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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Safeties

Posted on 16 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in just over a week and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends

We continue at safety, a position at which the organization has exhausted extensive resources since Ed Reed played his final game as a Raven in Super Bowl XLVII. After failed draft picks and several underwhelming value signings, Baltimore finally went all in at the position by giving out a free-agent contract totaling $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons. Those dollars have given the Ravens one of the best safety groups in the NFL

This position isn’t quite as deep as cornerback, but the philosophy is similar with versatile pieces capable of filling different roles within the defense. This offers defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the option to rotate if he wants to give someone a breather or offer a different look to an opponent.

Below is a look at the safeties who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Earl Thomas
Skinny: The six-time Pro Bowl selection who helped lead Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense to a Super Bowl championship and another appearance in the big game gives the Ravens their first true center fielder at free safety since Reed. The defense will miss Eric Weddle’s football intellect on the back end, but Thomas provides a clear play-making upgrade and shouldn’t have too much difficulty adjusting to Baltimore’s more complex system from the direct Cover 3 looks he ran with the Seahawks. A four-year, $55 million contract including $32 million guaranteed automatically makes you “the man” of this group.

Old Reliable — Tony Jefferson
Skinny: Considering Thomas hasn’t played as much as a preseason game in a Ravens uniform, Jefferson is the default choice here as he’s become one of the defensive leaders after the departures of Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley in the offseason. The 27-year-old is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage and has missed only three games in his six-year NFL career. Critics may knock his four-year, $34 million contract or his intermediate-to-deep pass coverage, but the Ravens very much value what Jefferson brings to the field and the locker room.

Under Fire — Thomas
Skinny: The lucrative financial commitment made to Thomas came after he broke his lower left leg for the second time in three seasons last September and played in just 29 games over the last three seasons. The 30-year-old was playing at an elite level in the opening month of 2018, but you have to at least wonder what long-term toll the latest injury might have on his speed and agility entering his 10th season. Much is riding on Thomas remaining a special talent after so many key departures on defense left plenty of question marks among the front seven.

Up-and-Comer — DeShon Elliott
Skinny: The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas missed his rookie year after breaking his forearm in the preseason, but he was arguably the biggest surprise of the spring, showing impressive range in pass coverage on a few highlight interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Elliott also stood out with some physical play early in last year’s training camp, so that coupled with coverage ability could make it difficult to keep the 22-year-old off the field if the same play-making ability flashes this summer.

Sleeper — Anthony Levine
Skinny: The 32-year-old really shouldn’t be a sleeper at this point, but he remains underappreciated — especially outside Baltimore — as one of the best dime backs in the NFL. After years of that sub package being an afterthought, Levine finally got his chance in the role a few years ago and has excelled. The longtime special-teams standout recorded pass breakups on two of the final four defensive plays in the win over Cleveland last December to clinch the AFC North title, just an example of how important he’s been to the Ravens’ defensive success over the last few years.

The Rest — Chuck Clark, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Clark has been a rock-solid contributor as a backup safety and special-teams player over his first two seasons, but the deep depth across the secondary may mean it’s no lock the 2017 sixth-round selection from Virgina Tech makes the roster. Despite never appearing in an NFL regular-season game after being drafted by the New York Giants out of Notre Dame in 2014, Jackson is still chasing the dream after spending the 2018 preseason and part of the regular season on Baltimore’s practice squad.

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Ravens defense begins OTAs sporting different look

Posted on 23 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ first open organized team activity didn’t offer a great look at a defense that’s undergone substantial change this offseason.

As if the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban weren’t enough, six other notable defensive players weren’t participating in Thursday’s voluntary workout, leaving only a few established veterans, role players, and unproven young talents on the practice field. The list of absentees was headlined by six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, the blockbuster free-agent acquisition handpicked to help fill voids in leadership and play-making ability. Other defensive players not taking part were cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Tony Jefferson, who is still working his way back to full strength from offseason ankle surgery and was a sideline observer.

Though led by one of the NFL’s best and deepest secondaries, the Ravens defense faces major questions at the inside and outside linebacker positions ahead of the 2019 season

“There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces and I see a lot of new opportunities,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my [2017] draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves and to become those household names.”

