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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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Deadline passes as Ravens, Judon fail to strike long-term deal

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Luke Jones

Wednesday’s franchise tag deadline passed with the Ravens and outside linebacker Matthew Judon failing to reach an agreement on a long-term contract.

That means the 2019 Pro Bowl selection must play the upcoming season under the tag amount of $16.808 million and is scheduled to again become an unrestricted free agent next March. Both sides had been quiet about negotiations throughout the process with no indication that a deal was close.

The 28-year-old signed his franchise tender in late May, eliminating any real possibility of him holding out during training camp. Unlike fellow tagged edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Bud Dupree who filed grievances against their respective teams after being classified as linebackers, Judon was able to work out a compromise with the Ravens to split the difference between the linebacker ($15.828 million) and defensive end ($17.788) amounts. Earlier this offseason, the 6-foot-3, 261-pound linebacker said he was “blessed” to receive the tag, a more diplomatic stance than others prevented from hitting the open market.

“I want to stay here for as long as I play, but I understand that it’s a business and that they’ve kind of got a ‘bad-good’ problem to have,” Judon said last month. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can’t all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers. They have stuff that they have to address, and obviously, I have needs as well.”

Despite a career season in which Judon registered a team-leading 9 1/2 sacks and ranked fourth in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits, some have pointed to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s blitz-heavy system as reason to question whether the 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State is worthy of being paid among the league’s elite pass rushers. Still, Judon was easily Baltimore’s best performer at outside linebacker last year after the free-agent departure of seven-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs, and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson is the only notable Ravens outside linebacker under contract beyond the upcoming season.

The climate for a long-term contract for Judon doesn’t figure to improve next offseason because of both the financial uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the pending free agency of Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who would be an obvious candidate for the franchise tag in the absence of a long-term extension. General manager Eric DeCosta must also weigh the long-term contract situations for 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, and Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., all players working toward top-tier contracts at their respective positions in the near future.

As Judon alluded to in his recent comments, the Ravens simply may not be able to pay everyone.

With 28 1/2 sacks, seven forced fumbles, seven pass breakups, and 185 tackles in 62 career games, Judon became the seventh player to receive the franchise tag in team history and will become the first to play out a season on the tag since Suggs in 2008. The Ravens awarded Suggs with a long-term contract the following summer and eventually reached long-term agreements with five of those previous six players who were tagged, the exception being interior offensive lineman Wally Williams after the 1998 season.

With Judon’s guaranteed salary now locked in barring a trade, the Ravens entered Wednesday with $8.886 million in salary cap space for the 2020 campaign.

Below is a history of how the Ravens have used the franchise tag in their 25 seasons:

1998 OL Wally Williams — played on a $3.062 million tag before signing a five-year, $18.5 million deal with New Orleans the following offseason
2003-04 CB Chris McAlister — signed a seven-year, $55 million extension in October 2004
2008-09 OLB Terrell Suggs — signed a six-year, $62.5 million extension in July 2009
2011 DT Haloti Ngata — signed a five-year, $61 million extension in Sept. 2011
2012 RB Ray Rice — signed a five-year, $35 million extension in July 2012
2016 K Justin Tucker — signed a four-year, $16.8 million extension in July 2016
2020 OLB Matthew Judon — will play on a $16.808 million tag and is scheduled for free agency in 2021

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to training camp

Posted on 13 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With the tentative start date for training camp only two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Matthew Judon and the Ravens have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to strike a long-term deal and avoid the outside linebacker playing for the $16.8 million franchise tag amount. Deadlines drive negotiations, but the economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic dims optimism. They’re not alone.

2. The dearth of lucrative extensions around the NFL this offseason didn’t stop Kansas City from signing Patrick Mahomes to the largest contract in league history. Upon seeing the news of the $450 million deal, I couldn’t help but ponder Lamar Jackson’s celebration sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

via GIPHY

3. It still hasn’t sunk in that we’ll see fewer than 14,000 fans per game at M&T Bank Stadium if spectators are even permitted to attend at all in 2020. The thrill of going to a game — and even the annoyances — won’t be taken for granted whenever normalcy returns.

