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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 05 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency now less than two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens knew Marshal Yanda was returning for 2019 by last year’s combine, so Eric DeCosta saying in Indianapolis last week that he hadn’t spoken to the 35-year-old since the Pro Bowl didn’t sound encouraging. A resolution before the start of the new league year would make sense.

2. With player voting on the new collective bargaining agreement now underway and lasting a week, we should start to see more movement on at least some minor signings. Even the announcement of compensatory picks has seemingly been held up by CBA uncertainty.

3. Jimmy Smith hitting the open market to determine his value makes sense for both sides. When healthy, the 10th-year veteran remains a starting-caliber cornerback deserving of starter money, realities that may not add up for the Ravens since he’d be their No. 3 outside corner.

4. Even if the Ravens are able to draft an inside linebacker such as Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen in the first round, a veteran signing in the mold of a Josh Bynes still makes plenty of sense with L.J. Fort also still in the mix. You want options.

5. I’m interested to see how the Matthew Judon situation plays out, but Pro Football Focus isn’t as enthralled with this year’s free-agent edge rushers as much as others. We know these guys are going to get paid one way or another, but bang for the buck remains the real question.

6. Fellow 2016 first-round pick Laremy Tunsil recently firing his agent is a reminder that extending Ronnie Stanley won’t be easy or cheap as you’d expect both guys to want to be the NFL’s highest-paid left tackle. Neither will want to blink without his team making a very lucrative offer.

7. The Ravens have selected a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five straight drafts, a trend you’d expect to continue even if Smith re-signs or Brandon Carr’s option is picked up. The shaky development of Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall makes that more apparent.

8. The idea of trading Hayden Hurst makes little sense. It would cost nearly $3 million in additional dead money and weaken a critical position group. What would a team have to offer to motivate you to do that? Even a relatively early Day 2 pick is a “meh” for me.

9. I really like Daniel Jeremiah’s work and his insight shouldn’t be ignored given his history with the organization, but the Ravens taking a running back in the first round would be a tough sell. There’s only one football to go around, and this team barely got Justice Hill involved as it was.

10. Coaching title changes will always remind me of Dwight Schrute from “The Office,” but Harbaugh keeping last season’s staff intact will prove to be one of the biggest wins of the offseason and is a credit to how the 13th-year head coach and the organization treat their people.

11. Former first-round pick Matt Elam was waived by the XFL’s DC Defenders after only four games and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. Other first-round disappointments like Travis Taylor, Kyle Boller, and even Breshad Perriman at least continued their NFL careers elsewhere.

12. This has nothing to do with the Ravens, but bringing in a 43-year-old Tom Brady feels more like a move to create buzz — hello, Las Vegas Raiders — than to win. I wouldn’t bet on Brady playing elsewhere working particularly well, but I have been wrong before and will be again.

 

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

Posted on 04 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they are good. Very good.

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

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

Posted on 27 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 offensive linemen ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Inside linebackers

Ronnie Stanley
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,036
PFF ranking: fourth among offensive tackles
Skinny: PFF’s highest-graded left tackle and top-graded overall pass blocker for 2019, Stanley, 25, had the best season of his career as he was named to his first Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro selection. The 2016 first-round pick also ranked 10th in run blocking among qualified tackles as the Ravens may need to make him the highest-paid left tackle in NFL history to extend his contract beyond 2020.

Marshal Yanda
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,068
PFF ranking: fourth among guards
Skinny: The 35-year-old continued to strengthen his case for Canton by making his eighth Pro Bowl in nine years and again ranking among the league’s best guards in his 13th season. Yanda led all guards in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric and remained the anchor for an offensive line that blocked for a ground game that set a new NFL record for rushing yards in a season.

