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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Super Bowl LIII

Posted on 04 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 season coming to an end with Super Bowl LIII, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. While watching New England win its sixth championship in 18 years, my brother-in-law — a diehard Philadelphia fan — said he takes some satisfaction in the Eagles being part of the select group that’s bested the Patriots on the biggest stages. It’s a fair point in which Ravens fans can also share.

2. Some are calling the Patriots’ defensive performance the best in Super Bowl history. The argument has merit considering the Rams averaged 32.9 points per game, but the 2000 Ravens surrendered 2.6 yards per play, forced five turnovers, and allowed the Giants to reach Baltimore territory twice. That darn kick return.

3. Sunday was a feather in the cap for those still believing the “defensive wins championships” mantra, but New England and Los Angeles were middle of the pack in most defensive categories this season. Defense remains important, but elite offense got those two teams to the Super Bowl.

4. Three former Ravens — Albert McClellan, Lawrence Guy, and John Simon — earned Super Bowl rings. McClellan is the most familiar to Baltimore fans, but Guy was a significant player for the New England defense, grading 10th among interior defenders by Pro Football Focus this year.

5. He was enshrined in Canton 20 years ago and many deserving candidates continue to wait their turn, but Ozzie Newsome seeing the third of his first nine first-round picks in Baltimore elected to the Hall of Fame reiterates how worthy he is of a second induction as a general manager.

6. It was a treat seeing Ed Reed included in the NFL’s outstanding 100th season commercial, but was anyone else hoping to see a Reed interception followed by an ill-advised lateral amid the chaos? That two-minute spot was the highlight in an underwhelming year for Super Bowl commercials.

7. James White didn’t do much for New England in the Super Bowl, but he’s the kind of receiving-minded running back the Ravens need to find for their run-first offense. Counting the playoffs, he caught 107 passes for 902 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

8. The resume of new passing coordinator David Culley doesn’t stand out, but hopefully he’ll bring some new ideas after working with Andy Reid in Kansas City. The hire certainly won’t satisfy those clamoring for someone from the collegiate ranks as Culley last coached in college before Lamar Jackson was born.

9. Eric DeCosta’s presser went as expected, but it’d be refreshing for the organization to express urgency about fixing its everlasting deficiency at wide receiver beyond continuing to say it’s “challenging” to draft and develop there. I’m also not buying free-agent receivers being eager to join this offense this offseason.

10. An Atlanta conversation with ESPN writer Ian O’Connor (4:36 mark) made me ponder how the last quarter-century might have differed had Art Modell not fired Bill Belichick in February 1996. Does Belichick ever wind up in New England? Does Newsome gain full control over personnel in Baltimore? Crazy.

11. Watching Tom Brady win his record sixth Super Bowl reminded me the newly-elected Hall of Famer Reed was just a month removed from winning a national championship at Miami when the 41-year-old Patriots quarterback won for the first time. This has to end at some point, right?

12. Former Raven Torrey Smith summed up my thoughts on Super Bowl LIII nicely. Even the biggest defense enthusiasts won’t convince me otherwise.

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Ravens officially commit to Harbaugh as they enter new era

Posted on 24 January 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DeCosta officially becomes Ravens general manager on Friday

Posted on 10 January 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 30 December 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens just need to win.

Dreams of a first-round bye evaporated with New England and Houston handling their business in Week 17, but Baltimore clinches its first AFC North championship since 2012 and first playoff appearance since 2014 with a victory over Cleveland on Sunday. Of course, a loss coupled with a Pittsburgh win over Cincinnati would knock the Ravens out of the playoffs for a fourth straight season and the fifth time in six years. With the Patriots and Texans winning, the AFC North champion would remain the fourth seed in the conference.

Despite the Ravens issuing a statement last week announcing John Harbaugh would return in 2019 as the sides are working on a contract extension, speculation persists about the 11th-year head coach’s future. Multiple national outlets reported Sunday that NFL teams could seek a trade for Harbaugh’s services, especially if the Ravens were to lose in Week 17. Harbaugh remains under contract through the 2019 season.

There were no surprises among Baltimore’s inactives as linebacker Terrell Suggs (hamstring), wide receiver John Brown (hamstring), defensive back Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), and slot cornerback Tavon Young (groin) are all active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. However, guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is once again inactive despite practicing fully all week, making it apparent that he’s lost the starting left guard job to the combination of veteran James Hurst and rookie Bradley Bozeman.

Veteran running back Buck Allen was a healthy scratch for a second straight week while outside linebacker Tim Williams was deactivated for the eighth straight game, continuing his disappointing second season.

The Browns had already ruled out cornerback Denzel Ward on Friday as the rookie sensation continues to recover from a concussion. Cleveland starting center JC Tretter is active despite being listed as questionable with an ankle injury.

