ravens doing whatever it takes to keep him isn’t going to magically get them over the hump in 2017. You can’t afford to be in love with your own players when your roster is in need of more than just subtle tweaks and there’s only so much salary-cap space to go around.

That’s why a deal may not make sense for either side in the end.

Even when they both want it.

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ravensbrass

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Continuity still rules at top of organization for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Luke Jones

As open positions go, the Indianapolis general manager job figured to present some appeal to Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

Baltimore’s bitter feelings aside, the Colts have built a nice tradition of winning over the last two decades with much of the credit going to the arrival of Peyton Manning in 1998. Indianapolis currently has a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career in Andrew Luck, something most teams with a GM opening can’t proclaim.

DeCosta obviously knows head coach Chuck Pagano, who served as a defensive assistant for the Ravens for four years.

Colts owner Jim Irsay hardly has a spotless reputation, but Bill Polian ran his football team for 14 years before the recently-fired Ryan Grigson was in charge over the last five seasons. He’s far from perfect, but there are worse — and less patient — owners for which to work.

Still, DeCosta didn’t surface among the candidates the Colts announced they’d interview despite a report earlier this week about their wish to talk to him about the job. He’s once again staying put.

Perhaps it’s a sign that the Ravens brass doesn’t perceive things to be as dire and broken as some critics do. Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in early January that “the pitchforks are out” for head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, but the Ravens owner also spent plenty of time expressing confidence in his guys and never gave the impression that 2017 was a nonnegotiable “playoffs-or-bust” scenario.

“You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can’t get along and things like that, and we just don’t have that,” Bisciotti said. “I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that’s carrying a burden. They’re all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve. To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership.”

Bisciotti is a man of conviction and won’t fire people simply because the outside world is calling for it. It’s become obvious that DeCosta has a similar will after passing on plenty of chances to run other football teams over the last several years.

If DeCosta sensed the boss was on the verge of blowing things up next offseason, you’d think he would have at least wanted to explore the possibility with the Colts.

We’ll see if valuing continuity pays off for both Bisciotti and DeCosta over the next few years.

“I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and Eric can draft better. I think Joe [Flacco] can play better,” Biscotti said earlier this month. “If all of them do it — and I think they’re capable and determined to be better — then I think next year we’re sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that. If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence.”

Birds of a feather

I wouldn’t expect many fans to be pulling for New England in Super Bowl LI anyway, but there are several former Ravens with the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

The list is headlined by 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who has converted from outside linebacker to the defensive line for the Falcons. Guard Chris Chester was a reliable member of the Ravens’ offensive line for the first five years of his career and started 16 games for Atlanta in his 11th season.

Of course, Matt Schaub served as the Baltimore backup in 2015 and became the first Ravens quarterback not named Flacco to start a game since Troy Smith at the end of the 2007 season. Cornerback Deji Olatoye and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had brief stints with the Ravens.

Falcons tight ends coach Wade Harman spent 15 years with the Ravens and was part of the coaching staffs that won Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

If that’s not enough, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is a Salisbury graduate, adding another local flavor to the mix.

Give Tucker a chance

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit a 75-yard field goal during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl practice.

There was no defensive line for Tucker to kick over and the ball was on a tee, but I’d still like to see AFC head coach Andy Reid give him a chance to try one from 65 yards or longer at some point during Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It’s a meaningless game, so why not?

No love for Juszczyk

It’s bad enough that Kyle Juszczyk’s last name was misspelled on his Pro Bowl practice shirt on Wednesday, but then the fullback was left out of the dodgeball tournament, something in which he wanted to take part.

I guess fullbacks still aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

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DeCosta not among announced interviewees for Indianapolis job

Posted on 25 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Another year and the same apparent outcome involving Eric DeCosta.

After a Sports Illustrated report said Tuesday that Indianapolis was seeking permission to interview the Ravens assistant general manager, DeCosta is not among the six candidates the Colts formally announced they’d be interviewing for their general manager position. Currently at the Senior Bowl, DeCosta hadn’t commented on the initial report as of early Wednesday afternoon.

The 45-year-old has long been considered the successor to general manager Ozzie Newsome and has been with the organization for over 20 years despite countless interview requests for other general manager openings in recent offseasons. It’s believed that owner Steve Bisciotti pays DeCosta as well as some other top executives around the league.

Bisciotti has often boasted publicly that he has two general managers as DeCosta has taken on more responsibilities over the years. The 60-year-old Newsome has given no indication that he is nearing retirement when asked periodically in recent years, insisting how much he still enjoys the job.