As expected, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were lining up as the starting inside linebackers after sharing time at the weak-side inside backer spot next to Mosley last year, but trying to project the starting outside linebacker opposite Judon is anyone’s guess after Suggs manned the spot for the last 15 years. The Ravens hope some combination of third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will emerge, but the low-risk signings of Pernell McPhee, 30, and Shane Ray, 26 last week delivered the message that young players won’t be handed snaps without first earning them.

McPhee, who played for the Ravens from 2011-14, and Ray combined for only one sack with their former teams last season, but they rank first and third, respectively, among current Baltimore players in career sacks, illustrating the lack of established edge rushers on the roster.

“That certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come. You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come and not everybody does a good job of that. They did a good job of that. They were out there today. You saw them competing, so they looked good.”

Absences on the offensive side of the ball were more related to health as rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) only observed and guard Alex Lewis continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Right guard Marshal Yanda was not present, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has skipped voluntary OTAs in the past.

The most interesting absence Thursday was running back Kenneth Dixon, who likely stands fourth in his position’s hierarchy behind free-agent addition and two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram, 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill. Despite averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry upon returning from a knee injury late last season, Dixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a variable that often leaves a player’s job security vulnerable when competing at a deep position. His history of injuries and drug-related suspensions also works against him.

“He was here the last few days,” Harbaugh said. “Where was he today? I don’t know. They don’t have to tell us. There’s no rule.”

Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive tackle Gerald Willis were also absent, but Willis did sustain an apparent leg injury during rookie camp earlier this month.

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Five Ravens questions for start of organized team activities

Posted on 20 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s practice to the media, below are five questions on the defending AFC North champions in late May:

1. How will Lamar Jackson look passing the ball?

There’s no shortage of unknowns about the Ravens as they attempt to win back-to-back division titles for the first time since 2011 and 2012, but Jackson’s greatest supporters and toughest critics agree his development as a passer entering his first full season as the starter tops the priority list. He again worked on his mechanics and footwork with high school coach Joshua Harris and threw to Ravens wide receivers Jordan Lasley and Jaylen Smith in Florida, but OTAs will offer a glimpse at the strides he’s made. Team-produced highlight videos and public comments from coaches and teammates will be all positive, of course, but media will be permitted to watch three OTA workouts ahead of Baltimore’s mandatory three-day minicamp in mid-June. That’s not to say reporters will — or should — overreact to every rep, but more consistency is needed on a throw-to-throw basis, especially on out-breaking routes. How Jackson throws in spring practices will only tell so much, but it’s more than we know now after an offseason full of speculation, debate, and, in some cases, mindless hot takes about the quarterback’s abilities.

2. How will an uncertain linebacker picture start to take shape?

A 23-year-old franchise that’s reaped the benefits of seven different linebackers making a combined 33 Pro Bowls has never had a cloudier situation following the departures of Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. There’s no shortage of competition at outside linebacker with recent free-agent arrivals Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray competing with rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams for playing time opposite veteran starter Matthew Judon. However, general manager Eric DeCosta has yet to add a notable inside linebacker in the quest to replace Mosley, leaving former weak-side platoon partners Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young as de facto starters. We’re a long way from any decisions needing to be made and you can only take away so much from non-contact workouts, but how — and with which unit — these linebackers even line up will be interesting to watch. In an ideal world, at least one of McPhee and Ray would work out and one of Bowser and Williams would emerge to form a solid rotation with Judon and Ferguson. A veteran inside linebacker could still be added, but the Ravens seemingly want to take a long look at Onwuasor and Young as the two starters.

3. What will new offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense look like?

It’s no secret Roman was the mastermind behind the shift to a run-heavy attack when Jackson took the starting reins last November, but head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have repeatedly discussed the rebuilding and revamping of the offense “from the ground up” this offseason, making it clear they want to play to their quarterback’s strengths. We know the ground game will remain the foundation with DeCosta spending substantial money to sign former Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram and blocking tight end Nick Boyle to multi-year deals, but the wide receiver position has undergone significant change and the offensive line remains a position group of great interest with the competition at left guard — and perhaps center — shaping up to be tight. In addition to leaning heavily on the running game and the use of multiple tight ends, play-action passes were a staple in Roman’s past offenses.

