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Veteran safety Tony Jefferson officially released by Ravens

Posted on 14 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The inevitable became official Friday as the Ravens announced the release of safety Tony Jefferson, a move that saves the organization $7 million in cash and salary cap space for the 2020 season.

Jefferson, 28, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 last season and was replaced by third-year safety Chuck Clark, who played at a high level and relayed the calls in the defensive huddle for the remainder of the season. Clark signed a three-year extension through 2023 that included $15.3 million in new money earlier this week, which all but sealed Jefferson’s future with Baltimore. Jefferson’s $11.647 million cap figure was scheduled to be the fifth highest on the team next season while Clark has a cap number of just over $3.4 million for 2020.

Signed to a four-year, $34 million deal with $19 million guaranteed at the start of free agency in 2017, Jefferson was a popular figure in the locker room and very active in the community, but his play struggled to meet that lofty financial standard. In 35 career games with the Ravens, the 5-foot-11, 211-pound safety finished with 174 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups, 3 1/2 sacks, and two forced fumbles. More effective playing closer to the line of scrimmage and defending the run, Jefferson wasn’t as strong against the pass as he surrendered a 91.6 passer rating in coverage in 2018 and a 141.4 mark last season, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Jefferson continues to work his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee, which could delay his quest to join another team this offseason.

“This is the worst part of this business,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement released by the organization. “Tony is the consummate teammate and someone who is respected by everyone for his leadership, determination, humility and toughness. He’s a friend to all and a true Raven.

“We know he’s going to beat this injury, and we will be cheering for him all along the way. We wish the very best to Tony and his family.”

Undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2013, Jefferson developed into a starting-caliber talent over his first four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

With Jefferson no longer in the picture, the Ravens will likely aim to add a young safety in April’s draft to develop behind Clark and seven-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who will turn 31 in May. Third-year safety DeShon Elliott remains an intriguing talent, but injuries have limited the 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas to just six career games. Baltimore also owns a 2020 option worth $6 million for veteran Brandon Carr, who moved from cornerback to a dime safety role in the second half of last season.

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Ravens offensive lineman Hurst suspended four games for PED violation

Posted on 14 February 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens offensive lineman James Hurst has been suspended for the first four games of the 2020 regular season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The league announced the ban Friday as Hurst will still be permitted to take part in all summer practices and preseason games before serving his suspension and being permitted to return to the team facility on the Monday after Baltimore’s fourth regular-season contest. How this impacts his roster status remains to be seen, however, as he’s scheduled to make $4 million in base salary and carry a $5.25 million salary cap number for 2020, lofty numbers for a backup who made two starts and appeared in 16 games last season. Entering the third season of a four-year, $17.5 million contract, Hurst, 28, wouldn’t be paid during his suspension with that portion of his salary being credited back to the Ravens’ cap.

This news brings sharper focus to general manager Eric DeCosta’s decision to re-sign Andre Smith to a one-year deal last week. The Ravens added the veteran offensive tackle to their 53-man roster the week of the season-ending playoff loss to Tennessee last month, but Smith was a healthy scratch for the game and graded as one of the worst offensive tackles in the NFL by Pro Football Focus last season after starting five games for Cincinnati.

The suspension puts Hurst in a more vulnerable position as many had already begun speculating about the possibility of him being a cap casualty this offseason. The Ravens would save $2.75 million in cap space by releasing the veteran lineman, but he has started games at multiple positions along the offensive line in his career and has been a versatile game-day reserve over his six NFL seasons. Even if Baltimore elects to keep Hurst for the time being, his performance in the spring and summer — along with how Smith fares — could determine whether he makes the roster at the conclusion of the preseason.

Hurst played a career-low 195 offensive snaps last season, but he garnered strong Week 15 reviews playing in place of Pro Bowl selection Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, a position at which Hurst had struggled mightily in the past.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram (21) scores on a touchdown run as Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) tries to stop him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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

Posted on 14 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 running backs ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties

Mark Ingram
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 532
PFF ranking: eighth among running backs
Skinny: The Ravens couldn’t have asked for more in the first season of a three-year, $15 million contract as Ingram became the first Baltimore running back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2014 and was selected to his third career Pro Bowl. Not only was Ingram terrific as a rusher at 5.0 yards per carry, but he provided veteran leadership for a very young offense and excelled in pass protection.

