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No Raven brought same excitement as newest Hall of Famer Ed Reed

Posted on 02 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have provided no shortage of exciting players in more than two decades in Baltimore.

Some local fans would describe the pre-game dance of Ray Lewis, the greatest player in team history and face of the franchise, as something resembling a religious experience. A pair of Pro Bowl running backs, Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice, were legitimate threats to score every time they touched the ball. Two All-Pro return specialists — Jermaine Lewis and Jacoby Jones — shined on the most critical stage the NFL has to offer. Many others have brought thrills for an organization with two Super Bowl championships in its trophy case.

But none quite compare to nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who was officially elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. The first-ballot selection was perhaps the most anticlimactic achievement in a career that made observers anticipate the most unexpected of feats.

Fellow first-ballot Hall of Famers Lewis and Jonathan Ogden are the greatest players in team history on their respective sides of the ball, but the ball-hawking Reed is the most exciting we’ve witnessed. Unlike running backs, wide receivers, or kick returners who regularly touch the ball when in the game, Reed would seemingly come out of nowhere, even after the opposing coaching staff would preach all week about not letting him do it.

The sight of Reed with the ball brought emotions ranging from euphoria as he’d turn the game’s outcome with an unlikely touchdown to occasional horror as he’d inexplicably lateral the ball in traffic, sometimes giving it right back to the opposition. Reed unquestionably moved to the beat of his own drum, but you couldn’t ask more of an entertainer and play-maker over 11 seasons in Baltimore.

The simplest objective of the safety position is to prevent an opponent from wrecking the game with an explosive pass play, but there was nothing “safe” about the way Reed stalked in the secondary, creating nightmares for quarterbacks and often doing the very thing the opponent was trying to accomplish against the Baltimore defense — score. When arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history felt compelled to put “Find 20 on every play” on his wristband, what else really needed to be said about his case for Canton?

Reed’s 64 regular-season interceptions rank seventh on the NFL’s career list while he’s the all-time leader in interception return yards. No player has more postseason interceptions (tied with three others with nine), and Reed became the first man in league history to score return touchdowns off an interception, a fumble, a punt, and a blocked punt. He set the NFL record with a last-second 106-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal a tight game against Cleveland in 2004 before breaking that mark four years later with a 107-yard interception return to put away a win against Philadelphia.

In all, 46 passers were intercepted by Reed in his career with half of that group going to at least one Pro Bowl and six being the starting quarterback of a Super Bowl winner.

Though Reed was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, the greatest of his individual achievements came late in the 2008 season when he registered an extraordinary 10 interceptions over a seven-game stretch that culminated with two — one returned for a touchdown — in a playoff victory at Miami. For context, the entire Baltimore defense from this past season had only 12 in 17 games.

The 2002 first-round pick from Miami is tied for 19th on the Ravens’ all-time touchdowns list (13) despite having the football in his hands far fewer times than anyone else — all offensive players — in that top 20. The number of actual planned times Reed touched the ball was even lower as he registered a modest 30 punt returns in his career and never caught a pass or recorded a rushing attempt as an offensive player.

Not only one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game, Reed had an extraordinary ability to block punts before coaches eventually kept him out of potential harm’s way in his later years. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Reed blocked four punts over the first 27 games of his career and frequently drew holding flags as opponents tried to account for his explosive jump off the line of scrimmage.

So often praised for his football instincts, Reed’s preparation was exceptional as he followed Lewis’ initial lead when it came to watching film and studying the playbook. That enabled Reed to so often be in the right place at the right time as he knew where the ball was going before the quarterback even threw it. Later in his career, he passed on those study habits to younger teammates, quietly exhibiting strong leadership in the shadows of Lewis’ camera-friendly methods.

Even his closest confidants acknowledged Reed’s personality ran hot or cold with the position of the hood of his sweatshirt often signaling whether you could engage in spirited conversation or should probably steer clear that day. He could ruffle feathers with comments about even his own teammates, but his intentions usually came from a good place. And while dealing with injuries late in his career, the veteran safety would both ponder retirement and campaign for a new contract in the same breath.

That was Reed.

A nerve impingement suffered late in the 2007 season zapped him of the underrated physicality he displayed early in his career and left him with neck and shoulder pain, but he played through it and did so at the highest level, making five more Pro Bowls while picking his spots to deliver the occasional hit. Even while sporting a red jersey to signal no contact during practices, the veteran safety would light up an unsuspecting young wide receiver from time to time, again reflecting that eccentric personality.

