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Ranking best veteran bargain signings for 2020 Ravens

Posted on 01 June 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

You just never know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens add former Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe

Posted on 28 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens thought they had a deal with Michael Brockers, pursued five-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh, and concluded their turbulent week of defensive line activity by landing Derek Wolfe.

The former Denver Bronco could prove to be a strong consolation prize after agreeing to a one-year deal worth a maximum of $6 million and $3 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports out of Denver. Wolfe, 30, is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he registered a career-high seven sacks before missing the final four games with an elbow injury. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound defensive lineman has started every game in which he’s played in his eight-year career, but he’s played all 16 contests just once in the last five seasons with injuries taking a toll.

Wolfe has been widely regarded as one of the better run-stopping defensive linemen in the NFL for years, but he should also serve as an upgrade in the pass-rush department with 33 career sacks and four seasons with five or more sacks in his career. Pro Football Focus graded the 2012 second-round pick from Cincinnati as the 46th-best interior lineman in the NFL last season, but he finished 28th among qualified interior linemen in pass-rush grading, registering 22 quarterback pressures.

Much like the Ravens envisioned with Brockers before their three-year, $30 million agreement fell apart due to concerns over the health of his ankle, Wolfe’s arrival should allow defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to move Brandon Williams back to nose tackle. Wolfe would likely handle 3-techinique duties with five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell manning the 5-technique spot in the base 3-4 defense, but those two would serve as legitimate interior rushers in passing situations, something the Ravens lacked last season.

Baltimore has undergone much change on its defensive line since the end of the 2019 season with the free-agent departure of nose tackle Michael Pierce and the trade of defensive end Chris Wormley, but the combination of Campbell and Wolfe should serve as a substantial upgrade as the Ravens try to boost a pedestrian run defense that ranked only 21st in the NFL at 4.4 yards per carry allowed. Interior defensive linemen were also responsible for just four of Baltimore’s 37 sacks last season, but the two veteran newcomers have combined for 121 sacks over 20 combined NFL seasons.

Signing Wolfe at a cheaper price eases the disappointment of missing out on Brockers, but the Ravens will likely still be in search of more defensive line depth in next month’s draft as each of their top four current options — Wolfe, Campbell, Williams, and reserve Justin Ellis — is 29 or older. The Ravens are projected to have roughly $12 million in salary cap space once Wolfe’s deal is officially signed.

Highly respected in Denver, Wolfe confirmed his departure from the Broncos and expressed his excitement joining his new team in a post on his verified Instagram account.

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

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

Posted on 17 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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

Posted on 19 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 defensive linemen ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers

Brandon Williams
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 572
PFF ranking: 66th among interior defenders
Skinny: I’ve mostly agreed with PFF’s past grading of Williams — viewing him as solid but unspectacular since signing his 2017 extension — but he played his best football in a few years in 2019, especially after his Week 4 absence and reported spat with Earl Thomas. His $9.25 million salary and $14.17 million cap number for 2020 are steep for someone who doesn’t pressure passers, but he anchors Baltimore’s front.

Michael Pierce
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 521
PFF ranking: 45th among interior defenders
Skinny: While his spring weight problems were largely forgotten by the start of the season, Pierce didn’t have the contract year he envisioned, finishing 2019 with the lowest PFF grade of his career and not being as impactful. There still figures to be a good market for his services, but the Ravens are already paying premium money for a defensive tackle that doesn’t get after the quarterback.

Chris Wormley
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 484
PFF ranking: 62nd among interior defenders
Skinny: The 5-technique defensive end saw the biggest workload of his three-year career and was solid playing the run, but he registered just 1 1/2 sacks, six quarterback hits, and the lowest PFF pass-rushing grade among all Ravens defensive linemen. The 2017 third-round pick is a reliable member of the rotation, but he’ll need a big contract year to make an extension any kind of a priority for Baltimore.

Domata Peko
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 158
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed in mid-November, the 14th-year defensive tackle served as a capable run stopper in place of an injured Pierce and settled into a rotational role down the stretch. Peko left the door open to playing another season after last month’s playoff loss, but the 35-year-old should serve as more of a backup plan than a priority re-signing at this stage of his career.

Justin Ellis
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 71
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed along with Peko, the 350-pound defensive tackle played sparingly in four regular-season games and the playoff loss. Ellis, 29, is another run-stopping option who graded well in limited opportunities, but he doesn’t offer much versatility and isn’t a pass-rushing threat.

