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Ranking best veteran bargain signings for 2020 Ravens

Posted on 01 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Expectations for the 2020 Ravens couldn’t be higher, but even the best seasons don’t go exactly as planned.

A longtime starter begins to decline more rapidly than anticipated. Promising young players expected to fill prominent roles don’t always take the proverbial step forward. And, of course, some injuries are inevitable. That’s why it’s important to identify some veteran bargains — especially when you’re tight against the salary cap as the Ravens often are — to fill rotational roles and to serve as insurance behind higher-priced starters or unproven youngsters.

Prior to the 2012 Super Bowl season, Baltimore signed former Chicago Bears cornerback Corey Graham to a two-year, $3.95 million contract primarily for his special-teams prowess after the relative unknown had started just 10 games in his first five NFL seasons. Beginning the year fourth on the cornerback depth chart, Graham played only seven defensive snaps over the first five games before a season-ending injury to Lardarius Webb and the multi-week absence of Jimmy Smith propelled him to the starting lineup for the second half of the season. The 27-year-old was Baltimore’s top cornerback down the stretch and intercepted two Peyton Manning passes — returning one for a touchdown — in the epic divisional-round double-overtime win at Denver.

You just never know.

Considering positional value and the depth at different spots on either side of the ball, I’ve ranked the veteran bargains (making less than $2 million in 2020 and not on a rookie contract) signed or re-signed by general manager Eric DeCosta this offseason:

1. G D.J. Fluker
2020 base salary/cap number: $1.05 million/$775,000 (veteran salary benefit)
Outlook: Ideally, one of several first- or second-year candidates with long-term upside would emphatically move to the front of the line to replace retired eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, but offensive line development is tricky even without a pandemic wiping out the normal spring workout program. That’s why the addition of the 29-year-old Fluker and his 88 career starts was a smart investment to raise the position’s floor at just 0.4 percent of the total salary cap for 2020. Pro Football Focus graded him just 51st among qualified guards last season, but his past experience working with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in San Diego made this signing even more logical.

2. OLB Pernell McPhee
2020 base salary/cap number: $1.05 million/$887,500 (veteran salary benefit)
Outlook: A triceps tear in Week 7 derailed what had been a renaissance for the 31-year-old, who still finished tied for third on the team with three sacks and tied for fifth in quarterback hits with six in just seven games. Even better than his pass-rush contributions was his ability to set the edge as PFF graded him the best run defender among the Ravens’ edge players. Averaging a career-high number of snaps per game prior to the injury, McPhee should be in more of a situational role at this point in his career, but that could hinge on the development of second-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson.

3. OLB Jihad Ward
2020 base salary/cap number: $910,000/$887,500 (veteran salary benefit)
Outlook: Much like McPhee, Ward showed the ability to effectively set the edge and line up at multiple spots along the defensive front, earning praise from coaches and teammates after his October arrival. Those comments prompted some to expect the 26-year-old to see more interest in free agency, but the Ravens were able to keep him around at outside linebacker and as a situational inside rusher. McPhee is the more proven player, but youth is on Ward’s side to fill a bigger role if necessary.

4. DB Anthony Levine
2020 base salary/cap number: $1.675 million/$1.1875 million (four-year qualifying player)
Outlook: The 33-year-old saw his role diminish in the second half of 2019, but the longtime dime back has the versatility coaches like in this age of increasing “positionless” defense. He may no longer play 250-plus defensive snaps per season like he did from 2017-18, but Levine’s leadership and ability on special teams alone justify the signing for a team that struggled some in that area down the stretch last year. How he still might fit into Wink Martindale’s various packages remains to be seen.

5. DT Justin Ellis
2020 base salary/cap number: $910,000/$887,500 (veteran salary benefit)
Outlook: The selections of Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington in April’s draft added young depth to the defensive line, but the unproven Daylon Mack is the only other notable backup to starting nose tackle Brandon Williams, making the Ellis re-signing more important with the free-agent departure of Michael Pierce. Upon arriving last November, Ellis, 29, didn’t play much, but he graded out favorably when he saw action in the defensive line rotation.

