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Ravens to play two prime-time games as part of 2016 schedule

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Luke Jones

Coming off the first losing season of the John Harbaugh era, the Ravens will be featured in just two prime-time games in 2016, but they will be featured in a Christmas Day game against rival Pittsburgh.

Baltimore opens its 21st season at home against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Sept. 11 and will play six of its first seven games against teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs a year ago. It’s a favorable start to the schedule after the Ravens played five of their first seven games on the road last season — four of them played out west.

The Ravens will host the Cleveland Browns for a Thursday night game on Nov. 10 and will travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots in a Monday night game on Dec. 12. They have not hosted a Monday night game since 2012 and will now have played 10 of their last 11 Monday contests on the road.

Despite having only two prime-time games — their lowest scheduled total since 2006 — the Ravens will take part in one of only two games scheduled for Christmas Day when they travel to Heinz Field to take on the Steelers. This will mark the first time Baltimore has played on Dec. 25 since hosting Minnesota on Christmas night in 2005.

That game will be the first of two AFC North road games to conclude the regular season as the defending division champion Cincinnati Bengals will host the Ravens in Week 17. It will be a very challenging final quarter of the season with road games against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati and the only home game over the span coming against Philadelphia on Dec. 18.

The 2016 schedule certainly provides convenient options for fans to see the Ravens on the road as they play both the NFC East and the AFC East this season.

The bye will fall in Week 8.

The Ravens will play six games against playoff teams from last season: Pittsburgh (twice), Cincinnati (twice), New England, and Washington. Baltimore has eight games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2015: Cleveland (twice), Miami, Oakland, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, the New York Giants, and Dallas.

For now, 13 of the Ravens’ 16 regular-season games are scheduled for 1 p.m. starts, but many of those games are subject to flexible scheduling (see below).

2016 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 11 vs. Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Fresh off an invitation to the Pro Bowl, former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor returning to Baltimore should make for an interesting opening week.

Sunday, Sept. 18 at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: They’re still the Browns, but the Ravens needed a blocked field goal return for a touchdown last year to avoid being swept by Cleveland for the first time since 2007.

Sunday, Sept. 25 at Jacksonville Jaguars — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: It’s hard to believe this was one of the more compelling rivalries of the Ravens’ early years, but the Jaguars won at M&T Bank Stadium last year and have some promising talent.

Sunday, Oct. 2 vs. Oakland Raiders — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Raiders being on the scheduled used to feel like a homecoming game, but that’s no longer the case with a young and talented roster that now includes ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele.

Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. Washington Redskins — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: The Ravens have lost two games to Washington in their 20-year history and have gone on to win the Super Bowl in each of those seasons, but both of those defeats came on the road.

Sunday, Oct. 16 at New York Giants — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Giants have a new head coach in Ben McAdoo and spent a ton of money on their defense, but time is running short for Eli Manning to win his third Super Bowl.

Sunday, Oct. 23 at New York Jets — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: A trip to MetLife Stadium for a second straight week is an interesting scheduling quirk, but Baltimore has won eight straight games against the Jets.

 Sunday, Oct. 30 — BYE

Sunday, Nov. 6 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Mike Tomlin’s team is the early favorite to win the division, but the Ravens took plenty of satisfaction in sweeping Pittsburgh last year in the midst of a difficult season.

Thursday, Nov. 10 vs. Cleveland Browns — 8:25 p.m. (NFL Network)
Skinny: Former Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson was a good hire by Cleveland, but it remains to be seen whether ownership will give him enough time to succeed there.

Sunday, Nov. 20 at Dallas Cowboys — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Ravens closed Texas Stadium with a victory over the Cowboys in 2008 and will hope for a similar result in their first regular-season trip to the massive AT&T Stadium.

Sunday, Nov. 27 vs. Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Ravens have dropped five straight to Cincinnati, but you can’t help but feel last year was the Bengals’ best chance to finally win their first playoff game in 25 years.

Sunday, Dec. 4 vs. Miami Dolphins — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: After traveling to Miami in each of the last three seasons, the Ravens will welcome the warm-weather Dolphins and new head coach Adam Gase to Baltimore in early December.

Monday, Dec. 12 at New England Patriots — 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Skinny: It was strange not seeing these teams meet last year after running into each other in the regular season or playoffs in the six previous seasons.

Sunday, Dec. 18 Philadelphia Eagles — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: The only tie in Ravens history came against the Eagles in a 10-10 final in 1997 that had fans from both cities arguing which team was worse as they exited Memorial Stadium.