4. Who will show up in Owings Mills and who won’t?

This is your annual reminder that OTAs are voluntary, but that won’t stop us from noting player attendance, in part because we know it’s important to coaches and many fans are interested. Prominent veterans around the league seeking long-term deals often skip these workouts, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see Judon, Michael Pierce, and others set to become free agents next year over these next few weeks. It’s also worth noting a few prominent veterans who regularly attended OTAs in the past such as Eric Weddle and Mosley are gone, which makes you wonder if incumbents in their mid-to-late-20s will feel as much unstated pressure to attend. Again, none of this is the big deal many try to make it out to be.

5. Will the Ravens escape the spring without any significant injuries?

Washington lost linebacker Reuben Foster to what’s believed to be a season-ending torn ACL Monday. Two springs ago, the Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young and tight end Dennis Pitta to season-ending injuries on consecutive days. Yes, teams are laying the groundwork for the 2019 season over these next several weeks, but getting through May and June workouts with your roster intact tops any coach’s spring wish list. First-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown isn’t expected to be on the practice field until training camp as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery and guard Alex Lewis’ short-term status is unclear after his January shoulder surgery, but the Ravens will use caution with every little ailment this spring while keeping their fingers crossed that nothing catastrophic occurs.

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Ravens defense looking like good case study for coverage-pressure debate

Posted on 13 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With veteran pass rusher and free-agent target Ezekiel Ansah joining Seattle last week, the Ravens defense faces a likely reality with organized team activities set to begin next week.

Barring something completely unforeseen, general manager Eric DeCosta probably isn’t upgrading the current group of pass rushers to a substantial degree. That’s not to say a veteran won’t still be added to the mix as former Los Angeles Ram Matt Longacre reportedly visited the Ravens Monday, but the quality of edge defenders still on the market isn’t dramatically different from the in-house options behind veteran Matt Judon that include third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 Day 2 picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams.

It’s not as though DeCosta hasn’t tried to add a veteran pass rusher after the departures of 2018 sacks leader Za’Darius Smith and the franchise’s all-time sacks leader in Terrell Suggs, but the short-term contracts given to Ansah and Justin Houston — who signed with Indianapolis — were a bit rich for a team trying to maintain an optimal salary-cap situation for 2020 and beyond. Few would argue with the decisions not to pay Smith and Suggs what they ultimately received from their new teams, but the defense is still losing just over 40 percent of its sack production from last year when you include the two combined sacks from fellow departures C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Brent Urban.

Of course, DeCosta hasn’t just stood pat defensively after losing those key players as his first major free-agent signing as general manager was six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to a four-year, $55 million contract. Injuries limited the 30-year-old to just 29 games in his final three seasons with the Seahawks, but Thomas represents a substantial upgrade — at least on paper — from the 34-year-old Weddle, who was using his intellect to overcome his physical limitations more than ever last season.

That upgrade to a secondary already viewed as one of the NFL’s best and the current concerns about the pass rush spark a fascinating question, one the football analytics community has debated at length in recent years.

Which is more valuable: coverage or pass rush?

The phrase “you win in the trenches” being drilled into ours heads for decades may have you laughing at the very notion of pass coverage being more important than pressure, but that’s a growing stance in today’s pass-happy NFL in which quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball more quickly and teams are using more play-action calls to neutralize defensive fronts. To be clear, pressure remains very important as the two feed off each other — you want both in a perfect world — but an edge rusher getting stonewalled by an offensive tackle typically brings less potential consequence than a defensive back faltering for even a fraction of a second in coverage on a given pass play.

Asked about which was more precious earlier this offseason, head coach John Harbaugh offered an answer seemingly agreeing with the analytics community’s position of coverage being more valuable than pass rush. It reflects Baltimore’s greatest defensive strength going into OTAs.

