Tag Archive | "Brandon Williams"

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Ravens add former Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe

Posted on 28 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens thought they had a deal with Michael Brockers, pursued five-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh, and concluded their turbulent week of defensive line activity by landing Derek Wolfe.

The former Denver Bronco could prove to be a strong consolation prize after agreeing to a one-year deal worth a maximum of $6 million and $3 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports out of Denver. Wolfe, 30, is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he registered a career-high seven sacks before missing the final four games with an elbow injury. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive lineman has started every game in which he’s played in his eight-year career, but he’s played all 16 contests just once in the last five seasons with injuries taking a toll.

Wolfe has been widely regarded as one of the better run-stopping defensive linemen in the NFL for years, but he should also serve as an upgrade in the pass-rush department with 33 career sacks and four seasons with five or more sacks in his career. Pro Football Focus graded the 2012 second-round pick from Cincinnati as the 46th-best interior lineman in the NFL last season, but he finished 28th among qualified interior linemen in pass-rush grading, registering 22 quarterback pressures.

Much like the Ravens envisioned with Brockers before their three-year, $30 million agreement fell apart due to concerns over the health of his ankle, Wolfe’s arrival should allow defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to move Brandon Williams back to nose tackle. Wolfe would likely handle 3-techinique duties with five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell manning the 5-technique spot in the base 3-4 defense, but those two would serve as legitimate interior rushers in passing situations, something the Ravens lacked last season.

Baltimore has undergone much change on its defensive line since the end of the 2019 season with the free-agent departure of nose tackle Michael Pierce and the trade of defensive end Chris Wormley, but the combination of Campbell and Wolfe should serve as a substantial upgrade as the Ravens try to boost a pedestrian run defense that ranked only 21st in the NFL at 4.4 yards per carry allowed. Interior defensive linemen were also responsible for just four of Baltimore’s 37 sacks last season, but the two veteran newcomers have combined for 121 sacks over 20 combined NFL seasons.

Signing Wolfe at a cheaper price eases the disappointment of missing out on Brockers, but the Ravens will likely still be in search of more defensive line depth in next month’s draft as each of their top four current options — Wolfe, Campbell, Williams, and reserve Justin Ellis — is 29 or older. The Ravens are projected to have roughly $12 million in salary cap space once Wolfe’s deal is officially signed.

Highly respected in Denver, Wolfe confirmed his departure from the Broncos and expressed his excitement joining his new team in a post on his verified Instagram account.

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Deal between Ravens, defensive end Brockers falls through

Posted on 27 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ offseason has hit a significant snag after their original agreement with free-agent defensive lineman Michael Brockers fell through on Friday.

After agreeing to a three-year, $30 million contract including $21 million guaranteed early last week, the sides were unable to strike a modified deal after concerns rose over the high ankle sprain sustained by Brockers in the 2019 season finale. The 29-year-old will instead return to the Los Angeles Rams on a three-year contract worth a maximum of $31.5 million, according to NFL Network.

Brockers’ agent, Scott Casterline, told NFL Network Wednesday that he was “very confident” a deal would be announced this week, but the Ravens’ reported interest in free agent Ndamukong Suh — who elected to re-sign with Tampa Bay — made it clear there was concern since an announcement hadn’t been made more than a week after the opening of free agency. In a tweet posted early Friday morning, the Ravens said they would not sign Brockers “after being unable to come to an agreement on terms of a contract.” 

It’s no secret the coronavirus pandemic has complicated the start of the new league year as training facilities have been closed and teams have been prohibited from meeting with free agents and completing their own physicals, instead relying on outside exams to be conducted. That reality didn’t prevent general manager Eric DeCosta from completing a trade for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, but the 33-year-old defender described a more complicated process from the time he received word from Jacksonville until the swap was officially announced a few days later.

Those challenges make it easy to see how a concern over a physical exam could sink an agreement.

“I was in Arizona when the trade went through, and I had to go to get a physical at the Mayo Clinic, which is independent,” Campbell said in a conference call on Thursday. “The process of getting the medical records to them, doing all the paperwork, it was just a little bit trickier than it normally would be. That process was very unique.”

The Brockers news comes after former Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce signed with Minnesota and the Ravens dealt fourth-year defensive end Chris Wormley and a 2021 seventh-round pick to Pittsburgh for a fifth-round selection in next year’s draft. Now dangerously thin behind Campbell and Brandon Williams on the defensive line, Baltimore could turn to another veteran on the open market such as Derek Wolfe or Shelby Harris or simply put a higher priority on strengthening the defensive line in next month’s draft.

