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Want, need, or desperate: Looking at Ravens roster a week into free agency

Posted on 20 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ roster has undergone massive changes in the last month.

Four of their top seven defensive players in terms of snaps played last season are gone, a group that accounted for nearly 40 percent of their sack total. Two of their top three wide receivers are no longer in the picture, leaving just two wide receivers on the current roster who have caught an NFL pass.

Of course, general manager Eric DeCosta hasn’t just been sitting on his hands, signing six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to upgrade from highly-respected veteran Eric Weddle and adding two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram to a ground attack that was already the best in the NFL in the second half of 2018. The Ravens also signed veteran cornerback Justin Bethel to enhance the special-teams units that will undoubtedly miss longtime coordinator Jerry Rosburg, whose pending retirement might be the most underrated loss of the offseason.

Understanding the start of the 2019 regular season is still more than five months away, which of the Ravens’ positional groups require the most work and carry the most concern right now? Some value free agents remain and Baltimore has enough cap space to make another notable signing or two, but going into the draft with multiple needs usually leaves an organization in danger of either reaching in lieu of maximizing value or being left out at a key position or two altogether.

Which positions do the Ravens want to upgrade, need to address, or desperately must improve between now and the start of the season?

Backup quarterback – NEED

Starter Lamar Jackson is the only quarterback currently on the roster as the Ravens have yet to strike a deal with Robert Griffin III to return. It’s difficult to feel good about anyone replacing Jackson’s unique skill set for an extended stretch of time in an offense being specifically built for the 22-year-old, but Griffin would certainly fit better than most quarterbacks out there. Perhaps more important than the system fit is Griffin’s presence as a mentor as it was no secret the two hit it off last season. Ultimately, we’re still talking about a very young quarterback here who can benefit from an experienced veteran. Josh Johnson could be a backup to the backup plan, but it’s difficult to find too many logical fits for the job in terms of both playing style and intangibles.

Edge defender/outside linebacker – DESPERATE

The short-term and long-term outlooks at this position are very concerning with Matthew Judon being the only proven commodity and scheduled to hit the open market himself next offseason. Expectations were high for 2017 second-round pick Tyus Bowser and 2017 third-round pick Tim Williams when they were drafted, but they’ve been non-factors in their first two seasons. Sure, the presence of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith cut into potential opportunities, but the Ravens would have loved nothing more than to put the aging Suggs on more of a pitch count these last two seasons, making this a critical year for Bowser and Williams. With Smith receiving a big payday in Green Bay, the Ravens also lost his versatility to rush the passer from the inside, another issue needing to be addressed. Free agents such as Justin Houston and Ezekiel Ansah are still available, but DeCosta very much needs to add a veteran and draft a pass rusher to adequately address the void here.

Interior offensive line – WANT

Make no mistake, the Ravens would benefit greatly from finding at least one upgrade at guard or center, especially with seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda entering the final year of his contract and turning 35 in September. However, the Ravens had the NFL’s best running game over the final two months of last season and finished 10th in Pro Football Focus’ end-of-year offensive line rankings and eighth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. With a full offseason for recovery and improvement, the Ravens finding a solid left guard out of the trio of James Hurst, Alex Lewis, and Bradley Bozeman isn’t unreasonable and Matt Skura improving in his second full season at center isn’t out of the question. Baltimore will have the option to use the same Week 1 starting offensive line in consecutive years for the first time since 2014 and 2015. An upgrade or two would be great, but don’t dismiss the value of continuity along the offensive line.

Inside linebacker – NEED

Regardless of your feelings on C.J. Mosley’s true worth or ability, you don’t lose a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his prime without having significant questions about replacing him. Patrick Onwuasor emerged late last season and Kenny Young flashed in his 369 defensive snaps as a rookie, but the two played in a platoon — along with dime back Anthony Levine — that enhanced their strengths and masked their weaknesses. The Ravens might be able to get by with Onwuasor and Young in starting roles, but it would certainly deviate from the value they’ve put on the inside linebacker position historically. DeCosta could still look to sign a veteran such as Zach Brown or Brandon Marshall, but it’d be surprising if the Ravens aren’t at least aiming to add an inside linebacker in the first three or four rounds of the draft.

