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Ravens regular-season moment No. 1: Beating Jacksonville

Posted on 29 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 2 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE and the entire top 25 list HERE.

Novelty and nostalgia had defined the Baltimore Ravens.

A new generation of Baltimoreans finally had a team after 12 years in the NFL doldrums, but the Ravens were much closer to being the Bengals than the Steelers in those early years, going 16-31-1 in their first three seasons and finishing no higher than fourth in the old AFC Central. General manager Ozzie Newsome was building a promising foundation anchored by left tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis — two Pro Bowl talents and the first two draft picks in team history — but no one knew exactly when or if that work would pay off.

From playing their first two seasons at Memorial Stadium and hiring Ted Marchibroda as their first head coach to the Baltimore Colts marching band playing and Johnny Unitas and other legends attending games, the Ravens were draped in Baltimore football history. It was a smart and heartwarming nod to the past, but the organization ultimately needed its own legacy after relocating from Cleveland in 1996.

Those Ravens were somewhere between the old Browns and the new Colts, but they were nowhere near NFL relevancy.

The 1999 campaign brought flashes in December with the Ravens winning for the first time in Pittsburgh and blowing out eventual AFC champion Tennessee on their way to an 8-8 finish, but a couple good performances playing out the string after a 3-7 start couldn’t be viewed as a definitive breakthrough. Brian Billick’s second year as head coach would tell the truth.

Baltimore opened the 2000 season with an impressive 16-0 win at Pittsburgh, building on the significant defensive improvement shown during the previous season. But the bigger test would come in Week 2 when the Ravens hosted Jacksonville for the home opener at PSINet Stadium.

The Ravens had never beaten the Jaguars, who had become the class of the AFC Central shortly after their expansion start in 1995. An 0-8 mark consisting of squandered leads, the occasional blowout, and plenty of last-minute heartbreak best illustrated how far Baltimore still needed to come while Jacksonville was coming off its fourth straight postseason appearance, a 14-2 record, and a trip to the AFC Championship game.

No breakthrough appeared imminent in the first quarter as Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell and Pro Bowl wide receiver Jimmy Smith shredded the Baltimore defense for 45- and 43-yard touchdown passes and Billick’s team trailed 17-0 at the end of the period. These looked like the same old Ravens.

Still trying to cement the starting job after a solid finish to 1999, quarterback Tony Banks threw a touchdown to rookie wide receiver Travis Taylor to put the Ravens on the board, but the rest of the second quarter wasn’t much better than the first with the Jaguars adding two more field goals to take a 23-7 lead into halftime. This wasn’t what anyone in Baltimore had wanted, but old habits die hard, especially against Jacksonville.

“At halftime, I told them one thing,” Billick said. “What I told them was, win or lose, it will make no difference. The second half will define who we are. How we conduct ourselves will define the kind of team we are.”

The Ravens took those words to heart coming out of the locker room as the offense needed only four plays to find the end zone with Banks throwing another touchdown to Taylor. A two-point conversion cut the deficit to 23-15 and brought a previously frustrated sold-out crowd to life.

A Banks interception on the next drive led to the fourth Mike Hollis field goal of the day, but the 27-year-old quarterback bounced back with a touchdown pass to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, making the score 26-22 late in the third quarter. The stage was set for a thrilling final period.

After punting on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Ravens collected their second takeaway of the day when outside linebacker Jamie Sharper forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the Jacksonville 12. Banks threw a touchdown to the speedy Jermaine Lewis on the next play as Baltimore took a 29-26 lead with 10 minutes to go.

Maybe it would be different this time.

That optimism only grew after safety Kim Herring intercepted Brunell on the next drive, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Matt Stover to increase the lead. The Jaguars answered with a 48-yard field goal as Baltimore still held a 32-29 advantage with time dwindling.

Having forced two turnovers leading to 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Ravens defense had regrouped from that ugly first half and now had its opportunity to cement that elusive first win against Jacksonville. However, Brunell and Smith still had 2:42 left to torment Baltimore one last time.

