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Ravens regular-season moment No. 17: “Our backs were against the wall”

Posted on 22 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 18 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens hadn’t won a truly critical December game in a very long time.

After missing the playoffs in each of the previous three years, Baltimore was a team in transition as rookie first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson had replaced the injured Joe Flacco during the Week 10 bye. Many assumed that makeover would continue with a new head coach as rumors had swirled about John Harbaugh and the organization likely parting ways at the end of the season.

Jackson was still another offseason of development away from blossoming into the league MVP, but his presence had revitalized a stagnant rushing attack and breathed new life into the Ravens, who had won four of five coming out of the bye week to climb back into the playoff race. The revamped ball-control offense had better complemented a defense that dominated down the stretch and finished first in the NFL in total yards allowed, second in points allowed, and third in defensive efficiency.

But a Week 16 showdown with the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers — who were coming off extra rest after an impressive Thursday road win over AFC-leading Kansas City the week before — was the kind of test the Ravens simply hadn’t passed in recent years. Memories of the Christmas loss in Pittsburgh two years earlier and the fourth-and-12 choke against Cincinnati in the 2017 finale were too strong for most to believe Baltimore would beat one of the NFL’s elite, especially on the road.

The plot felt all too familiar as the Ravens dominated the first half statistically, but they led only 6-3 at halftime after going 0-for-3 inside the red zone. Jackson’s beautiful 68-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Mark Andrews and a Justin Tucker 56-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 16-10 lead in the third quarter, but the offense then stalled with three straight three-and-outs, continuing to put great pressure on a Baltimore defense that had bullied eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers and one of the league’s best offenses all night.

In the post-Super Bowl XLVII era, Ravens defenses had remained strong statistically, but a reputation for faltering at critical moments was impossible to overlook. Even two weeks earlier, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had pulled off a miraculous fourth-down conversion to force overtime and deny Baltimore an upset bid at Arrowhead Stadium.

That’s why Ravens fans couldn’t help but feel uneasy when Sam Koch’s punt from his own end zone was returned 24 yards by Desmond King to the Baltimore 39 with three minutes remaining. Not only could Rivers and the Chargers take the lead with a touchdown, but they had a short field to do it.

Someone would have to make a play for the Ravens to keep strong playoff hopes alive.

A holding penalty pushed Los Angeles back before Rivers completed a first-and-20 throw over the middle to eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who fought for more yardage as cornerback Brandon Carr wrapped him up. Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor arrived a moment later to punch out the football, and slot cornerback Tavon Young scooped it up and sprinted 62 yards for a touchdown.

Game over.

The defense had closed a terrific performance, and the Ravens had secured their biggest December victory in years. And with Pittsburgh losing at New Orleans the following day, Baltimore needed only a Week 17 win to secure its first AFC North championship since 2012.

The Chargers would exact their revenge in a wild-card round rematch at M&T Bank Stadium two weeks later, but the Ravens had finally broken through after not being quite good enough for too long. The Week 16 win brought Jackson’s first 200-yard passing performance as a pro, the defense’s ability to finish, and validation for the previous night’s announcement that Harbaugh would return in 2019 with a new contract extension to continue to lead a new era for the Ravens.

“Once again, our backs were against the wall,” Harbaugh said to his players in the locker room after the 22-10 victory. “Nobody thought we’d come out here and win. Except who? Us.”

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) after they connected for a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Fewest adjusted games lost on offense helped pace 2019 Ravens

Posted on 22 April 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens envision adding several key pieces in this weekend’s draft to what they hope will be a Super Bowl run, but continuing another recent trend might be more important for success in 2020.

Concluding last season with only 10 players on injured reserve and just four of those individuals projected to play extensive offensive or defensive snaps entering training camp, Baltimore certainly couldn’t complain about its overall health en route to a franchise-best 14-2 campaign. That came after one popular metric deemed the Ravens the healthiest team in the NFL in 2018.

