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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over New England

Posted on 05 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 6-2 for the first time since 2012 after a 37-20 win over New England, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore couldn’t have asked for a better start with 17 points on the first three drives against a team that hadn’t allowed more than 14 points in an entire game. The Ravens gained 133 yards in that first quarter while the Patriots possessed the ball for all of 132 seconds.

2. You knew it couldn’t continue to be that easy when Cyrus Jones muffed the punt early in the second quarter. The Gilman product has been pretty sure-handed with the Ravens, but coughing one up against his original team had to bring back some unpleasant memories that hopefully won’t linger.

3. The defense did strong work holding the Patriots to field goals on the final two drives of the first half, but kicking twice inside the 5 didn’t feel very “Belichickian.” Was it hubris that his defense had figured out the Ravens offense or some telling concern about his own offense?

4. To drain more than 17 minutes from the clock over its last two drives (not counting the final two kneels) speaks to this offense’s ability to crush an opponent’s soul. Lamar Jackson’s conversions to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead in that third-quarter drive were massive when leading by just four.

5. Earl Thomas played his best game as a Raven as he recorded a quarterback hit and grabbed his first interception since the opener. However, his best play came late in the second quarter when he broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman at the goal line.

6. Marquise Brown didn’t post big numbers in his return from an ankle sprain, but his diving third-down reception and his catch and run for 26 yards set the tone on that opening drive. He wasn’t at full speed, but his presence is important for this offense to continue to thrive.

7. The rotation at inside linebacker was about what we expected, but Patrick Onwuasor reminded why he’s more effective playing the weak-side spot. He tied for the team lead with eight tackles, recorded a sack on a blitz, and forced the fumble returned for a touchdown by Marlon Humphrey.

8. Sunday was five seasons in the making for Nick Boyle, who caught his first career touchdown. Boyle is the constant in a tight end room that’s changed plenty since he was drafted in 2015 — three rounds after Maxx Williams — so it was cool seeing him enjoy the celebration with teammates.

9. Not only did Brandon Carr see extensive work at safety in the dime and quarter packages when Chuck Clark moved to linebacker, but he often played deep as Wink Martindale moved Thomas around the field. Carr, 33, rolls with the punches and embraces whatever the defense needs from him.

10. In addition to the conservative decisions to kick short field goals, New England committed four penalties that gave the Ravens first downs, headlined by a neutral-zone infraction turning a short field goal into a touchdown on the opening drive. A few of those flags were back breakers.

11. No team has advanced to the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye since the 2012 Ravens. At 6-2, the goal is no longer to simply win an underwhelming AFC North. Several tough opponents remain, but securing the first weekend off in January is more than doable.

12. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Lenny Moore being in the building was special and highlights how incredible Baltimore’s football history is. Seeing Reed watch from the sideline reminded me of the legendary Johnny Unitas watching the new Ravens years ago. Sunday night was an electric atmosphere.

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A bright purple idea to replace The Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance with a new thing

Posted on 30 October 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

Because most of you know I turned the Ravens bye week into a “buh-bye” week at WNST and served up a healthy dose of Baltimore Positive conversations, I had some time to digest the Ravens win in Seattle in many ways from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The incredible win at The Link in The Emerald City was certainly a statement win for the 2019 version of the Ravens but also for the franchise and its new leader Lamar Jackson, who has electrified the sport and suddenly reinvigorated the football energy in Baltimore. This kind of Sunday night against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots is everything you’d want for our city and our stadium as Light City – the coolest idea our city has had to bring people back to the Inner Harbor since Governor Schaefer built Harborplace – kicks off in earnest in my ‘hood.

(This is your official invitation to come back downtown and participate in what is great about Baltimore! I will be happy to show you around!)

One thing that a puke green weekend 3,000 miles away in the rain in Seattle showed me was how rowdy a city hungry for football can still be – but also how really inspired the brilliant “12th man” brand they have created for the Seahawks is on game day as a real home field asset. The fans and locally chosen Seattle celebrities and dignitaries and former greats get to raise the flag and make the crowd go berserk at kickoff.

I remember what that was like in Baltimore when Ray Lewis danced every Sunday to ignite an energy that made 33rd Street feel like a bingo hall.

You don’t have to be a rock and roll fan to know that seeing Mike McCready of Pearl Jam stoke the crowd is pretty bad ass. (Of course that didn’t help the Seahawks players tackle Lamar Jackson 20 minutes later but I think you get my point, especially if you ever attended a game where No. 52 did the Squirrel Dance and the hair on the back of your neck stood up. I remember to never forget!)