After picking up a first down to move into Ravens territory and now facing a third-and-6 from the 40 with 1:55 to go, Brunell faced a heavy blitz and heaved one deep toward wide receiver Keenan McCardell. What happened next seemed to be the cruelest trick yet in the Ravens-Jaguars history as the ball deflected off McCardell’s hands and right to Smith, who broke a Duane Starks tackle and jogged into the end zone for the go-ahead score. It was Smith’s third touchdown catch of the day as he finished with a whopping 15 catches and 291 yards, the most by an opponent in Ravens history.

Here we go again.

Despite erasing a 16-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were trailing 36-32 with 1:45 to play and back in a familiar position with the Jaguars on the verge of improving to 9-0 against them. Only a few fans moved toward the exits while the remainder sat quietly, lamenting how this had happened again.

But the Ravens finally changed the script as Banks completed a pair of throws to little-used receiver and special-teams veteran Billy Davis — who made only one other catch all season — to move the Ravens into Jacksonville territory. A 12-yard completion to Ayanbadejo moved Baltimore to the 29-yard line before Banks spiked the ball to stop the clock with 48 seconds left.

To this point, the start of former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe’s tenure with the Ravens had been quiet as he didn’t register a catch in the season opener and had only two receptions for 21 yards in the ongoing shootout. Newsome had not only been looking for more production at tight end with the high-profile signing that February, but he valued Sharpe’s pedigree as a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time Super Bowl champion for a franchise that was still learning how to win.

The time was perfect for a lesson.

Sharpe took off right down the seam at the snap and caught a 29-yard rope for the touchdown. The 32-year-old tight end danced and smiled in the end zone while Banks lifted his arms in celebration upon throwing his fifth touchdown of the game, a new team record.

The catch brought a roar louder than anything experienced in the brief history of the 69,000-seat stadium opposite Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Thousands of voices were lost, ears rang, and the upper deck swayed as Stover kicked the extra point to give the Ravens a 39-36 lead with 41 seconds left.

Goosebumps.

There would be no miracle answer from Jacksonville this time as safety Corey Harris intercepted Brunell on the last play of the game. Chants of “Let’s go, Ravens!” bounced down the ramps as departing fans celebrated.

Novelty and nostalgia had been replaced by an arrival.

It didn’t matter that it was only a Week 2 victory. Banks would lose his starting job to Trent Dilfer six weeks later and the Ravens would go five straight games without scoring a touchdown in the middle of that 2000 championship season, but that wasn’t the point. From that exhilarating moment, they were no longer the old Browns or even the new Colts. The Ravens were a viable NFL franchise and here to stay.

The last-minute win over Jacksonville had changed everything.

“It says we’re headed in the right direction,” said defensive end Michael McCrary, who had joined the Ravens in 1997. “It said that the offense had the confidence and composure to go down the field and score. It was a huge turnaround from our teams of the past.

“We’ve never beaten them, and we needed to know as a team where we stood.”

Now two decades later, the Ravens own two Super Bowl championships, have multiple Hall of Famers, and are among the NFL’s model franchises.

But that was the moment that started it all.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 14: Five touchdowns in 125 seconds

Posted on 29 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 15 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Some of the best moments are more manic than meaningful.

In 2013, the Ravens were a .500 team still hoping for a wild-card spot while Minnesota was on its way to a 5-10-1 finish when they met at a snowy M&T Bank Stadium in Week 14. The wintry conditions made it nearly impossible to see from the press box early in the first half, and the teams combined for just 13 points over the first three quarters of the game on the slippery turf.

The outcome appeared bleak for Baltimore when a Matt Cassel touchdown pass to Jerome Simpson gave the Vikings a 12-7 lead early in the fourth quarter and Joe Flacco threw his third interception of the game with just over eight minutes to play. The Ravens hadn’t scored since late in the first quarter in what was shaping up to be their worst offensive output of the year.