“We had our best year, injury-wise,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the 2019 Ravens. “I have to give a lot of credit to [head certified athletic trainer] Ron Medlin and to [head strength and conditioning coach] Steve Saunders and to [director of sports nutrition] Sarah Snyder and everybody involved there. We were great. I’d like to find a way to try to replicate that next year.”

You often see the number of players on IR cited in these types of discussions, but that alone doesn’t provide a great picture from team to team. How many were starters compared to rotation players, special-teams contributors, or training camp bodies who had no chance of making the roster before getting hurt? How many went to IR at the end of the summer as opposed to the closing weeks of the regular season? And what about teams that had more individuals playing through injuries than those with relatively clean injury reports many weeks?

Football Outsiders uses a metric called adjusted games lost to try to quantify just how much teams were stricken with injuries. Instead of simply counting the number of games lost for each player on IR, the metric weighs the projected role of each injured player (starter, key reserve, bench-warmer, etc.) and also considers those listed on weekly injury reports who ended up playing at less than 100 percent. In other words, the metric doesn’t treat the absence of a Pro Bowl player or starter the same as a developmental player who was stashed on IR and weighs those players battling through injuries that could impact performance.

Football Outsiders’ data indicates Harbaugh’s 2019 assessment wasn’t entirely accurate as the Ravens finished 16th overall in adjusted games lost (68.7), but he was definitely on the right track regarding one side of the ball. The record-setting Baltimore offense had the fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL with center Matt Skura being the only key contributor to miss more than two games. That fortune and the retirement of eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda reinforce why general manager Eric DeCosta should continue adding talent to that side of the ball this weekend.

Meanwhile, the 2019 Ravens finished with the NFL’s second-most adjusted games lost on defense with the secondary especially hit hard. Baltimore lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury in August, strong safety Tony Jefferson to a year-ending knee injury in early October, and starting cornerback Jimmy Smith for the better part of two months with a sprained knee. Of course, the in-season acquisition of Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and the emergence of safety Chuck Clark proved to be upgrades that helped the Ravens become one of the league’s top defenses by season’s end.

There are always single-season exceptions and outliers with NFC champion San Francisco (27th in adjusted games lost) clearly fitting that description in 2019, but the team with the fewest overall adjusted games lost (Minnesota), the fewest on offense (Baltimore), and the fewest on defense (New England) all qualified for the postseason. In contrast, just one of the nine teams with the most overall adjusted games lost made the playoffs, reinforcing how important health is to success. “Next man up” is a nice t-shirt slogan and sentiment, but there are only so many injury hits most teams can take before any realistic chance for success goes out the window.

Below is a look at where the Ravens have finished in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost in recent years:

2019 — 68.7 (16th fewest in NFL)
2018 – 29.7 (fewest in NFL)
2017 – 101.6 (sixth most in NFL)
2016 – 62.0 (11th fewest in NFL)
2015 – 96.1 (third most in NFL)
2014 – 52.6 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2013 – 49.8 (ninth fewest in NFL)
2012 – 57.4 (13th fewest in NFL)
2011 – 18.8 (fewest in NFL)
2010 – 50.9 (15th fewest in NFL)
2009 – 28.8 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2008 – 95.0 (third most in NFL)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts as free agency slows down

Posted on 30 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With free agency slowing considerably and teams beginning to turn even more attention to the upcoming NFL draft, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Derek Wolfe may not be the same player and brings durability questions, but I prefer one year and $3 million guaranteed for him to the reported $21 million Eric DeCosta planned to guarantee Michael Brockers before concerns surfaced about his ankle. Sometimes the best deals are ones you don’t make.

2. The Brockers situation conjured memories of the Ryan Grant deal falling through two years ago, but the skepticism over that case — involving a contract that was widely panned — isn’t fair to apply this time around when teams can’t conduct their own physicals. It’s never ideal in a big-picture sense, however.

3. Based on the reaction of former teammates and Denver reporters over the weekend, Wolfe should be a good fit in the Ravens locker room. He also brings championship experience to a roster with fewer and fewer Super Bowl XLVII holdovers. Only four Ravens who played in that game remain.