Sunday will mark the final regular-season game of Ozzie Newsome’s terrific 23-year run as Ravens general manager, making his photo a natural choice for the Week 17 game-day program cover (below). Longtime assistant general manager Eric DeCosta will take over at the end of the season with Newsome expected to remain with the organization in some capacity.

Sunday’s referee is Shawn Smith.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds light and variable and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their black jerseys with purple pants, the first time they’ve ever worn that uniform combination. Cleveland dons white tops with brown pants for its season finale.

Sunday marks the 40th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with the Ravens enjoying an overwhelming 29-10 advantage. Baltimore is 18-3 against Cleveland in the Harbaugh era, but the Browns are seeking their first season sweep of the Ravens since 2007, the last time they finished with a winning record.

The Ravens are trying to avoid a fourth consecutive Week 17 loss. Their last victory in a regular-season finale came in 2014 when they defeated the Browns to punch their ticket to the playoffs as a wild card.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
RB Buck Allen
FB/DL Patrick Ricard
LB Tim Williams
G Alex Lewis
DL Zach Sieler

CLEVELAND
CB Denzel Ward
QB Drew Stanton
WR Blake Jackson
OL Kyle Kalis
OL Desmond Harrison
DL Chad Thomas
DL Carl Davis

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Harbaugh to remain as Ravens head coach in 2019

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Luke Jones

On the eve of another make-or-break game likely determining their playoff fate, the Ravens have apparently seen enough to recommit to 11th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

The organization issued a statement just over 24 hours before their Saturday showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers saying Harbaugh would return next year as the sides “are working on an extension to his existing contract, which expires after the 2019 season.” Winners of four of their last five games since their Week 10 bye, the Ravens currently hold the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff race and are trying to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2014.

With former starting quarterback Joe Flacco suffering a hip injury in the Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh that dropped Baltimore’s record to 4-5, the coaching staff went to work revamping a pass-heavy offense during the bye week in preparation for first-round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson making his first NFL start. What’s resulted is a dynamic run-first attack that’s produced at least 190 rushing yards in five straight games, the first time an NFL team has done that since the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. Harbaugh announced last week that Jackson would remain the starter with a now-healthy Flacco officially benched after 10 1/2 years as Baltimore’s franchise quarterback.

Despite being in danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, Harbaugh has continued to receive strong support in the locker room with his teams consistently playing hard even when lacking talent at key positions or ravaged by injuries in previous seasons. The 56-year-old arguably would have been the top head coaching candidate around the NFL had the Ravens elected to part ways with him, and many had questioned whether the organization would find a replacement as good as Harbaugh.

Even with the Ravens’ resurgence since the bye, the timing of the announcement is peculiar as a loss to the Chargers would likely mean another non-playoff season for a franchise that has gone just 48-46 and has qualified for the postseason only once since winning Super Bowl XLVII. Owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in February that he briefly contemplated a coaching change after the Ravens’ stunning Week 17 loss to Cincinnati that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, but Harbaugh will now remain head coach as Eric DeCosta assumes the general manager role that will be relinquished by Ozzie Newsome at the end of this season.

With rumors and reports circulating about Harbaugh’s future as the Ravens dropped three straight from late October into early November, the team has responded by winning four games against opponents with a combined record of 19-37 and run defenses ranking in the bottom 10 of the NFL, making the Week 16 tilt against a strong and balanced Chargers team a significant test. This is the third straight year in which the Ravens have entered the penultimate week of the season with an 8-6 record and controlling their own path to a playoff spot.

Harbaugh has compiled a 102-72 regular-season record with six playoff appearances, 10 playoff wins, three AFC championship game appearances, and one Super Bowl title in his 11-year run in Baltimore. The Ravens have won at least eight games in all but one of his seasons.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on current quarterback situation

Posted on 11 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With Joe Flacco dealing with a hip injury and many clamoring for the Ravens to begin the Lamar Jackson era, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The last two days of speculation are an example why it’s usually a good idea to pump the brakes in such situations. Whether Flacco plays against Cincinnati remains uncertain, but the number of fans and even some media who’ve so eagerly thrown dirt on his Baltimore tenure is disappointing.

2. The Ravens will try to make the best of the situation by keeping the Bengals guessing as much as possible this week. Marvin Lewis’ defense being awful of late and A.J. Green’s status being in doubt certainly should help Baltimore’s chances.

3. I look forward to watching Jackson play whenever that time comes, but the definitive takes ranging from him providing an instant upgrade to him not being an NFL-caliber quarterback are silly. Based only on the limited role Jackson’s fulfilled so far, no one really knows how he’ll fare initially.

4. My educated guess is that the Ravens would run the ball more effectively while taking a substantial hit in the passing game. I don’t believe that net result is improving — or matching — their chances to make the playoffs compared to a healthy Flacco playing the rest of the way.