4. Coaches will bristle at the reduced or canceled slate of preseason games, but I won’t shed any tears over the disappearance of shoddy exhibitions masquerading as premium entertainment. Good organizations will evaluate young players just fine. Incompetent ones probably weren’t getting it right anyway.

5. An above-average player from the moment he stepped on the field three years ago and developing into one of three Ravens cornerbacks ever to make a Pro Bowl, Marlon Humphrey just turned 24. With another top-shelf campaign at that age, why wouldn’t he expect to become the NFL’s highest-paid corner?

6. It’s easy — and fair — to point to Greg Roman’s run-first scheme creating so many open throws, but Jackson leading the NFL in expected points added on passes into tight windows throws cold water on any lingering doubts about the reigning MVP’s passing ceiling. Just enjoy the ride.

7. That doesn’t mean Jackson and the offense are destined to be better or as good as they were in 2019. Especially in the midst of a pandemic that’s disrupted much, the variance of a 16-game schedule could rear its head more than ever. Pro Football Focus explores that nicely HERE.

8. According to PFF, the Ravens enjoyed a lead for 644 offensive snaps last year, the league’s most by a margin of 57 over second-place New England. Regression toward the mean in this area wouldn’t be surprising, but that could provide Jackson the opportunity to show growth when playing from behind.

9. Kudos to the NFL for exploring a pragmatic answer to help make playing football more feasible this fall by working with Oakley to develop face shields for helmets. The question will be how many players find them comfortable enough to buy in.

10. Less credit to the rule prohibiting players from exchanging jerseys after games, which feels much more like security theater. If we’re testing players and deeming them safe enough to play for three hours, this shouldn’t be a concern. If it is, you can probably guess what I’d say next.

11. Recency bias hurt the fan-voted “All-Time 25 Team.” Jackson over Joe Flacco was wrong but forgivable, but Steve Smith over Derrick Mason, Torrey Smith, and Qadry Ismail was bad. This wasn’t about projecting the future or recognizing the best overall player who happened to once play here. Mason deserved better.

12. Speaking of the upcoming 25th season, I’ll offer a final mention of my series on the top 25 regular-season moments in franchise history. At a time with little taking place in sports, I enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. Let’s hope we have the opportunity to witness more this fall.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts as virtual spring workouts continue

Posted on 27 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens and the NFL now in the early stages of the virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After Gov. Larry Hogan gave permission, the organization entered “Phase I” for the opening of the Owings Mills facility, which permits returnees from the equipment crew, football video group, and the personnel department. Coaches and players still aren’t allowed in the building, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2. Those restrictions won’t prevent Baltimore players from working out together in South Florida as Lamar Jackson will hold informal sessions next week. The reigning MVP’s recent workouts with Marquise Brown highlighted on social media must have served as motivation for other teammates.

3. It’s been far from an ideal spring for players to keep in shape and prepare for the season, but the creativity has been fun to watch from afar such as the below example from Marlon Humphrey. I’ll be curious to see what technological and workout innovations stick beyond the pandemic.

4. Miles Boykin expressing confidence that he’ll “be able to play faster” in his second year reflects the steep challenge awaiting current rookies without a normal spring. Studying the playbook and virtual classroom work simply can’t replicate the challenging on-field application of concepts.

5. Ed Reed was the latest legend to speak with players virtually with Boykin describing his message as, “Take care of business — whatever it is.” The Hall of Famer discussed various topics, from finances and watching film to recovery and even locker room cleanliness. Reed remains one of a kind.

6. As Bill Belichick mentioned during the NFL 100 all-time team unveiling, Reed may have been the greatest punt blocker of all time, a cue rookies wanting to make a first-year impact should take. He was an absolute force on special teams before injuries eventually took him away from that realm.

7. Deep passing accuracy is still mentioned as a relative weakness for Jackson, but separate studies put him 16th (Pro Football Focus) and 12th (Football Outsiders) last season. With Brown and Boykin entering their second season, Jackson taking another step in the vertical game seems quite plausible.

8. Jamal Adams is a heck of a talent and drew trade interest from Baltimore last fall, but surrendering early draft picks and committing another market-setting contract to the secondary on top of the lucrative in-house extensions already on the horizon would make me take serious pause. You can’t pay everybody.