4. Calais Campbell said his agent wasn’t thrilled with the extension he accepted that included $20 million guaranteed, but the 33-year-old took less to play for the Ravens than potentially maxing out with other teams interested in acquiring him. It helps having the reigning MVP and a 14-2 record last year.

5. I was surprised to see Josh Bynes accept a one-year deal with Cincinnati that isn’t believed to be much money. It’s easy to say the Ravens will just draft Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray, but relying too heavily on youth is what got them in trouble last season.

6. We’re only three weeks away from what was supposed to be the start of the offseason program. With spring activities at facilities unlikely to take place, organizations will have their technological mettle tested and players will be trusted to prepare on their own more than ever.

7. The re-signing of Jimmy Smith alleviates short-term concern about the depth at cornerback, but he’s signed only through 2020 and Tavon Young has missed two full seasons in the last three years. A late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick at that position would still make plenty of sense.

8. I was surprised over some of the negative reaction to the one-year deal for Chris Moore. He’s a reliable contributor for a special teams group that wasn’t very special last year. Moore isn’t viewed as an answer at wide receiver or a lock to be on the 53-man roster.

9. OverTheCap.com currently projects the Ravens to receive a fifth-round compensatory pick next year due to Michael Pierce’s departure since the Wolfe signing cancels out Seth Roberts’ contract with Carolina. Of course, any player cut by his previous team doesn’t apply to the formula.

10. The Ravens are — and should be — heavy favorites to win the AFC North, but their division rivals all made solid free-agent additions and the health of Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow is a big wildcard. The division should still be Baltimore’s, but it may not be quite the same cakewalk it was last year.

11. The sports shutdown has brought more attention to esports as thousands watched Marquise Brown play Madden online last week and NASCAR’s iRacing broadcasts have fetched good ratings. Maybe we’re just really bored, but that’s interesting data as sports always strive for offseason engagement.

12. On the 24th anniversary of Art Modell revealing his relocated franchise from Cleveland would be renamed the Baltimore Ravens, the team’s official Twitter account revealed a 25th season logo. I assume we’ll see a jersey patch for 2020 like we saw in 2005 and 2015 (see below).

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

Posted on 23 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 17 February 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Safeties
Running backs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2020 positional outlook

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

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

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Ravens continue prioritizing secondary by extending safety Chuck Clark

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Want or need? Assessing Ravens position groups entering offseason

Posted on 21 January 2020 by Luke Jones

Need is a relative term when assessing the Ravens roster after a franchise-best 14-2 regular season that set all kinds of franchise and NFL records.

The sting of their divisional-round loss to Tennessee will linger for a long time, but perspective is critical when sizing up a roster that included the best offense in the league and one of the top defenses by season’s end. That’s not to say improvements aren’t in order and change isn’t inevitable with 17 Baltimore players set to become unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens would easily remain a playoff-caliber team on paper after even a ho-hum offseason of free-agent departures and only pedestrian additions. Having an MVP quarterback, an innovative offense with no unrestricted free agents of real consequence, and a great secondary will go a long way in covering up any deficiencies elsewhere.

Yes, the early playoff exit was a bitter disappointment and a missed opportunity as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but this isn’t a roster in need of major surgery as much as some fine-tuning after having a bad game at the wrong time. It’s an enviable place when you have close to $30 million in salary cap space and a fresh batch of draft picks in April. But as John Harbaugh often likes to recite the quote attributed to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, “Every day you either get better or you get worse; you never stay the same.”