Daylon Mack
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 9
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fifth-round rookie from Texas A&M saw his only action of the season in Week 4 before eventually being placed on injured reserve in November. With so many free agents along the defensive line, the Ravens need Mack to step into a rotational role at the very least.

2020 positional outlook

Other than Williams and Wormley, the cupboard is bare in terms of proven rotation options under contract, making this position group a greater priority than some are acknowledging. Finding a more balanced defensive lineman via the draft or free agency would be a major boon since the Ravens haven’t had a viable pass-rushing defensive tackle across multiple seasons since Timmy Jernigan, instead relying on versatile edge players like Za’Darius Smith and Pernell McPhee to move inside in passing situations. It will be interesting to see whether the Ravens rely on the draft, take another stab at signing a veteran like Gerald McCoy, or dip their toes into more lucrative free-agent waters to sign someone like Pittsbugh’s Javon Hargrave, who registered 10 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons and graded as PFF’s eighth-best interior defender last season. Regardless of the avenue, the Ravens really need to address an interior defensive line that could lose Pierce and finished with a bottom five pass-rushing grade in 2019, according to PFF.

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

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Examining Ravens’ 2020 class of free agents

Posted on 15 January 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

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

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

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

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

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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce doubtful to play against Rams on Monday

Posted on 23 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to be without nose tackle Michael Pierce for the second straight game as they travel to Los Angeles to meet the Rams for Monday Night Football.

Pierce was officially listed as doubtful on the final injury report after logging only one limited practice on Thursday. The fourth-year defensive lineman missed his second straight workout on Saturday, a clear sign that his right ankle isn’t quite ready for a return to action.

With Pierce unlikely to play in Week 12, the Ravens will again lean more heavily on veteran newcomers Domata Peko and Justin Ellis next to starting defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Peko and Ellis combined to play 43 defensive snaps and make five tackles in the 41-7 win over Houston last Sunday.

“That’s what gives us an opportunity not to push Michael out there unless he’s really ready to go because those guys played so well and they practiced well and they’re ready to go,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who added that Pierce didn’t suffer a setback. “Maybe he could go if we really, really had to have him go, but we have those guys available. Let’s go with those healthy guys probably.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), reserve guard Ben Powers (thumb), and wide receiver and special-teams standout Chris Moore (thumb) were listed as questionable, but all three practiced fully on Friday. Moore has missed the last two games with a broken left thumb, but his upgrade in participation suggests an improved chance for him to play against the Rams.

Los Angeles ruled out starting right tackle Rob Havenstein (knee) and former Ravens cornerback Darious Williams (ankle) for Monday night’s game. Havenstein, a Mount Airy native, will miss his second straight game.

Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks was removed from the final injury report after practicing fully all week and will make his return from a concussion that sidelined him for the last two games.

The Ravens will be making their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which hasn’t hosted a Baltimore NFL team since the Colts lost to the Rams there back in 1975. Harbaugh has never been there, but it was the site of a very special football memory for his brother.

“I’ve never been there, yes. The Coliseum, John Robinson, Student Body Right, you grew up with that,” Harbaugh said. “But the biggest game to me in the Coliseum that I remember watching on TV was the greatest upset in the history of college football: Stanford-USC [in 2007]. Jim Harbaugh taking down Pete Carroll’s No. 1-ranked Trojans when they were [41]-point favorites. That was big, right?”

According to Weather.com, the Monday night forecast in Los Angeles calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s with calm winds and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: DT Michael Pierce (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Chris Moore (thumb), G Ben Powers (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle)

LOS ANGELES
OUT: OT Rob Havenstein (knee), CB Darious Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Natrez Patrick (illness)

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Pierce absent again after making limited return to Ravens practice

Posted on 22 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after making his return to the practice field, Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce was back on the sidelines.

It’s unclear whether Pierce suffered a setback in his recovery from a right ankle injury sustained early in the Week 10 win in Cincinnati, but the fourth-year defensive lineman had said Thursday would be a litmus test for his chances to play against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night.

“We will know after practice,” said Pierce, who was listed as a limited participant on Thursday. “We’ll get some things done and see how my ankle responds to individual and some team drills, and we’ll go from there. The swelling’s gone down tremendously. We had to get that out of the way before I could be able to play. We’ll see how it feels, and we’ll go from there.”