Orlando Brown Jr.
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,204
PFF ranking: 25th among offensive tackles
Skinny: After starting 10 games as a rookie, the 2018 third-round pick from Oklahoma firmly established himself as a quality NFL starter as he started every game and played in his first Pro Bowl after initially being named an alternate. His historically poor combine testing two years ago feels like a distant memory as Brown has been everything the Ravens could have reasonably wanted at right tackle.

Bradley Bozeman
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,204
PFF ranking: 32nd among guards
Skinny: Left guard was a concerning position battle last summer as others failed to take the reins before the Ravens turned to the 2018 sixth-round pick from Alabama in the final days of the summer. Many wondered if Bozeman would be a liability at the position, but his play was solid throughout the season as he played every offensive snap and was rarely a topic of conversation, a good sign for a young lineman.

Matt Skura
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 717
PFF ranking: 17th among centers
Skinny: The former practice-squad lineman solidified his place as a starting-caliber NFL center before sustaining ACL, PCL, and MCL tears as well as a dislocated left kneecap in late November. The 27-year-old is still expected to be tendered as a restricted free agent, but it remains unclear whether Skura’s surgically-repaired knee will be ready for the start of training camp.

Patrick Mekari
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 530
PFF ranking: 14th among centers
Skinny: The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley had a strong preseason to earn a 53-man roster spot and was active as a reserve every week until Skura’s knee injury threw him into the starting lineup. Baltimore didn’t skip a beat over the final five regular-season games before the 22-year-old Mekari was one of many Ravens players to have a bad night against Tennessee in the playoff loss.

James Hurst
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 194
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The versatile veteran set a career low for snaps, but he filled in effectively at left tackle for the injured Stanley in Week 15. The Ravens value Hurst’s ability to play four different positions, but his four-game suspension to start 2020 could compromise his roster standing as he’s scheduled to make a steep $4 million in base salary as a backup and Baltimore signed veteran Andre Smith to a one-year deal.

Parker Ehinger
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 54
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former fourth-round pick signed with Baltimore’s practice squad in September and was promoted to the active roster in late November, faring pretty well in limited snaps. Ehinger will be a restricted free agent and could return to compete for a 53-man roster spot.

Ben Powers
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 30
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fourth-round pick from Oklahoma graded quite well in his lone action of the season at right guard in Week 17, but Powers being inactive for every other game as a rookie leaves plenty of questions regarding his ability. Regardless of what happens with Yanda or others, the spring and summer will be critical for Powers’ development as an NFL-caliber guard.

Hroniss Grasu
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Claimed off waivers in early December for his second stint with the Ravens, the 28-year-old served as an active reserve for the final few games and is unlikely to return on anything but a league-minimum deal with a chance to compete for a roster spot in the preseason.

2020 positional outlook

The current state of the offensive line begins with the status of Yanda, who still hasn’t informed the Ravens whether he plans to return for a 14th season and chase another Super Bowl ring. Yanda retiring would create a major void at right guard — and from a leadership standpoint — that the Ravens won’t easily replace. The interior offensive line is further complicated by the uncertain health of Skura, making it ideal for general manager Eric DeCosta to add a starting-caliber option to the inside mix. On the bright side, the Ravens boast one of the best offensive tackle duos in the NFL with two Pro Bowl selections under age 27. Signing Stanley to a contract extension beyond 2020 should be one of the top priorities of the offseason as the Ravens searched nearly a decade for a franchise left tackle after the retirement of Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden. Even if Yanda decides his football days are over, the mere presence of dual-threat MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson puts so much pressure on defensive fronts that the offensive line remains at a clear advantage.

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

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

Posted on 26 February 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary depth decisions

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

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

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

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

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

Next wave of extensions?

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

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

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

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

Waiting on Yanda

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

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

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

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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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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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andresmith

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Ravens re-sign veteran offensive tackle Andre Smith to one-year deal

Posted on 06 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens retained a veteran depth option for their offensive line by re-signing offensive tackle Andre Smith to a one-year deal on Thursday.