Wide receiver – DESPERATE

With apologies to the solid Willie Snead and special-teams standout Chris Moore, you’d have a difficult time arguing against this current group of wide receivers being the worst in the NFL on paper. Yes, I know the Ravens want to run the ball and arguably value tight ends more than anyone in the league, but that won’t help as much when facing a strong run defense, falling behind multiple scores, or trailing late in games. There’s also the question of Jackson’s development and wanting to maximize the return on that investment for the long haul, something that will be easier to do with a standout wide receiver at his disposal. The problem is this wasn’t a particularly good free-agent class of wide receivers to begin with and most of the top names have already come off the board with options like Dontrelle Inman not getting anyone excited. Like at outside linebacker, the best course of action appears to be adding a veteran and using some meaningful draft capital — not late-round fliers — for a receiver or two. No matter what happens, it’s tough envisioning this position not being a concern going into the season, but that’s hardly unfamiliar territory.

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FlaccoBulldogNestor

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Dear Joe Flacco: I’ll never let ‘em forget how “elite” you were here in Baltimore

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Joe:

As I told you when I tossed you a text five minutes after you were traded to the Denver Broncos last month, it was going to take me a little while to process it all and write an appropriate “exit” letter as you graduate on from the Baltimore Ravens and become a guy who is annually “in our way” whilst trying to win the next few Super Bowls.

Over the past few years, I have made it no secret that you are my all-time favorite Baltimore sports athlete. Oh, sure, others have Brooks or Cal or Ray – and I know and greatly respect those arguments and can make them myself – but you will forever be my No. 1 guy for a myriad of reasons both personal and professional that I will finally make public here upon your less-than-flattering departure.

As my WNST partner Brian Billick always likes to point out: “When you win a Super Bowl, they say they can never take it away from you. But that doesn’t stop them from trying…

Perhaps it’s the underdog Dundalk guy and Horatio Alger fire burning within me that admires you so much but your story has been my lifetime favorite to watch unfold and cover as a Baltimore sports fan who has had the pleasure to get to know you better than most since that fateful day in April 2008 when you became the “next quarterback up” after so many broken promises not named Trent Dilfer or Earl Morrall.

And, as you know, I’ve seen them all since the early 1970s and professionally since 1984. Marty Domres. Bert Jones. Art Schlichter. Mike Pagel. And all of the purple branches of the wilted, lavender Vinny Testaverde tree that you learned about upon your arrival.

Through all of the years and all the sports, you are my favorite story – the underdog, Division Not One quarterback who came down from Philly via my Aunt Clara’s hometown of Newark, Delaware and her beloved Blue Hens and delivered Baltimore a Super Bowl parade.

Joe, unless you go out to Denver and find the fountain of Kurt Warner, you’re not going to Canton for a bust measurement so that’ll always be the first knock on you because you’re not a Hall of Famer. And, of course, these last six years of not qualifying for January or winning enough postseason games that no longer made the Ravens believe in you as a franchise quarterback – in name, salary or depth chart – at 34 years old.

Oh, sure, last week there were heartwarming videos from Owings Mills that made the room dusty as your trade became official. And between now and whenever they bring you and your family back after you’ve acquired more silver on your temples and chin, you’ll have an afternoon to address Baltimore again whenever they immortalize you in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.

But I wanted to wait to see what a press conference would look like with you in another uniform before I inked this farewell tome. I must say, with zero shock, that it looked just like the ones in Owings Mills except for the orange and blue horse and John Elway (as you know, an original Baltimore “Satan” from the history book of Irsay and the Colts) standing next to you.

John Elway says you’re entering your prime.

The Ravens made a teary-eyed video after benching your ass and trading you for a 4th-round draft pick.

From your point of view, let’s skip the formalities and talk Street Philly  – your profane language of choice, which makes me love you even more – for what really happened. They believed in you so little last April that they drafted your replacement, you got hurt midway through another potential playoff year and then you were never heard from again. They wasted no time in throwing your expensive ass outta here. Even though they loved you, they believed you were overpriced, and the “sell by” date on your carton expired sometime around 2017. They never called you “washed up” – but the Baltimore Ravens didn’t believe in you anymore and the world watched it unfold every time John Harbaugh praised Lamar Jackson at the podium after another

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decosta

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on DeCosta, Harbaugh remarks from NFL combine

Posted on 28 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh answering questions at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you had simply read the transcript, DeCosta sounded very similar to Ozzie Newsome speaking at his first combine as the general manager, which isn’t surprising as few executives and coaches tip their hands with free agency two weeks away.