Gus Edwards
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 415
PFF ranking: 29th among running backs
Skinny: The 238-pound back was always going to have a reduced role from the moment Ingram signed last March, but he still improved his yards per carry to 5.3 in his second season. Though not the well-rounded back that Ingram is, Edwards picked up a first down on 34.6 percent of his carries, easily making him one of the best short-yardage options in football last season.

Justice Hill
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 237
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The rookie shows good speed and agility, but he saw no more than 22 offensive snaps in a game until playing 50 in the playoff loss with Ingram ailing and the Ravens down multiple scores in the second half. You’d like to see Hill get more opportunities in his second year, but there’s only one football to go around with two stout backs ahead of him and 1,200-yard rusher Lamar Jackson at quarterback.

Patrick Ricard
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 349
PFF ranking: first among fullbacks
Skinny: An afterthought as a healthy scratch by the end of 2018, the hybrid defensive lineman became the best pure blocking fullback in the league this past season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl and a contract extension through 2021. Ricard’s ability to play on defense as well as to line up at fullback, tight end, or as an extra offensive lineman will continue to make him valuable to the game-day roster.

2020 positional outlook

With a record-setting offense running an NFL-high 54 percent of the time in 2019, the Ravens are always on the lookout for ways to strengthen their offensive backfield, especially if a dynamic talent slips to them in April’s draft. However, the trio of Ingram, Edwards, and Hill matched with an MVP dual-threat quarterback leaves the running game in very strong shape going into 2020. His age suggests Baltimore should keep an eye on Ingram as he enters his 10th NFL season, but this past year marked just the fourth time he’s cracked 200 carries, meaning he’s arguably fresher than the typical 30-year-old running back and also no stranger to a backfield timeshare if Edwards and Hill getting more touches proves to be optimal for 2020. The Ravens may not duplicate their NFL-record 3,296 rushing yards, but Ingram and Edwards offer a high floor, Hill brings a higher ceiling, and Jackson has the generational ability to continue making this the best running game in football by a wide margin.

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) tries to throw a pass from his team's end zone as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) grabs him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. Hodges was penalized for an intentional grounding penalty and the Ravens were given two points on a the safety. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens must weigh dime options for their evolving defense

Posted on 13 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The three-year extension awarded to safety Chuck Clark ensured the Ravens would have their top five defensive backs under team control through at least the 2021 season.

But that doesn’t mean general manager Eric DeCosta can turn all attention toward the defensive line and linebacker groups in need of significant revamping. The numbers suggest Baltimore has at least one more substantial decision to make in its secondary beyond the annual task of adding depth.

A year after using the dime package on 26 percent of defensive snaps, the Ravens had six defensive backs play at least 45 percent of their snaps in each of the eight games following the bye week when Marcus Peters was in the fold and Jimmy Smith was finally back from injury. In other words, the popularity of the dime package only increased while the defense would sometimes go entire games without lining up in a traditional “base” 3-4 alignment. The game is changing with defensive packages and personnel continuing to reflect that.

The Ravens certainly need to address their pass rush and talent level at linebacker, but the overwhelming strength of the defense will remain on the back end, making pending decisions on Smith and Brandon Carr that much more interesting to watch. Though not a dime option himself, Smith is scheduled to become a free agent for the first time in his career. Meanwhile, Carr is scheduled to make $6 million if the Ravens exercise a team option for the 2020 season. Anthony Levine, the man Carr replaced in the dime package midway through the season, is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.

The only other in-house option for the dime package would appear to be third-year safety DeShon Elliott, who has been limited to just six career games due to injuries despite showing some promise in spring and summer practices.

Baltimore’s preference is maintaining their veteran depth, however.

“We want both those guys back,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Smith and Carr last month. “We’re not going to try to weaken ourselves in the secondary, but we can focus on the front seven. That’s the thing, and we know with our scheme and the way that we get attacked, we know the kind of player that we want.”

Wanting to keep both and actually doing it are different concepts, of course, with other areas to address on both sides of the ball. At face value, many would argue Smith is the better player since he’s two years younger and brings more value as an outside corner whereas Carr is now better suited for the dime safety role he played down the stretch last year. But it’s more complicated than that since we’re no longer talking about an every-down role for either veteran.

Smith will be an unrestricted free agent and is projected by OverTheCap.com to receive a two-year, $16 million deal with $8.5 million guaranteed. That’s substantial money when the Ravens have already awarded Peters and returning slot cornerback Tavon Young with big extensions over the last 12 months and will need to spend lucrative cash to extend No. 1 cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the not-too-distant future. Giving real money to a 32-year-old Smith who’s played all 16 contests just twice in his nine seasons — Carr has never missed a game in his 12-year career — doesn’t sound like the best investment, especially when Smith would be third in the outside corner pecking order and hasn’t shown the positional versatility of Carr over the last couple seasons.