“I think coverage in the back end because I think you can create pressure,” Harbaugh said at the league meetings in March. “Pressure breaks pipes. You don’t have to be a one-dimensional, one pass-rush type guy. But the more good pass rushers you put into a pressure scheme, obviously, the better off you’re going to be. And you have more options. You can rush four, you can rush three. You can rush different people.

“I do believe you have to cover people in this league, but I can go the other way if you really squeeze me on it. But I don’t like not being able to cover people in all honesty. Maybe that’s just my own bias — I played defensive back a little, coached it. I really do believe you have to be able to cover people.”

It’s not as though the Ravens don’t desire good pass rushers, but they’ve made quality and depth in the secondary a priority over these last few years. After enduring draft disappointments Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks and underwhelming “value” signings in the three seasons following Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore has awarded big contracts to safeties in three of the last four offseasons. Last month also marked the fifth consecutive year in which the Ravens drafted a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier, creating a talent pipeline to avoid a repeat of 2014 when street free agent Rashaan Melvin was starting playoff games due to the lack of secondary depth entering that campaign. The recent investment of draft capital in cornerbacks coincided with signing veteran Brandon Carr to a four-year, $24 million contract two years ago and making Tavon Young the highest-paid slot cornerback in the NFL in February.

Perhaps the best indication of their current philosophy is the Ravens retaining cornerback Jimmy Smith despite having two other starting-caliber — and cheaper — cornerbacks in Marlon Humphrey and Carr and talented young options behind them. Smith will turn 31 in July and carries the highest 2019 cap number on the team at $15.85 million, which led many to view him as a likely cap casualty this offseason. Injuries and suspensions have limited him to 12 or fewer games in six of his eight NFL seasons and he was coming off an uneven 2018, but Baltimore has expressed little apparent interest in compromising its deep depth in the secondary, even if the $9.5 million saved by releasing Smith could have helped land a free-agent pass rusher like Houston or Ansah.

It remains to be seen how the pass rush fares without Za’Darius Smith and Suggs, whose combined 150 career sacks are more than twice as many as the 64 career takedowns produced by the entire current roster. Does a secondary potentially better than last year force opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball longer to create more pressure and sack opportunities for young rushers? Does the potential lack of pressure from inexperienced edge defenders cause more coverage breakdowns than we witnessed last year? Or, as Harbaugh suggested, are the Ravens confident in their ability to scheme pressure — as defensive coordinator Wink Martindale did last year — as long as the secondary performs at a high level?

The Ravens are pretty clearly betting on the coverage side of the give-take relationship, which should provide an interesting case study in the overall debate. Baltimore is depending on that philosophy minimizing what some fear could be a substantial drop-off on the defensive side of the ball.

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Ravens to play three prime-time games as part of 2019 schedule

Posted on 17 April 2019 by Luke Jones

Aiming to defend their AFC North championship and make the playoffs in back-to-back years, the Ravens are scheduled to appear in prime time three times during the 2019 season.

Baltimore opens the season at Miami on Sept. 8, but the schedule is headlined by a Sunday night encounter with defending Super Bowl champion New England on Nov. 3. This marks the first time the Ravens will host Sunday Night Football since 2012, which was also against the Patriots. It’s worth noting, however, that three other originally-scheduled Sunday night games — one in 2013 and two in 2015 — were flexed out of the prime-time spot over that time.

The Ravens will also host the New York Jets for a Thursday game in Week 15. They are 6-0 in Thursday home games under 12th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

Making their first trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Ravens will take on the defending NFC champion Rams on Nov. 25 for their lone appearance of the season on Monday Night Football.

Surprisingly, this marks the first time since 2006 that the Ravens and Pittsburgh aren’t scheduled to square off in a prime-time game — if including the 2016 Christmas Day classic that kicked off in the late afternoon — but these AFC North rivals will play in the regular-season finale for the first time since 2007 and the fourth time ever, which could create some captivating drama.

After a few daunting stretches of road games in recent seasons, the Ravens are the only team in the NFL who will alternate home and away games throughout the season, the first time that’s occurred in franchise history. The most challenging stretch of the season appears to be Week 7 through Week 12 when the Ravens play four playoff teams from a year ago, but even that run includes their bye week.