2. The balance between keeping as much of the defense together as possible and building a stronger offense continues to strike me as a difficult task, especially factoring the age of some key defensive players. This is what happens when trying to rebuild on the fly.

3. DeCosta expressed pride in the Ravens’ identity being built on defense historically and stated a desire to continue that tradition. It’s understandable, but Baltimore continuing that philosophy has netted one playoff win since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed suited up for the final time.

4. Harbaugh expects Marshal Yanda to continue playing, which is great news for an offensive line that could already stand to improve inside. The seven-time Pro Bowl guard is entering the final year of his contract and probably could play at a high level longer than that if he wants.

5. While dancing around questions about Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith, DeCosta said he expects Brandon Carr to return, which could be bad news for Smith and his $15.85 million cap number. Carr is older, but he’s cheaper, more durable, and coming off a more consistent season than Smith.

6. DeCosta didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of using the franchise tag on C.J. Mosley, but he made it clear a long-term deal remains the goal with talks “ongoing” and expected to continue with agent Jimmy Sexton in Indianapolis. This figures to be a critical week on that front.

7. The Ravens brass being complimentary of John Brown wasn’t surprising, but I remain skeptical there’s a great fit there — from his perspective — in terms of price tag and offensive philosophy. Either way, he should do well in what appears to be an underwhelming free-agent market for wide receivers.

8. Terrell Suggs stated his intentions months ago to continue playing in 2019, but talks will be delicate in trying to be realistic about the 36-year-old’s current value without insulting someone who’s been so critical to the organization. You hope something can be worked out that makes sense for both sides.

9. Harbaugh praised the inside-outside versatility and intensity of Za’Darius Smith, but the lack of discussion about Baltimore’s 2018 sack leader reflects how few expect him to return. His market should be interesting, especially if a few other free-agent pass rushers indeed receive the franchise tag.

10. DeCosta summed up his thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability by saying, “We certainly want to keep him healthy, but we also want to win and … score points.” The keys are his passing development and adding enough talent to diminish the need for him to run 15-plus times per game.

11. Harbaugh acknowledged the organization’s need to draft and develop wide receivers more effectively while DeCosta said, “We’ve got to add playmakers.” Yes.

12. Counting the Joe Flacco trade and the Michael Crabtree release, the Ravens are already dealing with nearly $22 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. With another big release or two still very possible, that figure is shaping up to be their largest amount since 2015.

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Changing Ravens’ song at wide receiver will be one of DeCosta’s biggest tasks

Posted on 26 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The early reviews have been positive for new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta.

Many doubted the trade value for former starting quarterback Joe Flacco before DeCosta struck an agreement to send the former Super Bowl MVP to Denver for a fourth-round pick in April’s draft. The Ravens are counting on Tavon Young to still grow into the three-year, $25.8 million extension that makes him — at least temporarily — the NFL’s highest-paid slot cornerback, but the organization keeping a talented player entering his age-25 season is a welcome sight.

However, the Monday release of wide receiver Michael Crabtree ends the honeymoon for DeCosta. That’s not to say the veteran’s departure was unexpected or the wrong decision after a disappointing lone season in Baltimore, but it officially signals the latest instance of Phil Connors waking up to “I Got You Babe” in “Groundhog Day.”

The Ravens are about to embark on their latest rebuild of a wide receiver room that currently includes Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, and Quincy Adeboyejo — the latter three without a single NFL target to their names — so let’s get the usual platitudes out of the way.

We know it’s a challenging position to scout, draft, and develop. Top-shelf options on the free-agent market are expensive. Talented receivers could be on the board in any round of the draft. And, yes, there are other positions of need — like the interior offensive line — to address this offseason.