Other veteran value signings this offseason: WR Chris Moore, WR De’Anthony Thomas, OT Andre Smith, ILB Jake Ryan
Outlook: 
Moore remains one of the better special-teams players on the team while Thomas will compete for the return specialist role he held late last season. Smith’s career has been in a steady decline for a few years now, but the lack of depth behind Pro Bowl offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. makes him someone to monitor this summer. Ryan’s roster chances looked promising until the selections of inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in April’s draft.

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McPhee, Ravens agree to one-year deal for 2020 season

Posted on 05 May 2020 by Luke Jones

After not adding an edge rusher during the 2020 draft, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta turned to a familiar face to add viable depth to the position.

Baltimore announced a one-year agreement to re-sign outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who returned to the team who originally drafted him last year and started seven games before a torn triceps against Seattle ended his 2019 season. McPhee, 31, finished tied for third on the team with three sacks and tied for fifth with six quarterback hits while effectively setting the edge against the run.

McPhee’s injury pushed 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson into a starting role in the second half of the season, but the veteran was able to revitalize his career after failing to register a sack in 13 games for Washington a year earlier. Selected by the Ravens in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of Mississippi State, McPhee relished the opportunity to return to the place he won a Super Bowl and spent the first four seasons of his career, signing a one-year, $1.03 million last May.

“He wanted to prove himself. He wanted to get back on track and demonstrate that he still could play,” said head coach John Harbaugh after McPhee’s season-ending injury last October. “And to do it here, to be the leader that he was, he’s been instrumental. He’s been instrumental with the young guys. He’s been a very good player for us.

“I see no reason why he can’t recover from a triceps injury and be back next year stronger than ever.”

With Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon continuing to man the strong side after receiving the franchise tag earlier this offseason, the trio of McPhee, Ferguson, and Jihad Ward are likely to compete for the starting rush linebacker job. Regardless of how the rotation plays out, the Ravens would like to keep McPhee on a more limited snap count after he averaged a career-high 42.5 defensive snaps per game through the first six weeks of 2019 as an edge defender and an inside rusher in passing situations.

Over nine NFL seasons, McPhee has collected 34 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 15 pass breakups in 116 games.

In other roster news, the Ravens have signed 2020 fifth-round defensive tackle Broderick Washington, the first of their 10 draft picks to ink his rookie contract.

Baltimore also signed the following undrafted free agents: Utah defensive back Josh Nurse, Elon defensive end Marcus Willoughby, Tennessee-Martin wide receiver Jaylon Moore, Northern Arizona cornerback Khalil Dorsey, Tennessee safety Nigel Warrior, and Georgia tight end Eli Wolf. The Ravens have officially added 14 rookie free agents since the conclusion of the draft.

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Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith (81) makes a touchdown catch against Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Carr’s option declined by Ravens as new league year quietly begins

Posted on 18 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Starting every game over the last three seasons to continue his amazing streak since entering the NFL in 2008, defensive back Brandon Carr apparently won’t be back with the Ravens.

The organization declined its option that would have paid Carr $6 million for the 2020 season, making him a “non-compensable” unrestricted free agent. The Ravens will not be eligible to receive a compensatory pick for Carr, who will turn 34 in May and signed a four-year, $23.5 million contract in 2017 after previously playing for Kansas City and Dallas.

Despite playing 76 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps last season, Carr saw his role change, transitioning from outside cornerback to the nickel and eventually the dime safety spot down the stretch. The 6-foot, 210-pound defensive back finished with 49 tackles, two sacks, and six pass breakups last season and was graded 52nd among 113 qualified corners by Pro Football Focus.