9. Speaking of safeties, this PFF piece on the three-safety defense in college is something to remember with the Ravens’ reputation for being ahead of the curve with innovations. Wink Martindale frequently used three safeties down the stretch last year, but not with the same principles as these college teams.

10. John Harbaugh was tied for 11th with 25-1 opening odds to win 2020 AP Coach of the Year, according to BetOnline. Dramatic improvement from the previous year usually prompts strong support for this award, so tangibly improving on a 14-2 regular season for him to repeat feels very unlikely.

11. As I get older, I more and more disagree with criticism for aging players who continue well past their prime. If they’re still competent enough in at least one team’s eyes, why walk away to appease anyone who isn’t their family? That goes for Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, or anyone.

12. There aren’t many stadiums where the Ravens haven’t won a game as they prepare for their 25th season in Baltimore, but they’ll have a chance to secure their first victories at Philadelphia and Indianapolis this fall. Of course, a road game could be quite different from what we’re used to.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 draft

Posted on 29 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 NFL draft in the books and the Ravens shifting attention toward an unprecedented virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore’s draft haul has been widely praised as it is, but Eric DeCosta also used 2020 fifth-round picks to acquire Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Calais Campbell. We know many draft choices don’t pan out, of course, but the Ravens sure took advantage of value.

2. Marlon Humphrey’s fifth-year option being exercised was elementary as he’s projected to make $10.244 million in 2021, but he’s already been a team MVP and a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection prior to turning 24. He’s one more big year away from commanding top-of-the-market money at cornerback.

3. The career of D.J. Fluker has been pedestrian compared to first-round expectations, but his signing is a reminder of keeping expectations in check for rookies, especially without normal offseason workouts. Ideally, a young guy with a higher ceiling seizes the right guard job, but Fluker raises the position’s floor.

4. Whenever anticipating a position battle, I remember how much angst there was about the Ravens making no meaningful addition to replace right tackle Michael Oher in 2014. Rick Wagner, who had barely played as a fifth-round rookie, stepped in as an immediate upgrade for the next three seasons.

5. Speaking of competition, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser had to be pleased to see no edge defenders taken in this draft class. Ferguson will compete to start and was in no roster danger, of course, but players like Bowser in the final year of their contract are always vulnerable.

6. J.K. Dobbins will try to break this post-Super Bowl XLVII run of second-round picks: Bowser (2017), Kamalei Correa (2016), Maxx Williams (2015), Timmy Jernigan (2014), and Arthur Brown (2013). Talk about “meh,” but I suppose the Ravens did OK trading their 2018 and 2019 second-rounders.

7. How the ground game shakes out with four running backs and the greatest single-season rushing quarterback in NFL history will be interesting — there’s only one football — but there’s no shortage of motivation. Mark Ingram was essentially put on notice and Gus Edwards and Justice Hill dropped down the pecking order.

8. Devin Duvernay will be an interesting wild card with good hands and an uncanny ability to gain yards after the catch. Considering how many screens he ran at Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised to occasionally see him lining up in the backfield and also motioning into jet sweeps.

9. After drafting exactly one wide receiver (Breshad Perriman) in the first three rounds from 2012-2018, the Ravens have selected three (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Duvernay) in the last two drafts. Somewhere, Joe Flacco shrugs his shoulders.

10. Not only is Mike Tomlin getting inside information from Maryland wide receiver Dino Tomlin, but former Terps interim head coach Matt Canada became Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks coach in January. Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks landing with the Steelers was hardly a shock.

11. The gap is sizable between the Ravens and the rest of the AFC North on paper right now, but Cincinnati and Cleveland had strong drafts and Pittsburgh appeared to do OK despite trading its first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick last fall. Much talent was added to the division.

12. I’m not going to pretend to have any great insights into the Ravens’ reported (and unofficial) class of rookie free-agent signings, but I just hope the addition of Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner means his uncle shows up in Owings Mills at some point.

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

Posted on 23 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens must walk fine line between evolving, fixing what isn’t broken

Posted on 04 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Free agency officially begins in two weeks and the 2020 draft is only 50 days away for the Ravens.