Getting the ball back at their own 36 with 6:32 remaining, the Ravens moved into the red zone thanks to a 37-yard pass interference penalty and plodded their way to the Minnesota 1 before being stopped on back-to-back plays. On fourth-and-goal Flacco jammed a short throw into the arms of Dennis Pitta for the touchdown, putting them ahead 15-12 with 2:05 to play.

Making his improbable return that day from a horrific hip injury suffered in late July, Pitta catching the game-winning touchdown would make a terrific story.

Or so we thought.

Coming out of the two-minute warning, the Vikings moved into Baltimore territory on a 27-yard pass to Simpson before running back Toby Gerhart — replacing the injured Adrian Peterson — took an inside hand-off and broke multiple tackles from a slipping-and-sliding Ravens defense on his way to a 41-yard touchdown. Just two plays turned euphoria into despair for the thousands of fans still braving the elements in Baltimore.

But it wasn’t over.

Preparing all week for the Vikings to use a “sky” kick to neutralize Pro Bowl returner Jacoby Jones, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg positioned his unit for a pooch return. Admittedly caught up in the moment awaiting the kickoff, Jones had to sprint up from the end zone to catch the short kick and then streaked down the left sideline for the 77-yard touchdown and a 22-19 lead with 1:16 to go.

Now, the Ravens could exhale, right?

After two straight incompletions to begin the ensuing drive, the Vikings were seemingly on their last legs with a third-and-10 from their own 21-yard line with just over a minute to go. Cassel threw a short screen pass to the shifty Cordarrelle Patterson and the Ravens defense again showed little ability to tackle on the icy field, leading to a 79-yard touchdown.

Are you kidding?

This time, Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh wisely booted the ball to the end zone, prompting Jones to take a knee for the touchback. But the Ravens were again in business when Flacco delivered a pretty 35-yard throw down the middle to Marlon Brown, the undrafted rookie wide receiver who had been one of the better stories of the 2013 season.

Two plays later, Flacco threw what would have been the game-ending interception if not for a questionable pass interference call on Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, adding controversy to an already wild finish. The ball went back to the Ravens at the Minnesota 27, and an 18-yard completion to Pitta put them on the 9-yard line with 10 seconds to play.

Knowing he was down to his final play or two, Flacco delivered a strike to the 6-foot-5 Brown in the back of the end zone for the acrobatic touchdown. A review confirmed the rookie had kept both feet inbounds, giving the Ravens the 29-26 lead in a defensive struggle that had become a wild shootout in minutes.

The final kick return to the Baltimore 48 was a relative bore as time expired.

Five touchdowns in the final 125 seconds of play.

What else needed to be said other than it being an unbelievable win for the Ravens?

“I’ve never played in a game like that. I’ve never even played a video game like that,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said after one of the wildest finishes in NFL history. “That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) after they connected for a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Fewest adjusted games lost on offense helped pace 2019 Ravens

Posted on 22 April 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens envision adding several key pieces in this weekend’s draft to what they hope will be a Super Bowl run, but continuing another recent trend might be more important for success in 2020.

Concluding last season with only 10 players on injured reserve and just four of those individuals projected to play extensive offensive or defensive snaps entering training camp, Baltimore certainly couldn’t complain about its overall health en route to a franchise-best 14-2 campaign. That came after one popular metric deemed the Ravens the healthiest team in the NFL in 2018.

“We had our best year, injury-wise,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the 2019 Ravens. “I have to give a lot of credit to [head certified athletic trainer] Ron Medlin and to [head strength and conditioning coach] Steve Saunders and to [director of sports nutrition] Sarah Snyder and everybody involved there. We were great. I’d like to find a way to try to replicate that next year.”

You often see the number of players on IR cited in these types of discussions, but that alone doesn’t provide a great picture from team to team. How many were starters compared to rotation players, special-teams contributors, or training camp bodies who had no chance of making the roster before getting hurt? How many went to IR at the end of the summer as opposed to the closing weeks of the regular season? And what about teams that had more individuals playing through injuries than those with relatively clean injury reports many weeks?

