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Twelve Ravens thoughts on pre-draft conference call

Posted on 06 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens brass conducting its annual pre-draft press conference via conference call on Monday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta described this draft as “old school” with more reliance than normal on game tape after the pandemic canceled so many pre-draft activities. It should help immensely having so much experience and continuity in the front office, scouting department, and coaching staff.

2. Many have discussed the possibility of DeCosta trading up in the first round, but he’s always spoken about desiring more picks. With this class presenting more uncertainty for obvious reasons, I’d be more inclined to use as many of those seven selections in the top 150 spots as I could.

3. With the draft being conducted away from team facilities, John Harbaugh has conveyed his concerns to the Ravens’ information technology department about various reports of security breaches in the Zoom software that’s become so popular in our current world. League-wide paranoia figures to be at an all-time high.

4. DeCosta estimated having 185 “draftable” players on his board, up from last year’s pre-draft estimate. That seemingly supports opinions of this being a deep class since you’d anticipate more prospects than usual to be removed from team boards over questions that went unanswered because of canceled pro days and visits.

5. Asked if he had interest in Antonio Brown after the former All-Pro receiver recently worked out with cousin Marquise Brown and Lamar Jackson, DeCosta declined to comment. It’s tricky discussing a relative of one of your key players, but the unfiltered answer should be a simple and definitive no.

6. DeCosta complimented his current wide receivers and stated his belief that some guys are “going to make that jump,” but I’d be surprised if the Ravens wouldn’t take a swing at such a deep position in this draft with one of their five scheduled picks over the first three rounds.

7. While acknowledging the more complete inside linebackers in this class who’ve been discussed at great length, Joe Hortiz said there are multiple options who could help this multi-look defense in more situational roles. I wonder if the Ravens are more comfortable with the mix-and-match approach than we think.

8. Harbaugh comparing replacing Marshal Yanda to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed speaks to his respect for the retired guard and a need to temper expectations. In Lewis’ case, Baltimore signed the rock-solid Daryl Smith and drafted C.J. Mosley a year later. Replacing Reed at safety was a multiyear headache, however.

9. Plans are ongoing for virtual team meetings and strength and conditioning sessions for the offseason workout program that’s scheduled to begin in two weeks. Harbaugh noted there being no excuse for players not to be in shape upon reporting to the team facility, a reference to ex-Raven Michael Pierce.

10. According to Harbaugh, Derek Wolfe has been on him “like a fly on something” to send him a copy of the defensive playbook. You get the sense that the veteran defensive lineman is going to be a popular addition in numerous ways.

11. Living in close proximity but limited to remote communication in recent weeks, Harbaugh predicted he would meet up with DeCosta for a walk at some point before the start of the draft. As long as they’re a minimum of six feet apart, of course.

12. The fantasy football draft jokes will be flowing with team executives working from their homes, but DeCosta’s shaky internet connection during Monday’s session makes you hope he has a backup queue in place. Just in case.

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Union between Wolfe, Ravens feels like it was years in making

Posted on 03 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Defensive end Derek Wolfe thought he’d be drafted by the Ravens before then-general manager Ozzie Newsome selected outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the 35th overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft.

Denver took Wolfe one spot later, leading to a fruitful eight-year run that included 108 starts and a Super Bowl 50 championship. The 30-year-old is very complimentary about his time with the Broncos, but he sensed his time there was coming to an end last season when the organization didn’t approach him about a contract extension. With the Broncos starting 0-4 and falling out of contention early, Wolfe even pondered asking for a trade to the Ravens, saying he always believed he’d “fit into that organization really well” from the time the Cincinnati product and northeast Ohio native took a pre-draft visit to Owings Mills eight years ago.

But when the Ravens agreed to a three-year, $30 million deal with Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers at the start of free agency last month, Wolfe thought he’d missed his chance, wondering if the dislocated elbow that sent him to injured reserve last December worked against him. Of course, the Brockers deal fell through over concerns about his ankle, opening the door once again for Wolfe.

Fully recovered from the elbow injury, the 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive lineman didn’t want to waste any time getting in touch with general manager Eric DeCosta.

“I immediately called my agent and said, ‘What’s going on with the Ravens?'” Wolfe said in a conference call on Friday. “He said, ‘I’m already on the phone.’ And I was like, ‘Yes! I really don’t care about the money. At this point, I just want to get on that team. That’s the team I want to get on, I want to be on.'”

His respect for the Ravens didn’t stem solely from his pre-draft experience or several head-to-head encounters, which included the “Mile High Miracle” classic. He ate breakfast with Joe Flacco at the Broncos facility regularly last season, and the former Baltimore quarterback spoke glowingly of the organization, describing it as “one big family.”