That said, the 2020 price tag for a 34-year-old you’d prefer not to play at outside corner anymore — even in the event of injury — is also expensive. Carr did a respectable job filling in as a nickel corner in parts of the last two seasons, but he found a new fit at safety when the Ravens would slide Clark down to the box in the dime package.

All things equal, Carr could have a more defined role in the dime package while Smith’s real value would come in the event of an injury to one of the top three corners as he could step in for Humphrey or Peters and Humphrey could move to the nickel spot in the event of an injury to Young like we saw last season. Carr’s injury replacement value would likely be limited to safety or the nickel corner position. The Ravens have prioritized secondary depth over the last couple years, but at what cost?

Ultimately, the futures of Smith and Carr will come down to money with the first one to blink having a better chance to return in 2020, but DeCosta will need to add more youth to the secondary in any case. Both veterans have expressed a desire to continue playing for the Ravens, but Smith will probably need to accept a team-friendly deal and Carr might have to take a pay cut to make it happen.

The allure of chasing a Super Bowl could help the Ravens’ efforts with Smith, Carr, or any other veteran option out there.

“I hope my body of work thus far has proven that I can play this game still at a high level, play safety,” Carr said last month. “And I’m still learning. I think I still have some potential left in that position. But I just love to play the game of football, whether it’s safety, nickel, corner, special teams, whatever the case is.

“At this point, I just want to win. It’s been 12 years. I’m just trying to get a ring.”

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Special-teams contributor Jordan Richards re-signs with Ravens

Posted on 13 February 2020 by Luke Jones

Facing the possibility of substantial turnover in the special-teams department, the Ravens re-signed Jordan Richards to a one-year deal on Thursday.

The veteran defensive back signed with Baltimore in late October and appeared in nine games, finishing with five special-teams tackles. In the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh, he recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown on a punt play. He played just one defensive snap with the Ravens last season.

Richards, 27, was a healthy inactive for the playoff loss against Tennessee and set to become an unrestricted free agent, but special-teams standouts and fellow veteran defensive backs Anthony Levine and Brynden Trawick are also scheduled to hit the open market next month. In addition to special-teams duties, the former New England Patriot and Atlanta Falcon will now try to earn a situational defensive role after making 17 starts over the two seasons prior to 2019. The 2015 second-round pick out of Stanford has collected 95 tackles, six pass breakups, and two forced fumbles in 68 career games.

According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens finished 10th in special-teams efficiency in 2019, but they were just 24th in weighted efficiency, reflecting their late-season struggles in punt and kick coverage and the lack of bite to their return game. Levine and Trawick aren’t the only core special-teams players scheduled to hit the market next month as reserve wide receiver Chris Moore is at the end of his rookie contract and return specialist De’Anthony Thomas will also be a free agent.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Richards is the second role player to ink a one-year extension over the last week after the Ravens re-signed reserve offensive tackle Andre Smith last Thursday. Baltimore signed starting safety Chuck Clark to a three-year extension through the 2023 season on Monday, but his increased responsibilities on defense may mean a diminished role on special teams moving forward.

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

Posted on 12 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 do respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is hardly 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 safeties ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the position outlook going into 2020:

Earl Thomas
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 947
PFF ranking: 16th among safeties
Skinny: Thomas was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and played well in his first year with Baltimore, but there was a definite adjustment with the 30-year-old being asked to be more multiple than he was in Seattle’s Cover 3 looks. For what it’s worth, Thomas registered his lowest PFF season grade since 2012, which is something to keep in mind as he enters the second year of a lucrative $55 million contract.

Chuck Clark
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 803
PFF ranking: 36th among safeties
Skinny: Clark entering the starting lineup and taking over the play-calling responsibilities in the huddle helped spark a turnaround after the season’s opening month as he led the Ravens in tackles. His contract extension signals he’ll be the starter next to Thomas moving forward, but it will be interesting to see if he keeps the green-dot helmet and continues to play “Mike” linebacker in select defensive packages.

Tony Jefferson
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 281
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A serious knee injury cut Jefferson’s season short in Week 5, but his PFF grade was the lowest of his career and would have landed him among the worst qualified safeties in the league for the full season. His health and Clark’s emergence make it very likely that the Ravens will move on from Jefferson this offseason since he’s scheduled to make $7 million in base salary in the final year of a $34 million deal.