It’s quite a turn of events after the Ravens had clearly prioritized beefing up their run defense with the trade for Campbell and the expected signing of Brockers as the two are among the best run-stopping linemen in the league. According to the NFL Players Association, the Ravens have just over $16 million in salary cap space, which gives DeCosta the flexibility to make another substantial move — for the defensive line or at another position — if the right opportunity presents itself.

Brockers confirmed his return to the Rams in a post from his verified Instagram account on Friday.

This marks the second time in three years in which the Ravens have had a free-agent agreement fall apart due to a problem with the physical exam. Baltimore agreed to a four-year, $29 million contract with $14.5 million guaranteed for veteran wide receiver Ryan Grant in 2018 before backing out due to an ankle injury that prompted a failed physical. That situation sparked scrutiny with some even accusing the organization of negotiating in bad faith due to buyer’s remorse, but Brockers was an early target in free agency and it seems unlikely the Ravens would have dealt Wormley if they didn’t have every intention of executing their deal with a standout defensive lineman who’s missed a total of five games over his eight seasons.

This was the second NFL free-agent agreement to fall apart in the last 24 hours after veteran cornerback Darqueze Dennard’s reported deal with Jacksonville fell through on Thursday.

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Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Josh Bynes is introduced onto the field prior to an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Revisiting Ravens’ positional needs after first week of free agency

Posted on 23 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens didn’t begin the offseason in the way many anticipated.

The defensive line was identified by most as an area to address, but few figured it would be the top priority with the acquisitions of five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Michael Brockers headlining general manager Eric DeCosta’s start to the new league year. The versatile Campbell addresses the much-discussed pass rush in a different way than a traditional edge defender, but there is more work to be done with the front seven as well as other positions on a team with visions of winning the Super Bowl next season.

Below is how I rank those needs a week into free agency:

5. Depth

This descriptor applies specifically to the defensive line and tight end. The defensive line is much improved, but Campbell, Brockers, Brandon Williams, and Justin Ellis are all 29 or older and the trade of Chris Wormley leaves the Ravens thin behind the starters. The Ravens received good value in the Hayden Hurst trade, but tight end is too critical to Greg Roman’s offense to dismiss the need to replace his 457 regular-season snaps with a quality option. Each of these positions could be covered in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, of course.

4. Outside linebacker

The position’s overall value and long-term outlook still makes it a priority, but the decisions to place the franchise tag on Matthew Judon and trade for Campbell ease short-term concerns about both the pass rush and setting the edge. The concern is Judon only being under contract for next season and Campbell turning 34 by Week 1. The Ravens went 14-2 last year with the quartet of Judon, 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, Jihad Ward, and Tyus Bowser at outside linebacker — without a pass-rushing talent like Campbell up front, mind you — but Ferguson is the only one of those four under contract after 2020. A veteran like Clay Matthews or Pernell McPhee could make sense at a low price, but the Ravens need to find a long-term answer, especially if they’re not comfortable giving Judon a lucrative multiyear deal.

3. Wide receiver

At the beginning of the offseason, I believed this to be more of a want than a dire need when keeping the proper perspective in evaluating last year’s record-setting offense, but the decision to trade Hurst — who ranked third on the team in receiving yards and first among non-running backs in catch percentage — likely signals some shift in target distribution. Expecting more from a fully healthy Marquise Brown is more than fair, but the Ravens need another high-ceiling option to compete with Willie Snead and Miles Boykin for targets. The free-agent wide receiver market being so slow to develop reflects just how much talent evaluators believe in this year’s draft class. With seven selections in the top 143 spots of next month’s draft, DeCosta should have no problem taking a meaningful swing or two at a receiver.

2. Interior offensive line

Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has done a good job developing the likes of Matt Skura, Ryan Jensen, and Bradley Bozeman and Lamar Jackson’s presence makes the offensive line’s job easier, but you can’t lose a generational player like Marshal Yanda without having concerns about any replacement and the impact on the rest of the unit. Skura’s rehabilitation from a serious knee injury makes it more critical for the Ravens to add a legitimate option to the interior mix. I never figured Baltimore would spend big money on a free agent like Graham Glasgow, but the Ravens haven’t seen enough of 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers to simply hand him the job. Whether it’s with a value signing like Kelechi Osmele or an early draft pick, replacing Yanda will be an unavoidable question going into the season.