Below is a look at what positions the Ravens absolutely need to address or simply would like to upgrade between now and the start of the 2020 season:

Edge defender/outside linebacker — NEED

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made it work after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, but this position group remains a major concern with 2019 Pro Bowl selection Matthew Judon and depth pieces Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward set to become free agents. Tyus Bowser took a step forward with five sacks in his third season and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson showed growth as the year progressed, but viewing either as a definite 2020 starter would be too optimistic based on the body of work. Even if Baltimore gives Judon a blank check or the franchise tag to keep him, finding an additional impact outside linebacker is a clear objective. The Ravens blitzed more than any team in the NFL to create pressure in 2019, but more impactful four-man rushes would make this defense even more dangerous. Setting the edge against the run was also an inconsistency that was often masked by Baltimore holding so many big leads that forced opponents to abandon the ground game.

Wide receiver — WANT

I have been a broken record about Baltimore’s deficiency at wide receiver for years and noted during the Tennessee loss that another impact option would be really useful, but classifying wide receiver as a want goes back to keeping the proper perspective. You wouldn’t expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to move away from featuring the tight ends with the success Lamar Jackson has passing to that trio between the numbers, and rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown showed unique ability despite being hampered by foot and ankle issues. When you add the presence of veteran Willie Snead and the potential of 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, the requisite floor and upside are there — even if barely — to think the Ravens can win a Super Bowl. Still, adding a dynamic wide receiver to make plays when Baltimore trails and to have a presence outside the numbers would take Jackson and the NFL’s leading scoring offense to another level, a frightening thought for opponents.

Interior offensive line — WANT*

The asterisk is connected to eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and his decision whether to return for a 14th season. If Yanda comes back, the Ravens remain in good short-term shape on the offensive line as undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in respectably at center for Matt Skura, whose major knee injury makes him a question mark until at least training camp. However, Yanda’s retirement would make this a significant need with 2019 fourth-round guard Ben Powers not exactly making an impact as a rookie and the Ravens losing a Hall of Fame talent in a position group not sporting a ton of experience. You feel more confident about Skura or Mekari at center, Bradley Bozeman at left guard, and Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle because of Yanda’s presence and elite play. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley may help fill the leadership void, but you just don’t replace a special player like Yanda.

Inside linebacker — NEED

This year marked only the seventh time in 24 seasons in which the Ravens didn’t receive a Pro Bowl invitation at this position, speaking to the impossible standard created by Ray Lewis and the commendable run from C.J. Mosley before his free-agent departure last March. General manager Eric DeCosta deserves credit for the in-season additions of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort to stabilize the position, but that came after the organization underestimated the problems Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Chris Board would have stepping into larger roles. Martindale effectively mixed and matched Bynes, Fort, and Onwuasor while often dropping safety Chuck Clark into the box in sub packages, but finding a complete three-down linebacker would decrease the likelihood of the defense getting caught with a second level that’s either too light against the run or too slow in coverage. Re-signing Bynes would certainly be on the table, but a younger every-down option would be preferable. Baltimore doesn’t need an All-Pro inside linebacker to have a great defense, but substituting so frequently was less than ideal.

Interior defensive line — NEED

Giving a big contract to Michael Pierce wouldn’t appear to be in the plans with Brandon Williams still having two years remaining on his deal and Pierce not making a strong argument for the Ravens to commit to him after weight concerns in the offseason and a solid but unspectacular 2019 campaign. Baltimore’s pursuit of six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy last spring highlighted a desire to find an interior pass rusher, but Chris Wormley and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack are the only other defensive linemen under contract for the 2020 campaign beyond the soon-to-be 31-year-old Williams. In other words, the Ravens have much work to do here to fortify their depth against the run while trying to find an inside option or two who can also get after the quarterback.

Cornerback — WANT

No one would classify cornerback as a need with 2019 Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both under contract and slot cornerback Tavon Young expected to be ready for the offseason program after a season-ending neck injury suffered in August. However, you can never have enough depth at this critical spot with Jimmy Smith set to become an unrestricted free agent and Brandon Carr carrying a $6 million price tag for his 2020 option and transitioning to more of a safety role this past season. A modest short-term extension could make sense for Smith, but committing substantial money to someone who will be 32 in July and has played in more than 12 games in a season only twice in nine years doesn’t sound appealing. Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall bring some upside as recent fourth-round selections, but relying on either as the first wave of depth would be risky.