The 33-year-old has appeared in 116 contests (98 starts) in an NFL career spent primarily with Cincinnati and signed with Baltimore last month before being inactive for the divisional playoff loss to Tennessee. The sixth overall pick of the 2009 draft from Alabama, Smith has primarily played right tackle in his career, but he started five games at left tackle for the Bengals in 2019 and would have graded 74th among offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus had he played enough snaps to qualify.

Veteran James Hurst served as the primary backup to Pro Bowl starting tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. last season, but the 28-year-old is scheduled to make $4 million in base salary and the Ravens could save $2.75 million in salary cap space by releasing him this offseason. Smith would be a cheaper option if he proves to be reliable enough in the spring and summer as he enters his 12th NFL season.

The 6-foot-4, 325-pound lineman had brief stops with Arizona and Minnesota in addition to having three different stints with the Bengals over his career.

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earlthomas

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Examining Ravens’ top 10 salary cap numbers for 2020

Posted on 04 February 2020 by Luke Jones

Coming off the best regular season in franchise history, general manager Eric DeCosta and the Ravens will try to take the next step in 2020 with NFL MVP Lamar Jackson entering only his third year.

We know the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to find long-term prosperity, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl championship. As of right now, the Ravens will devote just under $107 million in 2020 salary cap space to the 10 players possessing the highest cap numbers. The 2020 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s projected to rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to an estimated $200 million.

Below is a look at those 10 Baltimore players:

1. S Earl Thomas
2020 Week 1 age: 31
2020 cap number: $15 million
Synopsis: It may not have been a spectacular first season in Baltimore for the longtime Seattle Seahawk, but Thomas played well in the process of being named to his seventh Pro Bowl and being graded 16th among qualified safeties by Pro Football Focus. Another year in Wink Martindale’s defensive system should only increase his comfort level, but it’s always fair to wonder how the speed and range of any defensive back over the age of 30 will hold up, especially with Thomas owning the third-highest cap number among NFL safeties for 2020 and being signed through 2022.

1. CB Marcus Peters
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $15 million
Synopsis: The acquisition of Peters from the Los Angeles Rams was probably the best in-season trade in the NFL this past year, but DeCosta signing the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback to a three-year, $42 million extension made the deal even better as Peters very likely would have done better on the open market. Grading fourth among qualified cornerbacks by PFF, Peters teams with fellow Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey to give Baltimore one of the NFL’s best corner duos. Not resetting the market with Peters will help the Ravens’ future cap situation when it’s time to extend Humphrey.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2020 Week 1 age: 31
2020 cap number: $14.17 million
Synopsis: Projected to have the ninth-highest cap number among NFL interior defensive linemen in 2020, Williams hasn’t provided the best value on a five-year, $52.5 million contract that runs through 2021, but he remains one of the better run-stopping defensive linemen in the league. His presence will be even more important this coming season as the Ravens defense is likely to see much turnover with its front seven, which may include the free-agent exit of Michael Pierce. Williams’ cap number would be a bigger concern if not for the cap flexibility the Ravens have with a star quarterback still on a rookie deal.

4. OT Ronnie Stanley
2020 Week 1 age: 26
2020 cap number: $12.866 million
Synopsis: Widely regarded as the best left tackle in the NFL this season as a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selection, Stanley remains a bargain even with his fifth-year option as he currently owns just the 12th-highest cap number among left tackles for 2020. Signing the 2016 first-round pick to a long-term extension should be the top priority of the offseason among Baltimore players still under contract for 2020, but that may require making Stanley the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL. His age and performance this past season would certainly warrant such a demand from his representation.

5. S Tony Jefferson
2020 Week 1 age: 28
2020 cap number: $11.657 million
Synopsis: A popular locker room guy and a solid player in 2018, Jefferson suffered a serious knee injury in early October and was replaced by Chuck Clark, who emerged as a key piece of the defense and was seen as an upgrade at a fraction of the cost. Even if Jefferson were completely healthy, his status would have been in doubt as the Ravens can save $7 million in both cash and cap savings by releasing him this offseason. It’s tough envisioning a scenario in which Jefferson returns at anything but a dramatically reduced rate as his four-year, $34 million deal signed in 2017 hasn’t worked out as Baltimore planned.