Sunday, Dec. 25 at Pittsburgh Steelers — 4:30 p.m. (NFL Network)
Skinny: These teams aren’t scheduled to play a prime-time game for the first time since the 2006 season, but a rare meeting on Christmas Day still qualifies as a high-profile showdown.

Sunday, Jan. 1 at Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Is there an NFL bylaw requiring the Ravens to close the regular season at Paul Brown Stadium as they will now have done in five of the last six years?

Notes: In a move that was initiated two years ago, flexible scheduling can now be applied in Weeks 5 through 9. During that period, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by moving a Sunday afternoon game into prime time and moving the Sunday night game to the afternoon.

Another recently-implemented wrinkle will be a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring some games to wider audiences.

Flexible scheduling will still be used in Weeks 10 through 15 and Week 17 — Week 16 is locked in due to the Christmas holiday — as it has been in past years. In Weeks 10-15, the master schedule lists games tentatively set for Sunday Night Football on NBC. Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the originally-scheduled Sunday night game would be moved to an afternoon time.

Flexible scheduling cannot be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday, or Monday nights.

A scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Jan. 1.

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

Posted on 14 April 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens “excited to help” Pitta with comeback attempt

Posted on 13 April 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Ravens thoughts counting down to draft

Posted on 13 April 2016 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pitta reportedly aiming to return to field in 2016

Posted on 12 April 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 11:55 a.m.)

Dennis Pitta still isn’t ready to give up on his football career.

Having played in just seven games since Super Bowl XLVII due to two devastating injuries to his right hip, the Ravens tight end has decided to attempt a comeback for the 2016 season, according to FOX Sports. The organization begins its offseason workout program in Owings Mills next week.

Pitta, 30, returned to the practice field last October after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list, but he and the Ravens decided it would be unsafe for him to be activated at the conclusion of a 21-day practice window. The 2010 fourth-round pick hasn’t played since suffering a second dislocation and fracture to to his right hip on Sept. 21, 2014, almost 14 months after the first injury took place.

“It didn’t quite respond the way we had hoped,” said Pitta last November after deciding against being activated. “Sitting down with doctors over the last couple of days, we decided that it was certainly too much of a risk at this time and too unsafe to take the field. That was a decision that we made collectively.

“At the end of the day, we can’t ignore what sound medical science has to say.”

In addition to team officials and doctors needing to feel comfortable enough to clear him for a return in 2016, Pitta was scheduled to make a $5 million base salary, but he has agreed to take a pay cut with incentives to earn some of the money back, according to multiple reports. That figure needed to be adjusted to protect the Ravens from being on the hook for such a large salary if he were to injure his hip a third time. His $4 million base salary in 2015 was fully guaranteed, which made it an easy call to allow Pitta to explore a possible return last season.

Pitta signed a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed in 2014, but he has played in just three games since then.

The Ravens further augmented the tight end position last month by signing veteran Benjamin Watson and have selected three tight ends — Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, and Nick Boyle — in their last two drafts, clear indications that they haven’t counted on Pitta to continue his football career. Releasing the veteran after June 1 would clear $5 million in cap space and leave $4.4 million in dead money on the 2017 salary cap.

“I feel good physically, and I feel like I could go out and run and all that,” Pitta said in early January. “It’ll be about weighing the risks versus the rewards at this point. We’ll do some thinking over the next few months in the offseason, get with the doctors again and go from there.”

In 50 career games, the Brigham Young product has caught 138 passes for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end made three touchdown receptions in the 2012 postseason run that ended with a win in Super Bowl XLVII.

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Ravens release 2016 preseason schedule

Posted on 07 April 2016 by Luke Jones

With the regular-season schedule set to be announced later this month, the Ravens unveiled their 2016 preseason schedule, which begins at home against the reigning NFC champion Carolina Panthers on Aug. 11.

Baltimore will also host the Detroit Lions and take preseason road trips to Indianapolis and New Orleans. This will mark the first preseason meeting between the Ravens and the Colts.

As expected, the Ravens’ typical preseason meetings with Philadelphia and Washington will not take place since Baltimore will play the NFC East in the 2016 regular season.

Season-ticket holders frustrated over preseason prices can again take some satisfaction in knowing that the Ravens’ final preseason game — which rarely includes any starters — will be played on the road for the eighth straight year when the Ravens travel to New Orleans on Sept. 1. The Saints came to Baltimore for the preseason opener last year.

The Ravens are 47-32 all time in preseason play and are 20-12 in the John Harbaugh era.

Final dates and times will be announced at a later time.