Super Bowl XLVII is most remembered as the culmination of Joe Flacco’s historic 2012 playoff run and Lewis’ last ride, but it was the night Reed finally raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy after years of playing with offenses that couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. It would be Reed’s final game in a Baltimore uniform — he’d play one more season split between Houston and the New York Jets — but Ravens fans shared in his joy a couple days later as he bellowed out the words to Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise” at the victory parade.

It was one last thrill in a career that was long before destined for a gold jacket and the football paradise that is Canton.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Harbaugh press conference

Posted on 25 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With John Harbaugh meeting with the media on Friday after signing his new four-year contract, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Harbaugh confirmed his role hasn’t changed in terms of roster input, noting how the organization’s brass works together and has never operated with a silo mentality. The thought of Steve Bisciotti suddenly moving the goalposts as Eric DeCosta finally gets his chance as general manager never made much sense.

2. Lamar Jackson plans to throw with his receivers, but Harbaugh avoided specifics when asked if Jackson planned to work with a quarterback guru or coach before the offseason program. He does expect Jackson to work hard and “come back a better quarterback, skill-wise, than he was when he left.”

3. The possibility remains of adding an outside assistant to specialize in the passing game, but Harbaugh made clear not to shortchange Greg Roman’s knowledge in that area. One difference with his time as San Francisco’s coordinator, however, was the presence of Jim Harbaugh, who spent 15 years as an NFL quarterback.

4. Asked which position groups he’d like to improve, Harbaugh said what the Ravens “don’t want to do is take any steps back” and have to play catch-up. With tough roster decisions on the defensive side, however, they may need to give a little there to grow this offense meaningfully.

5. Any discussion about Marshal Yanda’s future should only relate to the possibility of him retiring. His $7 million salary and $10.125 million cap figure for 2019 remain more than reasonable for someone who’s still one of the best guards in football going into his 13th season.

6. Harbaugh didn’t want to entertain the possibility of C.J. Mosley departing while noting “there are limitations with the money.” Both sides are interested in a long-term deal, but at what cost? Deals for Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner are four years old, so Mosley will — and should — be aiming higher.

7. It’s only logical that Baltimore would want a backup quarterback with a similar skill set to Jackson with Harbaugh calling Robert Griffin III “a great option” and also alluding to the media speculation about Tyrod Taylor, whose current contract voids a few days after the Super Bowl.

8. Harbaugh said he expects Eric Weddle to return, but the safety backpedaling this week from his previous comments about not playing for any other team but the Ravens in 2019 leads you to believe his $6.5 million salary and $9.25 million cap figure are possible sticking points for DeCosta.

9. I can’t imagine Za’Darius Smith was thrilled about his sports hernia surgery coming to light, but that shouldn’t impact his free-agent market anyway. Tavon Young (sports hernia) and Tony Jefferson (ankle) also had minor procedures. Alex Lewis undergoing another shoulder surgery isn’t encouraging, however.

10. Jimmy Smith wasn’t mentioned during Friday’s press conference, but Harbaugh has long been a strong advocate for the veteran cornerback. Even so, he’ll be 31 in July and is scheduled to make $9.5 million with a $15.85 million cap figure. That’s not tenable with the many other areas to address.

11. The playoff loss wasn’t a big topic of conversation after the long delay with Harbaugh’s season-ending press conference, but the coach reiterated the Ravens were “outplayed” and “outcoached” before vowing next year’s offense will be “very diverse” and built “from the ground up.” It’ll definitely be interesting.

12. Asked about Joe Flacco’s value, Harbaugh said his former quarterback just needs some weapons and pass protection to be “one of the best quarterbacks in the league.” Harbaugh was being complimentary and hasn’t been the general manager, of course, but the irony of those words couldn’t have been thicker.

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Ravens officially commit to Harbaugh as they enter new era

Posted on 24 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Just over a month after stating their long-term commitment to John Harbaugh, the transitioning Ravens have finally made it official with a new four-year contract announced on Thursday.

The Super Bowl XLVII-winning head coach who led Baltimore to its first AFC North championship since 2012 this past season is now under contract through 2022, removing any doubt about owner Steve Bisciotti’s choice to lead the Ravens into a new era. With Eric DeCosta now the general manager — with Ozzie Newsome remaining in a “significant” role — and Lamar Jackson the starting quarterback, Harbaugh will enter his 12th season as head coach with the Ravens trying to build upon their first trip to the playoffs since 2014 and facing a number of difficult roster decisions.