The Ravens will play five games against playoff teams from last season: Houston, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Rams, New England, and Seattle. They have nine games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2018: Arizona, Buffalo, Cincinnati (twice), Cleveland (twice), Miami, the New York Jets, and San Francisco.

For now, 12 of Baltimore’s 16 regular-season games are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday starts, but most games are subject to flexible scheduling (see below).

2019 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 8 at Miami Dolphins — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: As road openers go, the Ravens can’t be too unhappy with an opponent considered an early favorite for the first pick in the 2020 draft as these teams meet for the sixth time in the last seven years.

Sunday, Sept. 15 Arizona Cardinals — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: Ed Reed played against the Ravens as a New York Jet in 2013, but Terrell Suggs walking into Baltimore as “the bad guy” after 16 seasons in purple will be surreal.

Sunday, Sept. 22 at Kansas City Chiefs — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny:  A trip to Arrowhead Stadium is always a daunting task, but these teams played one of the best regular-season games of the season there last year.

Sunday, Sept. 29 Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Browns have four all-time wins at M&T Bank Stadium, but last season’s Week 17 meeting between Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson left everyone excited for more.

Sunday, Oct. 6 at Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: For the first time since 2013, the Ravens will not play be playing under the lights at Heinz Field, which will make everyone in Baltimore happy.

Sunday, Oct. 13 Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: You can make reasonable arguments for Baltimore, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh to win the AFC North, but it sure feels like the Bengals are “drawing dead” with Andy Dalton at this point.

Sunday, Oct. 20 at Seattle Seahawks — 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: You know six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas has been thinking about this one since before the ink was dry on his four-year, $55 million contract with his new team.

Sunday, Oct. 27  BYE
Skinny: Baltimore’s break falls no earlier than Week 8 for the eighth consecutive year.

Sunday, Nov. 3 vs. New England Patriots — 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Skinny: Times have definitely changed as just six players remain who were with the Ravens the last time they beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which was in the 2012 AFC championship game.

Sunday, Nov. 10 at Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: For the second year in a row, the Ravens will not close the regular season against the Bengals. New Year’s will never be the same.

Sunday, Nov. 17 Houston Texans — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Deshaun Watson went down with a knee injury weeks before the Texans’ last trip to Baltimore, but seeing him match up with the man who beat him out for the 2016 Heisman Trophy should be a blast.

Monday, Nov. 25 at Los Angeles Rams — 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Skinny: After going against the speedy Jackson in practice for a year, former Raven Eric Weddle will certainly share his tendencies with his Rams teammates for this attractive prime-time game.

Sunday, Dec. 1 San Francisco 49ers — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: The 49ers finished 4-12 last year, but a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo would make this late-season encounter far from a layup for the Ravens, who will be playing on a short week.

Sunday, Dec. 8 at Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Ravens are 0-2 in their previous trips to western New York with neither of those being played in December when the weather can be major factor.

Thursday, Dec. 12 vs. New York Jets — 8:20 p.m. (FOX/NFL Network)
Skinny: Four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley returns to Baltimore as the Ravens will hope to be jockeying for postseason positioning on a short week, which is always a test.

Sunday, Dec. 22 at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The upstart Browns have four prime-time games on their schedule, but I’m honestly surprised the Ravens’ trip to Cleveland wasn’t one of them.

Sunday, Dec. 29 Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: How exciting would it be for this one to be flexed to Sunday Night Football if the division title happens to be on the line?

Notes: Flexible scheduling can be applied for all Sunday games in Weeks 5 through 17. A flex-scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game except in the final week of the season. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Dec. 29.

Another wrinkle implemented in recent years is a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring certain games to wider audiences.

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Yanda, Ravens agree to one-year extension through 2020

Posted on 11 April 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have taken a meaningful step to subdue persistent speculation about seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda’s future.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the sides have agreed to a one-year extension that keeps the veteran lineman under contract through 2020. Yanda was entering the final season of a four-year, $32 million contract and was scheduled to make $7 million in base salary and carry a $10.125 million salary cap number, but it’s unclear how the additional year might impact those numbers for 2019.