I have been wanting to write and discuss this for a month now but there was NOTHING that has happened at a Ravens game recently that surpassed that moment when Brian Billick came out of that tunnel holding up the Lombardi Trophy against the Browns on that day they put him into the Ring of Honor.

It occurred to me that we had 105 players (and lots more significant humans if you count coaches, staff and other “ring wearers” from the organization and front office) on the field who won the Super Bowl as Baltimore Ravens and deserve to hoist that silver trophy for the fans one more time.

If Brad Downs and the folks over at the purple palace want my best idea for free, here it is:

Bring back a Super Bowl 35 or 47 champion EVERY week for as long as they are alive and have them lifting the Silver Betty (or its 12-year baby brother “Joe”) and make that our “12th man” or some kind of replacement for the irreplaceable and never to return Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance.

Anquan Boldin came out and took a bow two weeks ago. Was the Lombardi Trophy unavailable that day? Imagine how nuts the crowd would’ve gone?!?

We once had Nelly and “Hot in Herre” and a transcendent football player who now has a statue at the gate. That ain’t coming back any more than the Johnny Unitas statue next to it is walking back into Memorial Stadium in black high tops.

In Baltimore, Maryland, we have trophies that should be shown off more often than the humble Ravens have cared to do so in recent years – and that should change.

I’d never let a team walk into our stadium and not know and FEEL it ever again.

I know it didn’t go well against the Cleveland Browns after the Billick silver “sky spear” than it went for the Seahawks two weeks ago at Century Link Field, but it is a moment worth replicating and certainly better than anything goofy Terrell Suggs ever did in the aftermath of the Ray Lewis Squirrel.

The Ravens could sell it and stock it with players who were a part of a championship team. And then encourage it for the alums who made big plays in January that led to those Super Bowl parades. And every one of them was on the field for many a Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance and a confetti shower.

THAT’S the way to kick off a game against Tom Brady – or anyone for that matter – if you want to intimidate the opponent. If Billick can roll out of the tunnel with Silver Betty then why not James Trapp or Mike Flynn from Tampa? Or Michael Oher or Bryant McKinnie from New Orleans?

We are 23 years into this thing and the Baltimore Ravens are always chasing their own greatness and higher standards than the orange puke across the parking lot where they canceled their own offseason fan festival and still treat the fans like an ATM. As a guy who has dedicated his life to the passion around Baltimore sports, I have seen how hard the Ravens franchise and its human beings have had to work in the aftermath of London and the aging

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Lamar Jackson has quickly changed who is in those purple seats downtown

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

I am usually the guy that local folks seek out to discuss Ravens game strategy or the mood around the locker room or the stats and the history of the franchise.

Needless to say, it’s a good time to put the purple flamingo back on the lawn in the Charm City. And, yes, I am working on Purple Reign 3 as we speak…

The Baltimore Ravens are 2-0. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins are 0-2. Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season. And I am headed to Kansas City to get my hands soaked in BBQ and my breathe wet with craft beer to watch the greatest show in the NFL right now with Patrick Mahomes and the looming game (and rematch) of the week.

And all of that has put me in a wonderful mood but there is only one story and one discussion around the Baltimore Ravens right now – and that’s Lamar Jackson.

(This is the part where I call him, “Mr. Jackson, if you’re Nasty!”)

Forget Janet and The Jackson 5 – this is The Jackson 53 here in Baltimore.

We all watched No. 8 run around last winter and excite us with the possibilities of a spread offense and a quarterback who is the fastest guy on the field. It saved the job of a head coach and rapidly got a Super Bowl MVP and parade leader benched, traded and (now somehow) quickly forgotten.

Joe Cool became Joe Who?

For eight months of an offseason fraught with massive changes and debate about the merits of our quarterback running into linebackers 15 times a game, we all said “Lamar Jackson needs to improve at throwing the football.”

Well…he has improved. That much is clear.

And even after a home win and the “feel goods” in the locker room after the game, it was also clear to anyone within breathing space of Lamar Jackson that he was not real pleased with his effort. He missed a few passes. He misread some things. His frustration was evident. And without throwing that over-the-shoulder dime to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown with the game on the line, it might’ve turned out differently.

He knew that and didn’t like it.