“I’m very excited with this contract, the opportunity to continue our work here, and I’m humbled by it,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the organization. “I am thankful for the support from the Ravens, especially Steve Bisciotti. We’re working hard to make the 2019 Ravens the best we can be. We have an excellent team foundation, and we have a great organization with smart, hard-working people.”

It’s an outcome that appeared unlikely less than three months ago when Baltimore entered its Week 10 bye with a three-game losing streak and veteran quarterback Joe Flacco nursing a hip injury. Harbaugh and his coaching staff revamped a formerly pass-heavy offense with Jackson at the helm as the Ravens would go 6-1 and lead the NFL in rushing yards over the final seven weeks of the season. The changing of the guard at quarterback was completed prior to Week 15 when Harbaugh declared Jackson the permanent starter and benched a healthy Flacco, the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player and best signal-caller in franchise history who arrived in Baltimore at the same time as the head coach in 2008.

With reports circulating about other teams’ interest in their head coach, the Ravens announced the night before their critical Week 16 tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers that Harbaugh would return for the 2019 season — the final year of his previous contract — as the sides worked toward a long-term extension. With players rejuvenated by the news, Baltimore secured its biggest road victory in years against the Chargers and clinched the division title with a win over Cleveland the following week, ending a three-year playoff drought with a 10-6 record.

The challenge now becomes building a more balanced and sustainable offense to aid in the development of Jackson, who set an NFL record for rushing attempts by a quarterback (147) despite starting only seven games as a rookie. The Ravens didn’t ask the 2018 first-round pick to do much as a passer, a plan that worked beautifully over the second half of the season before being smothered by the Chargers in a 23-17 loss in the wild-card round. Jackson, 22, completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,201 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions in the regular season, but he struggled with accuracy outside the numbers and his 15 fumbles — including three in the playoff loss — led the NFL.

On Jan. 11, Harbaugh promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator after the assistant head coach and run-game guru was credited for implementing his rush-heavy schemes in the second half of the season. A target for criticism after the ugly playoff defeat to Los Angeles and throughout his three-year tenure, former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg declined to remain on the coaching staff in a different capacity. Roman will become Harbaugh’s sixth offensive coordinator since the start of the 2012 season, a variable frequently cited in Flacco’s post-Super Bowl decline.

Harbaugh’s 114 victories — including 10 postseason wins — are easily the most in Ravens history, and he is the only head coach in league history to win a playoff game in six of his first seven seasons. However, Baltimore owns a rather ordinary 50-46 regular-season record since the start of the 2013 season and has just one playoff victory over the last six years. Bisciotti acknowledged he considered replacing Harbaugh after the 2017 season, leading many to assume the 56-year-old was coaching for his job this past year despite having just one losing campaign in his career.

The new four-year contract will silence the discussion about the coach’s future, but Harbaugh would be the first to dispute the notion of having long-term security in the crucible that is the NFL. The franchise’s history backs that claim as Bisciotti fired former head coach and Super Bowl XXXV winner Brian Billick only one season after awarding him a four-year extension in 2007.

How the Ravens fare with Jackson at quarterback will be the largest factor in determining whether Harbaugh’s new contract serves more as a temporary reprieve or as the second act of what could eventually be a Hall of Fame coaching career.

Bisciotti is certainly betting on the latter with the only head coach he’s ever hired.

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Harbaugh, Ravens reportedly nearing contract extension

Posted on 19 January 2019 by Luke Jones

More than four weeks after announcing John Harbaugh would return in 2019, the Ravens are on the verge of reaching a contract extension with their longtime head coach.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the sides have an agreement in principle on a deal that will keep Harbaugh in Baltimore beyond the 2019 season. The deal has yet to be finalized, but the 56-year-old coach made his preference to stay clear after the Ravens’ season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild-card round, their first playoff appearance since 2014. The organization issued a statement on Dec. 21 announcing Harbaugh would remain the head coach and the sides were working on an extension for his existing contract set to expire in 2019.

Owner Steve Bisciotti admitted last February he considered replacing Harbaugh after the Ravens missed the playoffs for a third straight season, their longest postseason drought since 1996-99.

“I have every expectation, every plan to be here as long as they want me here, and I believe I’ll be here,” Harbaugh said on Jan. 6. “I think that’s been made clear by them to me over the last few weeks. Like I said a couple weeks ago or last week, I love everybody in the organization; they’re great people. I expect to go forward with that as long as that’s what they want to do. I do believe that’s what they want to do.”