1. Inside linebacker

The Ravens don’t need to find the next Ray Lewis here as last year showed the value of this position probably isn’t what it used to be in Baltimore’s defense, but the presence of a three-down linebacker would make Martindale’s life easier using his various sub packages. Veteran free-agent options such as Cory Littleton and Joe Schobert were always going to be unrealistic from a financial standpoint, but L.J. Fort, Chris Board, and Otaro Alaka are the only Baltimore inside linebackers currently under contract for 2020, making at least one viable or proven addition a clear need. Bringing back Josh Bynes or perhaps even Patrick Onwuasor on a short-term deal could make sense at the right price, but, just like the outside linebacker position, some long-term stability is needed.

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Ravens find surprising trade partner for defensive end Chris Wormley

Posted on 20 March 2020 by Luke Jones

As if the world weren’t strange enough these days, the Ravens have made a trade with their biggest rival.

Defensive end Chris Wormley has been traded along with a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round selection in next year’s draft. It marks only the second time these AFC North rivals have executed a trade and the first since Baltimore acquired offensive lineman Bernard Dafney for a seventh-round pick in 1997.

The deal is pending a physical.

Despite making seven starts and playing 448 snaps last season, Wormley, 26, was likely to see a diminished role with general manager Eric DeCosta acquiring standout defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers this week. The 2017 third-round pick from Michigan was entering the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.133 million in base salary, an amount that will now be credited to Baltimore’s salary cap.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Wormley recorded 33 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, and two pass breakups last season and collected 54 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, and seven pass breakups in 39 games over his first three seasons.

The Ravens have done extensive work improving their defensive line over the opening week of free agency, but the new starting trio of Campbell, Brockers, and nose tackle Brandon Williams as well as reserve Justin Ellis are all 29 or older. Baltimore also has fullback and defensive line hybrid Patrick Ricard and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack in the mix, but adding another defensive lineman or two for both depth and long-term development purposes figures to be an objective in next month’s draft.

Wormley wasted no time playfully showing his new allegiance after Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon responded to Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward’s Twitter welcome.

With Wormley’s departure, just three players remain from the Ravens’ 2017 draft class: Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey, reserve outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, and starting safety Chuck Clark.

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DeCosta, Ravens hedging bets by strengthening defensive line

Posted on 19 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens had a clear objective at the start of free agency, even if it wasn’t exactly what many expected.

Yes, work remains to replace eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, add an inside linebacker, strengthen the pass rush, and find a impact pass-catching option or two, but general manager Eric DeCosta recognized a problem that became painfully clear in the stunning 28-12 playoff loss to Tennessee. The Ravens surrendered the fourth-highest rushing total in team history on that disappointing January night, but warning signs were there long before Derrick Henry and the Titans piled up 217 rushing yards on 37 carries, a 5.9 yards per carry average.

The Week 4 debacle against Cleveland prompting the on-the-fly retooling of the defense was one thing, but the strong December rushing performances by San Francisco and Buffalo couldn’t be dismissed simply because of a strong effort the second time around against the Browns in Week 16. Something wasn’t quite right with an area often championed as the Ravens’ greatest strength over the last two decades.

We’ve long been programmed to look at volume, which painted a rosy picture for the run defense. The Ravens ranked fifth in the NFL at just 93.4 rushing yards allowed per game as opponents ran a league-low 340 times against them. But Baltimore ranked just 21st at 4.4 yards per carry allowed — easily the worst single-season mark in team history — and allowed 4.54 yards per attempt if you include the playoffs. Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens only 19th in its run defense efficiency metric known as DVOA, which compares success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent.

Hopefully, we’ve learned by now that conventional teams run the ball more because they’re winning — not the other way around. That’s why opponents were rarely able to take advantage of Baltimore’s relative weakness.

The Ravens won a lot and by significant margins in 2019, registering the highest regular-season point differential (plus-249) the NFL had seen since the 2007 New England Patriots. Nine of their 14 victories were by 14 or more points as league MVP Lamar Jackson and a record-setting offense shredded teams on a near-weekly basis, often making opposing ground attacks irrelevant.

But after the acquisitions of defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Michael Brockers this week, DeCosta’s recent comments that seemingly prioritized a better pass rush prompted a different perspective.