The aforementioned statements are both true and weary excuses. And the arrival of 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson has brought additional comments this offseason, ranging from the Baltimore brass stating a desire to have receivers with strong run-blocking ability to others stating wide receivers aren’t as important for a mobile quarterback in a run-first offense. There may be some truth in those sentiments, especially with a young tight end group trending upward, but that remains a limited outlook for the side of the ball that’s gotten the short end of the stick for years. And you’re forgiven for not being enthused about the idea of blocking-minded receivers when the organization can’t find those sporting the traditional requirements of the position.

Jackson needs high-quality wide receivers to help in his development if the Ravens truly hope to maximize their investment in a first-round quarterback. There’s no telling how Flacco’s early career would have gone without Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin after that, but can you imagine what might have been had the Ravens not fumbled the position so much over the last several years? You hope a lesson has been learned, even with the organization now boasting an exciting young quarterback with a unique skill set.

But that’s where it’s tricky trying to determine whether anything will really change under a new general manager who isn’t new at all. DeCosta surely didn’t agree with every move made by his mentor and former general manager Ozzie Newsome over the years, but it would be just as naive to assume he was opposed to every misstep ultimately taken at the wide receiver position.

Considering the Ravens have selected just one wide receiver — Breshad Perriman — in the first three rounds of the last seven drafts despite the position being an annual concern, how do you explain away DeCosta’s responsibility knowing the draft has long been his baby? Before last year’s draft, he was asked about that recent track record and whether the organization valued the wide receiver position enough on their board compared to other teams around the league:

“To get a good player at any position, you’ve got to swing. You can get one at-bat in a baseball game and strike out and everyone’s going to say you’re a bad hitter. But if you get up four times and you hit two singles or two doubles, you’re a .500 hitter, so your whole perception changes. You’ve got to swing. We probably haven’t swung quite as much, quite honestly, for a lot of different reasons.

“I think that [with] the receiver position and skill players in general, what I see is a sense of inflation. The value of the skill players has been affected by inflation. Players are getting drafted probably higher than where we actually see their skill levels necessarily being. What I mean by that is we see players that we think are second-round or third-round players getting drafted in the first round. And we see first-round players at some of the skill positions that may be lower-half-of-the-first-round players sometimes getting drafted in the top half of the first round. I think some of that is because of the perception and the pressure to find skill players. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any better than other players that they’re drafted in front of, but that the value of these players has changed.

“We have to make a decision. Are we going to react to that as well in order to get players? For instance, you might have a quarterback as being the 20th-best player in the draft, but the chances that you’re going to get him with the 20th pick are basically nonexistent. He’s going to be a top-10 player because he’s a quarterback. The various positions [and] the values of the various positions in terms of winning and losing football games, it seems like the media, the fan base, draft pundits, the NFL teams, everybody has a different opinion. But that makes the value of those skills players greater than probably if you just graded all those players clinically across board. They would be taken higher than what you have them rated, and we have to make a decision of do we want to participate in that inflationary process basically.”

Perhaps the decision to adapt is coming, but DeCosta’s assessment preceded the Ravens passing on first-round wide receivers DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley in favor of trading down to take tight end Hayden Hurst and trading back into the first round to select Jackson. Wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley were grabbed in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, but neither appeared in a single game last season with Scott stashed on injured reserve and Lasley inactive every week.

The jury is still out, but the Ravens can’t continue to point to one failed first-round pick every decade as reason for not taking swings beyond late-round fliers at the position.

In the same way DeCosta deserves his portion of credit for the great success that includes two Super Bowl championships in the last two decades, he shares in the blame for the lack of draft success at the wide receiver position. And while they’ve found some success — and duds — signing past-their-prime receivers at a discount, this new era for the organization signals the need for a long-term answer or two.

There may be no better way for DeCosta to make his mark on the roster as the new man in charge than putting this longstanding criticism to bed and positioning his young quarterback to reach greater heights. No, wide receiver isn’t the only order of business this offseason, but it’s an important one deserving more than just the typical band-aid or two.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or we’ll be back here again next year as Sonny & Cher plays in the background.

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Ravens begin latest wide receiver rebuild by cutting Crabtree

Posted on 25 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens began their latest rebuild at the wide receiver position on Monday by releasing veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

The 31-year-old was entering the second season of a three-year, $21 million contract signed last year that ultimately paid him just $8 million. Baltimore will save $4.667 million in salary cap space and carry $4.667 million in dead money on the 2019 cap while looking to improve at the wide receiver position, a longstanding problem for the organization.