You might’ve been happy after the Ravens 23-17 victory but Lamar Jackson was fairly dissatisfied.

A few us saw him wait out Mark Ingram and talk at length with him at their locker. It was clear that Lamar wanted to climb in the backseat of Ingram’s car and go home with him to talk more football and watch more film but instead departed the stadium solo.

Tens minutes later, as I departed the stadium to walk home, I saw him creating this madness outside the media exit:

And then the video surfaced of him pulling over to sign more autographs for fans.

As a lifer PSL holder, my observations about Sunday didn’t have as much to do with the football team as they did the climate inside the

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Former Raven Suggs returns to place most assumed he’d never leave

Posted on 13 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Marshal Yanda said seeing his name on the scouting report was “pretty funny.”

Rookie Jaylon Ferguson mimicked him in practices this week wearing a new No. 56 unfamiliar to Baltimore while Marlon Humphrey noted it would be strange seeing him in Arizona Cardinals red.

When Terrell Suggs arrives at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday morning, he’ll walk into the visiting locker room, a place he never entered in 16 years with the Ravens. As the seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played more regular-season games than any other Raven noted, “It will be kind of weird for all of us.”

“When the schedule came out, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to downplay it as just another game.’ But we all know that’d be bulls–t,” Suggs said on a conference call with Baltimore reporters this week. “It’s kind of a unique situation, isn’t it? It’s kind of weird. Everybody is just kind of anxious to see what it’s going to be like.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Unlike Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed’s free-agent departure in 2013 when the organization showed only tepid interest compared to the more lucrative three-year, $15 million contract he signed with Houston in the weeks following Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens wanted Suggs to return for a 17th season, which would have matched Hall of Fame inside linebacker Ray Lewis for the longest tenure in franchise history. The 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year may not be the dominant and feared player he once was, but he’d still be lining up as the Ravens’ starting rush linebacker had he stayed put.

Of course, the business side of the game has a way of complicating matters as contract talks stalled leading up to free agency and the Cardinals offered Suggs $7 million guaranteed for the 2019 season. The Ravens came “close” to matching that offer in owner Steve Bisciotti’s words, but the thought of playing in Arizona — where he attended high school and college — and seeing so many other veterans exit aided in the 36-year-old’s decision to go home.

“There wasn’t really a moment,” said Suggs about signing with the Cardinals. “They (the Ravens) essentially made a last push. They did. I just felt it was time. It was time.”

Coming off Sunday’s 59-10 win in which Lamar Jackson tied a franchise record with five touchdown passes and produced the only perfect passer rating in team history, the Ravens know the future is now. Jackson is the new face of the franchise while Suggs saw his former Super Bowl-winning quarterback traded in the offseason and his two legendary former teammates of a decade — Lewis and Reed — officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame these last two summers. Those factors are more than enough to make anyone question his football mortality.

After spending years as the last man standing from the old defensive guard that included Lewis, Reed, and the recently-retired Haloti Ngata, Suggs could see the defense getting younger down the stretch last year. And though legitimate questions remain about an inexperienced pass rush that could still use him this season, Suggs apparently felt it was best to move on, a sentiment he shared with former teammates such as inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor.

“When he left, he texted me and said, ‘It’s time for you guys to start your own legacy and start the new brand of Raven football and just continue to be what the Ravens are all about,'” Onwuasor said.

His presence is still felt in the building as he stays in touch with teammates and is still mentioned in meeting rooms with his reputation as a brilliant student of the game. More than a few players laughed this week when asked to share stories about Suggs, often reluctant to share their colorful nature. Viewed as the talented class clown early in his career, the 2003 first-round pick from Arizona State grew into a leadership role over time while maintaining his boisterous demeanor, whether it was singing loudly on his way out to the practice, taking Bisciotti’s golf cart for a joyride, or wearing a gladiator mask during pre-game introductions.

Much like Suggs didn’t become a carbon copy of Lewis following his post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement, the Ravens haven’t replaced his defensive leadership with a single person this year, instead trusting a group of incumbents and veteran newcomers Earl Thomas and Pernell McPhee to help lead in their own ways. It’s never the same when an iconic player departs, but that’s a testament to the individual rather than a slight to anyone else.

“His name still comes up,” said Ferguson, who broke Suggs’ NCAA record for career sacks and was drafted this spring as part of the attempt to replace him. “He’s an awesome pass rusher. He’s one of the best pass rushers in history.

“His name has got no choice but to come up.”