Special teams — WANT

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the first week of free agency last March reinforced their commitment to this phase of the game that goes beyond specialists Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox. With that in mind, Anthony Levine, Chris Moore, Brynden Trawick, Jordan Richards, and De’Anthony Thomas will all be unrestricted free agents after playing at least 120 special-teams snaps apiece for Baltimore this season. Whether re-signing a few members of that group or using resources to sign a veteran or two on the open market, the Ravens seem likely to address special teams after being underwhelming in that department — at least by their lofty standards — down the stretch.

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Ravens, Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters reach contract extension

Posted on 28 December 2019 by Luke Jones

A critical component of the remarkable in-season transformation of the Ravens defense will be sticking around beyond the 2019 season.

Just 2 1/2 months after being acquired from the Los Angeles Rams, Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters has agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $42 million and $32 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The deal runs through the 2022 season and makes Peters one of the eight highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL in terms of both average annual value and guaranteed money, according to OverTheCap.com.

With the Ravens having endured numerous injuries in the secondary and ranking 25th in pass defense after Week 6, general manager Eric DeCosta sent disappointing inside linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Rams for Peters. The move lacked the fanfare — or long-term risk — of Los Angeles’ decision to then trade two first-round picks and a fourth-round selection to Jacksonville for disgruntled Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but Peters’ arrival brought immediate dividends for Baltimore, who has climbed all the way to seventh in pass defense entering Week 17.

Despite logging only two practices with the Ravens and flying across the country twice in less than three days, the 26-year-old returned a Russell Wilson pass 67 yards for a touchdown in his Ravens debut, a 30-16 win at Seattle. Peters also returned a pick for a score against Cincinnati in Week 10, giving him a league-leading three interceptions returned for touchdowns this season. The outspoken cornerback also preserved a 24-17 win in Buffalo with a fourth-down pass breakup in the final minutes of Week 14.

Pro Football Focus has graded Peters as the third-best cornerback in the NFL this season, an effort that resulted in the 6-foot, 197-pound defensive back being named to his third Pro Bowl earlier this month.

The financial commitment to Peters is the latest example of DeCosta and the Ravens subscribing to the analytics-minded approach of prioritizing coverage on the back end above all else defensively. Even with veteran Jimmy Smith scheduled to become a free agent, Baltimore has the cornerback trio of Peters, fellow Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and slot man Tavon Young under control through at least the 2021 season while Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas is signed through 2022 and fellow starting safety Chuck Clark is under contract through next season.

Having a reputation as a polarizing player both on and off the field prior to his arrival, Peters has been labeled a cornerback “savant” by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and has fit in well with a defense that’s been one of the NFL’s best since the first month of the season.

Kansas City’s 2015 first-round pick out of Washington, Peters has the most interceptions (27) in the NFL by a wide margin over the last five seasons and is tied for fourth in the league with five interceptions this season. He’s also collected 52 tackles and 14 pass breakups in 15 games split between the Ravens and Rams in 2019.

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Ravens “on track” to welcome back trio of injured players

Posted on 28 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As general manager Eric DeCosta explores potential moves prior to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, the Ravens remain optimistic about their health coming out of the bye week.

Head coach John Harbaugh reiterated his expectation that wide receiver Marquise Brown (right ankle), inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (right ankle), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (right knee) will make their respective returns for Sunday night’s meeting with undefeated New England. Brown and Onwuasor haven’t played since the Week 5 win at Pittsburgh while Smith has been sidelined since the season opener in Miami.

“They’re on track, yes. We’ll see how it goes this week,” Harbaugh said. “I’m pretty confident that they’ll be there, but you never know.”

While Brown and Onwuasor haven’t practiced since finishing the Steelers game at less than 100 percent, Smith returned to practice on a limited basis two weeks ago, wearing a brace on his right knee in the portion of workouts open to media. His return coupled with the acquisition of two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters two weeks ago would give Baltimore significant reinforcements for the second half of the season.