The sting of the best regular season in franchise history ending with an upset divisional-round loss lingers less than two months later. The mental challenge of moving on and trying to exorcise those playoff demons will persist long after general manager Eric DeCosta plays his offseason hand and head coach John Harbaugh has a better idea of what his team will look like in the coming weeks.

Yes, we’ve reached the point in the offseason when it feels as though every team — even Super Bowl champion Kansas City — has more questions than answers with no shortage of free-agent projections, mock drafts, and lists of needs to mull over.

How do the Ravens proceed if eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda indeed retires?

What will be the resolution with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and how will that impact a pass rush already desiring more juice?

Are there enough cap dollars and draft picks available to effectively retool a free-agent-laden front seven that already had its deficiencies last year?

What about — for the “I lost count”-th year in a row — wide receiver?

But this is when the Ravens — and their fans — need perspective more than a linebacker, guard, or defensive tackle. Going an NFL-best 14-2 with the best point differential in the league in more than a decade — with some of the aforementioned concerns, mind you — shouldn’t be an invitation for complacency, but there is a fine line between evolving and trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Baltimore surely took lessons from the Tennessee loss — needing to be able to play more effectively off schedule, for example — but a bad day at the office at the wrong time didn’t mean there was some fatal flaw in need of upheaval.

Having the most efficient running and passing games in the league and a top-tier defense isn’t an identity from which to stray too far despite how tempting it can be to be bold addressing weaknesses. That’s where you trust an analytics-minded front office and coaching staff to understand themselves and the entire body of 2019 work rather than to overreact to one heartbreaking loss or a couple failed fourth-and-1 plays. Of course, there’s work to do.

“We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball by every single team in the league very thoroughly.” Harbaugh said in January. “We’ll be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas — expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward.”

Losing Yanda would definitely be a big blow to a record-setting offense, but the 2017 Ravens were a last-second Week 17 collapse away from making the playoffs without him or reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who was spending his last days at Louisville. Jackson’s unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position will continue to make life easier for the offensive line and whoever might need to replace Yanda.

Few would argue that the Ravens would benefit from another wide receiver to make more plays outside the numbers, but the strength of the passing game remains the middle of the field with Jackson heavily targeting his tight ends, something unlikely to change as defenses across the NFL struggle to account for big, athletic tight ends. DeCosta and Harbaugh have expressed optimism about receivers being more open to playing in this unique run-first offense, but the right fit is more critical than adding “a true No. 1” who might grow unhappy with a fraction of the targets he’s used to seeing in a typical offense.

Speculation about trading tight end Hayden Hurst and mock drafts projecting the Ravens to take a running back in the first round would fall under the category of trying too hard to fix something that isn’t broken. The Yanda decision aside, this offense simply doesn’t need a ton of work beyond adding another pass-catching option at some point and implementing whatever system tweaks offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the staff cook up between now and September.

The defense is a different story with the front seven having multiple free agents, a list including Judon, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, and situational rushers Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward. However, nearly half of those players were added during the 2019 season, a testament to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and the front office to at least identify viable placeholders and account for less-than-ideal conditions.

An edge defender or two, a three-down inside linebacker, and a defensive tackle with pass-rushing ability would all be welcome additions, but that’s an ambitious list for one offseason. There’s no guarantee the right pass rusher or inside linebacker will be on the board when Baltimore selects 28th overall in next month’s draft, and there are red flags everywhere with free-agent edge rushers — Judon included.

Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, the Ravens will continue to lean on an elite secondary, a defensive strength endorsed by analytics, and the frequent blitzing that made a rebuilt defense one of the league’s best over the second half of 2019. The identity is in place, which is more than many defensive units can say at this point. Last season proved the personnel doesn’t need to be perfect.

“I think we want to have really good players at all those positions,” DeCosta said in Indianapolis last week. “I’d love to have some elite pass rushers. I’d love to have some elite corners. I think Wink Martindale does an unbelievable job taking players, finding out what they can do, putting them in position to succeed, and they did that this year. What we were able to do on defense under Wink’s guidance with our coaches and our players — bringing in all those guys that we did — I thought that was masterful.”