Anthony Levine
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 167
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Regarded as one of the better dime backs in the league in previous seasons, Levine saw his defensive role diminish after the bye week as veteran cornerback Brandon Carr shifted to a safety role in the dime package. Still a strong special-teams player, Levine registered his lowest defensive snap count since 2016 and lowest PFF grade since 2014, trends that weren’t great for him going into free agency.

DeShon Elliott
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 40
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2018 sixth-round pick has flashed potential in the spring and summer, but injuries have limited him to just six games in his first two seasons, making it difficult to know what the Ravens really have with the Texas product. With other veteran backups scheduled to hit free agency, an opportunity should be there for Elliott to carve out a meaningful role in sub packages if he can finally stay healthy.

Brynden Trawick
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 11
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A former Pro Bowl special-teams player with Tennessee a few years ago, the 30-year-old was limited to six regular-season games with an elbow injury and is scheduled to become a free agent.  With the Ravens facing the possibility of some substantial roster turnover on special teams, Trawick returning for a salary near the veteran minimum would be a possibility.

Jordan Richards
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 1
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former Patriot joined the Ravens in October in what was essentially a swap as special-teams standout Justin Bethel wound up in New England, but Richards was a healthy scratch for the playoff loss to Tennessee, which doesn’t say much for how Baltimore valued him as a special-teams player.

2020 positional outlook

The Ravens have been at or near the top in spending and exhausting resources at the safety position for years now, but the results have been a mixed bag with some unsuccessful early draft picks and disappointing returns on free-agent contracts besides the Eric Weddle deal. Time will tell on the Thomas contract, of course, but wondering whether he’s a $14 million-per-year safety at this stage of his career is a reasonable question. Clark may not be spectacular, but he brings a high floor and long-term stability to the position at an affordable cost, the latter part being something that’s eluded the organization for quite a while. Considering how often the Ravens used three-safety alignments — and occasionally four safeties — this past season, it will be interesting to see if they elect to keep Carr for a hybrid role, roll the dice on Elliott finally staying healthy, or aim to draft a young safety to develop. Thomas and Clark are set as starters for the upcoming season, but more safety depth will be needed if the Ravens indeed move on from Jefferson and Carr while letting Levine, Trawick, and Richards depart in free agency.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Chuck Clark extension

Posted on 11 February 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens locking up another piece of their secondary with Chuck Clark’s three-year contract extension, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Who would have imagined the 2017 sixth-round pick receiving $10 million guaranteed when Clark had only two career starts under his belt a year ago? He flashed starter potential filling in late in 2018, but few would have guessed him being the first from his draft class to get extended.

2. Clark citing Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson as individuals aiding in his development wasn’t surprising, but he also mentioned retired special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, who had a similar impact on numerous young players who eventually worked their way up to meaningful defensive or offensive roles. He was highly respected.

3. The signing reiterated the writing on the wall for Jefferson and his future in Baltimore that’s felt apparent for a while, but the veteran’s congratulatory tweet was a snapshot of why teammates and coaches like him so much. Regardless of what happens, he’ll have many rooting for him.

4. The overwhelming reaction to Weddle’s retirement wasn’t surprising as his three seasons in Baltimore stabilized a safety position that had been problematic since the end of the Ed Reed era. Echoing others, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back with the organization in some capacity down the road.

5. I sometimes wonder if the Ravens have missed out on helpful free agents over the years at the expense of their compensatory pick obsession, but Day 3 guys like Clark and Nick Boyle — not compensatory selections themselves — receiving second contracts helps one understand why they value those late lottery tickets.

6. Speaking of former Day 3 picks, I’m fascinated to see how the Matthew Judon situation plays out. You don’t want to overpay, but that’s easier said than done at a position of great need for a Super Bowl-caliber team with a favorable salary cap picture for the next couple years.

7. I’m reluctant to pay substantial money to re-sign Jimmy Smith since he’ll be 32 and hasn’t played more than 12 games in a season since 2015, but Clark’s extension reminded how highly the Ravens value the secondary. Insurance behind Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Tavon Young will be prioritized.

8. Andre Smith wouldn’t have been anywhere near my short list of Baltimore free agents to re-sign before hitting the market, but he’ll have a chance to impact the evaluation of swing tackle James Hurst, who is scheduled to make a pricey $4 million in base salary in 2020.