The Ravens secondary was regarded as the best and deepest position group on the roster entering training camp, but season-ending injuries to slot cornerback Tavon Young (neck) and strong safety Tony Jefferson (knee) as well as Smith’s long-term absence have been difficult blows to a pass defense ranking an underwhelming 26th in the NFL entering Monday.

“It’s exciting anytime you get your guys back,” Harbaugh said. “We want to have guys that can cover. That’s important to us. We’ve got guys that can cover. Obviously, adding Marcus is a big plus for us, and it makes up a little bit for the injury shortfall. But getting Jimmy back, it’s been a long time now. He played what [six] plays in the Miami game and has been out since? And he had a really good training camp, so if we could get him back, that’d be huge for us. I am excited about it. I hope it works out.”

The Ravens hope an improved secondary will aid a pass rush that has managed only 12 sacks in seven games and lost versatile veteran Pernell McPhee to a season-ending triceps injury against the Seahawks. It remains unclear whether DeCosta will be able to make a trade for an impact pass rusher, especially with Baltimore entering Monday with just $1.8 million in 2019 salary cap space.

Of course, there’s been no shortage of trades around the league already with the Ravens themselves acquiring Peters from the Los Angeles Rams two weeks ago.

“There’s more talk. There have been years when there’s been no talk where nothing is going on,” Harbaugh said. “More in the National Football League, for whatever reason, this year seems to be the year where it kind of broke open as far as trades.

“I know there’s a lot of talk, but I don’t really know the details of too much of it. We’ll see what happens.”

Patriots-Ravens roster shuffling

Harbaugh admitted losing veteran cornerback and special-teams standout Justin Bethel to New England was “not ideal,” but the Ravens came away with two former Patriots by the end of last week.

The Ravens signed veteran safety Jordan Richards after he was waived to make roster room for Bethel.

“He was the best available special teams guy,” Harbaugh said. “It’s kind of ironic the way it worked out, but they had to let somebody go. They let him go, and it was a good addition for us.”

Baltimore also signed defensive end Ufomba Kamalu off the Patriots practice squad. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound lineman registered three sacks in 13 games with Houston from 2016-17 and appeared in two games with the Patriots last season.

His roster status could largely depend on what happens by Tuesday’s deadline, but the coaching staff is interested in taking a look at Kamalu, who’s shown some versatility in limited opportunities.

“He’s kind of trying to find his way right now, but we thought he was a good fit,” Harbaugh said. “He was a good fit in their system. He’s probably also a good fit in our system, the way he plays with his hands. He’s square. He’s a physical guy. He’s big and he can move, so it’ll be fun to watch him. He’s versatile. He has played outside linebacker, even the rush position that we have that Pernell was playing. He’s also played down as a 5-technique and a defensive end, even a 4-technique for them.”

Young undergoes neck surgery

Harbaugh confirmed Young had surgery to repair a disc problem that surfaced in early August and cost him the entire season.

Young had hoped to avoid surgery with a more conservative rehabilitation approach after he was placed on IR at the end of the preseason. The 2016 fourth-round pick signed a three-year contract extension in February that runs through the 2022 season and is worth $25.8 million with $13 million guaranteed.

“I was told it went well. I think he’s in and out right now with his rehab,” Harbaugh said. “I think he told me he’d see me soon. He has to take care of whatever his program is on that, but he’s on track.”

Rookie cornerback designated to return to practice

Sidelined since August with toe and hamstring injuries, rookie cornerback Iman Marshall was designated to return from IR and began practicing Monday.

The 2019 fourth-round pick from USC now has a 21-day practice window in which the organization will evaluate his progress and decided whether to move him to the active roster. The Ravens aren’t required to activate Marshall, but he now counts as the first of two designations to return they may use. He would remain on IR for the remainder of the year if not activated by the end of the window.

The Ravens’ only other return candidate at this point appears to be safety Brynden Trawick, who was placed on IR with an elbow injury on Oct. 3 and isn’t eligible to return to game action until December.

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