“He has too much at stake here in his relationship with Ozzie, and Ozzie’s relationship with him is just strong,” said Bisciotti about DeCosta last January. “I commend him for his patience, because I know there are other guys that are GMs after they chose [to leave]. Because Eric wasn’t interested in the last five, six years — and he probably could’ve had 10 different jobs. But I will say that seven of those 10 [general managers] have been relieved of their duties already. I think that’s where Eric would say [he has] his patience.

“Because we promote continuity, Eric can afford to be patient.”

Unlike other opportunities that may have lacked appeal, the Colts already have a franchise quarterback in place, making it a more attractive job than the typical GM opening. Of course, DeCosta is also familiar with Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano, who worked in Baltimore from 2008-2011.

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ozzie

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Critical Ravens offseason even more unsettling after Orr retirement

Posted on 24 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We already knew the Ravens were facing a critical offseason.

Having missed the playoffs in three of the last four years and sporting an underwhelming 31-33 record since winning Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore knows it has work to do to reclaim its place as an annual contender in the AFC. Sure, you could try to argue that the Ravens are “close” since they were a tackle away from topping Pittsburgh in Week 16 to take the AFC North lead, but an 8-8 record with such a veteran-dependent roster doesn’t exactly scream that they’re moving in the right direction. It also means that they’re picking in the middle of each round of the 2017 draft, making it more difficult to land the kind of elite game-changing talent they desperately need.

And then the news broke last Friday that 24-year-old inside linebacker Zach Orr was retiring due to a rare congenital spine condition.

The former undrafted free agent wasn’t going to be the next Ray Lewis, but Orr was one of the few second- and third-year Ravens to take a major step forward, establishing himself as a quality talent in his first year as a starter. While general manager Ozzie Newsome has recently counted on many veterans to fight off Father Time to maintain a high level of play, Orr had the potential to get even better, the kind of upside the Ravens need more of to climb out of their rut of mediocrity.

The young linebacker’s unexpected retirement only makes the offseason to-do list longer.

Their 2016 starters at nose tackle, 5-technique defensive end, right tackle, and fullback are unrestricted free agents. The Ravens need to add starting-caliber options at wide receiver, cornerback, and edge pass rusher. They would like to upgrade at center and may need a starting safety if Lardarius Webb ends up being among their salary-cap casualties.

And inside linebacker has now been added to the list of concerns after that position was regarded as one of the most stable. Perhaps they will find an internal option to take Orr’s place, but the Ravens aren’t in a position where they can afford to downgrade their strengths.

With only so much cap space at their disposal, the Ravens won’t be able to address all of the aforementioned needs to the degree they’d like and frankly will need good fortune along the way, whether it’s finding some late-round gems or a diamond-in-the-rough free agent or two.

Losing Orr is the opposite of good luck and is unsettling in a crucial offseason that hasn’t really started yet.

Pro Bowl shuffling

With safety Eric Weddle and center Jeremy Zuttah added to the AFC roster on Monday, the Ravens now claim a total of seven players invited to the Pro Bowl, one shy of the franchise high.

At what point does the madness end with this charade of a game in which many players don’t even want to participate and many fans don’t want to watch?

Even if fans and media were too hard on Zuttah this season, it’d be very tough to argue that his play warranted an invitation to Orlando as an alternate. What about Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian, who reportedly would have been invited to play in the game if not for recent shoulder surgery?

Ask Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert if playing in the game is worth it after an ankle injury suffered in last year’s Pro Bowl cost him half of the 2016 season.

If the NFL wants to preserve whatever prestige that remains for being a Pro Bowl selection, the game needs to be discontinued. Maybe they could instead hold a rousing game of musical chairs, a much better reflection of the roster shuffling.

Keep the honor, but please dump the game.

Second-round suffering

With Orr’s retirement, many have pointed to Kamalei Correa as his potential replacement with the Ravens currently viewing the 2016 second-round pick as more of an inside linebacker than an outside option.

To do that, Correa will need to buck the trend of second-round disappointments after he played just 48 defensive snaps as a rookie. Baltimore’s last four selections in the second round have made a total of 31 starts with defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan making 24 of those.

Jernigan may not blossom into a Pro Bowl player, but he’s at least been a productive starter, a fair standard for a second-round choice. In contrast, inside linebacker Arthur Brown didn’t make it through his rookie contract, tight end Maxx Williams is coming off major knee surgery for a cartilage problem, and Correa couldn’t crack an outside linebacker rotation that had playing time up for grabs in 2016.

This is a big offseason for the Boise State product to prove he’s not the latest second-round disappointment.

Patriots Invitational

Perhaps a healthy Derek Carr would have made the Oakland Raiders an intriguing foe, but it was clear how big the divide was between New England and everyone else after Pittsburgh was demolished in the AFC championship game on Sunday.

Even in past years in which the Patriots ultimately advanced to the Super Bowl, you usually felt there were at least a couple AFC teams who had a real chance to beat them, but that simply wasn’t the case this season.