“If our offense continues to play at the level they played at this past year, we will probably be ahead in some games and we’re going to want to have a strong pass rush,” DeCosta said at last month’s scouting combine in Indianapolis. “I think on defense, if you look at great defenses, historically three things: can rush the passer, can cover, and can stop the run. We really do believe all three of those things are really important. We’re trying to build a defense that can do all three of those things.”

What if the offense doesn’t play at quite that same level though?

That’s not to predict gloom and doom for Jackson and the Ravens by any means, but they’re more likely to experience at least a little regression toward the mean than to match or break the slew of league and franchise records set by last year’s group. What the Ravens offense did last year was extremely rare and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

In the 12 games (postseason included) in which the Ravens either trailed at some point or held only a single-possession lead for a portion of the second half, the defense surrendered just over 4.7 yards per carry. A few of those games still ended in comfortable victories, mind you, but it speaks to how well opponents were able to run when they didn’t have to abandon the ground game or weren’t simply playing out the string in an embarrassing defeat.

According to Pro-Football-Reference, the Ravens allowed a whopping 6.1 yards per carry on 53 attempts when trailing in games. That’s not a very big sample, of course, but it again illustrates the vulnerability when opponents were able to lean harder into the ground game.

In planning for 2020, DeCosta couldn’t assume his offense would hide the run defense quite as effectively, making it important to improve the defensive line. Enter Campbell and Brockers — regarded as two of the best run-stopping defensive linemen in the league — as upgrades to Chris Wormley and Michael Pierce, who didn’t have standout seasons in 2019. Like Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa 20 years ago, the presence of these newcomers along with Brandon Williams should make life easier for anyone playing inside linebacker in 2020.

A five-time Pro Bowl defensive end with 88 career sacks in 12 seasons, the 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell is the most versatile defensive lineman to play for the Ravens in years, providing a major boost to both their run defense and pass rush. Campbell may not be the conventional edge defender many coveted, but his ability to stop the run and pressure the pocket from multiple spots along the defensive line makes him a valuable chess piece for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who used extensive dime and nickel packages last season.

“Calais is a player we have long admired, even going back to the draft when he came out of college,” DeCosta said in a statement released Thursday. “He’s a natural fit for our defense and a versatile player who plays like a Raven.”

With much of the outside focus at other positions, DeCosta spending big on two defensive linemen reinforced that old Ravens staple of stopping the run, something with which the 2019 defense struggled despite the overwhelming team success. With more thump and resistance up front, DeCosta can now shift his attention toward augmenting the defense’s second level at both inside and outside linebacker.

That way, even if the offense isn’t quite on the historic level of last year, a more complete Ravens defense will be ready to shut down the run.

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Ravens to add veteran Michael Brockers to revamped defensive line

Posted on 16 March 2020 by Luke Jones

After giving up the fourth-highest rushing total in franchise history in the 28-12 playoff loss to Derrick Henry and Tennessee, the Ravens knew they needed to revamp their defensive line.

That process continued Monday as Baltimore agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with former Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers, according to NFL Network. The deal is reportedly worth $21 million guaranteed, representing the second major financial commitment made up front by general manager Eric DeCosta after the acquisition of five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Brockers is entering his ninth season after spending his entire career with the Rams. The 2012 first-round pick from LSU is regarded as one of the better run-stopping linemen in the league, forming an impressive tandem with two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Brockers, 29, has collected 54 or more tackles in each of the last three seasons and collected 23 sacks for his career.

Though not regarded as much of a pass rusher, Brockers graded sixth among all interior defenders against the run by Pro Football Focus last season. That ability coupled with Campbell’s superb reputation will provide quite a transformation for a run defense that ranked an unimpressive 21st in yards per carry allowed (4.4) and 19th in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric. Their massive size and ability to move around on will give defensive coordinator Wink Martindale plenty of options in his multi-look system.

The Ravens haven’t played much “base” 3-4 defense in recent years, but the trio of Brockers, Campbell, and Brandon Williams offers no shortage of strength and size, which should help a transitioning linebacker group in 2020. Of course, Baltimore hopes its record-setting offense continues to provide the other side of the ball with sizeable leads as it did throughout the 2019 season.

Brockers’ pending signing very likely means the end of defensive tackle Michael Pierce’s time in Baltimore as the Ravens are now projected to be very tight against the salary cap with several other positions still to address. Pierce is an unrestricted free agent coming off a turbulent 2019 that included weight problems in the spring and fairly underwhelming play compared to his previous seasons.