Week 1: Thursday, Aug. 11 vs. Carolina Panthers
Week 2: TBA at Indianapolis Colts
Week 3: Saturday, Aug. 27 (tentative) vs. Detroit Lions
Week 4: Thursday, Sept. 1 at New Orleans Saints

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Three elite defensive prospects visit Ravens on Wednesday

Posted on 07 April 2016 by Luke Jones

A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome said the Ravens still had more of their 30 allotted visits with college prospects to complete, three of the top defensive players in the 2016 draft were in town.

Ohio State edge rusher Joey Bosa, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves visited the Ravens on Wednesday, according to NFL Network. The organization also worked out Ohio State wide receivers Braxton Miller and Mike Thomas in Columbus.

Once regarded as a strong candidate to be the top overall pick, Bosa has seen his stock slip a bit after an underwhelming scouting combine performance in February, but he is still expected to be one of the first players selected. He would fit a clear need as an edge rusher and outside linebacker to complement and eventually replace Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil.

The Ravens expressed confidence Tuesday that he would be a good fit in their 3-4 defensive system that features multiple looks. In three seasons with the Buckeyes, the 6-foot-5, 269-pound Bosa accumulated 26 sacks.

“You guys can actually see him on film dropping off [into pass coverage] on occasion — the zone drop, far zones and all of that — and he looks certainly capable of doing that,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “His combine workout and then his pro day workout, he showed the ability to bend. He actually, at the pro day workout, did a full  [defensive] line drill; did the whole thing in d-line drills and it was a longer workout, and they got after it. He took a blow, got some water and then jumped in the middle of the linebacker drills once they got into drops, so he definitely looked capable of doing that.

“He’s certainly a good enough athlete. He’s long, he’s rangy, he’s got enough speed. I think that he projects to either spot, 4-3 [defensive end] or 3-4 outside backer.”

Jack is regarded by some as the best athlete in the draft despite missing most of last season with a torn meniscus suffered in September. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound linebacker also played some running back in his three years at UCLA, a reflection of his unique skill set.

The Ravens struggled in pass coverage at the inside linebacker position, which would make Jack an ideal fit next to C.J. Mosley with veteran Daryl Smith now in Tampa Bay.

“He’s a great athlete,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “He only played in a few games this year because of the injury, but he’s a guy that can do a lot of different things. I think, athletically, he can cover probably as well as most guys you’ll ever see at the linebacker position. He’s gifted that way. He’s a little bit undersized, [but] he’s a good run defender. He’s an excellent blitzer. He’s a guy that can do a lot of different things.”

Though not linked to the Ravens as frequently as Bosa and Jack in many mock drafts, Hargreaves is regarded as the best defensive back in the draft behind Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, who is expected to be one of the first two or three players selected. In a perfect world, the organization would like to add an impact cornerback to compete with Shareece Wright for the starting job opposite Jimmy Smith, and Hargreaves would fit that description.

He lacks ideal height at only 5-foot-10, but the Ravens are drawn to other intangibles beyond his 10 interceptions and 27 pass breakups in his three seasons with the Gators.

“He’s got really good ball skills. He can play the ball in contested situations,” Hortiz said. “He’s a really good athlete and he’s a coach’s son. His father coached at Miami, South Florida — I think he’s at Arkansas now. The kid has grown up around ball, he’s been on the field down at the [University of Miami] since he was a toddler, probably doing backpedaling transitions. He’s very schooled, and you can see it in his play. Athletic kid, he understands fundamentals of the position, he’s got instincts.

“Yes, he’s a little undersized — everyone wants a six-foot, 6-foot-1 corner — but, he’s certainly fast enough and his instincts and ball skills make up for his lack of size.”

The Ravens pick sixth overall in this month’s draft, which would be their highest selection since 2000.

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Ravens must hit home run in this year’s draft

Posted on 06 April 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When you draft two future Hall of Fame players with the first two picks in franchise history, the standard is going to be impossible to live up to.

But that didn’t stop general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens from coming very close for the better part of the next decade. After Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in that franchise-defining 1996 draft came Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Ed Reed (another future Hall of Famer), Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ben Grubbs in first rounds over the next 11 years, all of them Pro Bowl selections.

Sure, there were a couple misses along the way, but you simply expected the Ravens to find a Pro Bowl player in the first round of the draft every year. Those emphatic early hits began to dissipate, however, and Baltimore has seen just one first-round pick — C.J. Mosley in 2014 — make the Pro Bowl since 2008.

The previous home runs and triples have been replaced by more singles and doubles — and a few more strikeouts — in recent years, which are still better than other teams in the NFL, but that decline came into focus this past year when a lack of playmakers and a rash of injuries led to a 5-11 season.