Asked about Yanda at the pre-draft press conference last week, general manager Eric DeCosta made it clear he wanted to keep his best offensive lineman beyond the coming season. A 2007 third-round pick from Iowa with 162 career games under his belt, Yanda tied former teammate Terrell Suggs for the fourth-most Pro Bowl appearances in franchise history last year behind only Ray Lewis (13), Jonathan Ogden (11), and Ed Reed (nine), a trio of Hall of Famers.

“We love Marshal. We’d love to see Marshal continue to play for us for years,” DeCosta said. “He’s a great player; he’s still playing at a high level. He’s a Raven. I mean you could define a Raven and put a picture of Marshal Yanda up there, and that’s him.”

Yanda’s continued presence provides much-needed stability for an organization in great on-field transition with key veterans such as Suggs, Joe Flacco, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle departing this offseason. Despite missing most of 2017 with a broken ankle and undergoing the third shoulder surgery of his pro career last offseason, Yanda returned to start every game last season, finished second on the team in total snaps, and graded fourth among all qualified NFL guards, according to Pro Football Focus.

Introspective comments he made last summer had led many to wonder this offseason whether he would ultimately return for a 13th campaign, even as team officials said they expected him to continue playing. Speaking to reporters at an Ed Block Courage Award Foundation event last month, Yanda noted how great it felt to be healthy in the offseason for the first time in a few years, but he didn’t say definitively whether he would continue his playing career.

“A general rule of thumb is once you get to 10 years, I feel like every year you have to reassess and reevaluate,” Yanda said last August. “Me not playing pretty much at all [in 2017], there was no question I definitely wanted to play this fall and get after it and be a part of it. You reassess and reevaluate. I’ll take my time after the season, but right now I’m focused on this year and doing my part.”

Yanda is one of just six remaining players who were with the organization when the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII at the end of the 2012 season.

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Ravens add six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to revamped defense

Posted on 13 March 2019 by Luke Jones

Following the departures of three former Pro Bowl players and their 2018 sack leader in the last week, the Ravens were looking like a defense in the midst of an unsettling youth movement.

That perception changed dramatically with an agreement to sign six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to a four-year, $55 million contract with $32 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The former Seattle Seahawk not only replaces veteran Eric Weddle at free safety, but he provides Baltimore a ball-hawking presence for the first time since the days of Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed patrolling the secondary.

After holding out for the entire 2018 preseason over a contract dispute, the 29-year-old Thomas appeared in only four games last year before suffering a season-ending broken lower leg. However, his play-making ability was still evident despite missing all of training camp as he intercepted three passes, which would have led the Ravens defense for the entire season.

Thomas also missed the final five games of the 2016 season with a broken tibia.

Part of the “Legion of Boom” secondary that helped lead the Seahawks to a Super Bowl championship and an appearance in another, Thomas has recorded 28 interceptions and 68 pass breakups in 125 career games. The only seasons in which the 2010 first-round pick from Texas has missed the Pro Bowl since his rookie year were his injury-shortened campaigns in two of the last three years as he’s been regarded as the consensus best free safety in the NFL since the final years of Reed’s brilliant career.

Thomas’ impressive range will afford defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the flexibility to call more single-high safety looks, something the Ravens had to be careful in using with a less athletic Weddle at the position. Such an alignment plays to the strengths of strong safety Tony Jefferson, who is better playing closer to the line of scrimmage where he can stop the run and blitz in certain situations.

Much work remains to be done on the front seven after the departures of four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker and potential future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs, and rush specialist Za’Darius Smith. However, the secondary is shaping up to be even better than it was a year ago with Thomas and Jefferson at safety, the trio of Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Jimmy Smith at outside cornerback, and slot cornerback Tavon Young.

The reported signings of Thomas and two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram on Wednesday certainly lifted the spirits of Ravens supporters who had seen those four defensive departures — as well as starting wide receiver John Brown — sign elsewhere. The exodus was enough to make many wonder if Baltimore was even entering a rebuilding period to better position itself for future seasons by preserving salary cap space and 2020 compensatory picks, but signing one of the NFL’s best defensive players over the last decade was a clear sign that expectations remain high for the coming season.