6. G Marshal Yanda
2020 Week 1 age: 35
2020 cap number: $11 million
Synopsis: The only question here is whether the eight-time Pro Bowl lineman will return for a 14th season as Yanda remains one of the best guards in the NFL and carries the sixth-highest cap number among right guards for the 2020 season. The 2007 third-round pick retiring would create $7 million in cap savings for the Ravens, but it would open up a significant hole on the offensive line for the league’s top-ranked scoring offense. Yanda graded fourth among all qualified guards by PFF and looks like an eventual Hall of Famer, whether he continues playing or not.

7. CB Tavon Young
2020 Week 1 age: 26
2020 cap number: $8 million
Synopsis: The slot cornerback has shown much potential when he’s been able to stay on the field, but he’s appeared in just 15 games over the last three seasons and will be returning from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2019 campaign, creating some understandable concern about his value after he signed a lucrative extension last offseason. Young’s presence will allow the Ravens to move Humphrey back to an outside cornerback spot, strengthening a secondary that was already very strong this past season. There’s still upside at work with Young that the Ravens need to see come to fruition in 2020.

8. CB Brandon Carr
2020 Week 1 age: 34
2020 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: His transition to a versatile safety role in sub packages should help Carr extend his playing career, but whether the Ravens elect to exercise their 2020 option on the veteran defensive back remains to be seen. With fellow veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, his status figures to impact what happens with Carr as both returning would seem unlikely. Baltimore would save $6 million in cap space by declining Carr’s option, but a respected and versatile veteran role player still chasing a Super Bowl ring might be amenable to returning at a reduced rate.

9. TE Nick Boyle
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $6.833 million
Synopsis: His unique fit in Greg Roman’s run-first offense makes Boyle challenging to value as it relates to the other 31 teams, but the Ravens have no complaints about his 2019 production as he set new career highs in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions after inking a three-year, $18 million contract last offseason. The 2015 fifth-round pick from Delaware remains one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, grading 11th overall among qualified tight ends by PFF. He’s fondly referred to as a sixth offensive lineman on the field and provides some leadership for a very young offense.

10. WR Willie Snead
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $5.412 million
Synopsis: Snead was extended through 2020 despite his catches and receiving yards falling off substantially from his first year in Baltimore. His ability to make plays from the slot is compromised by the Ravens’ frequent use of tight ends over the middle of the field, but Snead’s veteran presence and blocking ability are valued in such a young and unique offensive attack. DeCosta would seemingly like to add another impactful wide receiver to go with 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown this offseason, a development that could further impact Snead’s role.

Next up:
11. RB Mark Ingram ($5.333 million)
12. OL James Hurst ($5.25 million)
13. K Justin Tucker ($5.1 million)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Super Bowl LIV

Posted on 23 January 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) reacts while holding a smartphone after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Examining Ravens’ 2020 class of free agents

Posted on 15 January 2020 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is just under two months away with the Ravens entering the offseason sooner than anticipated after a franchise-record 14-2 regular season that ended with shocking disappointment in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2020 salary cap commitment of just over $166 million to 41 players (not including pending free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future contracts), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2020 salary cap has not been officially set, but it’s projected to rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to an estimated $200 million.

General manager Eric DeCosta seems likely to create additional cap space by extending, renegotiating, or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. That list could include the likes of safety Tony Jefferson, offensive lineman James Hurst, and defensive back Brandon Carr, who all have 2020 cap numbers that may exceed how the Ravens value their services at this point. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is a logical candidate for a long-term contract extension as he’s set to carry a $12.866 million cap figure in his fifth-year option season.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2020 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to extend any of the following unrestricted free agents before they may officially sign with any team beginning March 18 at 4 p.m.