9. Josh Bynes will be 31 in August and isn’t a long-term answer, but he’s being sold short as an attractive option to re-sign while mock drafts link Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray to the Ravens. Last year illustrated the danger of just handing the keys to inexperienced options at inside linebacker.

10. OverTheCap.com does a terrific job breaking down the nuances of the NFL salary cap and offered evidence why the Ravens might be more active than usual spending cash in free agency. That could also create more urgency to extend Ronnie Stanley sooner than later, an action I support.

11. It’s that time of year when we conjure signing and trade ideas, but the price for Stefon Diggs would be steep and there’s no guarantee he’d be happier playing in a run-first offense and passing game anchored by tight ends than he is in Minnesota. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

12. The days of an annual “State of the Ravens” including Steve Bisciotti appear to be long gone, but Eric DeCosta hasn’t met with local media since last year’s draft and apparently won’t again until the pre-draft luncheon. He’ll speak at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, but that’s still surprising.

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Extending Stanley should be one of Ravens’ top offseason priorities

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens tried to get the left tackle position right for a long time after Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden’s retirement more than a decade ago.

University of Maryland product Jared Gaither flashed some early promise before fizzling out due to injuries and work ethic concerns. Michael Oher was a versatile gamer, but he was better at right tackle, which wasn’t what the Ravens envisioned for their 2009 first-round pick. Veteran Bryant McKinnie played well in 2011 and had a terrific 2012 postseason run, but the 30-something was never a long-term solution. The lucrative contract awarded to former Jacksonville first-round pick Eugene Monroe after a half-season of good play in Baltimore was a disaster.

But the Ravens finally nailed it with the sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft, selecting Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame. It wasn’t a flashy choice as future Pro Bowl selections Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jalen Ramsey had just come off the board with the previous three picks and Baltimore had given Monroe a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $17.5 million guaranteed only two years earlier, but the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Stanley was rock solid from Day 1 and has only gotten better.

That was obvious in 2019 as Stanley took his above-average game to another level, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl — he was a second alternate in 2018 — and being a first-team All-Pro selection in his fourth professional season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best left tackle in the NFL, first among all offensive tackles in pass blocking, and 10th among all offensive tackles in run blocking. Stanley’s overall PFF grade steadily improved over his first three seasons before rising to an elite level, the kind of bump many had wanted to see as he moved a year closer to free agency.

“He has improved in everything he does,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman after Stanley was named to the Pro Bowl in December. “I think a big part of that is improving every aspect of his preparation. The knowledge he’s accrued over the last couple of years, he’s a very intelligent young man. He’s really putting it to use. His consistency this year has been outstanding, which makes him deserving of that honor.

“He’s a constant work in progress, but run, pass, communication, assignment, technique, everything, he’s just really pushing the envelope every day on. It’s really showing on the field, and he’s a very important, key contributor to what we do.”

The focus of any offseason is understandably on new additions and a team’s own free agents scheduled to hit the open market, but that doesn’t mean extending Stanley, who remains under contract through 2020, isn’t a top priority by the time the Ravens kick off their 25th campaign in Baltimore this fall. Even if eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda returns for a 14th season, Stanley’s superb play and leadership shouldn’t be taken for granted with the rest of the starting offensive line all 26 year old or younger. And despite dealing with some nagging injuries at different points, Stanley has missed just three games due to injury — two because of concussions — over the last three seasons combined.

But he won’t come cheap. It’s difficult to quantify just how much MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson helps his offensive line by putting dual-threat stress on defensive fronts, but Stanley surrendered only six pressures all year and had a pass-blocking win rate of 98.7 percent, according to PFF. Those numbers trumped his peers by such a margin that dismissing his elite play solely because of Jackson’s presence would be patently unfair.

In other words, Stanley’s representation has every right to ask that he become the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL, especially since he won’t even turn 26 until next month. If you’re looking for a negotiating starting point, Tennessee and Taylor Lewan agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract that included $34 million fully guaranteed in the summer of 2018 when the left tackle was also entering his fifth-year option season, had two Pro Bowls under his belt, and was a year older than Stanley is now.

With the salary cap having risen more than $20 million since 2018 and the NFL entering the final year of its current collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens allowing Stanley to hit the open market next offseason could yield a similar result to last March when the New York Jets turned the market on its head by giving ex-Raven C.J. Mosley an $85 million contract with a $17 million average annual value, numbers that demolished the previous bests at the inside linebacker position. Stanley is set to make $12.866 million this season after general manager Eric DeCosta exercised his fifth-year option last spring.