In 123 career games, Brockers has collected 344 tackles, nine pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He piled up 63 tackles, three sacks, and one pass breakup last season, the sixth time in his eight years that he’s played all 16 games. Brockers has missed just five games in his career.

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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How did Ravens defensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 19 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens defensive linemen ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers

Brandon Williams
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 572
PFF ranking: 66th among interior defenders
Skinny: I’ve mostly agreed with PFF’s past grading of Williams — viewing him as solid but unspectacular since signing his 2017 extension — but he played his best football in a few years in 2019, especially after his Week 4 absence and reported spat with Earl Thomas. His $9.25 million salary and $14.17 million cap number for 2020 are steep for someone who doesn’t pressure passers, but he anchors Baltimore’s front.

Michael Pierce
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 521
PFF ranking: 45th among interior defenders
Skinny: While his spring weight problems were largely forgotten by the start of the season, Pierce didn’t have the contract year he envisioned, finishing 2019 with the lowest PFF grade of his career and not being as impactful. There still figures to be a good market for his services, but the Ravens are already paying premium money for a defensive tackle that doesn’t get after the quarterback.

Chris Wormley
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 484
PFF ranking: 62nd among interior defenders
Skinny: The 5-technique defensive end saw the biggest workload of his three-year career and was solid playing the run, but he registered just 1 1/2 sacks, six quarterback hits, and the lowest PFF pass-rushing grade among all Ravens defensive linemen. The 2017 third-round pick is a reliable member of the rotation, but he’ll need a big contract year to make an extension any kind of a priority for Baltimore.

Domata Peko
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 158
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed in mid-November, the 14th-year defensive tackle served as a capable run stopper in place of an injured Pierce and settled into a rotational role down the stretch. Peko left the door open to playing another season after last month’s playoff loss, but the 35-year-old should serve as more of a backup plan than a priority re-signing at this stage of his career.

Justin Ellis
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 71
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed along with Peko, the 350-pound defensive tackle played sparingly in four regular-season games and the playoff loss. Ellis, 29, is another run-stopping option who graded well in limited opportunities, but he doesn’t offer much versatility and isn’t a pass-rushing threat.

Daylon Mack
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 9
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fifth-round rookie from Texas A&M saw his only action of the season in Week 4 before eventually being placed on injured reserve in November. With so many free agents along the defensive line, the Ravens need Mack to step into a rotational role at the very least.

2020 positional outlook

Other than Williams and Wormley, the cupboard is bare in terms of proven rotation options under contract, making this position group a greater priority than some are acknowledging. Finding a more balanced defensive lineman via the draft or free agency would be a major boon since the Ravens haven’t had a viable pass-rushing defensive tackle across multiple seasons since Timmy Jernigan, instead relying on versatile edge players like Za’Darius Smith and Pernell McPhee to move inside in passing situations. It will be interesting to see whether the Ravens rely on the draft, take another stab at signing a veteran like Gerald McCoy, or dip their toes into more lucrative free-agent waters to sign someone like Pittsbugh’s Javon Hargrave, who registered 10 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons and graded as PFF’s eighth-best interior defender last season. Regardless of the avenue, the Ravens really need to address an interior defensive line that could lose Pierce and finished with a bottom five pass-rushing grade in 2019, according to PFF.

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Examining Ravens’ top 10 salary cap numbers for 2020

Posted on 04 February 2020 by Luke Jones

Coming off the best regular season in franchise history, general manager Eric DeCosta and the Ravens will try to take the next step in 2020 with NFL MVP Lamar Jackson entering only his third year.

We know the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to find long-term prosperity, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl championship. As of right now, the Ravens will devote just under $107 million in 2020 salary cap space to the 10 players possessing the highest cap numbers. The 2020 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s projected to rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to an estimated $200 million.

Below is a look at those 10 Baltimore players:

1. S Earl Thomas
2020 Week 1 age: 31
2020 cap number: $15 million
Synopsis: It may not have been a spectacular first season in Baltimore for the longtime Seattle Seahawk, but Thomas played well in the process of being named to his seventh Pro Bowl and being graded 16th among qualified safeties by Pro Football Focus. Another year in Wink Martindale’s defensive system should only increase his comfort level, but it’s always fair to wonder how the speed and range of any defensive back over the age of 30 will hold up, especially with Thomas owning the third-highest cap number among NFL safeties for 2020 and being signed through 2022.