“If you look at [recent] drafts compared to ’96 to 2004, I would say that they didn’t measure up to those drafts,” Newsome said. “From ’96 to 2004, we drafted three Hall of Famers, but I will also say that during that time early on when you’re picking in the top 10 of the draft, you have a chance to be a lot more successful than it is when you’re picking anywhere from 20 to 32, which [are] the positions that we’ve been in.

“But I would say it was not up to my standards.”

Newsome’s point is fair as the Ravens have been a victim of their own success in that way after making the postseason 10 times in the last 16 years. They haven’t picked in even the first half of the first round in a decade and the sixth overall pick in this month’s draft will be the organization’s earliest since 2000.

As much as the Ravens were blessed to be able to land Hall of Fame talent when they took Ray Lewis 26th overall in 1996 and Reed 24th in 2002, the final 10 picks of the first round and the early second round typically aren’t littered with All-Pro talent everywhere you look. As if Lewis and Reed weren’t enough, the Ravens also found future Pro Bowl selections in Heap and Grubbs very late in the first round, but such success shouldn’t fool anyone into assuming you should find a Pro Bowl player that late every single year.

Yes, there have been some ugly first- and second-round picks in recent drafts as Sergio Kindle, Terrence Cody, Matt Elam, and Arthur Brown immediately come to mind, but other maligned choices such as Michael Oher and Courtney Upshaw were still more positive than not — even if they weren’t Pro Bowl players.

The drafts haven’t been all bad as Pernell McPhee, Brandon Williams, Crockett Gillmore, and Rick Wagner have been impressive middle-round finds over the last five years, but they just need to be better, especially in the early rounds. Recent drafts have been solid — for the most part — but rarely special.

“Have we drafted a ton of Pro Bowlers? No, we haven’t, but I’m proud of the players we’ve drafted,” said assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, who cited the big free-agent money other teams have spent on Ravens picks such as McPhee, Torrey Smith, Arthur Jones, and Kelechi Osemele in the last few offseasons. “I think we’ll get back to being a really good team soon. I’m not going to stress out about it.

“Can we do better in certain instances? Of course we can. You’re dealing with human emotion people, but I think our scouts and coaches have done a really good job. I think we’ll get back to prominence.”

If serious contention is in the cards for 2016, the Ravens need to hit a couple long balls and triples, not just with the sixth overall pick but with their six other selections in the top 134 spots. A successful draft isn’t only about the first round as Newsome has shown in finding Pro Bowl-caliber players and starters in the middle and late rounds over the years.

Expecting the Ravens to find their next future Hall of Famer later this month would be unfair, but they do need to find the next pillar around which to build. If it isn’t a Ray Lewis, Ogden, or Reed, drafting the next Suggs, Ngata, or Jamal Lewis is a reasonable expectation when picking so early.

DeCosta acknowledged Tuesday that the money in Vegas would be on the Ravens taking a defensive player with the sixth pick as there are five or six “elite” ones in his mind, but the executive also said there are three or four offensive players who might be the best fit depending on how the first five picks play out in a few weeks.

Whether it’s a player like Jalen Ramsey of Florida State unexpectedly falling into their laps or a regular mock-draft target such as Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, UCLA’s Myles Jack, Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, or Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley or even another name being discussed less frequently such as running back Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State, the Ravens must come away with a special talent.

They need to find the next player who will one day be in the Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium.

That would go a long way in not only helping them bounce back from a 5-11 season, but such a player would be a good step in preventing the Ravens from being back in this position for another 16 years.

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Former Ravens linebacker Upshaw agrees to deal with Atlanta

Posted on 25 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Veteran outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw became the latest Ravens free agent to depart as he agreed to a deal with Atlanta on Friday evening.

The 26-year-old visited with the Falcons on Thursday after previously meeting with the New York Jets and reportedly drawing interest from San Francisco and New England.

Head coach John Harbaugh suggested earlier this week that Upshaw was still on the radar of general manager Ozzie Newsome, but the Ravens never indicated that they were seriously interested in keeping him. Making 51 starts and having never missed a game in his four seasons, the 6-foot-2, 272-pound Upshaw served as a dependable edge-setting linebacker against the run, but he never developed into a serious pass-rushing threat and collected just five career sacks in Baltimore.

“If we can bring back our full team from last year, we would. But we just don’t know,” said Newsome when asked about Upshaw’s future at last month’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. “History will say we’ll get some signed and some will go to other clubs. When that happens, I wish them well.”