Wolfe also sought input from former Broncos teammate Elvis Dumervil, who spent four seasons with Baltimore and was selected to two of his five Pro Bowls with the Ravens.

“‘Doom’ was like a mentor for me my rookie year, like a big brother to me,” Wolfe said. “Anything he says I usually listen to and I take it to heart because he’s a very straightforward guy. If he doesn’t like it, he’s going to tell you, and he had nothing but good things to say about the organization. He said I’m a perfect fit there. He’s like, ‘You’re going to love it.'”

Settling for a one-year, $3 million deal worth up to $6 million with incentives, Wolfe is eager to prove himself after a career-high seven sacks in 12 games last season. He’s already spoken of wanting to earn an extension with the Ravens as he enters his ninth season and owns 33 career sacks.

Arriving with five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell as part of a revamped defensive line, Wolfe knows the first objective is to strengthen a run defense that was exposed in the playoff loss to Tennessee and ranked just 21st in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (4.4) last season. But Wolfe has even greater expectations for himself, a pass rush that relied heavily on the blitz last season, and his new team coming off a franchise-best 14-2 record and a record-setting offensive season led by league MVP Lamar Jackson, saying he’d “love to bring another ring to the city.”

“I think that we’re going to be able to shut that run game down,” Wolfe said. “Then, when it comes to our offense keeping us up by 10, 20 points a game, it’s going to get ugly for these quarterbacks.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts as free agency slows down

Posted on 30 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With free agency slowing considerably and teams beginning to turn even more attention to the upcoming NFL draft, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Derek Wolfe may not be the same player and brings durability questions, but I prefer one year and $3 million guaranteed for him to the reported $21 million Eric DeCosta planned to guarantee Michael Brockers before concerns surfaced about his ankle. Sometimes the best deals are ones you don’t make.

2. The Brockers situation conjured memories of the Ryan Grant deal falling through two years ago, but the skepticism over that case — involving a contract that was widely panned — isn’t fair to apply this time around when teams can’t conduct their own physicals. It’s never ideal in a big-picture sense, however.

3. Based on the reaction of former teammates and Denver reporters over the weekend, Wolfe should be a good fit in the Ravens locker room. He also brings championship experience to a roster with fewer and fewer Super Bowl XLVII holdovers. Only four Ravens who played in that game remain.

4. Calais Campbell said his agent wasn’t thrilled with the extension he accepted that included $20 million guaranteed, but the 33-year-old took less to play for the Ravens than potentially maxing out with other teams interested in acquiring him. It helps having the reigning MVP and a 14-2 record last year.

5. I was surprised to see Josh Bynes accept a one-year deal with Cincinnati that isn’t believed to be much money. It’s easy to say the Ravens will just draft Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray, but relying too heavily on youth is what got them in trouble last season.

6. We’re only three weeks away from what was supposed to be the start of the offseason program. With spring activities at facilities unlikely to take place, organizations will have their technological mettle tested and players will be trusted to prepare on their own more than ever.

7. The re-signing of Jimmy Smith alleviates short-term concern about the depth at cornerback, but he’s signed only through 2020 and Tavon Young has missed two full seasons in the last three years. A late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick at that position would still make plenty of sense.

8. I was surprised over some of the negative reaction to the one-year deal for Chris Moore. He’s a reliable contributor for a special teams group that wasn’t very special last year. Moore isn’t viewed as an answer at wide receiver or a lock to be on the 53-man roster.

9. OverTheCap.com currently projects the Ravens to receive a fifth-round compensatory pick next year due to Michael Pierce’s departure since the Wolfe signing cancels out Seth Roberts’ contract with Carolina. Of course, any player cut by his previous team doesn’t apply to the formula.

10. The Ravens are — and should be — heavy favorites to win the AFC North, but their division rivals all made solid free-agent additions and the health of Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow is a big wildcard. The division should still be Baltimore’s, but it may not be quite the same cakewalk it was last year.

11. The sports shutdown has brought more attention to esports as thousands watched Marquise Brown play Madden online last week and NASCAR’s iRacing broadcasts have fetched good ratings. Maybe we’re just really bored, but that’s interesting data as sports always strive for offseason engagement.

12. On the 24th anniversary of Art Modell revealing his relocated franchise from Cleveland would be renamed the Baltimore Ravens, the team’s official Twitter account revealed a 25th season logo. I assume we’ll see a jersey patch for 2020 like we saw in 2005 and 2015 (see below).

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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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