1. CB Marcus Peters
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $15 million
Synopsis: The acquisition of Peters from the Los Angeles Rams was probably the best in-season trade in the NFL this past year, but DeCosta signing the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback to a three-year, $42 million extension made the deal even better as Peters very likely would have done better on the open market. Grading fourth among qualified cornerbacks by PFF, Peters teams with fellow Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey to give Baltimore one of the NFL’s best corner duos. Not resetting the market with Peters will help the Ravens’ future cap situation when it’s time to extend Humphrey.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2020 Week 1 age: 31
2020 cap number: $14.17 million
Synopsis: Projected to have the ninth-highest cap number among NFL interior defensive linemen in 2020, Williams hasn’t provided the best value on a five-year, $52.5 million contract that runs through 2021, but he remains one of the better run-stopping defensive linemen in the league. His presence will be even more important this coming season as the Ravens defense is likely to see much turnover with its front seven, which may include the free-agent exit of Michael Pierce. Williams’ cap number would be a bigger concern if not for the cap flexibility the Ravens have with a star quarterback still on a rookie deal.

4. OT Ronnie Stanley
2020 Week 1 age: 26
2020 cap number: $12.866 million
Synopsis: Widely regarded as the best left tackle in the NFL this season as a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selection, Stanley remains a bargain even with his fifth-year option as he currently owns just the 12th-highest cap number among left tackles for 2020. Signing the 2016 first-round pick to a long-term extension should be the top priority of the offseason among Baltimore players still under contract for 2020, but that may require making Stanley the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL. His age and performance this past season would certainly warrant such a demand from his representation.

5. S Tony Jefferson
2020 Week 1 age: 28
2020 cap number: $11.657 million
Synopsis: A popular locker room guy and a solid player in 2018, Jefferson suffered a serious knee injury in early October and was replaced by Chuck Clark, who emerged as a key piece of the defense and was seen as an upgrade at a fraction of the cost. Even if Jefferson were completely healthy, his status would have been in doubt as the Ravens can save $7 million in both cash and cap savings by releasing him this offseason. It’s tough envisioning a scenario in which Jefferson returns at anything but a dramatically reduced rate as his four-year, $34 million deal signed in 2017 hasn’t worked out as Baltimore planned.

6. G Marshal Yanda
2020 Week 1 age: 35
2020 cap number: $11 million
Synopsis: The only question here is whether the eight-time Pro Bowl lineman will return for a 14th season as Yanda remains one of the best guards in the NFL and carries the sixth-highest cap number among right guards for the 2020 season. The 2007 third-round pick retiring would create $7 million in cap savings for the Ravens, but it would open up a significant hole on the offensive line for the league’s top-ranked scoring offense. Yanda graded fourth among all qualified guards by PFF and looks like an eventual Hall of Famer, whether he continues playing or not.

7. CB Tavon Young
2020 Week 1 age: 26
2020 cap number: $8 million
Synopsis: The slot cornerback has shown much potential when he’s been able to stay on the field, but he’s appeared in just 15 games over the last three seasons and will be returning from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2019 campaign, creating some understandable concern about his value after he signed a lucrative extension last offseason. Young’s presence will allow the Ravens to move Humphrey back to an outside cornerback spot, strengthening a secondary that was already very strong this past season. There’s still upside at work with Young that the Ravens need to see come to fruition in 2020.

8. CB Brandon Carr
2020 Week 1 age: 34
2020 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: His transition to a versatile safety role in sub packages should help Carr extend his playing career, but whether the Ravens elect to exercise their 2020 option on the veteran defensive back remains to be seen. With fellow veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, his status figures to impact what happens with Carr as both returning would seem unlikely. Baltimore would save $6 million in cap space by declining Carr’s option, but a respected and versatile veteran role player still chasing a Super Bowl ring might be amenable to returning at a reduced rate.

9. TE Nick Boyle
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $6.833 million
Synopsis: His unique fit in Greg Roman’s run-first offense makes Boyle challenging to value as it relates to the other 31 teams, but the Ravens have no complaints about his 2019 production as he set new career highs in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions after inking a three-year, $18 million contract last offseason. The 2015 fifth-round pick from Delaware remains one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, grading 11th overall among qualified tight ends by PFF. He’s fondly referred to as a sixth offensive lineman on the field and provides some leadership for a very young offense.