The release was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and seemingly confirmed by Crabtree, who alluded to the news with a tweet and removed references to the Ravens in his Twitter profile.

Signed to serve as a legitimate red-zone threat after catching a total of 25 touchdowns the previous three years, Crabtree caught just 54 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns and became much less of a factor when the Ravens shifted from injured veteran Joe Flacco to rookie Lamar Jackson at quarterback in November. According to Pro Football Focus, Crabtree owned the third-highest drop rate in the NFL in 2018 and failed to catch the potential game-winning touchdown in the Week 5 overtime loss at Cleveland. He made only 13 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in Jackson’s seven regular-season starts, but he did catch two fourth-quarter scores in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Crabtree may not be the only veteran receiver to depart from the Ravens in the coming weeks as the speedy John Brown is an unrestricted free agent. After a promising start to the season, Brown posted a total of just 128 receiving yards in the eight games started by Jackson, leaving one to wonder whether he’ll prefer continuing his career elsewhere.

The question now becomes how the Ravens go about improving at the position with the projected free-agent market not overflowing with great options. Many have speculated about new general manager Eric DeCosta selecting a wide receiver with the 22nd overall pick in April, but Baltimore has taken a total of just one wide receiver — 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman — in the first three rounds of the last seven drafts.

Willie Snead and Chris Moore are the only wide receivers currently under contract for the 2019 season to have caught a pass for Baltimore in 2018. Both DeCosta and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman have expressed a preference to have wide receivers with strong blocking ability, a reflection of the run-first offense the Ravens will continue to run in 2019.

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tavonyoung

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Ravens reach contract extension with cornerback Tavon Young

Posted on 21 February 2019 by Luke Jones

At his introductory press conference last month, new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta shared a desire to retain talented young players long before they reach free agency when the cost and risk of losing them rise.

Baltimore has apparently done that with slot cornerback Tavon Young, who tweeted Thursday he’s reached a contract extension with the organization that selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. The Ravens announced they’ll hold a Friday morning press conference with DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh, and an unnamed player expected to be the fourth-year defensive back.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the agreement is a three-year, $25.8 million contract with a max value of $29 million, which will make Young the highest-paid nickel corner in the NFL.

Young, 24, had one year remaining on his rookie contract and was scheduled to make just over $2 million in 2019 after reaching the proven performance escalator that’s in place for later-round draft picks. Despite missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Young has filled a significant role in the Ravens secondary, playing in 31 games and making 17 starts. He showed the ability to play outside as a rookie despite his diminutive size, but the presence of Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Jimmy Smith allowed him to remain in the slot for his third NFL season.

Teammates and coaches have often praised Young’s toughness with defensive coordinator Wink Martindale even labeling him “a pit bull” last season.

“Tavon is very aggressive. He has great ball skills. He’s a good tackler,” secondary coach Chris Hewitt said last November. “He’s having that small linebacker [role] being able to cover and be able to play against the run as well. Having a slot corner be able to cover, that’s paramount in a league where you’re facing three wide-receiver sets every time.”

The Oxon Hill native and Temple product rebounded nicely from the knee injury this past season, appearing in 15 games and collecting 37 tackles, one interception, and five pass breakups. He returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the final month of the season before missing the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a sports hernia that required offseason surgery.

Young being a priority for an extension is a reflection of today’s NFL in which most teams use the nickel package as their base defense. Despite missing two whole games and parts of others with the sports hernia, the slot cornerback played over 58 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps in 2018.

With veteran quarterback Joe Flacco set to be traded to Denver next month and the 22-year-old Lamar Jackson — and his cheap rookie contract — entering his first full season as the starter, the Ravens find themselves in a better salary-cap position than they’ve enjoyed in years. Young is the first to reap the benefits of that flexibility.

“We would love to keep as much young talent as we can in Baltimore,” DeCosta said last month. “That’s hard to do at times when you have a really, really good quarterback who’s making a lot of money and you have less cap room. It’s tougher for you to keep your roster intact. It is a lot easier to do when you don’t have those parameters.”