Suggs will be more than just a name Sunday as he tries to help the Cardinals defense slow Jackson and a talented, young offense that surprised everyone last week. He and two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones will try to get past Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., two offensive tackles Suggs has faced plenty in a practice setting.

Regardless of how much he has left in his 17th NFL season — he registered just 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 last year — Suggs showed plenty of juice last week with two sacks and a forced fumble in his Arizona debut. The thought of playing his final game in Baltimore has undoubtedly crossed his mind in a way it didn’t during the playoff loss in January when everyone assumed he’d be back.

Being the movie buff and screenwriter he is off the field, Suggs having a big returning performance has to be part of his script even as he said, “You kind of have to let it write itself.”

There’s a job to do on both sides, but Sunday is sure to be entertaining, weird, and emotional after Suggs’ abrupt departure in March.

“I couldn’t help myself; I watched him play last week on tape,” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who coached Suggs for seven seasons and still beams over his accomplishments. “He hasn’t lost a step. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

“But I think it’s going to be harder for him.”

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Inside linebackers

Posted on 19 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in days and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line

We continue at inside linebacker, a position at which the Ravens received a Pro Bowl berth in all but six of their first 23 seasons in Baltimore. General manager Eric DeCosta was right not to match the market-altering five-year, $85 million contract the New York Jets gave C.J. Mosley, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens won’t miss his play and leadership in the middle of the defense, especially with no other returning inside linebacker registering more than 434 defensive snaps last season.

A defense long defined by superb play at inside linebacker appears to be in the midst of a philosophical transition that started last year with a platoon at the weak-side spot that proved to be successful. How that will translate to replacing Mosley’s every-down contributions remains to be seen, but this certainly isn’t your father’s Ravens defense with two of the top three inside linebackers on the roster being former undrafted free agents and the other a former fourth-round pick.

Even in the lone season between the retirement of Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis and Mosley’s selection in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Ravens drafted Arthur Brown in the second round with designs of him being the heir apparent, signed 10th-year veteran Daryl Smith, and still had multi-year weak-side starter Jameel McClain on the roster. After investing no major resources beyond a second-round restricted tender and a few rookie free-agent signings at the position this offseason, Baltimore is devoting just under $4.4 million in total salary-cap dollars to its top three inside linebackers for 2019. Cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Williams each have cap numbers more than three times that this season.

Below is a look at the inside linebackers who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Patrick Onwuasor
Skinny: After headlining a three-man platoon that included dime back Anthony Levine a year ago, Onwuasor is expected to go from playing roughly 42 percent of the defensive snaps to stepping into the every-down “Mike” linebacker role, another reason why the Ravens gave him the $3.095 million second-round restricted tender. Undersized at a listed 226 pounds, Onwuasor played the best football of his career with 4 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles over the final six games last year (counting the playoff loss), but that emergence must continue for this group to succeed without Mosley.

Old Reliable — Onwuasor
Skinny: A 26-year-old who played less than half the snaps last season and has just 26 career starts being the only conceivable choice for this category speaks to the paradigm shift at this position from the days of Lewis being one of the highest-paid players in the league. Pro Football Focus graded Onwuasor as its 40th-best linebacker last season, and his improvement in pass coverage and as a blitzer made a big difference down the stretch.

Under Fire — Kenny Young
Skinny: By no means should the 2018 fourth-round pick’s rookie campaign be considering anything but a positive as Young played just under 36 percent of snaps and contributed 51 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble. However, many believed he’d unseat Onwuasor as a starter a year ago and he’s still being challenged at the weak-side spot. Young is at his best when playing downhill and using his speed, but his pass coverage must improve and he was sometimes thinking too much diagnosing plays last year.

Up-and-Comer — Chris Board
Skinny: A former rookie free agent who made the 53-man roster on special teams and is rapidly developing as an inside linebacker? The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? The North Dakota State product played only 14 defensive snaps last year, but he received a large portion of the first-team reps in the spring, often before Young. The Ravens love Board’s speed, so a three-headed platoon is likely to continue with Young, Board, and Levine all seeing time in various sub packages.

Sleeper — Matthew Thomas
Skinny: Any of the remaining inside linebackers on the roster could be considered a sleeper with the lack of depth behind the aforementioned trio, but the 23-year-old Thomas did appear in 10 games as a rookie with Pittsburgh last season before signing a reserve-future contract with the Ravens in January. The Florida State product is one of a few in the running to win a job if he can excel on special teams.

