Tag Archive | "Rick Wagner"

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Harbaugh says Ravens offensive line in better shape than last offseason

Posted on 27 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens lost two 2017 starters from their offensive line this month, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.

Of course, they’ll welcome back six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda this year as well as third-year lineman Alex Lewis, who started eight games as a rookie and was considered an ascending talent before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August. But Baltimore didn’t pick up its 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard and lost free-agent center Ryan Jensen to Tampa Bay, who made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at the position.

This marks the second straight year the Ravens will need to replace the previous season’s starters at those positions.

“You compare it to last year, I think we are in better shape than we were a year ago at this time really,” Harbaugh said. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago, and it turned out pretty well for us. I thought [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys obviously. Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job, and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league.

“We’ve got some prospects there. I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens have substantial plans for James Hurst, who signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension that included a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. Making 15 of his 16 starts at left guard in place of the injured Lewis last season, Hurst is now expected to move to right tackle.

It’s a position where he’s made only two career starts, but the 6-foot-5, 317-pound lineman practiced there last spring and summer and received sparkling reviews from a notable teammate.

“Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner. He’s going to set the record this year,’” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s performance at right tackle last summer. “That’s how he felt going against him in training camp. I remember him saying that. Then, we had the injury to Alex and we moved him inside. That shows you how versatile he is. That’s how we’ll start off, but it could change.”

The 11th-year head coach also said former practice-squad member Matt Skura — who started 12 games at right guard last year — will receive the first crack at securing the starting center job as many anticipated. Nico Siragusa will also be in the mix if the 2017 fourth-round pick is fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury sustained last summer.

With Hurst moving outside, Lewis is in line to reclaim the left guard spot, but the 2016 fourth-round pick must prove he can stay on the field after missing 22 games in his first two seasons. In assistant head coach Greg Roman’s run schemes, guards are frequently required to pull, making the agile Lewis an ideal fit.

He also remains a consideration at center if Skura is not up to the challenge.

“We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of the thing that Greg and Marty put in last year. We run a lot of different schemes — gap schemes and pull schemes and lead schemes — where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”

Of course, Harbaugh was only speaking about offensive linemen currently on the roster as you’d expect the Ravens to be looking to add competition and depth in the draft since Hurst and Skura lack extensive NFL experience at their projected positions.

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Ravens receive only sixth-round compensatory pick in 2018 draft

Posted on 23 February 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens received only a sixth-round compensatory pick in the 2018 draft after many had anticipated a third-round selection for the free-agent departure of offensive tackle Rick Wagner last offseason.

This marks only the second 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 year is four as Cincinnati, Dallas, Green Bay, and Oakland all reached the maximum for the 2018 draft.

Entering his final season as general manager, Newsome will have a total of eight selections — his regular choice in each round as well as the extra sixth-round pick at 215th overall — in this year’s draft. Last year was the first time teams were permitted to trade compensatory picks and Baltimore took advantage, sending its third-round selection and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to Philadelphia in exchange for the Eagles’ third-round pick used on defensive end Chris Wormley.

The Ravens lost Wagner, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, defensive end Lawrence Guy, wide receiver Kamar Aiken, and offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse as unrestricted free agents and signed unrestricted free agents Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr, and Danny Woodhead last offseason. That resulted in a net loss of two, but the small Ducasse deal did not qualify for the maximum of 32 compensatory picks awarded, leaving the Ravens with only one selection.

Wagner signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Detroit Lions, which left him on the border of fetching either a third- or fourth-round pick for Baltimore. However, a three-game absence with an ankle injury likely dropped him to the fourth-round territory, the same tier as Jefferson’s four-year, $34 million contract to cancel out a potential fourth-round choice for the Ravens.

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.

Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com broke it down nicely here:

Since the compensatory pick program started in 1994, the Ravens have led the NFL in receiving 49 compensatory choices as the organization has frequently resisted signing unrestricted free agents over the years while losing many of their own. Green Bay is second with 42 compensatory picks over that same period of time.

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)
2017: Traded third-round compensatory pick and DT Timmy Jernigan for Philadelphia’s third-round pick used to select DE Chris Wormley

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Even with injuries, Ravens brass deserves blame for offensive mess

Posted on 02 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There’s much blame to go around for this absolute mess of a Ravens offense.

Those pointing to injuries, the current state of the offensive line, quarterback Joe Flacco’s poor play, and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling are all correct to some degree or another. But the buck really needs to stop with the Ravens brass.