Carr’s 192 consecutive starts is the longest active streak among NFL defensive players and second to only quarterback Philip Rivers (224). Highly respected in the locker room and very active in every community in which he’s spent time, Carr was the Ravens recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award this past year and was the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year in each of the last two seasons.

“You know how this business goes. Prepare for anything,” said Carr about his status after the playoff loss to Tennessee. “But most definitely, this has been one of the best rides I’ve been on. The organization is hands down the best that I’ve been a part of, both on and off the field. It’s been an amazing three years.

“We’ll see what happens after this, but I’ve been blessed to play this game for 12 [years], and it was just an incredible run this year.”

His departure wasn’t a major shock as he was projected to be no better than the Ravens’ No. 4 cornerback and third safety, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s affinity for using the dime package will leave general manager Eric DeCosta needing to add more depth and versatility in the secondary. Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith remains an unrestricted free agent as the market has apparently been slow to develop, leaving open the possibility for his return to the Ravens.

DeCosta also declined tendering restricted free-agent guard Parker Ehinger and exclusive-rights free agents Randin Crecelius and Fish Smithson, moves that were anticipated.

The organization formally announced the Hayden Hurst trade two days after agreeing to send the 2018 first-round pick and a fourth-round selection to Atlanta for second-round and fifth-round choices in this year’s draft.

“Hayden is a talented, emerging player in this league and a high-character individual for whom we have a lot of respect,” DeCosta said in a statement. “We are grateful for the contributions he made to our team and for the role he played in our success the past two seasons. We feel this is a mutually-beneficial deal, and we wish Hayden the very best in Atlanta.”

Not counting the Sam Koch extension, the Hurst trade was the only reported move announced by the Ravens Wednesday afternoon as NFL teams remain in a holding pattern due to the coronavirus pandemic. Free agents aren’t permitted to visit a club facility or another location to meet with team personnel, and club personnel — including the team’s medical staff — may not travel to any location to meet with or conduct medical examinations for a free agent.

That means the acquisitions of Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and run-stopping defensive tackle Michael Brockers and the re-signings of edge defender Jihad Ward and defensive tackle Justin Ellis are technically still pending. The NFL and NFL Players Association are currently working on protocols to address these unprecedented obstacles.

“We continue to make the well-being and safety of our organization and community top priorities during this critical public health situation,” DeCosta stated. “In compliance with a recent memo sent by the NFL Management Council, we will withhold official announcement of any personnel moves until prospective players have safely executed a physical examination and signed a contract.

“Despite these circumstances, we are excited about the steps we’ve taken — and will continue to take — to improve our team during this free agency period. We look forward to announcing our moves at the appropriate time.”

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Baltimore Ravens defensive end Jihad Ward (53) sacks New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) on a third down play in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 37-20. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens reportedly re-sign Ward, Ellis to continue building defensive front

Posted on 17 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continued to reinforce their front seven by re-signing two depth pieces who brought relief  during the 2019 season.

According to NFL Network, defensive tackle Justin Ellis agreed to a one-year contract while The Athletic reported a deal with edge defender Jihad Ward on Tuesday. The Ravens had been working to retain both veterans in the weeks leading up to the official start of free agency.

Signed to a rotational role in early October, the 25-year-old Ward showed the ability to effectively set the edge against the run and the versatility to line up in different pass-rushing spots, helping fill the absence of the injured Pernell McPhee. The 2016 second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders collected seven tackles, one sack, a pass breakup, and two fumble recoveries in 372 snaps over 11 regular-season games. Despite those modest numbers, the 6-foot-5, 287-pound Ward drew praise from coaches and teammates for his contributions.

“This guy is a great fit in our defense. We liked him coming out of the draft,” head coach John Harbaugh said in January. “I remember our scouts liked him and our coaches liked him. I liked him. And then all of a sudden from a turn of events, he’s sitting there staring you in the face, and then you’re like, ‘Well, is he going to work for us?’ Man, he came up aces.”