Football Outsiders uses a metric called adjusted games lost to try to quantify just how much teams were stricken with injuries. Instead of simply counting the number of games lost for each player on IR, the metric weighs the projected role of each injured player (starter, key reserve, bench-warmer, etc.) and also considers those listed on weekly injury reports who ended up playing at less than 100 percent. In other words, the metric doesn’t treat the absence of a Pro Bowl player or starter the same as a developmental player who was stashed on IR and weighs those players battling through injuries that could impact performance.

Football Outsiders’ data indicates Harbaugh’s 2019 assessment wasn’t entirely accurate as the Ravens finished 16th overall in adjusted games lost (68.7), but he was definitely on the right track regarding one side of the ball. The record-setting Baltimore offense had the fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL with center Matt Skura being the only key contributor to miss more than two games. That fortune and the retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda reinforce why general manager Eric DeCosta should continue adding talent to that side of the ball this weekend.

Meanwhile, the 2019 Ravens finished with the NFL’s second-most adjusted games lost on defense with the secondary especially hit hard. Baltimore lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury in August, strong safety Tony Jefferson to a year-ending knee injury in early October, and starting cornerback Jimmy Smith for the better part of two months with a sprained knee. Of course, the in-season acquisition of Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and the emergence of safety Chuck Clark proved to be upgrades that helped the Ravens become one of the league’s top defenses by season’s end.

There are always single-season exceptions and outliers with NFC champion San Francisco (27th in adjusted games lost) clearly fitting that description in 2019, but the team with the fewest overall adjusted games lost (Minnesota), the fewest on offense (Baltimore), and the fewest on defense (New England) all qualified for the postseason. In contrast, just one of the nine teams with the most overall adjusted games lost made the playoffs, reinforcing how important health is to success. “Next man up” is a nice t-shirt slogan and sentiment, but there are only so many injury hits most teams can take before any realistic chance for success goes out the window.

Below is a look at where the Ravens have finished in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost in recent years:

2019 — 68.7 (16th fewest in NFL)
2018 – 29.7 (fewest in NFL)
2017 – 101.6 (sixth most in NFL)
2016 – 62.0 (11th fewest in NFL)
2015 – 96.1 (third most in NFL)
2014 – 52.6 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2013 – 49.8 (ninth fewest in NFL)
2012 – 57.4 (13th fewest in NFL)
2011 – 18.8 (fewest in NFL)
2010 – 50.9 (15th fewest in NFL)
2009 – 28.8 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2008 – 95.0 (third most in NFL)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts as free agency slows down

Posted on 30 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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J. Smith, Levine staying with Ravens on one-year deals

Posted on 23 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens further strengthened their elite secondary by agreeing to re-sign longtime cornerback Jimmy Smith as well as veteran defensive back and special-teams standout Anthony Levine to one-year deals on Monday.

Smith will now continue to provide quality depth behind the cornerback trio of Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and fifth-year nickel back Tavon Young. Smith will serve as the primary backup to Peters and Humphrey, but his presence also allows Humphrey to move inside to the slot position if something were to happen to Young, who missed the entire 2019 season due to a neck injury sustained during training camp.

Injuring his knee in the 2019 season opener at Miami and not returning until after the Week 8 bye, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith finished with 30 tackles, one sack, one interception, and six pass breakups in nine games, five of them starts. Graded 43rd among qualified cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus, Smith missed at least four games for the seventh time in nine seasons, a reason why the Ravens were reluctant to make a long-term commitment.

General manager Eric DeCosta said last month that he expected Smith to test the free-agent market, usually a sign that a player will be going elsewhere. However, with outside interest slow to materialize last week, Smith agreed to a contract worth $3.5 million guaranteed and up to $6 million with incentives, according to CBSSports.com.