With Pierce unable to make it back-to-back practices, the Ravens may need to again lean more heavily on veteran newcomers Domata Peko and Justin Ellis. Just days after being signed, the two run-stopping defensive tackles combined to play 43 defensive snaps in the 41-7 win over Houston.

Their presence and the dominant play of Brandon Williams quell concerns about Pierce’s uncertain status.

“It definitely eases your mind. Just to see the way those guys played this week was awesome,” Pierce said. “They’re awesome dudes. One thing I told Peko — obviously, he was across the division [with Cincinnati] for so many years — I studied his film when I was a young defensive lineman as well as ‘Jelly’s.’ I’ve definitely picked some things from that game just not knowing them, and then we kind of bounced some ideas off each other in meetings.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s session with what was listed as an ankle issue. Wide receiver Chris Moore (broken left thumb) continues to practice on a limited basis in hopes of being cleared to return to game action after a two-week absence.

The Rams didn’t practice on Friday, offering only an estimated injury report.

Below is Friday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), DT Michael Pierce (ankle), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Chris Moore (thumb), G Ben Powers (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury), Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Malcolm Brown (non-injury), OT Rob Havenstein (knee), DB Darious Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: P Johnny Hekker (illness), WR Josh Reynolds (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (concussion)

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Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, far right, throws a pass to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Latest signings once again pay off for Ravens defense

Posted on 18 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Nose tackle Michael Pierce’s absence didn’t stop the Ravens defense from turning in its best performance of the season in Sunday’s dominant 41-7 win over Houston.

Thanks in part to general manager Eric DeCosta’s latest in-season signings of veteran defensive tackles Domata Peko and Justin Ellis, Baltimore held the Texans to 57 rushing yards on 15 carries through the first three quarters before giving up a Carlos Hyde 41-yard touchdown run long after the outcome had long been decided. Peko and Ellis had yet to play in the NFL this season, but the pair combined to play 43 snaps and make five tackles.

“Both of those guys stepped right in there, and you have to give them a lot of credit,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “To step in there like that, off the street, so to speak, they hadn’t been playing for the last few weeks. To be in that kind of shape, that’s not easy to do. They had over 20 plays apiece out there and did a heck of a job.

“It’s really good for our team. It gives us depth. It gives us top-level depth, starter-type level depth across the board.”

Peko and Ellis were two of six Ravens players who were not part of the organization in Week 1 to play 20 or more defensive snaps on Sunday. Those roster additions — headlined by last month’s acquisition of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters — and the healthy post-bye return of cornerback Jimmy Smith have helped Baltimore improve from 27th in total defense and 23rd in points allowed after Week 4 to a respectable 14th in total yards allowed per game and seventh in scoring defense entering Monday. The Ravens allowed a season-low seven points and just 232 total yards against the Texans, the lowest yardage total they’ve surrendered since the season-opening 59-10 win at Miami.

Despite how pleased he was with the performance of Peko and Ellis, Harbaugh remains hopeful that Pierce can return in time for Monday night’s road game against the Los Angeles Rams. The fourth-year defensive lineman hasn’t played or practiced since injuring his right ankle early in the Week 10 win at Cincinnati.

“He had a chance for Sunday. I was told he had a chance for Sunday. He didn’t make it,” Harbaugh said. “If you start trying to predict things and you don’t know — I’m told he has a chance. I assume he has a better chance for this Sunday, and I’m kind of counting on him right now. But you just never know how healing is going to go.”

Special-teams standout and reserve wide receiver Chris Moore is also a possibility to play in Week 12 after missing the last two games with what Harbaugh confirmed to be a broken thumb. Moore has continued to practice on a limited basis, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact while practicing with a cast on his left thumb.

“We can protect it,” Harbaugh said. “He just has to feel good running and doing the things he has to do with his hands. He has a real good shot, but it’ll be really up to him and how it feels.”

The 8-2 Ravens will make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in two years as they play at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but it will mark the 12th time in 14 Monday games under Harbaugh in which Baltimore has been the away team. The Ravens have gone 8-5 despite that extreme road disadvantage.

The bigger challenge could be the quick turnaround in flying home Tuesday morning and immediately beginning preparations for the Week 13 showdown with NFC-leading San Francisco.

“We’ve been everywhere on Monday night. It’s like Johnny Cash,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “We’ve been everywhere, man, on Monday night — just not in Baltimore. Everywhere but Baltimore. I’m not complaining.

“It’s just something that you deal with, and we’ll be excited.”

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