While many gushed over a defense-focused offseason and were waxing nostalgic about recreating the 2000 Ravens, others waited for significant work to be done to a below-average offense in 2016 that lost four starters to free agency or retirement. Instead of making significant improvements to that side of the ball, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh seemingly settled for a ceiling of mediocrity, and that was long before the injuries that have put this offense in full-blown crisis mode before Columbus Day.

The offseason began with Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg as coordinator despite the offense showing no meaningful improvement from the time he took over for the fired Marc Trestman last October. Harbaugh did hire Greg Roman to reboot the running game — a move that has produced positive results through four games — but one of the prevailing themes of the season-ending press conference in January was the need to get more out of Flacco, whose play had regressed in the two seasons since the departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison. Those two were sticklers about Flacco’s footwork and fundamentals and helped guide the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player to arguably his best regular season in 2014.

The hiring of a new quarterbacks coach at the very least was a no-brainer, but Mornhinweg also retained that role after serving in that capacity over Flacco’s last two lackluster campaigns. Instead of seizing the chance to bring in a new mind and a different pair of eyes, the Ravens maintained the status quo in the coaching department for their high-priced quarterback.

What about improving the offensive personnel that has been lacking playmakers and consistent offensive line play for years?

Newsome’s free-agent splash in March consisted of giving sizable contracts to defensive tackle Brandon Williams and free-agent defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. Meanwhile, the only offensive addition in the first, second, and third waves of free agency was the oft-injured 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead, who had missed 27 games the previous three seasons and — to no surprise — would suffer a long-term hamstring injury in the season opener.

Surely the Ravens would address their offense with four Day 1 and Day 2 picks in April’s draft then, right? Newsome selected four defensive players with those choices before finally taking a pair of developmental offensive linemen on the final day. The plan going into spring workouts would be to replace above-average right tackle Rick Wagner and three-year starting center Jeremy Zuttah with in-house options, players who hadn’t previously been good enough to crack the lineup of an already-shaky offensive line.

To be fair, Baltimore did eventually sign veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in mid-June after he was cut by Kansas City and inked veteran right tackle Austin Howard in early August. But did these moves really represent a significant net gain compared to the retired Steve Smith and Wagner on an offense that was barely functional a year ago?

Was the goal to merely be as good as last year’s unit that ranked 17th in total yards and 21st in points per game?

To be clear, there’s no diminishing the absence of six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, and the loss of promising left guard Alex Lewis was another tough blow. The Ravens also hoped that running back Kenneth Dixon would take a major step forward in his second season, but a four-game suspension had already stunted that optimism before he sustained a season-ending knee injury in July.

The many injuries they’ve endured do tell a large part of the story, but the offense was constructed to be no better than average based on the way the Ravens used their cap dollars and draft picks and made their coaching decisions this offseason. That ceiling is too low when planning for at least a few inevitable injuries over the course of a season.

Perhaps the current state of affairs wouldn’t be as frustrating if the Ravens wouldn’t continue to neglect their offense on an annual basis, a pattern that began with the decision to trade away wide receiver Anquan Boldin weeks after the Super Bowl in 2013 and has continued with the selection of just four offensive players with their 17 combined Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since then. It’s one thing to point to Flacco’s huge contract as justification not to spend as much free-agent money on the offense, but Newsome’s drafting reinforces the lack of interest in putting better talent around the quarterback.

Instead, the Ravens continue to expect him to do more with less than he had in that historic 2012 postseason and wonder why they’ve only been back to the playoffs once since then.

Flacco has obvious flaws and is what he is in his 10th season, but the Ravens keep beating their heads against a brick wall trying to do the bare minimum with their offense and expecting a different result. You get what you pay for, and that isn’t very much with mediocre talent and an uninspiring offensive coordinator.

Making matters worse, the use of all those resources on defense in recent years has yet to net a special group on that side of the ball.

Yes, you can continue to blame the offensive woes all on the injuries and keep beating up a quarterback who certainly needs to take his share of the responsibility for his poor performance, but offseason decisions stunted this offense’s ceiling before the injuries began over the summer. The truth is the focus should have been on that side of the ball from the start while looking to tweak a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major categories a year ago.

Sadly, what we’re now witnessing isn’t all that surprising.

And it’s difficult imagining this broken offense being fixed in the near future.

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Ravens bolster offensive line by signing veteran Austin Howard

Posted on 04 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens signed veteran offensive tackle Austin Howard to a three-year deal Friday in an effort to shore up an unsettled offensive line.

According to NFL Network, the sides agreed to a contract that will pay him $5.5 million in 2017 and up to $16 million over the duration of the contract.