The truth is DeCosta made difficult decisions that may still hurt the Ravens in the short term. There’s no losing such a high level of leadership, football intellect, and institutional knowledge from Suggs and Weddle without there being some void, even with the latter being replaced by a better individual player. Mosley and Smith ultimately received more money than Baltimore was willing to pay, but you don’t just brush off losing one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers and the team’s best pass rusher without preparing for potential growing pains. The organization expected to keep Suggs and tried to retain Mosley, so it would be silly to dismiss those departures as no big deal when the Ravens certainly didn’t feel that way.

At the same time, it was no secret the second half of last season brought the awkward juxtaposition of the start of the Lamar Jackson era and the potential last ride for several veterans and players in the final year of their contract. In his first offseason as general manager, DeCosta had the salary cap space to keep both Weddle and Suggs around for one more run, but what were the odds they would even maintain their 2018 level of play at their respective ages? The Ravens certainly could have been more proactive in signing Mosley to a extension — and could have even used the franchise tag — long before the New York Jets made him an $85 million offer on Monday, but DeCosta understood the risks of allowing it to get to that point.

And let’s not forget the Ravens own only one playoff victory in the last six years. Beyond the understandable sentimentality and appreciation fans felt for one of the franchise’s all-time greats in Suggs. DeCosta wasn’t exactly busting up a Super Bowl team in the same way Ozzie Newsome had in 2002 and 2013.

The 2018 defense was greater than the sum of its parts, but duplicating that same degree of on-field success with the status quo would have been difficult, especially with Smith’s departure that was always expected. Thomas’ arrival not only helps fill a leadership void, but he brings greater play-making ability in the secondary.

And while he and Ingram alone do not guarantee improved chances of winning a Super Bowl than a year ago, they are the first additions of an offseason more intriguing than anything we’ve seen from the Ravens in several years.

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Mosley receives record-setting contract from New York Jets

Posted on 12 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have lost a third former Pro Bowl player on their top-ranked defense from a year ago.

According to NFL Network, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley will receive a massive five-year, $85 million deal from the New York Jets that includes $51 million guaranteed. The deal makes the four-time Pro Bowl selection the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history and shatters the eyebrow-raising four-year, $54 million contract San Francisco awarded veteran linebacker Kwon Alexander on Monday. The Ravens had deemed keeping Mosley a priority and the 2014 first-round pick had repeatedly expressed his desire to stay despite the sides being slow to engage in extension talks last year, but general manager Eric DeCosta was not willing to go as high as the Jets’ lucrative final offer.

DeCosta will now be tasked with rebuilding a Baltimore defense that has already said goodbye to seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle. Those two were well into their 30s and nearing the end of their respective careers, but the loss of the 26-year-old Mosley represents uncharted territory for the Ravens, who had never lost a multi-time Pro Bowl selection in his mid-20s. Baltimore also lost 2018 sack leader Za’Darius Smith, who agreed to a deal with the Green Bay Packers later on Tuesday.

Despite suffering a knee injury in Week 2 that cost him nearly two full games this past season, Mosley played in 15 games and led the Ravens with 105 tackles. His lone interception of 2018 came in the closing moments of the regular-season finale to seal a 26-24 win over Cleveland and Baltimore’s first AFC North championship since 2012.

Selected with the 17th overall pick of the 2014 draft out of Alabama, Mosley was tabbed as the successor to Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who had retired the previous offseason. That responsiblity was one Mosley took seriously, but it led to unfair expectations for some of his critics who were quick to point out his relative deficiencies, particularly in pass coverage. Mosley missed only three games in five seasons and concludes his run with the Ravens fifth on their all-time tackles list behind only Lewis, Suggs, Kelly Gregg, and Ed Reed.

How the Ravens replace Mosley’s presence in the middle of the defense remains to be seen, but weak-side inside linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young are both in line for increased responsibilities. The young duo combined to play fewer snaps (803) than Mosley (875) last year, but the Ravens could also look to add a cheaper veteran or another inside linebacker in April’s draft.