A league that champions parity had more mediocrity than usual with most of the 12 playoff teams not posing a serious threat to the contenders at the top. Eight of the 10 playoff games being blowouts helped support that notion.

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Ravens linebacker Orr retiring due to neck injury

Posted on 20 January 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After emerging as the Ravens’ leading tackler in his first season as a starter, inside linebacker Zachary Orr is walking away from football due to a congenital spinal condition.

The 24-year-old announced his retirement after only three seasons, leaving a hole in the middle of a Baltimore defense that ranked seventh in total yards and fifth against the run in 2016. Orr suffered a herniated disc in the Christmas Day loss to Pittsburgh and missed the season finale against Cincinnati, but further testing and a CAT scan revealed that the top of his spinal column never fully developed, a condition he was told less than one percent of the world have.

Orr said he was unaware of the condition that doesn’t show up in an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging exam, making it difficult to detect unless someone is having more extensive testing for a neck injury. He would not have been able to pass a physical to continue his career and was running a great risk of catastrophic injury by playing.

“I’ve been playing since I was nine years old,” said Orr, who also underwent shoulder surgery for an injury that was unrelated to the spinal condition. “It’s been a blessing that I’ve been able to play the game so long without any major injury happening. When I first found out the news, it was shocking. I was sad, disappointed, upset because football is something I’ve been doing my whole life.”

An undrafted free agent from North Texas in 2014, Orr initially made the 53-man roster as a special-teams player and earned a role in sub packages late in his second season. His arrival was an important development for the Ravens after 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown failed to pan out as a meaningful contributor.

Following the release of veteran linebacker Daryl Smith last offseason, Orr won the starting job next to C.J. Mosley and became one of the Ravens’ most dependable defensive players, ranking 10th in the NFL with 130 tackles in 2016. He also intercepted three passes and forced a fumble on his way to becoming a second-team All-Pro selection by the Associated Press.

“You guys see him on Sunday flying around. This guy is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It makes the job easy for coaches, for position coaches and for coordinators when you have guys like this that you can do so many things with.

“You can tell him on the sideline to make a little adjustment, and this guy can go right out there and get it done. That’s what makes the difference between great football players and football players. This guy right here is a great football player, and I can’t tell you how much we’re going to miss him.”

Orr was the recipient of the local media’s “Good Guy” award last month for his cooperation with reporters and is in the midst of starting the Orr Family Kids and Youth Foundation, an endeavor to which he now plans to devote more time. He now plans to go home to Texas to spend more time with family, which includes two younger brothers in college with NFL aspirations of their own.

Mosley, safety Eric Weddle, and linebacker Albert McClellan as well as linebackers coach Don Martindale attended the press conference as Orr sat with general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and Pees. Other players used social media to offer their support for a teammate who was popular in the locker room and active in the community.

“I never expected to hear something like that,” said Newsome of Orr’s unfortunate retirement. “Having had the opportunity to sit with a number of players at a press conference like this that have had longer careers, I don’t think there has been any player that has been more inspirational to me over the last three years than Zach.”

Orr’s unexpected departure leaves the Ravens with another need to address after inside linebacker had appeared to be one of their most stable position groups with both starters under age 25. One internal option to replace him could be 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa, who practiced at both inside and outside linebacker as a rookie but saw just 48 defensive snaps in nine games.

Signed to a three-year, $1.533 million contract as a rookie, Orr was scheduled to become a restricted free agent this offseason. He was projected to receive the second-round tender — which was worth $2.553 million last season — and likely would have been in line for a nice free-agent payday next offseason with the Ravens or another team.

“I always take a positive outlook in everything,” said Orr, who is interested in coaching in the future. “It’s something I can’t control what happened. I feel like my best football years on the field were ahead of me. I was excited about that, but when I found out the news and how serious it is, it was something I looked at as a blessing.”

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Reviewing Ravens’ 2016 draft class after one season

Posted on 17 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Even with two of their first three picks being non-factors as rookies, the Ravens couldn’t have been much happier with the early return on their 2016 draft compared to what they’ve seen in recent years.

Owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and head coach John Harbaugh all pointed to the 11-man class as reason for optimism despite Baltimore missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons. And there’s plenty of room for growth, especially with third-round defensive end Bronson Kaufusi missing the entire season with a broken ankle suffered early in training camp.

The success of first-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley was expected, but an unprecedented fourth round that included five selections could be the difference in this being the Ravens’ best draft class in several years. Three of those five players filled meaningful roles as rookies, an impressive feat for Day 3 picks.

“I think we are going to find some really good players there,” Bisciotti said. “I hope one of them turns out to be elite. I hope that we have those kind of guys. I hope Alex Lewis turns out to be as good as Kelechi Osemele was as a second-round pick, and our first indication is that he may be that good, but we will see. I hope he does not disappoint. I hope [Kenneth] Dixon does not disappoint. That is what we are hoping for — that we see that kind of growth.”