The Ravens have made it clear that they want to add an edge rusher or two this offseason, and second-year outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is projected to fill Upshaw’s role on defense.

Depending on the value of the contract, Upshaw’s departure likely puts Baltimore in line to receive a compensatory pick in next year’s draft. The Ravens have signed unrestricted free agents Benjamin Watson and Eric Weddle while losing Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele, and Matt Schaub. Wide receiver Chris Givens also signed with Philadelphia, but his one-year, $840,000 is too small to qualify for the formula determining compensatory picks. The signing of veteran wideout Mike Wallace does not count toward the formula since he was cut by Minnesota earlier this month.

Selected with the 35th overall pick of the 2012 draft, Upshaw was the Ravens’ first selection in that draft. With Upshaw and Osemele finding free-agent homes elsewhere this month, no members of the 2012 draft class remain with the organization.

Upshaw was a starter in Super Bowl XLVII and forced a fumble early that ended a scoring threat early in the second quarter. He finishes his Baltimore career with 183 tackles, seven pass breakups, and three forced fumbles.

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Ravens-related thoughts from league meetings

Posted on 24 March 2016 by Luke Jones

Even with an active start to free agency in which they’ve addressed the safety, wide receiver, and tight end positions, the Ravens still have plenty of work to do if they want to bounce back from last year’s 5-11 campaign.

While pass rusher, cornerback, and left tackle have been discussed at great length, an inside linebacker spot is wide open next to C.J. Mosley with the recently-released Daryl Smith signing with Tampa Bay, ending any thought about his potential return. John Harbaugh mentioned the predictable candidates — Zach Orr, Arthur Brown, and Albert McClellan — to replace the veteran Smith, but the head coach discussed another interesting option when speaking to reporters at the league meetings earlier this week.

“We could move a safety down in there,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of teams are doing that now, and one of those guys might move in there. We have the draft still in front of us, so there’s going to be competition. That’s how we like it.”

Harbaugh didn’t mention any names when discussing the possibility of a safety shifting to linebacker, but other safeties such as Mark Barron of Los Angeles and Arizona’s Deone Bucannon have successfully made that transition at the NFL level. Identifying a candidate among Baltimore’s current group of safeties isn’t easy since there isn’t an incumbent weighing more than 205 pounds.

It’s a moot point now with last week’s release stemming from his 10-game suspension to begin the 2016 season, but the 228-pound Will Hill would have been an intriguing candidate for a hybrid role with his pass coverage and tackling ability. The Ravens want to get faster and more athletic at the inside linebacker position, and Hill certainly would have fit that description if not for off-field concerns once again costing him as it did with the New York Giants.

“It was too bad, because we had really made a commitment to Will and to his future and the fact that he would be able to do things in a way that he could be successful,” said Harbaugh of the safety’s release. “He was doing that for quite a while and playing good football for us. It was not a football decision other than the fact that it was just going to cost us too much to wait for him at this point in time with the suspension.”

New touchback rule

The NFL owners voted to move touchbacks from kickoffs up to the 25-yard line in an obvious attempt to address player safety and further limit one of the most exciting — and dangerous — plays in the game.

Returners may now be more discouraged to run kicks out of the end zone, but how might the kicking team alter its strategy with a touchback now giving the opposition the ball at the 25 instead of the 20? Over the last few years, the Ravens have relied on standout kicker Justin Tucker booming the ball into or through the end zone with the opposing offense then starting at its own 20.

“We may kick it off down to the goal line as high as we can and go down there and try to get the return team at the 12-, 15-yard line,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be real hard for us to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to surrender the 25-yard line as a kickoff cover team every time.’ That’s really not in the spirit of competition and what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

It’s important to remember this rule change is only a one-year trial, but many speculate that it will have the opposite effect of what the league wants.

Upshaw still available

While no one expected Courtney Upshaw to fetch a record contract this month, it’s surprising to see him still unsigned more than two weeks after the start of free agency.

Though limited as a pass rusher, the 26-year-old is a solid edge-setting outside linebacker who is a nice fit in a timeshare with a situational rusher. Upshaw met with the New York Jets last week and has reportedly drawn interest from San Francisco and New England, but the underwhelming market for his services illustrates how increasingly important it’s becoming to have multiple players with the ability to get after the quarterback in any situation.

General manager Ozzie Newsome appeared content to allow Upshaw to depart this offseason, but the odds of him returning appear to improve as more time passes and teams continue to spend elsewhere.

“Ozzie’s still monitoring. I haven’t talked to Courtney at all,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not sure where he’s at, but he’s still on the radar.”

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