Ellis, 29, was signed in mid-November as defensive tackle Michael Pierce was sidelined with an ankle injury. The 350-pound defensive lineman was a healthy scratch for three games in December, but he played well in limited snaps, making six tackles in four regular-season games and another in the divisional-round loss to Tennessee.

The deals hadn’t been officially announced as of Tuesday evening, but both players made references alluding to re-signing with the Ravens on their verified Instagram accounts.

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How did Ravens outside linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 28 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 outside linebackers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Inside linebackers
Offensive linemen

Matthew Judon
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 840
PFF ranking: 44th among edge defenders
Skinny: Baltimore’s sack leader is polarizing with PFF ranking him 51st in pass-rush win rate and labeling 35 of his 62 pressures as unblocked or coming in cleanup situations while ESPN viewed his win rate more favorably until some late-season fade. Ranking fourth in the NFL in quarterback hits, Judon is certainly valuable, but how that aligns with what he’ll ultimately be paid is the difficult question.

Jaylon Ferguson
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 535
PFF ranking: 88th among edge defenders
Skinny: A healthy scratch for two games to begin the season, injuries pushed the 2019 third-round pick from Louisiana Tech into a starting role after the bye week. Ferguson showed growth as a run defender as the season progressed, but he registered just 2 1/2 sacks and nine quarterback hits, not adding much bite to a pass rush that needed more impact.

Tyus Bowser
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 401
PFF ranking: 38th among edge defenders
Skinny: The 2017 second-round pick had the best season of his career with five sacks and flashed in pass coverage, but inconsistency and struggles playing the run continued to hold him back from a larger role. Bowser is the Ravens’ most experienced outside linebacker under control for 2020, but he is entering a contract year and must build on his improvement in what could be a bigger role.

Jihad Ward
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 402
PFF ranking: 99th among edge defenders
Skinny: Ward’s numbers certainly didn’t stand out with just seven tackles and one sack, but Ravens coaches and teammates praised his dirty work in the rotation after signing in early October. The former second-round pick was solid setting the edge and would also line up inside in obvious passing situations, the kind of positional versatility Baltimore valued after Pernell McPhee was lost for the season.

Pernell McPhee
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 260
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed to a one-year, $1.03 million contract to return to Baltimore last spring, the Super Bowl XLVII champion was everything the Ravens could have expected with 19 tackles and three sacks before he tore his triceps in Week 7. The 31-year-old seems unlikely to be a top priority and was forced into playing too many snaps last season, but he still fits the profile of a solid rotation option at the right price.

2020 positional outlook

The Judon decision may very well define the offseason as the Ravens must choose whether to use more than half of their projected salary cap space for the franchise tag, make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid edge rushers, or lose him and then be forced to make multiple additions to this position group. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale relied on the blitz more than anyone in the league last year, but the Ravens ranked only 21st in the NFL with 37 sacks, making it clear that work needs to be done at this position even if Judon stays put. This will be a big offseason for Ferguson, who didn’t show enough to justify penciling him in for more than a rotational role if the Ravens are serious about improving off the edge. Like last season, a strong secondary and Martindale’s aggressive mindset can cover up for some deficiencies, but Baltimore needs to be more disruptive with a conventional four-man rush than what we saw last year.

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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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Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) reacts while holding a smartphone after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Examining Ravens’ 2020 class of free agents

Posted on 15 January 2020 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is just under two months away with the Ravens entering the offseason sooner than anticipated after a franchise-record 14-2 regular season that ended with shocking disappointment in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2020 salary cap commitment of just over $166 million to 41 players (not including pending free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future contracts), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2020 salary cap has not been officially set, but it’s projected to rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to an estimated $200 million.

General manager Eric DeCosta seems likely to create additional cap space by extending, renegotiating, or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. That list could include the likes of safety Tony Jefferson, offensive lineman James Hurst, and defensive back Brandon Carr, who all have 2020 cap numbers that may exceed how the Ravens value their services at this point. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is a logical candidate for a long-term contract extension as he’s set to carry a $12.866 million cap figure in his fifth-year option season.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2020 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to extend any of the following unrestricted free agents before they may officially sign with any team beginning March 18 at 4 p.m.