The Ravens are bound to face some roster turbulence over the next few weeks. A year ago at this time, DeCosta didn’t know he’d be losing perennial Pro Bowl defenders C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and desperate teams frequently overpay players coming from winning organizations. Baltimore has never been in the business of “winning” the offseason, and that’s unlikely to change simply because of a little more salary cap space than usual this year. Long-term planning is too critical, especially with the elite talents up for contract extensions over the next couple years such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and Jackson.

The truth is I’d take this team essentially as it is — meaning all but sitting out free agency and having only an ordinary draft class — up against any conference opponent not named the Chiefs next fall. Even with the disappointment of January being so slow to dissipate, that is rare territory and speaks to the tremendous opportunity Baltimore has to improve this offseason.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Ravens are going 14-2 again — only three teams have ever done that in back-to-back years — as unforeseen challenges await next season. They can’t count on the schedule to fall the right way or for their remarkably good health over the last two seasons to continue, but those are realities every team faces. That’s why the Ravens know they must continue to evolve without drastically altering what they do best.

“We’re not going to be sitting on our hands schematically,” Harbaugh said. “We are not going to be saying, ‘OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.'”

But they are good. Very good.

That makes this year’s offseason uncertainty easier than usual to handle, regardless of how it all plays out.

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

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

Posted on 26 February 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary depth decisions

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

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

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

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

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

Next wave of extensions?

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

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

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

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

Waiting on Yanda

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

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

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

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

Posted on 17 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens cornerbacks ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 positional outlook

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

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Baltimore Ravens defensive back Chuck Clark, left, brings down Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens continue prioritizing secondary by extending safety Chuck Clark

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Luke Jones

Even in an offseason in which the Ravens need to revamp their front seven, maintaining a strong secondary remains a top defensive objective.

General manager Eric DeCosta reinforced that stance Monday by reaching a three-year contract extension with starting safety Chuck Clark, who was entering the final year of his rookie contract after a breakout 2019 campaign. Taking over for the injured Tony Jefferson in Week 5, Clark proved to be an upgrade at safety and led the Ravens with 68 tackles to help spark a defensive turnaround. Graded 36th among qualified safeties by Pro Football Focus in 2019, the 24-year-old registered an interception, ranked third on the team with nine passes defensed, and forced two fumbles.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the three-year extension running through 2023 is worth $15.3 million with $10 million in guarantees for the 2017 sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech. Clark was already scheduled to make just over $778,000 in the final year of his rookie contract.

“Chuck is a great story about hard work, patience, preparation, and passion,” DeCosta said in a statement released by the team. “He waited for his chance and seized the opportunity. Chuck’s a good football player, a fine teammate, and respected leader. He’s the type of player we want on our defense for a long time. Congrats to Chuck and his family.”

Making 12 starts in the regular season and starting in the playoff loss against Tennessee, Clark played all but two defensive snaps after Week 5, wearing the “green dot” communication helmet and relaying defensive calls in the huddle. That leadership proved to be a key to Baltimore’s defensive turnaround when early struggles at inside linebacker prompted roster shuffling and a platoon at a position traditionally entrusted to make the calls in the defensive huddle.

The versatile Clark also saw snaps in the box playing as the “Mike” linebacker, which allowed the Ravens to use Brandon Carr as a third safety in their popular dime package. His presence was frequently cited as a major reason why Baltimore ranked fourth in total defense, sixth in pass defense, and third in points allowed by season’s end despite struggling mightily over the first month of the year.

“It’s unbelievable,” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale about Clark’s play in late December. “As far as the communicator, as far as the checks, as far as just the football smarts, he has become that [Eric] Weddle, that Magic Johnson of the defense of getting people lined up and setting them up to make plays, as well. He’s had a tremendous year, and I’m really happy for him.”

Long before taking over as a starter in October, Clark had been praised by teammates and coaches for his football intelligence. Upon arriving last spring, seven-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas even quipped that he wondered why the Ravens had signed him to a lucrative contract when they already had Clark, who had mostly played special teams over his first two seasons and started two games in place of an injured Jefferson late in 2018.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, quarterbacks completed 62.9 percent of passes and posted a 75.1 rating when targeting Clark in coverage this season. The 6-foot, 205-pound safety was also an important cog for a defense using blitzes more than any team in the NFL as Clark blitzed 97 times, registering a sack and three quarterback hits.