10. WR Willie Snead
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $5.412 million
Synopsis: Snead was extended through 2020 despite his catches and receiving yards falling off substantially from his first year in Baltimore. His ability to make plays from the slot is compromised by the Ravens’ frequent use of tight ends over the middle of the field, but Snead’s veteran presence and blocking ability are valued in such a young and unique offensive attack. DeCosta would seemingly like to add another impactful wide receiver to go with 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown this offseason, a development that could further impact Snead’s role.

Next up:
11. RB Mark Ingram ($5.333 million)
12. OL James Hurst ($5.25 million)
13. K Justin Tucker ($5.1 million)

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Want or need? Assessing Ravens position groups entering offseason

Posted on 21 January 2020 by Luke Jones

Need is a relative term when assessing the Ravens roster after a franchise-best 14-2 regular season that set all kinds of franchise and NFL records.

The sting of their divisional-round loss to Tennessee will linger for a long time, but perspective is critical when sizing up a roster that included the best offense in the league and one of the top defenses by season’s end. That’s not to say improvements aren’t in order and change isn’t inevitable with 17 Baltimore players set to become unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens would easily remain a playoff-caliber team on paper after even a ho-hum offseason of free-agent departures and only pedestrian additions. Having an MVP quarterback, an innovative offense with no unrestricted free agents of real consequence, and a great secondary will go a long way in covering up any deficiencies elsewhere.

Yes, the early playoff exit was a bitter disappointment and a missed opportunity as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but this isn’t a roster in need of major surgery as much as some fine-tuning after having a bad game at the wrong time. It’s an enviable place when you have close to $30 million in salary cap space and a fresh batch of draft picks in April. But as John Harbaugh often likes to recite the quote attributed to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, “Every day you either get better or you get worse; you never stay the same.”

Below is a look at what positions the Ravens absolutely need to address or simply would like to upgrade between now and the start of the 2020 season:

Edge defender/outside linebacker — NEED

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made it work after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, but this position group remains a major concern with 2019 Pro Bowl selection Matthew Judon and depth pieces Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward set to become free agents. Tyus Bowser took a step forward with five sacks in his third season and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson showed growth as the year progressed, but viewing either as a definite 2020 starter would be too optimistic based on the body of work. Even if Baltimore gives Judon a blank check or the franchise tag to keep him, finding an additional impact outside linebacker is a clear objective. The Ravens blitzed more than any team in the NFL to create pressure in 2019, but more impactful four-man rushes would make this defense even more dangerous. Setting the edge against the run was also an inconsistency that was often masked by Baltimore holding so many big leads that forced opponents to abandon the ground game.

Wide receiver — WANT

I have been a broken record about Baltimore’s deficiency at wide receiver for years and noted during the Tennessee loss that another impact option would be really useful, but classifying wide receiver as a want goes back to keeping the proper perspective. You wouldn’t expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to move away from featuring the tight ends with the success Lamar Jackson has passing to that trio between the numbers, and rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown showed unique ability despite being hampered by foot and ankle issues. When you add the presence of veteran Willie Snead and the potential of 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, the requisite floor and upside are there — even if barely — to think the Ravens can win a Super Bowl. Still, adding a dynamic wide receiver to make plays when Baltimore trails and to have a presence outside the numbers would take Jackson and the NFL’s leading scoring offense to another level, a frightening thought for opponents.

Interior offensive line — WANT*

The asterisk is connected to eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and his decision whether to return for a 14th season. If Yanda comes back, the Ravens remain in good short-term shape on the offensive line as undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in respectably at center for Matt Skura, whose major knee injury makes him a question mark until at least training camp. However, Yanda’s retirement would make this a significant need with 2019 fourth-round guard Ben Powers not exactly making an impact as a rookie and the Ravens losing a Hall of Fame talent in a position group not sporting a ton of experience. You feel more confident about Skura or Mekari at center, Bradley Bozeman at left guard, and Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle because of Yanda’s presence and elite play. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley may help fill the leadership void, but you just don’t replace a special player like Yanda.