A Harbaugh extension is a sign of stability for an organization that’s undergone notable change over the last calendar year. In addition to Lamar Jackson replacing former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback in November, Eric DeCosta has officially succeeded Ozzie Newsome as the general manager and Greg Roman replaced Marty Mornhinweg as the offensive coordinator earlier this month. Last January, Wink Martindale became Baltimore’s defensive coordinator after Dean Pees stepped down.

Harbaugh’s future appeared in great doubt only 2 1/2 months ago when the Ravens limped into the bye week with a 4-5 record and an injured Flacco, but a 6-1 finish and a revamped run-heavy offense led to their first AFC North championship in six years. The NFL’s fourth-longest-tenured head coach will be entering his 12th season and has led the Ravens to seven playoff trips, three division titles, three AFC championship game appearances, and a Super Bowl championship. However, Baltimore has only one playoff victory since its win in Super Bowl XLVII.

Saturday marked the 11th anniversary of Harbaugh’s introductory press conference when he became the third head coach in franchise history.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional-round weekend

Posted on 14 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the NFL divisional round now in the books, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The league’s top four scoring offenses advanced to the conference championship games with only one of those teams — New England — ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense. Remember that as Eric DeCosta weighs tough defensive roster decisions against the need to build an offense around 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson.

2. Since the 2012 Ravens, no team playing in the wild-card round has made the Super Bowl. In fact, no team even playing a road playoff game since then has made it. Rest and home-field advantage remain way more important than being the hot upstart “nobody wants to see in January.”

3. After dominating Baltimore last week, the Chargers’ “quarter” defense had no answers for New England using big personnel and running right at them. The Patriots carving up Los Angeles didn’t make former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg or the rest of the Baltimore offensive staff look any better.

4. Fans and even a player or two predictably suggested the Ravens would have put up a better fight against the Patriots. I’ll hear that with Baltimore’s defense, but Bill Belichick having an extra week to prepare for a rookie quarterback and a limited offense? That may not have been pretty.

5. New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas continued a remarkable 125-catch regular season with 12 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia. He was selected five spots after Kamalei Correa in the 2016 draft. Sorry for ruining your day.

6. Watching the divisional round reiterated how badly the Ravens need more talented pass catchers who can gain yards after the catch. They ranked 27th in the NFL in yards after the catch this season after their wide receivers ranked 31st in that category in 2017.

7. I couldn’t help but wonder if Haloti Ngata was playing his final NFL game with Philadelphia on Sunday. His star faded a long time ago, but a 340-pound defensive tackle lasting 13 seasons is really impressive. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is an instant shoo-in for the Ring of Honor.

8. The Patriots are the last team Ravens fans want to see winning the Super Bowl, but Albert McClellan was one of the most respected players in the Baltimore locker room for a long time. His special-teams prowess has fit well in New England as he recovered a fumble on Sunday.

9. Jared Goff going to the NFC Championship two years after an awful rookie season should be all the evidence needed to see why it’s unfair to draw strong conclusions about a quarterback so quickly. I’m fascinated to see how Jackson looks after a full offseason to refine his passing ability.

10. Having already announced plans to retire, former Raven Benjamin Watson will accomplish a rare feat if the Saints win the Super Bowl. The 38-year-old spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve, but he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots that year. Those would be quite the bookends.

11. Speaking of long careers, Joe Flacco arrived in Baltimore eight years after Tom Brady in New England, had a memorable 11-year-run that included a Super Bowl MVP award and a couple playoff wins in Foxboro, and will depart while the 41-year-old is still standing. How is that possible?

12. This isn’t related to the Ravens, but the video below tells my favorite story of the weekend.

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Ravens protect investment by shifting Roman to offensive coordinator

Posted on 11 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t yet know what kind of passing game they’ll ultimately have with Lamar Jackson, but they immediately formed the NFL’s most dynamic rushing attack when the young quarterback became the starter in mid-November.

That element was too valuable to risk losing on the path of the 22-year-old’s development.

Head coach John Harbaugh recognized that truth in promoting assistant head coach and tight ends coach Greg Roman to offensive coordinator on Friday. Marty Mornhinweg will not remain on the Baltimore staff despite being offered a different job title, according to Harbaugh.