The Rest — Otaro Alaka, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka, a rookie free agent from Texas A&M, flashed with an interception of Robert Griffin III during minicamp and was graded as the top SEC linebacker in run defense by PFF last year. Jones spent time on the Baltimore practice squad last year after being waived at the end of the preseason. … Ejiya was tied for fourth in Conference USA with nine sacks last season.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 23 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making final preparations for the start of the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’ll finally have a resolution after months of mock drafts, but this is the first time the Ravens own just one pick in the top 80 since 2004, the year after they traded up to select Kyle Boller. Lamar Jackson should be considered as part of this draft class indirectly.

2. Saturday marked 23 years since Ozzie Newsome made Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis the first picks in franchise history while a 25-year-old Eric DeCosta held an entry-level position filling various roles, including getting the oil changed in Ted Marchibroda’s car. This week represents the true changing of the guard.

3. If the Ravens don’t trade back from No. 22 to accumulate more picks, my prediction — really a guess — is they’ll select Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell, which means he’ll probably be long gone by the time they choose. As others have noted, he feels like a Baltimore kind of pick.

4. Why Ferrell? If you count draft bust Craig Powell — Art Modell’s final first-round pick in Cleveland — the Ravens have always had a first-round edge defender on the roster as they took Peter Boulware in 1997 and Terrell Suggs in 2003. You can’t do much better than those two.

5. Then again, inside linebacker has been manned by a first-round pick — Lewis from 1996-2012 and C.J. Mosley from 2014-18 — for all but one year of their existence when the Ravens still took Arthur Brown in the 2013 second round. Michigan’s Devin Bush figures to be gone, however.

6. I’m a broken record talking about wide receiver, but this is a reminder that the Ravens have drafted only two in the first three rounds in the entire John Harbaugh era. They can’t repeat the mistakes they made with Joe Flacco if they want to maximize Jackson’s development.

7. Cornerback is the roster’s deepest position group, but Brandon Carr will be 33 next month and Jimmy Smith turns 31 in July and is entering the final year of his contract. In other words, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Ravens take a corner in the middle rounds.

8. With multiple needs on both sides of the ball, is there a position you’re strongly against the Ravens drafting early? Unless you’re convinced Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the next Saquon Barkley, a running back is a tough sell. Defensive tackle is another spot where they’ve found good value much later.

9. The Ravens entered Tuesday with $13.649 million in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of a weekend trade for a veteran or a notable signing after the draft. It’s unrealistic to expect this draft to address all of their needs.

10. Looking at draft capital in the AFC North, Cleveland has two picks in the top 80 (49th and 80th), Pittsburgh three (20th, 52nd, and 66th), and Cincinnati three (11th, 42nd, 72nd). Of course, the Browns traded their first-round pick for Odell Beckham Jr. last month. This division should be fun.

11. Picking up the fifth-year option on Ronnie Stanley was a no-brainer, but determining his value and working out a long-term extension could be tricky. He’s been solid to good over his first three seasons, but I’d be uneasy resetting the market at left tackle to keep him.

12. I wish the draft didn’t coincide with the “Avengers: Endgame” opening, but it prompts an important question. Who would be your top pick from the Marvel superhero team? I’d consider Thor — he’s a god! — or Black Panther and the resources of Wakanda, but I just can’t pass on Iron Man.

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

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Joe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Elway says you’re entering your prime.

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

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

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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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Franchise tag window could drive talks between Mosley, Ravens

Posted on 18 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The NFL’s window for teams to use the franchise tag on a pending unrestricted free agent opens Tuesday, but whether the Ravens go that route with four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley remains to be seen.

New general manager Eric DeCosta expressed his desire to keep Mosley during his introductory press conference last month, but the start of free agency is now just over three weeks away. And with each passing day, the thought of hitting the open market has to be more appealing for the 2014 first-round pick who won’t turn 27 until June. The Ravens can prevent that from happening, of course, by either striking a long-term extension or using the tag, which is projected to cost over $15.5 million for a linebacker — inside or outside — for the 2019 season. That alone would exhaust almost half of Baltimore’s projected cap space upon the completion of the Joe Flacco trade to Denver next month.

“I think everything is on the table right now,” said DeCosta when asked if using the franchise tag on Mosley was a possibility. “I certainly hope that C.J. is back. I believe in my heart that he will be. We’re having those discussions now. I think we have several different strategies in place. We’re in the business of keeping our good football players. Talent wins in the NFL and he’s a Pro Bowl linebacker, so we’re going to do what we can to make sure that C.J. is back on the team.”