Of course, it takes two sides to make a deal, but the Ravens doing everything they can to lock up a franchise left tackle to continue protecting their MVP quarterback in the midst of his rookie contract sounds like a no-brainer. It will be expensive, but Baltimore can’t afford to risk losing such a key piece to its record-setting offense, especially with Yanda walking away sooner than later.

Stanley isn’t Ogden — no one playing today is — but he’s the closest the Ravens have come at left tackle since the Hall of Famer hung up his cleats more than a decade ago. That’s just not the kind of player you let go after searching for him for so long.

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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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Testaverde reflects on Jackson breaking record, his time with Ravens

Posted on 06 February 2020 by Luke Jones

You’re more likely to find former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde on the golf course than in front of a TV watching football these days, but he’s a fan of what NFL MVP Lamar Jackson accomplished in 2019.

The first starting quarterback in franchise history and 1996 Pro Bowl selection spent just two of his 21 NFL seasons with Baltimore, but Testaverde shared fond memories of his time with the Ravens and offered admiration for Jackson and his record-setting offense in an interview with WNST.net in Miami last week.

“I love it. I really thought they’d be here [for the Super Bowl] this week. I really did,” Testaverde said. “I thought he did a great job.”

The 56-year-old last played with the Ravens in 1997 and retired from the NFL after the 2007 campaign, but his team record of 33 touchdown passes in the inaugural 1996 season had stood until Jackson threw 36 to lead the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 record this past year. Jackson became just the second Ravens quarterback to be selected for the Pro Bowl as Testaverde received the nod after setting career highs in touchdown passes (33) and passing yards (4,177 yards) in an otherwise forgettable 4-12 season for Baltimore in 1996.

From one Heisman Trophy winner to another with South Florida ties, Testaverde was happy to see his single-season touchdown record fall to Jackson, an electric dual-threat quarterback whose playing style couldn’t be more different than the traditional 6-foot-5 pocket passer with limited mobility. Testaverde played for seven different teams in his career and scored the first touchdown in Ravens history on a 9-yard run at old Memorial Stadium in a 19-14 win over Oakland.

“At one time, somebody told me I held records in Tampa, Baltimore, and with the Jets. I don’t really follow football anymore,” said Testaverde, who quipped that he now thinks more about his golf swing than anything related to the game he played. “Unless somebody tells me what my stats are, I don’t really know what they are. I was actually watching some NFL football and watched a little bit of one of the shows that shows all the different games. The announcer said, ‘Oh yeah, Lamar Jackson just tied Vinny’s record.’ So, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.'”

Living in Tampa, Testaverde may not pay close attention to football anymore, but he called his two seasons with the Ravens “some of the best times” of his career playing for the late Ted Marchibroda and a city that was starving for the NFL’s return after a 12-year hiatus. The former Miami Hurricane said he still has his helmet with the original Ravens logo and keeps in touch with a handful of former teammates from those years.

Asked to reflect on the impressive tradition established as the two-time Super Bowl champion Ravens will enter their 25th season in Baltimore in September, Testaverde said the fans’ enthusiasm was evident from the start of that first training camp in Westminster.

“The city supported us, and we felt it. It was like, ‘Man, we are ready to go,'” Testaverde said. “I remember the first day we went to practice and we had a walk-through. Normally, walk-throughs are just that. We’d walk through the plays to get ready for the regular practice so when we go full speed, we kind of have an idea of what everybody is doing, especially during those first few days when guys are unfamiliar with the plays still.

“That first walk-through, guys were running full speed. Coach Marchibroda was like, ‘We’re going to be great because these guys go full speed!’ His mind was blown; my mind was blown. I was like, ‘Guys, we’re going to get hurt.’ We’ve got no pads on, and we’re hitting each other.”

Despite enjoying retirement away from the spotlight of the NFL, Testaverde still has ties to football as son Vincent Jr. — also a quarterback — just signed with the British Columbia Lions of the CFL after spending last summer with the Buccaneers and enjoying a brief time with the XFL’s Tampa Bay Vipers.

The longtime NFL quarterback made clear he isn’t doing much heavy lifting in preparing his son for professional football. A once-strong right arm responsible for 275 touchdowns, 267 interceptions, and 6,701 passing attempts in a long NFL career is officially worn out.

“I throw lefty when I have a catch with my son,” said Testaverde as he laughed. “I’d get sore from holding a clipboard right now.”

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