Reportedly drawing interest from other teams, Roman, 46, was the architect of a Baltimore ground game that gained nearly twice as many rushing yards over the final seven regular-season games as it did in the first nine contests with former starter Joe Flacco, whose Week 9 hip injury facilitated the change at quarterback and in philosophy. The offensive shakeup contributed to the Ravens winning six of their final seven games to win the AFC North and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“Increasing Greg’s responsibilities will help us get where we’re going on offense,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the Ravens. “His role with our offense has already been significant and substantial. His understanding of the run game we are building — which we saw some of in the second half of the season — and how it integrates with a consistent and big-play passing game is exciting.”

Down the stretch, Harbaugh repeatedly praised the work of the entire offensive coaching staff — Mornhinweg included — in pivoting at the bye week from a throw-happy offense that had averaged more than 640 passing attempts per season from 2015-17 to one that ran nearly twice as often as it passed, but the run-heavy schemes were the same ones employed by Roman in his previous stints as the offensive coordinator for San Francisco (2011-14) and Buffalo (2015-16), making it important not to lose him to another team. Debate remained over Mornhinweg being the right man to oversee Jackson’s development as a passer, but what was indisputable was the 2018 first-round pick’s fit in Roman’s rushing schemes as Baltimore averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the final seven regular-season games and the rookie rushed for 695 yards on 147 carries in his rookie season, a modern NFL record for attempts by a quarterback.

That made promoting Roman and risking losing Mornhinweg — which ultimately happened — the path of least resistance in maintaining some continuity while hoping to build on the 2018 success. Of course, that doesn’t change the need for the Ravens to find more offensive balance to better protect Jackson by decreasing his number of carries — and subsequent hits taken.

How the poor offensive showing in last Sunday’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers impacted Harbaugh’s thinking is unclear, but post-game comments from Chargers players suggesting they knew exactly what was coming didn’t reflect well on Mornhinweg or the rest of the offensive staff. The Ravens were held to just 90 yards on 23 carries with Jackson completing only three passes and posting a 2.8 passer rating through the first three quarters of his postseason debut.

It remains to be seen how Roman’s new role will impact Jackson’s development or whether the Ravens will seek additional help for the passing game with Mornhinweg’s departure. Friday’s press release made no mention of quarterbacks coach James Urban or any potential change in his job responsibilities.

In Roman’s five full seasons as a coordinator with the 49ers and Bills, his offenses annually finished in the bottom 10 in passing yards per game, but three of those units ranked in the top seven in yards per passing attempt, the kind of efficiency the Ravens would love to see in a more-developed Jackson. Over those years, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, and Tyrod Taylor all posted the highest single-season passer ratings of their respective careers.

Upon arriving in Baltimore as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach in 2017, Roman immediately made an impact in the running game as the Ravens improved from 28th in rushing yards in 2016 to 11th. It was a major reason why Harbaugh’s team was able to tread water in the first half of the season when Flacco was still feeling the effects of a back injury that sidelined him for the entire summer. That rushing success prompted the Ravens to re-sign Roman and promote him to the title of assistant head coach for the 2018 campaign.

Roman is a 21-year NFL coaching veteran who had a previous stint with the Ravens as an offensive line assistant under former head coach Brian Billick from 2006-07. He also worked for Carolina and Houston at the beginning of his coaching career before later being hired by Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and following him to the 49ers.

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DeCosta officially becomes Ravens general manager on Friday

Posted on 10 January 2019 by Luke Jones

A transition anticipated for years will be completed on Friday with Eric DeCosta officially becoming general manager of the Ravens.

As owner Steve Bisciotti revealed last February, DeCosta will take over for longtime general manager Ozzie Newsome, who has been in charge of football operations since the franchise arrived in Baltimore in 1996 and been the architect of two Super Bowl championship teams. According to a press release, Newsome, 62, will remain with the organization in “a significant role” as Bisciotti indicated would happen last year.

DeCosta spent the last seven seasons as Newsome’s assistant general manager after previously serving as director of player personnel (2009-11), director of college scouting (2003-08), and an area scout (1997-2002). The 47-year-old began as a scouting intern with the Ravens in 1996 and has long been viewed as Newsome’s successor, evident by the number of general manager interview requests he declined from other teams over the years. The two are very close, which should lead to fewer hiccups in what is usually a major — and sometimes awkward — transition within an organization.

“I just think that over the last 22 years, probably the most rewarding thing for me has been working with Ozzie, and I don’t see that changing,” DeCosta said last April. “He said this to me one time: ‘His strengths are my weaknesses, and my strengths are his weaknesses.’ So, you know what? We’re a family, we want to win, and we’re competitive people. We believe in what we do, we want to be good, and we want to build a team that you guys are proud of.