The 30-year-old was released by the Oakland Raiders on July 28 as he was set to enter the fourth season of a five-year, $30 million contract. Howard started 39 games for Oakland over the last three seasons after starting all 32 contests for the New York Jets in 2012 and 2013. He dealt with a shoulder injury last season that limited him to 11 games and required offseason surgery.

A member of Baltimore’s practice squad in 2011, Howard is now expected to handle the starting right tackle job that was held by free-agent departure Rick Wagner over the previous three seasons. Howard ranked 52nd among qualified offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system last year, but he finished a very respectable 13th in 2015. He has also played guard in his NFL after beginning his collegiate career as a tight end at Northern Iowa.

Howard’s 72 career starts make him the Ravens’ second-most experienced offensive lineman behind six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda. Fourth-year lineman James Hurst had been working as the first-team right tackle in spring workouts and over the first week of training camp.

Already needing to replace Wagner as well as former starting center Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens sustained two losses to their offensive line group in the first week of training camp with John Urschel’s surprising retirement on July 27 and the season-ending knee injury to rookie fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa earlier this week. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, left guard Alex Lewis, and center Ryan Jensen have all missed practice time this week while Yanda continues to be brought back slowly from offseason shoulder surgery.

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg coached the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Howard with the Jets in 2013.

To make room for Howard on the 90-man preseason roster, the Ravens waived injured tight end Crockett Gillmore, who is in the final year of his rookie contract and would revert to injured reserve if unclaimed by another team. Gillmore is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery on Monday.

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2017 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 26 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning this week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2017 Ravens every day as they aim to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

Quarterbacks
Defensive line
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Linebackers
Tight ends
Safeties

OFFENSIVE LINE

Projected depth chart:
LT – Ronnie Stanley, De’Ondre Wesley, Roubbens Joseph
LG – Alex Lewis, Nico Siragusa, Jarell Broxton, Maurquice Shakir
C – John Urschel, Ryan Jensen, Matt Skura, Brandon Kublanow
RG – Marshal Yanda, Jermaine Eluemunor, Jarrod Pughsley
RT – James Hurst, Stephane Nembot

Why to be impressed: Even with a shoulder injury that forced him to move to the opposite side last season, the 32-year-old Yanda remained the standard at the guard position in today’s NFL and is Baltimore’s best offensive player. Stanley graded as Pro Football Focus’ most efficient pass blocker among rookie offensive tackles and is poised to be even better in his second year.

Why to be concerned: The Ravens lost above-average right tackle Rick Wagner in free agency and traded starting center Jeremy Zuttah without adding a veteran at either position or selecting an offensive lineman before Day 3 of April’s draft. As promising as Stanley and Lewis are, the pair missed a total of 10 games as rookies and are now being counted as the surest things the Ravens have beyond Yanda.

2017 outlook: The hiring of senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris shouldn’t be overlooked, but the three options who worked at center this spring were all behind the maligned Zuttah on the depth chart last year and Hurst has never come close to proving himself as an acceptable NFL starter. This is easily the Ravens’ biggest concern entering training camp.

Prediction: Yanda will make his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl, but at least one of Baltimore’s Week 1 starters on the offensive line isn’t currently on the roster.

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Ravens offense waits as defense receives substantial facelift

Posted on 23 March 2017 by Luke Jones

During Brandon Carr’s press conference this week, Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees was recalling how he’d sent a text message to John Harbaugh after the latest defensive signing was made when the head coach interjected.

“I got a text from Marty [Mornhinweg], too, by the way,” said Harbaugh about his offensive coordinator. “He thought it was a good signing, too — just for the record. We’ve got some work to do over there, too.”

That’s an understatement as general manager Ozzie Newsome has spent lucrative dollars and most of his salary-cap space to revamp a defense that still finished in the top 10 of most significant statistical categories last season despite its well-documented problems down the stretch. Meanwhile, an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in virtually everything in 2016 has last four starters and has added only 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead, who is an intriguing talent but coming off a major knee injury.

Some have attempted to skew the 2016 narrative by pointing to a 27-point scoring output and the late defensive collapse in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day as justification for focusing on the defense this offseason, but that anecdotal evidence clouds the truth. The offense played at a high level only a few times all year while the defense — flawed as it was when cornerback Jimmy Smith wasn’t on the field — was the bigger reason why the Ravens were still in contention in Week 16. That’s not to say that improvements weren’t warranted on the defensive side — which still could use another edge rusher — but the offense was summarily broken all year and has only gotten worse since the season finale in Cincinnati. You can certainly be excited about the re-signing of nose tackle Brandon Williams and the additions of safety Tony Jefferson and Carr, but it’s fair to ask if some of those resources might have been better served addressing the offense.