LB Josh Bynes The 30-year-old was one of Baltimore’s best in-season signings in recent memory and graded sixth among linebackers by Pro Football Focus, but long-term solutions will be explored.

DT Justin Ellis The 350-pound run-stopping lineman was a healthy scratch in three of the last four regular-season games, but the status of other defensive linemen may help his chances for a return.

OL Hroniss Grasu His second stint with Baltimore led to him being a game-day reserve late in the season, but you’d expect the Ravens to aim to improve their interior offensive line depth.

OLB Matthew Judon The Pro Bowl selection will be paid lucratively by someone, but does the lack of depth at this position force Baltimore to step outside its financial comfort zone to keep him?

DB Anthony Levine – Though still a special-teams standout, the 32-year-old played in just 17 percent of defensive snaps as his particular role in the dime package diminished in 2019.

OLB Pernell McPhee A torn triceps ended what had been a productive start to his ninth NFL campaign, so McPhee returning in a situational role at a cheap price seems plausible.

WR Chris Moore – The 2016 fourth-round pick hasn’t developed into the deep-threat wide receiver some hoped he would be, but he’s been one of Baltimore’s best special-teams players since his arrival.

ILB Patrick Onwuasor Considered an ascending player poised for a 2019 breakout, Onwuasor struggled at the “Mike” and saw his role diminish as the year progressed, leaving his future in doubt.

DT Domata Peko The 35-year-old left open the possibility of playing a 15th NFL season, but Baltimore would probably prefer more youth and long-term upside for this position group.

DT Michael Pierce Pierce worked his way back into shape after well-documented weight problems in the spring and is in line for a substantial payday despite not having a standout contract year.

DB Jordan Richards Until being deemed a healthy scratch in the playoff loss to the Titans, Richards was a regular on special teams and only turns 27 later this month.

WR Seth Roberts He ranked third among Baltimore wide receivers in snaps and blocks well, but his costly drop in the first half of the playoff loss reinforces the need for more play-making ability here.

OT Andre Smith Signed as a depth piece last week, the former Cincinnati Bengal and 2009 first-round pick has 98 career starts under his belt and probably isn’t in the organization’s long-term plans.

CB Jimmy Smith In an ideal world, Smith would re-sign as part of an outside trio including Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, but his likely asking price and injury history are deterrents.

WR/RS De’Anthony Thomas – He showed little as a returner and was flagged for blocking after calling a fair catch in the playoff loss, a costly penalty he committed more than once this season.

S Brynden Trawick An elbow injury limited him to just six games, but the 30-year-old is a good special-teams player, which always leaves the door open for a return to Baltimore.

DE/OLB Jihad Ward Coaches and teammates spoke highly of the 25-year-old edge defender this season, making his return to be part of the rotation quite possible at a reasonable price.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has the right to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2020 salary cap is finalized — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.407 million in 2019) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($3.095 million in 2019) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($2.205 million in 2019) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo a tender and will attempt to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

OL Parker Ehinger (fourth) – The 27-year-old was active in four of the last five regular-season games, but signing him to anything more than a league-minimum deal would be surprising.

C Matt Skura (undrafted) – The second-round tender seemed likely for the starter before a serious knee injury in late November, but the Ravens gambling with the low tender isn’t impossible now.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the idea that there’s nothing promised beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

OL Randin Crecelius After spending 2018 on the practice squad, the former rookie free agent sustained a concussion early in training camp and was placed on IR at the end of the preseason.

RB Gus Edwards The second-year backup to Mark Ingram averaged 5.3 yards per carry and would start for plenty of teams around the league, making him a great value to the organization.

DB Fish Smithson The 25-year-old Baltimore native was signed late in the preseason and ended up on IR just a few days later.