LB Josh Bynes The 30-year-old was one of Baltimore’s best in-season signings in recent memory and graded sixth among linebackers by Pro Football Focus, but long-term solutions will be explored.

DT Justin Ellis The 350-pound run-stopping lineman was a healthy scratch in three of the last four regular-season games, but the status of other defensive linemen may help his chances for a return.

OL Hroniss Grasu His second stint with Baltimore led to him being a game-day reserve late in the season, but you’d expect the Ravens to aim to improve their interior offensive line depth.

OLB Matthew Judon The Pro Bowl selection will be paid lucratively by someone, but does the lack of depth at this position force Baltimore to step outside its financial comfort zone to keep him?

DB Anthony Levine – Though still a special-teams standout, the 32-year-old played in just 17 percent of defensive snaps as his particular role in the dime package diminished in 2019.

OLB Pernell McPhee A torn triceps ended what had been a productive start to his ninth NFL campaign, so McPhee returning in a situational role at a cheap price seems plausible.

WR Chris Moore – The 2016 fourth-round pick hasn’t developed into the deep-threat wide receiver some hoped he would be, but he’s been one of Baltimore’s best special-teams players since his arrival.

ILB Patrick Onwuasor Considered an ascending player poised for a 2019 breakout, Onwuasor struggled at the “Mike” and saw his role diminish as the year progressed, leaving his future in doubt.

DT Domata Peko The 35-year-old left open the possibility of playing a 15th NFL season, but Baltimore would probably prefer more youth and long-term upside for this position group.

DT Michael Pierce Pierce worked his way back into shape after well-documented weight problems in the spring and is in line for a substantial payday despite not having a standout contract year.

DB Jordan Richards Until being deemed a healthy scratch in the playoff loss to the Titans, Richards was a regular on special teams and only turns 27 later this month.

WR Seth Roberts He ranked third among Baltimore wide receivers in snaps and blocks well, but his costly drop in the first half of the playoff loss reinforces the need for more play-making ability here.

OT Andre Smith Signed as a depth piece last week, the former Cincinnati Bengal and 2009 first-round pick has 98 career starts under his belt and probably isn’t in the organization’s long-term plans.

CB Jimmy Smith In an ideal world, Smith would re-sign as part of an outside trio including Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, but his likely asking price and injury history are deterrents.

WR/RS De’Anthony Thomas – He showed little as a returner and was flagged for blocking after calling a fair catch in the playoff loss, a costly penalty he committed more than once this season.

S Brynden Trawick An elbow injury limited him to just six games, but the 30-year-old is a good special-teams player, which always leaves the door open for a return to Baltimore.

DE/OLB Jihad Ward Coaches and teammates spoke highly of the 25-year-old edge defender this season, making his return to be part of the rotation quite possible at a reasonable price.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has the right to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2020 salary cap is finalized — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.407 million in 2019) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($3.095 million in 2019) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($2.205 million in 2019) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens often elect to forgo a tender and will attempt to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

OL Parker Ehinger (fourth) – The 27-year-old was active in four of the last five regular-season games, but signing him to anything more than a league-minimum deal would be surprising.

C Matt Skura (undrafted) – The second-round tender seemed likely for the starter before a serious knee injury in late November, but the Ravens gambling with the low tender isn’t impossible now.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the idea that there’s nothing promised beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

OL Randin Crecelius After spending 2018 on the practice squad, the former rookie free agent sustained a concussion early in training camp and was placed on IR at the end of the preseason.

RB Gus Edwards The second-year backup to Mark Ingram averaged 5.3 yards per carry and would start for plenty of teams around the league, making him a great value to the organization.

DB Fish Smithson The 25-year-old Baltimore native was signed late in the preseason and ended up on IR just a few days later.

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