The franchise tag would be a steep price since the highest-paid inside linebacker in the league — Carolina’s Luke Kuechly — makes just $12.359 million per season, but the average annual value of that deal was a contract extension signed back in 2015, a long time in NFL terms. That’s where we keep encountering the same question about Mosley, which might explain why a deal many anticipated as early as last offseason hasn’t yet come to fruition.

What exactly is he worth to the Ravens and on the open market?

Mosley doesn’t meet the impossible standard set by Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and may not be in the same elite tier as Kuechly or Seattle’s Bobby Wagner among his contemporaries, but he is widely recognized as one of the NFL’s top inside linebackers and is constantly praised in the Baltimore locker room for his unassuming leadership, something that can’t be ignored with Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle both nearing the end of their careers and uncertain to return next season. The only other Ravens to make the Pro Bowl four times in their first five seasons were Lewis and fellow Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden, illustrating the rare territory Mosley has reached in a short period of time.

Losing him would leave the Ravens with former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor and 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young at inside linebacker next season. Both are talented players, but neither could reasonably be expected to step into Mosley’s role without substantial drop-off. In other words, inside linebacker would immediately become a need should Mosley depart.

But there are still questions that make you take pause before potentially making him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL. His pass coverage has often come under scrutiny as Pro Football Focus graded him just 31st among qualified linebackers in that category despite crediting him with career bests in passing yards allowed (408), yards per reception (9.3), and yards after the catch (190) in 2018. The Alabama product graded 22nd overall among qualified linebackers in 2018 after finishing 37th at the end of the 2017 regular season and 11th in 2016. Those numbers would support the less flattering opinions of Mosley being a consistently solid-to-good player, but not a great one worthy of a lucrative contract.

There’s also the topic of positional value with Mosley’s biggest strength being his run defense in a league increasingly driven by the passing game. Many of the same critics of the five-year, $52.5 million contract awarded to run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams two offseasons ago don’t want to see the Ravens spend big on an inside linebacker who isn’t dynamic in pass coverage, especially with so many other needs to address on both sides of the ball. At the very least, Mosley plays every down unlike Williams, who participated in just 50 percent of defensive snaps this past season.

“You can get caught up in these types of positions that guys get paid,” DeCosta said. “‘You should pay the left tackle or you pay the corner, but not pay the defensive tackle or the inside linebacker.’ That’s all well and good unless someone rushes for 250 yards against you. Then, all of a sudden, you change the dynamic and say, ‘Well, we should sign the inside linebacker or the defensive tackle.’ You want to be a balanced team, you want as many good players as you can. You try to fit that in under the parameters of the salary cap that you can.”

Opinions are split on what Mosley would be worth on the open market with Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com projecting him to receive $11.5 million per year and Spotrac.com’s calculated market value at only $9.7 million per season. The average annual value of the deals for Kuechly ($12.359 million) and Wagner ($10.75 million) aren’t the most helpful guidelines since the salary cap has increased annually since those extensions were signed nearly four years ago. Mosley wanting to eclipse those marks would be a reasonable goal when considering his age and a salary cap expected to approach $190 million this coming season.

If he does indeed hit the market, all it takes is one or two interested teams with substantially more cap space than Baltimore to drive up the linebacker’s price to the point where the franchise tag suddenly doesn’t look as lucrative as it does now. That’s why the tag is something DeCosta and the Ravens must at least consider between Tuesday and March 5 — the final day a team can use it on a player — if they’re determined to keep Mosley but an agreement isn’t imminent.

Both sides know the tag is at least a possibility, which should help push discussions to keep Mosley in Baltimore — if that’s what both he and the Ravens ultimately want.

But the clock is ticking louder every day.

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No Raven brought same excitement as newest Hall of Famer Ed Reed

Posted on 02 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have provided no shortage of exciting players in more than two decades in Baltimore.

Some local fans would describe the pre-game dance of Ray Lewis, the greatest player in team history and face of the franchise, as something resembling a religious experience. A pair of Pro Bowl running backs, Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice, were legitimate threats to score every time they touched the ball. Two All-Pro return specialists — Jermaine Lewis and Jacoby Jones — shined on the most critical stage the NFL has to offer. Many others have brought thrills for an organization with two Super Bowl championships in its trophy case.