“I’m just taking my career from being a full-time special teams player to being a full-time defensive starter,” Clark said last month. “This year, I showed what I can do, but every year — I know I’ve said this before — this league is a league where you have to prove yourself every day, every practice, every game, every rep. I’ll just keep building on that.”

The Ravens now have their top five secondary pieces — Clark, Thomas, Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and Tavon Young — under team control through at least the 2021 season. All but Humphrey are under contract through 2022, but extending the Pro Bowl cornerback is expected to be a priority in the coming months as the Ravens can exercise their fifth-year option on the 2017 first-round pick from Alabama this spring.

Clark’s extension only reinforces the likelihood of the Ravens moving on from Jefferson, who is still recovering from a serious knee injury sustained in early October. Entering the final season of a four-year, $34 million contract signed in 2017, Jefferson is scheduled to make $7 million in base salary, but Baltimore can save that amount in salary cap space by releasing the 28-year-old.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Super Bowl LIV

Posted on 23 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With a number of Ravens players and coaches at the Pro Bowl this week and the organization shifting into offseason mode, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The disappointment of an early playoff exit remains, but seeing Lamar Jackson interact with young fans and other players in Orlando is a reminder of how special this season was for the MVP quarterback. Even if it is just the Pro Bowl, the 23-year-old having that stage is pretty great.

2. Six weeks ago, Terrell Suggs was playing out the string for a last-place team and his former team was the clear Super Bowl favorite. The 37-year-old being the one to play for an NFL championship next week is your latest reminder that sports are weird sometimes.

3. After rushing for 297 yards and one touchdown from 2015-18, Raheem Mostert ran for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship game. There’s no need for an indictment of the Ravens or the five other teams with which the 27-year-old played before San Francisco to appreciate this story.

4. Eric DeCosta must prepare for life without Marshal Yanda, but the Ravens shouldn’t pressure the eight-time Pro Bowl guard into a decision anytime soon. Jonathan Ogden didn’t make his final call on retirement until June. You can always make room for an elite player’s return.

5. Job situations are fluid this time of year, but the coaching staff remaining intact is surprising. That really speaks to the working environment created by John Harbaugh and how the organization has taken care of its assistants.

6. I see no reason why Matthew Judon wouldn’t hit the market, but I’m curious how Baltimore’s need at outside linebacker and Za’Darius Smith’s performance in Green Bay might impact Judon’s valuation. Yes, we’ll hear “right player, right price,” but that’s always a moving target involving many variables.

7. Skepticism remains when it comes to wide receiver, but the goal should be an impact addition to help this offense play off schedule like it was forced to do in the playoff loss. Whether that’s a veteran or someone from a deep wide receiver draft class remains to be seen.

8. After finishing sixth or better for seven straight seasons in Rick Gosselin’s renowned special teams rankings, Baltimore fell to 27th. Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens 10th in special-teams efficiency and 24th in weighted efficiency, reflecting late-season struggles. There’s some work to do in that phase this offseason.

9. Harbaugh said the Ravens had their “best year” in terms of injuries, which is debatable after a really healthy 2018. Credit goes to their efforts revamping their strength, conditioning, and nutrition programs, but luck is also a factor, which picks at the wound of a 14-2 team not advancing further.

10. Nearly $30 million in salary cap space prompts much discussion about free agents, but extending Ronnie Stanley should be a top priority with Marlon Humphrey on deck. A new Jackson contract could come as soon as next year. Outside additions are great, but keeping this core together is paramount.

11. Harbaugh said he’d probably go the other way handling Week 17 if Baltimore is back in that spot. Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Rust was a possible factor, but Jackson taking the shots Pittsburgh gave Robert Griffin III and getting hurt in a meaningless game would have definitely been a factor.

12. Asked about any perception that Tennessee had solved his offense, Harbaugh said, “If you think anybody has the answer in football, just wait until the next week and you’ll find out.” The Ravens may not go 14-2 again or break records in 2020, but the future remains very promising.

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