“I’ve got probably the best GM in the history of football — at least one of the top five here right now — and I hope he always stays.”

The change comes at an interesting time for the Ravens, who are coming off a division-winning season and their first playoff appearance since 2014. The organization has already stated its intention to retain head coach John Harbaugh beyond the 2019 season — his final year under contract — but an extension hasn’t yet been finalized. The Ravens have also transitioned to 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson, who replaced longtime starter and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco in November.

DeCosta will be faced with a number of challenging roster decisions this offseason, ranging from the free agency of linebackers C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Za’Darius Smith to whether to part with veterans such as safety Eric Weddle and cornerback Jimmy Smith to create more salary cap space.

The organization has yet to announce a time for its “State of the Ravens” press conference, which typically takes place sometime in January. Harbaugh hasn’t met with reporters since Sunday’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers despite usually doing so in the first few days after the season’s conclusion.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2019 class of free agents

Posted on 09 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens enter their most interesting offseason in recent memory after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson helped lead them to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2019 salary cap commitment of roughly $163 million to 45 players (not including free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future deals), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2019 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

New general manager Eric DeCosta is likely to clear additional cap space by renegotiating or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. Of course, that list will be headlined by former starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be traded or released after 11 seasons in Baltimore. A trade or pre-June 1 release will save $10.5 million in cap space while leaving $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap, but Jackson’s $2.1 million cap number for next season makes that dead money easier to endure.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are other potential candidates to be cap casualties. Those decisions will depend on how drastically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year replacing Ozzie Newsome.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2019 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any team beginning on March 13 at 4 p.m.

RB Buck Allen The former fourth-rounder went from leading Ravens backs in snaps in some early games to being a healthy scratch late in the season, but his special-teams ability helps his value.

TE Nick Boyle He doesn’t offer too much as a receiver, but Boyle’s blocking ability was a critical part of Greg Roman’s run-game schemes, making his return a bigger priority than you might think.

WR John Brown The speedy wideout says he’s open to returning, but he caught only 10 passes for 128 yards in Jackson’s eight starts, which certainly didn’t do any favors for his market value.

QB Robert Griffin III The former first-round pick was a helpful mentor to Jackson and is open to returning as his primary backup unless he receives an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere.

RB Ty Montgomery – Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery is good in pass protection and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited duty, but the Ravens may want to look elsewhere.

LB C.J. Mosley – The Ravens would certainly love to keep the four-time Pro Bowl selection, but they may need to make him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker to do it, making this a tougher call.

LB Za’Darius Smith The versatile pass rusher isn’t the type of player Baltimore has typically re-signed to a big contract in the past, but other in-house options haven’t exactly stepped up.

LB Terrell Suggs The 36-year-old plans to return for a 17th NFL season and wants it to be with the Ravens, but his quiet second half of the season and asking price will be factors to consider.

DE Brent Urban The oft-injured lineman played in all 16 games and didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but a return on another cheap deal doesn’t appear out of the question.

TE Maxx Williams Though he never lived up to his second-round draft standing and makes minimal impact as a receiver, Williams developed into a useful blocker over the last two seasons.

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 five days 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 2019 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.149 million in 2018) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.914 million in 2018) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.907 million in 2018) 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 frequently elect to forgo a tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

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

RB Alex Collins (fifth) – Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2017, Collins once seemed like a good bet to receive a second-round tender, but a foot injury and disappointing production leave his future uncertain.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second) – The 6-foot-3 defensive back had a chance to make the team before breaking his arm late in the summer, but he could be back to compete for a spot on a cheap deal.

LB Patrick Onwuasor (undrafted) – A strong second half could prompt the Ravens to use a second-round tender on him to deter teams from pursuing him and to serve as insurance for Mosley.

DT Michael Pierce (undrafted) – Baltimore’s best defensive lineman this season, Pierce will likely receive the second-round tender and could be in line for a substantial payday after the 2019 campaign.

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. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured 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.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo After missing the entire 2018 season, the 6-foot-3 wideout will compete for a roster spot after flashing from time to time in his first training camp in 2017.

RB Gus Edwards One of the great stories of 2018, the 238-pound back will go into his second season trying to maintain the starting job in a run-heavy offensive attack.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor The 2017 fifth-round pick spent a few weeks on the practice squad early in the season and will again be competing for a job on the 53-man roster

C Matt Skura The former practice-squad member started all 16 games at center, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens seek an upgrade at this important position along the offensive line.