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Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Suggs leaving Ravens after 16 seasons

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Luke Jones

If you weren’t convinced the Ravens defense was entering a new era, Monday brought the biggest sign yet as one of the best players in franchise history is saying goodbye.

After seven Pro Bowls, a Defensive Player of the Year award, a Super Bowl championship, and three times as many career sacks as all but two other Ravens, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is expected to sign with Arizona, ending an incredible 16-year run with the organization that selected him with the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft. The 36-year-old free agent often expressed hope of staying with the Ravens for the remainder of his career, but he acknowledged the possibility of that not happening at the end of last season. The Cardinals provide Suggs the opportunity to return home as he attended high school in Arizona and was an All-American standout at Arizona State.

New general manager Eric DeCosta said last month he wanted Suggs to return for a 17th season, which would have tied Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis for the longest tenure in Ravens history. It remains unclear how far apart the sides might have been in contract talks.

“I think Sizz is definitely a guy that we want back,” DeCosta said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. “This is a good opportunity for us to meet with his agents this week, which will happen in the next few days. He’s a guy that means a lot to our franchise as a player, but also as a leader. I would love to have him back next year.”

Suggs is the second key veteran to leave Baltimore’s top-ranked defense after Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was released last week and signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Free-agent inside linebacker C.J. Mosley would become the third Pro Bowl defensive player to depart if the Ravens can’t strike a new deal with their 2014 first-round pick.

With Suggs set to join the Cardinals and fellow free agent Za’Darius Smith likely departing as well, the Ravens’ top remaining options opposite starting strong-side outside linebacker Matthew Judon are Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, a pair of 2017 Day 2 draft choices who have yet to live up to expectations at the next level.

Suggs started 16 games last season, collecting 34 tackles, seven sacks, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble return for a touchdown. However, he registered just 1 1/2 sacks over the last 10 games of the season, which included the home playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Pro Football Focus graded Suggs as the 36th-best edge defender in the NFL in 2018.

The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year and owner of seven double-digit sack seasons is first on the Ravens’ career sacks list with 132 1/2 while the next two on the list — Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary — combined for 121. Suggs’ 33 career forced fumbles also top the franchise career list.

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Weddle quickly finds new home with defending NFC champions

Posted on 08 March 2019 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens safety Eric Weddle wasted little time finding a new home and may have improved his chances of winning that elusive Super Bowl championship to cap an impressive career.

The six-time Pro Bowl selection agreed to a two-year contract with the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on Friday, ending a brief stay on the free-agent market. According to NFL Network, Weddle received a deal worth up to $12.5 million and $5.25 million fully guaranteed. The 34-year-old was scheduled to make a $6.5 million base salary in 2019 before being released on Tuesday, a move that saved Baltimore $7.5 million in salary cap space.

Weddle is a California native and still lives in San Diego after spending the first nine years of his NFL career with the Chargers, making his new team a good geographical fit as well. The Ravens are scheduled to travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams during the 2019 season.

“He is just the consummate football player, the consummate leader,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Thursday. “He will go down in history like that. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”

How general manager Eric DeCosta plans to replace Weddle at safety remains to be seen, but there are several attractive options on the free-agent market. Six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas headlines the group, but Tyrann Mathieu, Landon Collins, Adrian Amos, Lamarcus Joyner, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are other notable safeties who will officially become available next week.

In another offseason move that was anticipated, the Ravens placed a second-round tender on restricted free-agent linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, according to ESPN. The tender carries a $3.095 million salary for the 2019 season, but any team wishing to pursue the 26-year-old would need to sign him to an offer sheet and surrender a second-round pick if the Ravens chose not to match the deal. His role would likely increase if four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley departs via free agency next week.

Restricted free-agent defensive tackle Michael Pierce is also likely to receive a second-round tender.

Upon tendering Onwuasor and Pierce and officially completing the trade of quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver on Wednesday, the Ravens will have roughly $30 million in salary cap space at the start of free agency. However, that number does not yet include the tendering of exclusive-rights free agents or the 2019 cap number for tight end Nick Boyle, who was re-signed to a three-year, $18 million contract on Thursday. The year-by-year terms of Boyle’s deal haven’t yet been reported.

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