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Opponent doesn’t matter as Ravens seek final clinching win in December

Posted on 19 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Sunday’s game in Cleveland isn’t about the Ravens settling a score or exacting revenge against the last team to beat them nearly three months ago.

It’s not about strengthening Lamar Jackson’s position as the MVP favorite, showcasing a record-tying 12 Pro Bowl selections, or collecting more style points in extending their winning streak to 11.

Division rivalry games in December usually carry great meaning, but the class of the AFC North has been clear since Halloween. The final objective for John Harbaugh’s team in the regular season is a single victory to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Nothing more, nothing less.

The Browns are just another opponent, regardless of their surprising 40-25 win in Baltimore on Sept. 29.

“We can control our own fate, have two home games no matter what if we win the first playoff game and have that first-round bye,” said 13th-year right guard and Super Bowl XLVII champion Marshal Yanda. “That’s obviously what we’re fighting for, and that’s a huge deal for sure. That shouldn’t change the way we play [Sunday], but obviously, we understand that’s in front of us.”

Much has changed since that first meeting when the Ravens allowed an ugly 40 points, 530 yards, and 193 rushing yards, all season highs. Of the 21 Baltimore players to play defensive snaps in that Week 4 effort, 12 are either in a reduced defensive role, on injured reserve, or out of the organization entirely. Seven players who played 17 or more defensive snaps last week — cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, and rotational pass rusher Jihad Ward — were either not with the organization for that first meeting or out due to injury while another major contributor, starting safety Chuck Clark, played just 14 snaps in Week 4.

That in-season facelift has transformed the Ravens defense from a bottom-10 unit after the first month of the season to one ranking in the top seven in most major categories entering Week 16. Since giving up 30 points in the second half of that Week 4 loss, the Ravens haven’t given up more than 23 in an entire game, improvement that’s cemented their position as the Super Bowl favorite.

“When you get new guys coming in, it’s not one of those, ‘Hurry up and get going, and you’ll get with us when you get with us,’” said Williams, who missed the loss to the Browns due to a knee injury. “We’re picking everybody up, trying to get everybody on the same page. If you come in here, you have to help us to win. We want to get you to your peak as fast as possible.”

The defensive performance in that loss has been the more popular topic of discussion this week, but how the offense fared that day could bring the more relevant lesson for Sunday’s tilt. In a season in which their top-ranked, record-setting scoring offense has come away with points on 10 of its 14 opening drives, the Ravens punted on each of their first three possessions against the Browns and scored just seven points in the first half, allowing the visitor to play with a lead for most of the afternoon.

A repeat of that slow start could give a Cleveland team all but officially eliminated from playoff contention the incentive and energy to play up to its talent level, a rare occurrence in 2019. On the flip side, a fast beginning for the Ravens would sour an already disenchanted crowd for Cleveland’s home finale and likely return the 6-8 Browns to the lifeless funk they showed in a 38-24 loss at Arizona last week.

The objective is clear without any need for extra story lines or drama.

Win one more game against one more regular-season opponent.

“We know they want to sweep us,” Jackson said. “We’re the Ravens, and we’re having so much success this year. That’s what everybody wants to do: beat us. We just have to go into Cleveland and have a good game.”

Yanda strengthens Canton case

Few would have guessed Yanda would one day trail only three Hall of Famers on the Ravens’ all-time Pro Bowl selections list when he was entering his fifth season in Baltimore.

The 2007 third-round pick from Iowa had a solid reputation at that point in his career, but a serious knee injury in his second season and annual questions along the Baltimore offensive line had left Yanda as more of a super-utility lineman, moving back and forth between right guard and right tackle. That versatility prompted the Ravens to extend Yanda prior to the 2011 season, the year he’d finally settle in at right guard and earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

After eight Pro Bowls in a nine-year period — the one miss coming in a season in which he played in just two games due to a broken ankle — Yanda continues to build an impressive resume at a position not commonly recognized in Canton.