RB De’Lance Turner It’s easy to forget Turner received a practice-squad promotion before Edwards, but he’ll be fighting for a spot after spending most of the season on injured reserve.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-17 loss to Chargers

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ season coming to an end in a 23-17 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I understand John Harbaugh wanted to make it a one-score game when he had Justin Tucker try a 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter, but the decision was surprising based on analytics and his team’s psyche. Even before the miss, it felt like a demoralizing choice.

2. The Ravens made clear they were just about finished with Joe Flacco during the draft and reached the point of no return when Harbaugh officially benched him. Considering the Chargers’ pass rush, I didn’t have an issue with leaving someone who hadn’t played in over two months on the bench.

3. In the big picture that shouldn’t be ignored, Lamar Jackson remaining in the game and finding some late success was important. Harbaugh benching him at the first sign of trouble would have been a tough message for Jackson — and the entire locker room — to forget this offseason.

4. Lost in the disappointment was another strong defensive performance as the Chargers were held to one touchdown and Philip Rivers averaged just 5.0 yards per passing attempt. Prior to the fourth quarter, this game very much reminded me of the excruciating 2006 playoff loss to Indianapolis.

5. Was fumbling on three consecutive offensive plays or going two hours in real time between pass completions the more embarrassing feat? It’s remarkable the Ravens didn’t lose by four touchdowns.

6. Matthew Judon registered two tackles for a loss and five quarterback hits in another superb effort. He really elevated his play down the stretch, which is significant since he’s the only starting-caliber outside linebacker under contract for 2019.

7. James Hurst is a hard worker and a high-character individual, but Sunday was a reminder that he’s better suited to be a versatile backup and not a starter. Pro Football Focus credited him with surrendering three sacks and a quarterback hit and gave him a 0.0 pass-blocking grade. Ouch.

8. Scheduled to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Onwuasor elevated his standing down the stretch as he recorded another forced fumble and a sack. With C.J. Mosley uncertain to return as an unrestricted free agent, Onwuasor’s emergence is even more significant.

9. The snap count was skewed by the final two drives, but I still can’t believe heavy formations and power rushing weren’t bigger factors against the Chargers’ quarter defense employing seven defensive backs. Nick Boyle played a season-low 18 snaps while Maxx Williams’ 17 were his fewest since Week 12.

10. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns don’t make up for a disappointing season from Michael Crabtree. It’ll be interesting to see how the wide receiver position plays out this offseason after the dramatic shift toward the running game, but his $9.33 million salary cap number for 2019 doesn’t sound appealing.

11. Playing fewer snaps than last season resulted in just 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 for Terrell Suggs, who reconfirmed his desire to continue playing for the Ravens while acknowledging that may not happen. Even if Suggs signs a cheap short-term deal, Eric DeCosta really must address this position.

12. I understand players reacting to fans booing in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss and admire their desire to stick up for Jackson, but they needed to move on by Monday’s media availability instead of fanning the flames. Robert Griffin III provided both an experienced and measured response HERE (4:00 mark).

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Patience — and skepticism — warranted as Ravens’ fun 2018 ride comes to end

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The 2018 Ravens were weird but fun, something that shouldn’t be forgotten in the aftermath of the ugly wild-card playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Winning its first AFC North championship in six years and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Baltimore completed one of the more memorable in-season turnarounds in team history. Faced with a three-game losing streak and a hip injury to longtime quarterback Joe Flacco at the bye week, head coach John Harbaugh and his coaching staff turned to rookie Lamar Jackson and zigged while the rest of the pass-happy NFL zagged with the Ravens rushing for over 1,600 yards in their final seven games, nearly twice as many as their total from the first nine weeks of the season. The coaches deserve much credit for remaking the offense on the fly, and that drastic change was embraced by players, including a group of wide receivers who were marginalized overnight.

However, that ride came to a screeching halt Sunday with the Chargers defense smothering the Ravens for the first 50 minutes of play, holding them to three points and 83 total yards through three quarters in their own stadium. It was obvious Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley figured out the unconventional Baltimore running game the second time around, but the Ravens were soundly beaten in their one-on-one matchups as well, especially on the offensive line. The offense was thoroughly outcoached and outplayed, and it was too late by the time the Ravens managed two late touchdowns against a sleepy Los Angeles defense to make the final score look respectable.