Inside linebacker — NEED

This year marked only the seventh time in 24 seasons in which the Ravens didn’t receive a Pro Bowl invitation at this position, speaking to the impossible standard created by Ray Lewis and the commendable run from C.J. Mosley before his free-agent departure last March. General manager Eric DeCosta deserves credit for the in-season additions of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort to stabilize the position, but that came after the organization underestimated the problems Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Chris Board would have stepping into larger roles. Martindale effectively mixed and matched Bynes, Fort, and Onwuasor while often dropping safety Chuck Clark into the box in sub packages, but finding a complete three-down linebacker would decrease the likelihood of the defense getting caught with a second level that’s either too light against the run or too slow in coverage. Re-signing Bynes would certainly be on the table, but a younger every-down option would be preferable. Baltimore doesn’t need an All-Pro inside linebacker to have a great defense, but substituting so frequently was less than ideal.

Interior defensive line — NEED

Giving a big contract to Michael Pierce wouldn’t appear to be in the plans with Brandon Williams still having two years remaining on his deal and Pierce not making a strong argument for the Ravens to commit to him after weight concerns in the offseason and a solid but unspectacular 2019 campaign. Baltimore’s pursuit of six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy last spring highlighted a desire to find an interior pass rusher, but Chris Wormley and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack are the only other defensive linemen under contract for the 2020 campaign beyond the soon-to-be 31-year-old Williams. In other words, the Ravens have much work to do here to fortify their depth against the run while trying to find an inside option or two who can also get after the quarterback.

Cornerback — WANT

No one would classify cornerback as a need with 2019 Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both under contract and slot cornerback Tavon Young expected to be ready for the offseason program after a season-ending neck injury suffered in August. However, you can never have enough depth at this critical spot with Jimmy Smith set to become an unrestricted free agent and Brandon Carr carrying a $6 million price tag for his 2020 option and transitioning to more of a safety role this past season. A modest short-term extension could make sense for Smith, but committing substantial money to someone who will be 32 in July and has played in more than 12 games in a season only twice in nine years doesn’t sound appealing. Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall bring some upside as recent fourth-round selections, but relying on either as the first wave of depth would be risky.

Special teams — WANT

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the first week of free agency last March reinforced their commitment to this phase of the game that goes beyond specialists Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox. With that in mind, Anthony Levine, Chris Moore, Brynden Trawick, Jordan Richards, and De’Anthony Thomas will all be unrestricted free agents after playing at least 120 special-teams snaps apiece for Baltimore this season. Whether re-signing a few members of that group or using resources to sign a veteran or two on the open market, the Ravens seem likely to address special teams after being underwhelming in that department — at least by their lofty standards — down the stretch.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Few Ravens-Steelers games over the years have meant so little — at least on Baltimore’s side.

While John Harbaugh’s team has already clinched the top seed in the AFC, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, Pittsburgh needs a win over the Ravens and a Tennessee loss in Houston as the most feasible scenario to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

Ravens players and coaches have said all the right things by insisting that any game against their AFC North rival carries meaning, but Harbaugh is playing it safe with his top players by officially deactivating quarterback and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson, right guard Marshal Yanda, safety Earl Thomas, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Running back Mark Ingram was already ruled out Friday as he continues to recover from a left calf injury sustained in Week 16, but the Ravens have also deactivated tight end Mark Andrews, who missed most of the practice week with a minor right ankle injury suffered in Cleveland last week.

All 46 active players were suited up and going through pre-game warmups, but you’d have to assume Harbaugh will hold out or limit the snaps for at least a few more players in addition to the seven inactives. The starting offensive line during full-team warmups included James Hurst in place of Stanley at left tackle and Parker Ehinger at right guard in place of Yanda.

Making his first NFL start in three years, veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III was the first Ravens player on the field roughly two hours prior to kickoff. The 29-year-old has seen action in six other games this season, completing 12 of 17 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Rookie Trace McSorley will serve as Griffin’s backup after being a healthy scratch for the first 15 games of the regular season.

The Steelers will be without eight-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (knee) and top running back James Conner (quadriceps), who were both ruled out on Friday. Even facing a Baltimore defense at less than full strength, those are challenging absences for rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges and a struggling Pittsburgh offense to overcome.

The ugly forecast in Baltimore calls for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and a 100-percent chance of preciptation, according to Weather.com.

Referee Bill Vinovich and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons its white tops with yellow pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Lamar Jackson
RB Mark Ingram
S Earl Thomas
G Marshal Yanda
OT Ronnie Stanley
TE Mark Andrews
DT Brandon Williams

PITTSBURGH
RB James Conner
C Maurkice Pouncey
CB Artie Burns
LB Tuzar Skipper
OL Chukwuma Okorafor
TE Zach Gentry
WR Amara Darboh

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