But none quite compare to nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who was officially elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. The first-ballot selection was perhaps the most anticlimactic achievement in a career that made observers anticipate the most unexpected of feats.

Fellow first-ballot Hall of Famers Lewis and Jonathan Ogden are the greatest players in team history on their respective sides of the ball, but the ball-hawking Reed is the most exciting we’ve witnessed. Unlike running backs, wide receivers, or kick returners who regularly touch the ball when in the game, Reed would seemingly come out of nowhere, even after the opposing coaching staff would preach all week about not letting him do it.

The sight of Reed with the ball brought emotions ranging from euphoria as he’d turn the game’s outcome with an unlikely touchdown to occasional horror as he’d inexplicably lateral the ball in traffic, sometimes giving it right back to the opposition. Reed unquestionably moved to the beat of his own drum, but you couldn’t ask more of an entertainer and play-maker over 11 seasons in Baltimore.

The simplest objective of the safety position is to prevent an opponent from wrecking the game with an explosive pass play, but there was nothing “safe” about the way Reed stalked in the secondary, creating nightmares for quarterbacks and often doing the very thing the opponent was trying to accomplish against the Baltimore defense — score. When arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history felt compelled to put “Find 20 on every play” on his wristband, what else really needed to be said about his case for Canton?

Reed’s 64 regular-season interceptions rank seventh on the NFL’s career list while he’s the all-time leader in interception return yards. No player has more postseason interceptions (tied with three others with nine), and Reed became the first man in league history to score return touchdowns off an interception, a fumble, a punt, and a blocked punt. He set the NFL record with a last-second 106-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal a tight game against Cleveland in 2004 before breaking that mark four years later with a 107-yard interception return to put away a win against Philadelphia.

In all, 46 passers were intercepted by Reed in his career with half of that group going to at least one Pro Bowl and six being the starting quarterback of a Super Bowl winner.

Though Reed was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, the greatest of his individual achievements came late in the 2008 season when he registered an extraordinary 10 interceptions over a seven-game stretch that culminated with two — one returned for a touchdown — in a playoff victory at Miami. For context, the entire Baltimore defense from this past season had only 12 in 17 games.

The 2002 first-round pick from Miami is tied for 19th on the Ravens’ all-time touchdowns list (13) despite having the football in his hands far fewer times than anyone else — all offensive players — in that top 20. The number of actual planned times Reed touched the ball was even lower as he registered a modest 30 punt returns in his career and never caught a pass or recorded a rushing attempt as an offensive player.

Not only one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game, Reed had an extraordinary ability to block punts before coaches eventually kept him out of potential harm’s way in his later years. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Reed blocked four punts over the first 27 games of his career and frequently drew holding flags as opponents tried to account for his explosive jump off the line of scrimmage.

So often praised for his football instincts, Reed’s preparation was exceptional as he followed Lewis’ initial lead when it came to watching film and studying the playbook. That enabled Reed to so often be in the right place at the right time as he knew where the ball was going before the quarterback even threw it. Later in his career, he passed on those study habits to younger teammates, quietly exhibiting strong leadership in the shadows of Lewis’ camera-friendly methods.

Even his closest confidants acknowledged Reed’s personality ran hot or cold with the position of the hood of his sweatshirt often signaling whether you could engage in spirited conversation or should probably steer clear that day. He could ruffle feathers with comments about even his own teammates, but his intentions usually came from a good place. And while dealing with injuries late in his career, the veteran safety would both ponder retirement and campaign for a new contract in the same breath.

That was Reed.

A nerve impingement suffered late in the 2007 season zapped him of the underrated physicality he displayed early in his career and left him with neck and shoulder pain, but he played through it and did so at the highest level, making five more Pro Bowls while picking his spots to deliver the occasional hit. Even while sporting a red jersey to signal no contact during practices, the veteran safety would light up an unsuspecting young wide receiver from time to time, again reflecting that eccentric personality.

Super Bowl XLVII is most remembered as the culmination of Joe Flacco’s historic 2012 playoff run and Lewis’ last ride, but it was the night Reed finally raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy after years of playing with offenses that couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. It would be Reed’s final game in a Baltimore uniform — he’d play one more season split between Houston and the New York Jets — but Ravens fans shared in his joy a couple days later as he bellowed out the words to Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise” at the victory parade.

It was one last thrill in a career that was long before destined for a gold jacket and the football paradise that is Canton.

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