It remains to be seen which other young players the Ravens are hoping to extend, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley and outside linebacker Matthew Judon headline the list of logical candidates who aren’t scheduled to hit the market this offseason.

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johnbrown

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How did Ravens wide receivers stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 20 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl 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 extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens wide receivers ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs
Cornerbacks

Willie Snead
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 821
PFF ranking: 56th among wide receivers
Skinny: The slot receiver was the most relevant of Baltimore’s wide receivers when Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, serving as a reliable target over the middle of the field. Considering the uncertainty at the position, the $4 million Snead will command in 2019 is very reasonable.

Michael Crabtree
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 805
PFF ranking: 79th among wide receivers
Skinny: Signed to be a major red-zone threat, Crabtree caught three touchdowns in the regular season and owned the third-highest drop rate in the NFL, per PFF. It’s unclear whether a $9.333 million salary cap number for a receiver who’s barely cracked 600 yards in each of the last two years will be palatable.

John Brown
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 757
PFF ranking: 70th among wide receivers
Skinny: Brown made seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown in a season-best Week 7 performance and appeared on his way to a 1,000-yard season and a big payday. However, the speedster had a total of 128 receiving yards in the eight games started by Jackson as drops also began mounting after the bye.

Chris Moore
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 467
PFF ranking: 98th among wide receivers
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick didn’t build on his improvement in 2017, recording only one more catch and 52 fewer receiving yards in his third season. Moore remains an important special-teams contributor, but it’s difficult to view him as anything more than a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver.

2019 positional outlook

Trying to figure out this position is one of the great questions of the offseason, but that’s nothing new for the Ravens. With Crabtree a potential cap casualty and Brown an unrestricted free agent, Snead is the only safe bet to be a contributor at the position in Jackson’s first full year as a starter. The decision on Crabtree will be partly determined by how favorably Eric DeCosta views the free-agent market and this year’s draft class to be able to find a replacement. No Ravens player — other than Joe Flacco — suffered more from a business standpoint than Brown when Jackson took over and the offense shifted so dramatically toward the run. Brown said he was open to re-signing with the Ravens at the end of the season, but it’s difficult to see that after his one-year platform deal went awry down the stretch. The development of 2018 draft picks Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley will be worth monitoring this spring and summer, but neither showed enough last year to be viewed as suitable answers. Concern is more than warranted with the organization’s long-standing problems at this position, and free agents may not be all that eager to sign up with an offense that ran the ball more than anyone down the stretch in 2018.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Greg Roman’s press conference

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Greg Roman meeting with the media for the first time since his promotion to offensive coordinator, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The theme from Tuesday’s press conference was the “reimagining” of the Ravens offense “from the ground up” with Roman even comparing the process to a brand new coaching staff joining a team. That seems telling after so many questioned the sustainability of the post-bye offensive system last year.

2. Roman went out of his way to mention how the staff was incorporating college elements, ranging from how modern players learn offensive systems to formations and even the calling of plays at that level. That’s interesting for a staff that doesn’t have a ton of recent college coaching experience.

3. Beyond improving his ball security, the greatest offseason focus for Lamar Jackson will be refining his fundamentals and mechanics as a passer, according to Roman. The coordinator opined that certain elements may not have been emphasized very much during his college career.

4. Asked what he likes about Jackson as a passer, Roman praised his field vision and compared it to that of Steve McNair, whom he worked with in his first stint with the Ravens from 2006-07. He said that kind of feel can’t be coached and gives Jackson a higher ceiling.

5. Like John Harbaugh last month, Roman didn’t disclose many details about Jackson’s offseason football plans, but he noted how this is essentially his first true offseason after he went through the pre-draft process last year. It’s a critical one for Jackson to make that fundamental jump.

6. When discussing his play-calling, Roman mentioned not wanting to leave “popcorn on the ground” for the opposing defense to be able to call out their plays. I don’t believe that was a dig at Marty Mornhinweg, but I couldn’t help but think about the playoff loss when he said it.

7. Speaking of the popcorn comment, Roman compared adjusting Jackson’s speed to a pitcher striking you out in the first couple at-bats and said the rebuilding of the offense was like kneading dough and putting together IKEA furniture. He had no shortage of interesting analogies, which I appreciated.