“It doesn’t matter if you’d made one or you’d made 15, it’s a special deal for sure,” Yanda said. “Everybody works extremely hard. Every year, you start at the bottom of the mountain and you’ve got to climb and you’ve got to put the work in.”

You wonder if he’d have a couple more Pro Bowls to his name and an easier case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame had he settled into the right guard spot sooner, but those early career circumstances may not even matter as his elite reputation continues to grow in his mid-30s.

Special teams mishaps

Special teams coach Chris Horton didn’t offer many specifics about his units’ difficulties in the Week 15 win over the New York Jets, but the urgency is there to rebound on Sunday.

How poor was the special-teams performance? It ranked as Football Outsiders’ worst single-game showing of any team this year in terms of DVOA, dropping the Ravens in special-teams efficiency from fourth to 14th for the season.

“They did some things on kickoff return that we got a chance to see, but we have to just stick to our details,” said Horton, who also cited communication issues on the blocked punt returned for a Jets touchdown. “We have to get off blocks, and we have to go make plays. It just came down to the little details that I always talk about.

“We’re back at it, and we’re looking forward to going out and playing another game.”

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Ravens-Jets: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 12 December 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens can take the next step in their path to the postseason by clinching their second straight AFC North division title with a win over the New York Jets on Thursday night.

However, they’ll have to do it without left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was officially deactivated after suffering a concussion in last Sunday’s win at Buffalo. Stanley didn’t practice all week and was listed as doubtful on the final injury report, leaving veteran swing tackle James Hurst to fill his all-important position protecting quarterback Lamar Jackson’s blindside. With Stanley out and Hurst moving into the starting lineup, Baltimore activated Hroniss Grasu and Parker Ehinger as its two reserve offensive linemen while rookie fourth-round guard Ben Powers was once again a healthy scratch.

As expected, Jackson is active and will start despite being limited with a minor quad injury sustained early in the second half of the 24-17 win over the Bills. The MVP favorite deemed himself ready to go in Tuesday’s media session.

Tight end Mark Andrews (knee) is also active and will play after going through his usual warmup routine with the other Baltimore tight ends. He missed much of last Sunday’s game, but the 2018 third-round pick was able to log limited practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and appeared to be moving well prior to Thursday’s game.

Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) and defensive end Jihad Ward (elbow) are also active after being limited in practices this week.

The Jets are in much worse shape from an injury standpoint after deactivating Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams (ankle), starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee), first-round rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (neck), and starting right tackle Chuma Edoga (knee). New York also placed starting tight end Ryan Griffin (ankle) on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the day.

Thursday night’s referee is John Hussey.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures falling to the low 30s with winds light and variable and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their black jerseys with black pants while New York dons white tops and green pants for Week 15.

Thursday marks the 11th all-time meeting between these teams in the regular season with the Ravens enjoying an 8-2 advantage and a 5-0 record at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore is aiming to extend its regular-season franchise-record winning streak to 10 games.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OT Ronnie Stanley
LB Chris Board
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Anthony Averett
DT Justin Ellis
G Ben Powers

NEW YORK
S Jamal Adams
DT Quinnen Williams
OT Chuma Edoga
RB Bilal Powell
CB Brian Poole
WR Demaryius Thomas
CB Arthur Maulet

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams defensive end Dante Fowler during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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NFL milestone could come exactly as Lamar Jackson prefers it

Posted on 05 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The records and achievements have come at such a prolific rate for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that they’ve almost become white noise in an MVP-caliber season.

On Wednesday, the 22-year-old became the first Ravens quarterback to ever be named AFC Offensive Player of the Month after an incredible November that included 13 touchdown passes, three touchdown runs, a 76.2 completion percentage, a 143.7 passer rating, 777 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, no turnovers, and — what he cares about most — a 4-0 record. But his next potential feat isn’t a run-of-the-mill weekly award or an obscure record you’d need the Elias Sports Bureau to confirm.