A 2011 first-round pick out of Colorado, Smith will turn 32 in July after playing in 107 games (83 starts) and collecting 14 interceptions, 329 tackles, 70 pass breakups, and three forced fumbles in his career. He is one of the few players remaining from the Super Bowl XLVII team as he defended San Francisco’s final fourth-down pass to the end zone in the 34-31 win that gave the Ravens their second championship.

Turning 33 later this week, Levine has served as a special-teams captain and solid depth piece in the secondary for years. He largely fell out of the defensive mix last year after Peters’ arrival and Smith’s post-bye return shifted veteran Brandon Carr to a dime safety role down the stretch, but Levine was effective playing the dime spot in the past and would be an option in that capacity again after the Ravens declined to pick up their $6 million option for Carr last week.

Levine signed with Baltimore in 2012 and is one of the longest-tenured players on the team, an unlikely outcome for the undrafted free agent from Tennessee State who began his career with Green Bay and didn’t become a factor on defense until later in his career.

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

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Revisiting Ravens’ positional needs after first week of free agency

Posted on 23 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

5. Depth

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

4. Outside linebacker

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

3. Wide receiver

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

2. Interior offensive line

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

1. Inside linebacker

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

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 05 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency now less than two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens knew Marshal Yanda was returning for 2019 by last year’s combine, so Eric DeCosta saying in Indianapolis last week that he hadn’t spoken to the 35-year-old since the Pro Bowl didn’t sound encouraging. A resolution before the start of the new league year would make sense.

2. With player voting on the new collective bargaining agreement now underway and lasting a week, we should start to see more movement on at least some minor signings. Even the announcement of compensatory picks has seemingly been held up by CBA uncertainty.

3. Jimmy Smith hitting the open market to determine his value makes sense for both sides. When healthy, the 10th-year veteran remains a starting-caliber cornerback deserving of starter money, realities that may not add up for the Ravens since he’d be their No. 3 outside corner.

4. Even if the Ravens are able to draft an inside linebacker such as Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen in the first round, a veteran signing in the mold of a Josh Bynes still makes plenty of sense with L.J. Fort also still in the mix. You want options.

5. I’m interested to see how the Matthew Judon situation plays out, but Pro Football Focus isn’t as enthralled with this year’s free-agent edge rushers as much as others. We know these guys are going to get paid one way or another, but bang for the buck remains the real question.

6. Fellow 2016 first-round pick Laremy Tunsil recently firing his agent is a reminder that extending Ronnie Stanley won’t be easy or cheap as you’d expect both guys to want to be the NFL’s highest-paid left tackle. Neither will want to blink without his team making a very lucrative offer.

7. The Ravens have selected a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five straight drafts, a trend you’d expect to continue even if Smith re-signs or Brandon Carr’s option is picked up. The shaky development of Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall makes that more apparent.

8. The idea of trading Hayden Hurst makes little sense. It would cost nearly $3 million in additional dead money and weaken a critical position group. What would a team have to offer to motivate you to do that? Even a relatively early Day 2 pick is a “meh” for me.

9. I really like Daniel Jeremiah’s work and his insight shouldn’t be ignored given his history with the organization, but the Ravens taking a running back in the first round would be a tough sell. There’s only one football to go around, and this team barely got Justice Hill involved as it was.

10. Coaching title changes will always remind me of Dwight Schrute from “The Office,” but Harbaugh keeping last season’s staff intact will prove to be one of the biggest wins of the offseason and is a credit to how the 13th-year head coach and the organization treat their people.

11. Former first-round pick Matt Elam was waived by the XFL’s DC Defenders after only four games and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. Other first-round disappointments like Travis Taylor, Kyle Boller, and even Breshad Perriman at least continued their NFL careers elsewhere.

12. This has nothing to do with the Ravens, but bringing in a 43-year-old Tom Brady feels more like a move to create buzz — hello, Las Vegas Raiders — than to win. I wouldn’t bet on Brady playing elsewhere working particularly well, but I have been wrong before and will be again.

 

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San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) is taken down by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Franchise tag “still on the table” for Ravens outside linebacker Judon

Posted on 26 February 2020 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency less than a month away and the window to use the franchise tag opening this week, the Ravens haven’t yet revealed their plans for Matthew Judon.