8. To no surprise, Roman mentioned “a strong, powerful” offensive line as the most important element in building an offense around Jackson. You’d have to think upgrading at left guard or center — ideally, both — remains a priority.

9. On the same day Hayden Hurst indicated he finally had the screw removed from his foot that stemmed from his August surgery for a stress fracture, Roman expressed excitement about both him and fellow tight end Mark Andrews and how creative he wants to be with their usage.

10. Echoing Eric DeCosta from last month, Roman mentioned wanting wide receivers with strong blocking ability and a “tough guy” element. That’ll be an emphasis in the draft and free agency, but I feel the need to express hope that they’ll find one or two also possessing the position’s traditional traits.

11. For those dreaming of a Le’Veon Bell signing, Roman preferring a “stable” of running backs and saying a receiving-minded back isn’t a top priority would probably make it unwise to hold your breath for the pursuit of the Pittsburgh Steeler free agent. Not that I expected it anyway.

12. I’m unsure how this is going to go with a “reimagined” offense driven by the run in an NFL leaning so heavily on the pass, but I respect trying to go against the grain for a competitive advantage. How big a passing jump Jackson makes remains the biggest key, however.

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How did Ravens running backs stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 14 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl 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 extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens running backs ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen

Gus Edwards
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 286
PFF ranking: 15th among running backs
Skinny: Despite being on the practice squad until mid-October, Edwards seized the starting job and led the Ravens in rushing, a remarkable feat for an undrafted free agent. A physical, straight-ahead style and the threat of Lamar Jackson gave Edwards the lowest rate of attempts tackled for a loss in the league.

Alex Collins
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 311
PFF ranking: 56th among running backs
Skinny: Collins ran effectively out of “11” personnel, but he was unable to duplicate his 2017 success and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry overall. Edwards’ emergence coupled with a nagging foot injury eventually landed Collins on injured reserve, leaving the restricted free agent’s future up in the air.

Kenneth Dixon
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 152
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A knee injury limited Dixon to just six regular-season games, but he showed explosiveness upon returning in December and averaged a team-best 5.6 yards per carry. Ball security was a concern as he lost critical fumbles in Week 16 and in the playoff loss, and durability remains a major question.

Buck Allen
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 310
PFF ranking: 53rd among running backs
Skinny: Allen began the year as the short-yardage and third-down back, but his role diminished down the stretch as he was a healthy scratch for the last two regular-season games. The 2015 fourth-round pick will be an unrestricted free agent and averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per catch.

Ty Montgomery
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 114
PFF ranking: 42nd among running backs
Skinny: Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery had his moments despite being used sparingly as he rushed for 83 yards on 15 carries and caught 10 passes for 65 yards. His pass protection was strong, but he didn’t really stand out as a pass catcher out of the backfield as Baltimore had hoped.

Patrick Ricard
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 96
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Ricard saw more time as a fullback than in the defensive line rotation, but he was inactive over the season’s final month. The free-agent status of both Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams could open more blocking opportunities, but there are only so many snaps to go around, leaving Ricard on the bubble.

De’Lance Turner
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 9
PFF ranking: 15th among running backs
Skinny: The rookie free agent appeared in only four games and received three touches before going to IR with a hamstring injury, but he was promoted to the active roster before Edwards, a sign of the potential the Ravens see. The explosiveness he displayed last preseason is something on which to keep an eye.

2019 positional outlook

The promotion of Greg Roman to offensive coordinator makes Baltimore’s commitment to the running game clear, so it will be fascinating to see how the system evolves with Jackson entering his first full year as the starting quarterback. The combination of Edwards and Dixon was effective late in the season, but the Ravens could really use an impactful receiver out of the backfield, something they’ve sorely missed in their offense since the Ray Rice years. Some have speculated about the potential pursuit of three-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell in free agency, but such a strategy would deviate from how the organization has traditionally operated and Bell’s contract demands make you wonder if enough value will be there, especially after what Edwards brought to the table as an undrafted free agent. It will be interesting to see if Baltimore chooses to tender Collins, who didn’t appear to be a good fit in the revamped rushing attack after the bye week.

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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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