To be clear, we know the start of the season is more than five months away, and Newsome and the Ravens are aware that they still have much work to do on that side of the ball. But with the first and second waves of free agency now in the books, Baltimore has fewer remaining channels — with the draft being the biggest one — to not only replace departed starters but find ways to markedly improve the offense. Of course, the margin for error is smaller without a dynamic offensive playmaker on which to lean.

Harbaugh sent a loud signal that the Ravens want to get back to running the ball at a high level by hiring senior offensive assistant and ground-game guru Greg Roman, but they need the horses in the trenches to do it. Otherwise, the offense will inevitably revert to Joe Flacco throwing more than 40 times per game, and we’ve seen how that’s worked out since Super Bowl XLVII.

The biggest objective must be to address the offensive line after the departure of right tackle Rick Wagner and the trade of center Jeremy Zuttah to San Francisco. Whether you believe Detroit overpaid for Wagner or not, replacing an above-average right tackle without meaningful drop-off will be very difficult unless new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has a trick up his sleeve.

Moving on from the underwhelming Zuttah wasn’t shocking, but they have to replace him with someone better or at least as good. There’s been little chatter about former New York Jet Nick Mangold to this point, and even if the Ravens eye a draft prospect such as Ethan Pocic from LSU, there are no guarantees of landing him in the second or third round. The Ravens could consider an internal candidate, but neither John Urschel nor Ryan Jensen inspire much confidence after their respective 2016 campaigns.

Finding a fullback to replace 2016 Pro Bowl selection Kyle Juszczyk shouldn’t be too difficult, but — like with Wagner — it may not be easy to do it without some drop-off.

Then, there’s wide receiver, that position we’ve discussed this time of year on an annual basis.

Baltimore lost its top two possessions receivers in Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken and elected not to sign any free-agent wideouts from a top tier that included Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor. Perhaps the next Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, or Smith will be acquired in the coming weeks, but one can only look to 2013 and 2015 as recent examples of the Ravens being underprepared at that position and it hurting them substantially. Even looking past the organization’s poor track record with drafting receivers, relying heavily on a rookie wideout is a risky proposition for any team.

You might be willing to give the Ravens the benefit of the doubt along the offensive line — after all, Wagner was mostly an unknown three years ago — but skepticism at wide receiver is justified, whether it’s March or September.

It’s been interesting to see how the offseason has played out to this point, starting with Harbaugh’s decision to retain Mornhinweg as his offensive coordinator despite showing little improvement taking over for the fired Marc Trestman. The team’s brass spoke at length at the season-ending press conference about needing to do whatever it takes to help Flacco play better in 2017, but a below-average offense from a year ago is currently standing at a net loss, putting heavy pressure on the front office and scouting department to nail next month’s draft and to find an under-the-radar free agent or two while also hoping that internal options take significant steps forward.

Otherwise, the Ravens will be needing a 2000-like performance from its revamped defense to have a real shot at getting back to the playoffs in 2017.

Yes, there’s plenty of time left, but many boxes remain unchecked.

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Right tackle Wagner set to leave Ravens to join Detroit

Posted on 08 March 2017 by Luke Jones

In what’s been considered more of a formality in recent days, starting right tackle Rick Wagner is reportedly leaving the Ravens for a lucrative contract elsewhere.

According to multiple outlets, Wagner has agreed to terms on a long-term deal with the Detroit Lions. The 27-year-old is expected to make north of $9 million per season, according to NFL Network. Such a deal would set a new bar for right tackles, who have generally topped out at around $6 million annually in recent years.

A three-year starter who ranked 18th among all qualified offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system for 2016, Wagner will be tough to replace with the Ravens having already stated a clear offseason goal of improving their offensive line and running game. James Hurst, De’Ondre Wesley, and Stephane Nembot are the current internal options at right tackle, but Hurst has struggled when pressed into starting duty over the last three years and the other two lack any meaningful experience.

The Ravens prefer to keep second-year lineman Alex Lewis at left guard and as the primary backup to starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

Of course, it’s worth noting there was much angst with Baltimore’s decision to hand the right tackle job to Wagner in 2014 after former first-round pick Michael Oher departed via free agency, but the Wisconsin product would start 45 games over three seasons. For what it’s worth, the coaching staff believes both Wesley and Nembot have potential to develop, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens won’t pursue another right tackle via free agency or the draft.

Wagner is just the first of a few unrestricted free agents who could be leaving the Ravens in the coming days. Reports have already indicated multiple teams being interested in Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk while nose tackle Brandon Williams is expected to receive a massive payday on the open market.

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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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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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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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