Baltimore’s top unrestricted free agent and Pro Bowl outside linebacker registered a career-high 9 1/2 sacks and ranked fourth in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits last season, but how far will general manager Eric DeCosta go to keep the 27-year-old Judon?

“We’ve had good conversations with his agents. They’re ongoing, and we’ll continue to see how far that progresses,” DeCosta said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. “As far as the franchise tag goes, that’s definitely something that’s in consideration, that’s still on the table. We have some time to go before we make that decision. We’ll have to see how it all kind of transpires over the next few weeks.”

The Ravens ranked just 21st in the NFL with 37 sacks despite blitzing more frequently than any team in the league last season, illustrating how much defensive coordinator Wink Martindale depended on numbers to disrupt the pocket. That reality could make one argue how critical it is for the Ravens to retain their only reliable pass rusher or suggest Judon’s production stemmed more from Baltimore’s scheme than his individual talents, leaving quite the dilemma.

Named to his first Pro Bowl last season, the 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State has never missed a game due to injury in his career — he was a healthy scratch for two games as a rookie — and played a career high in snaps in 2019. Pro Football Focus graded Judon a career-best 44th among qualified edge defenders, but he would likely receive elite money on the open market much like former Raven Za’Darius Smith did from Green Bay last year.

The non-exclusive franchise tag is projected to cost just over $16 million for linebackers, which would eat more than half of the Ravens’ projected salary cap space. However, Judon moving on would leave DeCosta needing to add at least two viable pass rushers this offseason, which would be no easy task.

“If [the tag is] what we have to do, then we’ll probably have to do it,” DeCosta said. “But there’s other options as well on the table — long-term deal being something that we would love to get accomplished. We’ll have to see how it all kind of works out.”

A tag and trade is another option as Houston did with Jadeveon Clowney and Seattle did with Frank Clark last year.

Secondary depth decisions

Cornerback Jimmy Smith is expected to test free agency while the Ravens have made no decision on their $6 million option for veteran defensive back Brandon Carr that must be exercised next month.

With outside corners Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and slot man Tavon Young all under team control for at least the next two years, Smith would no longer be in line for an every-down role, complicating his value for the organization that made him a first-round pick in 2011. Turning 32 in July, Smith has played in more than 12 games in a season only twice and missed nearly seven full games last season with a knee injury suffered early in the 2019 opener.

“I thought he played his best football later in the year,” DeCosta said. “Jimmy’s a guy that we value, so we’ll see. I suspect that Jimmy’s going to want to hit the market and assess what his value is, and he probably should. He’s a veteran. He’s worked hard to see what his value will be on the market, but lots of respect for Jimmy as a player.

“His agent and I have a really good relationship, and there’s communication, so we’ll just see. I wish Jimmy the best, no matter what. We’d love to see him back in Baltimore, but he’s a free agent.”

Carr would bring more positional versatility as a reserve safety and slot corner who could play a role in sub packages, but a $6 million price tag is high for a soon-to-be 34-year-old.

Next wave of extensions?

To no surprise, DeCosta confirmed the desire to sign “elite, young players” such as Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Humphrey to long-term contracts in the near future.

Stanley is entering the fifth-year option year of his rookie contract and would appear to be the bigger priority from a timing standpoint after being regarded by many as the NFL’s best at his position in 2019.

“We’ve talked quite a bit. We’ll meet again this week,” DeCosta said. “We love Ronnie. He played his butt off this year — All-Pro left tackle. We’re excited about that, excited about his future, excited about the player, and excited about the person. We’ll try to continue to have those dialogues as well.”

The Ravens are all but guaranteed to exercise their fifth-year option for Humphrey, which would keep the 2017 first-round pick under team control through 2021.

Waiting on Yanda

DeCosta is still awaiting word on the future of eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, who is contemplating whether to retire or return for a 14th season.