A week after surpassing Randall Cunningham and Bobby Douglass on the single-season list, Jackson needs only 63 rushing yards — a total he’s eclipsed in nine of his last 11 games — to break Michael Vick’s NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. Vick rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006, but Jackson is currently on pace to run for an amazing 1,302 yards in his first full season as a starter. For context, a player rushed for 1,300 yards only eight times over the previous four NFL seasons and no Raven has reached that mark since Ray Rice (1,364) in 2011.

For a young player who’s tried to downplay weekly awards and MVP hype in favor of team-oriented goals throughout the season, this record certainly carries meaning.

“It would be an honor. Like I’ve said, Michael Vick is my favorite player,” Jackson said. “For me to do such a thing, it’s incredible. He had that record for a long time, and it will be pretty cool. But I’m focused on the win regardless.”

With winning always at the forefront of Jackson’s mind, breaking Vick’s record on the same day the Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win at Buffalo — and possibly their second straight AFC North division championship if Pittsburgh also loses at Arizona — would be exactly how he likes it.

Jackson has now rushed for at least 60 yards in nine straight games, the kind of consistency for which the best running backs in the league strive. That he’s continued to run at such a historic pace while also being a top 10-caliber passer — if not even better than that — is why he’s the clear favorite to be NFL MVP. It’s the stuff of video games if a game of Madden were as fun as watching the electrifying Jackson make defenders look silly in the open field.

“Lamar is a generational talent in my opinion running the ball, and a lot of people understand that,” right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “People want to stop him. People want to slow him down and all those different things. People haven’t really figured out how to do it yet. I’m sure there isn’t an answer.”

There really isn’t one at this point, but Jackson would gladly take a quiet day with his legs against the Bills as long as the Ravens officially punch their ticket for January football. And that mindset is part of what makes him so special.

Cleaning up run defense

The 174 rushing yards allowed — 146 by Raheem Mostert — in last Sunday’s 20-17 win over San Francisco grabbed the Ravens’ attention preparing for Buffalo’s fifth-ranked ground attack this week.

The Bills rank 10th in the NFL in rushing efficiency while the Baltimore run defense will try to bounce back from its worst game since the Week 4 loss to Cleveland. The Ravens did limit the 49ers to just nine yards on five carries in the fourth quarter after San Francisco had much success running outside.

“There were some edge issues that we had with Jaylon [Ferguson], and it was just a different look that a rookie hasn’t seen,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We worked on it because we know how this league is. If they see a scab scratched, they’re going to keep trying to attack it and we’ve worked on it. That’s been a point of emphasis for us going into this game. We just had too many missed tackles on that [40-yard touchdown run], and what I liked is how we bounced back in the second half.”

Should Ferguson’s Week 13 problems holding the edge carry over against Buffalo, veteran Jihad Ward seeing more snaps at outside linebacker wouldn’t be surprising.

Special moment for Humphrey

Marlon Humphrey said he’d never blocked a field goal in practice, college, or even high school, but his deflection of 49ers kicker Robbie Gould’s 51-yard attempt to end the first half proved to be a critical play in the three-point win.

The play sparked an enthusiastic embrace as part of a big day for the Baltimore special-teams units.

“We prepared, we talked about it. We said, ‘We have an opportunity,’ if we got in that situation,” special teams coach Chris Horton said. “I was really excited for him. It was our first blocked kick as a staff, so it was just a really exciting moment. And I think it was deserving of a big hug.”

Thursday’s injury report

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was the only player on the 53-man roster not to practice on Thursday as he received a veteran day off.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) was added to the injury report as a limited participant, which hasn’t been uncommon over the course of the season.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), WR Seth Roberts (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (illness), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), RB Frank Gore (non-injury), OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), G Quinton Spain (illness), RB T.J. Yeldon (illness)

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