With an enjoyable season coming to an end, patience is warranted, but skepticism is fair in assessing the state of the Ravens moving forward. The first playoff appearance in four years typically signals brighter days ahead, but this season was as much a last hurrah for some key individuals as it was the start of a new chapter.

Change is already underway as longtime lieutenant Eric DeCosta becomes the general manager with Ozzie Newsome stepping aside after 23 years in charge of football operations. That should be as seamless a transition as you’ll find in this position with DeCosta having been with the Ravens since their inception, but that doesn’t guarantee success or the absence of some hiccups along the way.

The Ravens have publicly expressed their intentions of keeping Harbaugh, but rumors and speculation will persist until a contract extension becomes official. How his assistant coaches fit into that future also remains to be seen as Sunday wasn’t exactly a banner day for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

We know Flacco is finished in Baltimore as Harbaugh eulogized the former Super Bowl MVP’s Ravens career minutes after Sunday’s loss, but he’s unlikely to be the only notable veteran player to depart. Retirement, free agency, or salary-cap decisions could lead to the exit of some combination of Marshal Yanda, Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Tony Jefferson. Much will depend on how dramatically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year calling the shots.

Regardless of other changes, Jackson’s development is obviously the biggest factor in determining the short-to-intermediate future and that will require some patience and perspective. The 22-year-old is a special talent who flashed much to like on his way to helping the Ravens win six of their last seven regular-season games, but significant questions about his ball security and passing ability cannot be overlooked because of the early team success. That was apparent Sunday as he fumbled three times and completed only three passes through three quarters until regrouping to throw two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to make the game interesting. His mental toughness to fight back in the closing minutes was admirable, but he looked in over his head for much of the day.

Jackson was hardly alone in the struggles as the offensive line was awful against the Chargers front, but it was a reminder that he has a long way to go. That’s OK, of course, as Flacco was far from stellar in his first few playoff games before becoming “January Joe” a few years later. Jackson’s first postseason performance really shouldn’t change anything as he was always going to need to make marked improvement, regardless of how far the Ravens advanced this January.

But what will the organization do to help him get there?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman deserves credit for implementing the same run-game schemes successfully used in his previous stops at San Francisco and Buffalo, but is Mornhinweg the right offensive coordinator for Jackson? It’s been much advertised that he and quarterbacks coach James Urban worked with a veteran Michael Vick in Philadelphia, but that was an eternity ago in NFL years. For what it’s worth, Mornhinweg’s arrival as the quarterbacks coach four years ago — with Marc Trestman as the offensive coordinator — coincided with an immediate statistical decline in Flacco after arguably his best season under Gary Kubiak in 2014.

Sunday was damning for Mornhinweg in terms of having no plan B as the Chargers seemingly knew what plays the Ravens were running in their second meeting in 15 days. However, Harbaugh has shown much faith in his offensive coordinator over these last few years, making it difficult to expect a change now as the head coach has newfound leverage with a division championship and playoff appearance.

The Ravens are likely to remain a run-first offense going forward, but more balance will be paramount. With his mobility, Jackson doesn’t need to become Peyton Manning to be very successful at this level, but his throwing mechanics, footwork, and ability to throw outside the numbers will be scrutinized even more next season. Before anything else, however, he needs to do a much better job protecting the football as he finished with 15 fumbles counting Sunday’s playoff game.

The offensive talent the Ravens add around Jackson will be just as important as his individual development. Contrary to the lazy narrative of the last six years being strictly about Flacco’s contract, the Ravens did a poor job building an offense around him. The organization used most of its early draft picks from 2013-17 on defense — with mixed results at best — and even gave out big contracts to defensive players at less valuable positions while the other side of the ball floundered with minimal resources. Flacco’s pending exit shouldn’t leave that truth forgotten.

The Ravens will have much more cap flexibility with a quarterback on a rookie contract for the next few years, but the defense will also be undergoing substantial change with several key veterans moving on sooner than later. In other words, it will be interesting to see if DeCosta and the organization evolve toward making offense the greater priority or whether Jackson will be asked to do less with more like his predecessor. Improving the interior offensive line and addressing the wide receiver position — again — will be just two of the priorities on the offensive side of the ball.

A new era has begun in Baltimore, one that warrants some patience with a new general manager, a number of potential veteran departures, and a talented 22-year-old quarterback. These are certainly interesting and exciting times at 1 Winning Drive.

But it’s fair to be skeptical as the Ravens hand the keys to Jackson, both for his own weaknesses and those of the organization in recent years.

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