Yanda is under contract and scheduled to make $7 million for the 2020 season, but he has considered retirement in recent years. His departure would create a major need for the interior offensive line with no established or clear-cut replacement currently on the roster.

“I had a great conversation with Marshal at the Pro Bowl. We didn’t talk about the future,” DeCosta said. “I’m sure we’ll have those discussions probably in the next month or so.”

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humphrey

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

Posted on 17 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 cornerbacks ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs

Marlon Humphrey
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 1,017
PFF ranking: 37th among cornerbacks
Skinny: While the Pro Bowl selection was actually better in 2018 than he was in his third year, Humphrey’s PFF grade doesn’t do justice to what was asked of him, moving to slot cornerback in place of the injured Tavon Young. Not only did he have a team-best 14 pass breakups and three interceptions, but Humphrey ranked second on the Ravens with 65 tackles, showing off his linebacker-like mentality.

Marcus Peters
2019 defensive snap count (with Ravens including postseason): 626
PFF ranking: fourth among cornerbacks
Skinny: Acquired from the Los Angeles Rams in the best in-season trade in the NFL last October, Peters was probably Baltimore’s best defensive player and the biggest key to the second-half surge of the defense. The 2015 first-round pick returned two interceptions for touchdowns and allowed a 63.4 passer rating in coverage, big reasons why the Ravens didn’t wait to extend his contract through 2022.

Jimmy Smith
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 425
PFF ranking: 43rd among cornerbacks
Skinny: Suffering a substantial knee injury on the sixth defensive snap of the season, Smith would miss the next six games and not return until after the bye week, an all-too-familiar story for his career. The pending free agent was solid in the second half of the season, but he will be 32 in July and has played more than 12 games in a season only twice in nine years, making any real investment a risky proposition.

Brandon Carr
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 765
PFF ranking: 52nd among cornerbacks
Skinny: The 33-year-old shifted to a dime safety role in the second half of the season and is scheduled to make $6 million if the Ravens exercise his 2020 option next month, making him a potential salary cap casualty. His versatility and durability still make him valuable at the right price, but he wasn’t as consistent against the run in his 12th NFL season and surrendered five touchdowns in coverage.

Anthony Averett
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 220
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2018 fourth-round pick from Alabama flashed as a rookie and had a golden opportunity to carve out his place in the defense with Smith and Young out and Peters not acquired until October, but Averett struggled as a starter in September before being benched and was inactive for six of the last seven games. This summer will be crucial for him, especially if the Ravens add more youth at corner.

Iman Marshall
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 4
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The rookie fourth-round pick from USC missed a large chunk of training camp and the first half of the season with a toe injury and made little impact upon being activated from injured reserve in November. His 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame still makes him an interesting young player, but Baltimore’s reluctance to put him on the field even in a couple blowouts doesn’t suggest a high confidence level.

Tavon Young
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 0
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Months after signing a three-year, $25.8 million contract extension, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound slot cornerback sustained a neck injury that required surgery and forced him to miss the entire season. There was already projection in mind with this pricey deal, but Young has now missed two whole seasons in the last three years, making it fair to wonder what to expect in terms of both upside and durability.

2020 positional outlook

The Ravens will gladly take their Pro Bowl outside duo of Humphrey and Peters against anyone in the NFL, but there are some questions beyond that with the talented Young needing to stay on the field and young options such as Averett and Marshall still needing to prove themselves as reliable reserves. In an ideal world, Smith would accept a team-friendly offer to stick around to spell Humphrey and Peters for the occasional series here and there and to serve as high-quality depth, but that’s far from a sure thing as he’ll be looking for real money to re-sign. Even if the Ravens can convince Carr to take a cut in pay, he should be viewed as a third safety and no more than a backup nickel at this point, which doesn’t do much for the depth at cornerback. With Averett not taking the step forward Baltimore had hoped to see in 2019 and Marshall still a total question mark, adding another viable depth piece in either free agency or the draft would appear to be an offseason objective with this position group.

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