5. As I pointed out in my rest-of-the-season predictions piece that was torpedoed by news of Flacco’s injury, Baltimore’s next five opponents rank in the bottom 10 in Football Outsiders’ weighted defense metric, which should bode well for either quarterback.

6. A retiring Hall of Fame executive, a general manager in waiting, a Super Bowl-winning head coach and quarterback on the hot seat, other key veterans potentially on their last ride, a rookie first-round quarterback, and less-than-ideal — but hardly impossible — postseason hopes. Awkward much?

7. If Flacco only needs to miss the Bengals game, what do the Ravens do after that? If they lose, do you just stick with Jackson — no matter how he plays — with their playoff hopes even more remote? If they win and the rookie doesn’t play poorly, do you keep rolling with him? Again, awkward.

8. The best-case scenario has always been Flacco playing well and Jackson showing strong behind-the-scenes development to prompt an offseason trade. What remains as a three-year, $63 million non-guaranteed deal should have some appeal for a quarterback-needy team with a strong roster. This injury doesn’t help that cause.

9. Flacco’s most undervalued trait for a long time was his availability as he didn’t miss a game through his first 7 1/2 seasons, but a 2015 ACL tear, last year’s back injury, and his current hip ailment show durability rarely lasts.

10. This article is a reminder why most probably need to lower whatever expectations they have for the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner this season. It also means he shouldn’t be labeled a bust if he struggles with any extended playing time over these final seven games.

11. Per OverTheCap.com, Baltimore has an average ranking of 22nd in the NFL in cap spending on offense since 2013, which includes Flacco. Coupling that with mostly defense-heavy drafts since Super Bowl XLVII, the organizational commitment to offense must improve. This past offseason being praised so much reflects a low standard.

12. With the dumb conspiracy theories suggesting a fake injury for Flacco — despite numerous people observing a leg issue early in the Pittsburgh game — as an excuse for the Ravens to start Jackson, is it any wonder grocery stores in the greater Baltimore area were all out of tinfoil?

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Ravens acquire Green Bay running back Montgomery at trade deadline

Posted on 30 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome chose not to stand pat at his final trade deadline, acquiring running back Ty Montgomery from Green Bay on Tuesday afternoon.

Baltimore hopes Montgomery’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield as well as to carry the ball will bring more versatility to an offense that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry and averaged just 18.5 points per game in October. In a reduced role this season, Montgomery has rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and made 15 receptions for 170 yards. He first rose to some prominence in 2016 when he converted from the wide receiver position to running back to gain 457 yards on 77 carries and make 44 receptions for 348 yards in 15 games. Injuries limited the 216-pound Montgomery to eight games last season as he rushed for 273 yards on 71 carries and caught 23 passes for 173 yards.

The Ravens released veteran linebacker Albert McClellan to make room on their 53-man roster. It’s possible McClellan could be re-signed in the near future, especially with Baltimore currently carrying four running backs on the active roster. Still on injured reserve with a knee injury sustained in Week 1, running back Kenneth Dixon is eligible to begin practicing at any point now, which could further crowd the backfield.

To complete Tuesday’s trade, the Ravens sent a 2020 seventh-round draft pick to the Packers, who were apparently looking to move on from Montgomery after his critical fumble in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. An NFL.com report indicated the 25-year-old was unhappy about his reduced role and didn’t follow coaches’ instructions to kneel a kickoff for a touchback late in the second half, instead bringing it out of the end zone and fumbling. The turnover prevented Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from having another chance against the Rams defense in the 29-27 final.

Montgomery, a 2015 third-round pick from Stanford, will make the remainder of his $716,500 base salary for the 2018 season — roughly $379,000 — before becoming an unrestricted free agent. It’s unclear how he’ll fit into the offensive game plan or whether the Ravens will want him to return kicks, but Montgomery fumbled twice in his last four games with the Packers.

Many had clamored for Newsome to acquire help along the offensive line as three linemen — left guard Alex Lewis, right tackle James Hurst, and reserve Bradley Bozeman — did not play in Sunday’s 36-21 loss at Carolina due to injuries. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley also missed 19 snaps after quarterback Joe Flacco was driven into the back of his left leg in the third quarter. Head coach John Harbaugh would not discuss his status for this coming Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I’m not going to get into all that,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

It remains unclear whether Hurst (back) or Lewis (neck) will be ready to return to action after sitting out the last two games. Bozeman (calf) was active for the Panthers game, but he did not play as Hroniss Grasu took all 68 snaps at the left guard spot.

With Stanley sidelined, 2015 fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor filled in at left tackle for a large portion of the second half.

“He did pretty well. It was mostly pass protection; he’s good in pass protection,” said Harbaugh about Eluemunor, who was promoted from the practice squad last week. “He’s stout and firm, and he handled the bull rushes really well — probably the best of all of our guys throughout the course of the game. I was very encouraged by that.”

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