Below is a look at each of the Ravens’ 2016 draft picks after one season:

OT Ronnie Stanley
Drafted: First round (sixth overall) from Notre Dame
2016 role: Despite missing four games in October with a foot injury, Stanley started 12 games and was rated as Pro Football Focus’ best pass-blocking tackle over the final eight weeks of the regular season.
Long-term view: Considering Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden wasn’t even asked to play left tackle as a rookie, the Ravens are pleased with Stanley, who is on track to be a potential Pro Bowl pick one day.

LB Kamalei Correa
Drafted: Second round (42nd overall) from Boise State
2016 role: Correa practiced both inside and outside in training camp before seeing just 48 defensive snaps in nine games and eventually being placed on injured reserve in late December.
Long-term view: Baltimore enters the offseason viewing Correa as a limited rusher and as more of an inside backer, making the choice to pass on talents like Noah Spence and Myles Jack more questionable.

DE Bronson Kaufusi
Drafted: Third round (70th overall) from Brigham Young
2016 role: The 6-foot-6, 285-pound lineman missed most of spring workouts with a back injury and suffered a broken ankle early in training camp, which cost him the rest of his rookie season.
Long-term view: Kaufusi needed to add lower-body strength and flexibility, so it’ll be interesting to see how he projects with Lawrence Guy a free agent and Brent Urban entering the final year of a rookie deal.

CB Tavon Young
Drafted: Fourth round (104th overall) from Temple
2016 role: Despite a 5-foot-9, 177-pound frame, Young played admirably as a rookie and started the final 11 games of the season, debunking the notion that he could be no better than a slot corner in the NFL.
Long-term view: The Ravens would be wise to add a corner with better size that would at least allow Young to move inside in the nickel package, but he deserves to be in the mix for a starting role.

WR Chris Moore
Drafted: Fourth round (107th overall) from Cincinnati
2016 role: Despite seeing just 162 offensive snaps and catching only seven passes for 46 yards, Moore was a key special-teams contributor and scored two touchdowns on punt plays.
Long-term view: The 6-foot-1 receiver shows some potential as a complementary vertical threat and will be in the mix as a kick returner, but this will be an important offseason for his development.

OL Alex Lewis
Drafted: Fourth round (130th overall) from Nebraska
2016 role: Splitting time between left guard and left tackle, Lewis made eight starts and was steadily improving before missing six of the final seven games of the season with an ankle injury.
Long-term view: The clear favorite to be the starting left guard in 2017, Lewis has the potential to develop into an above-average starting guard and to be a solid left tackle backup moving forward.

DT Willie Henry
Drafted: Fourth round (132nd overall) from Michigan
2016 role: Henry did not appear in any of the Ravens’ first nine games before he was placed on injured reserve in mid-November.
Long-term view: The free-agent status of nose tackle Brandon Williams will play a big part in determining how many opportunities Henry and 2015 third-rounder Carl Davis will see in the rotation.

RB Kenneth Dixon
Drafted: Fourth round (134th overall) from Louisiana Tech
2016 role: After missing the first four games with a knee injury, Dixon steadily saw his role increase as he averaged 4.3 yards per carry on 88 attempts and had three touchdowns as Terrance West’s backup.
Long-term view: The Ravens have talked about adding another running back with high-end speed, but Dixon showed impressive toughness and is the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

OLB Matt Judon
Drafted: Fifth round (146th overall) from Grand Valley State
2016 role: In 308 defensive snaps, the 6-foot-3, 275-pound edge rusher finished with four sacks and 27 tackles as a member of an outside linebacker rotation missing Elvis Dumervil for much of the year.
Long-term view: Judon flashed promise and leapfrogged Za’Darius Smith, but the Ravens need him to step up substantially with Terrell Suggs a year older and Dumervil a potential salary-cap casualty.

WR Keenan Reynolds
Drafted: Sixth round (182nd overall) from Navy
2016 role: The former quarterback spent the first 16 weeks of the regular season on the practice squad before the Ravens promoted him to the 53-man roster and deactivated him for the season finale.
Long-term view: The 5-foot-10 receiver has a long way to go, but the Ravens didn’t want to risk him signing a reserve-future deal elsewhere, proving they still see potential in the former Midshipmen star.

CB Maurice Canady
Drafted: Sixth round (209th overall) from Virginia
2016 role: Canady saw special-teams action in four games before a hamstring injury landed him on IR in early October.
Long-term view: A 6-foot-1, 193-pound frame makes Canady a developmental candidate as an outside cornerback, but he will be competing for a roster spot in training camp.

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