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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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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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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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peters

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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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jimmysmith

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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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Ravens beef up injury-depleted secondary with Peters addition

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Having watched the Ravens secondary be ravaged by injuries since the start of training camp, general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t wait around until the Oct. 29 trade deadline to act.

Sending disappointing second-year inside linebacker Kenny Young and a reported 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to boost a pass defense ranking a disappointing 25th in the NFL. Peters should immediately step into the starting lineup opposite standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey and help stabilize a secondary that’s gone from one of the league’s deepest to a question mark in only weeks.

A 2015 first-round pick out of Washington, Peters has led the NFL with 24 interceptions over the last five years and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons with Kansas City. Traded to the Rams after the 2017 campaign, the 26-year-old shook off a rough start with his new team last year to help Los Angeles advance to Super Bowl LIII.

Pro Football Focus has graded the 6-foot, 195-pound Peters as the 14th-best cornerback in the NFL this season, the final year of his rookie contract paying him $9.069 million. His uncertain contract status was believed to be the driving force behind the Rams’ decision to part with Peters despite having just placed other starting cornerback Aqib Talib on injured reserve this week.

(Updated 8 p.m. — The Rams acquired cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville in exchange for two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick Tuesday evening.)

In six games this season, Peters has registered two interceptions, 14 tackles, and four pass breakups.

The Ravens have been decimated by injuries at the cornerback position after losing above-average nickel back Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury in August and veteran starter Jimmy Smith to a Week 1 knee injury that’s sidelined him for the last five games. Making matters worse have been the recent season-ending knee injuries sustained by veteran starter Tony Jefferson and second-year reserve DeShon Elliott at the safety position. In Smith’s absence, Baltimore had been relying on unproven cornerbacks such as Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett, who had both been picked on in coverage at various points since Week 2.

With Smith believed to be nearing a return, it will be interesting to see how the secondary shakes out as the Ravens now have three high-profile cornerbacks who’ve mostly played on the outside in their careers. It’s worth noting, however, that Humphrey has lined up in the slot some when traveling with opponents’ No. 1 receivers in recent weeks.

Veteran Brandon Carr has served as the primary nickel in Tavon Young’s absence this season, but he did practice a good bit at safety in the spring and summer, giving defensive coordinator Wink Martindale another potential wrinkle. In response to their problems at inside linebacker, the Ravens played quite a few snaps in a dime package against Cincinnati in Week 6 that featured strong safety Chuck Clark moving to the “Mike” linebacker spot and Elliott playing on the back end next to free safety Earl Thomas.

After reportedly showing interest in Ramsey last month, DeCosta was still able to address an immediate concern without the same long-term risk by trading a young player who had fallen out of favor and a Day 3 pick. Should the Ravens choose not to re-sign Peters to a lucrative extension in the offseason, they would likely receive an attractive compensatory pick in the 2021 draft.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether DeCosta will be able to address a pass rush that’s been perceived as a greater concern than the depleted secondary since the start of the season. Having lost outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, Baltimore is tied for 24th in the league with just 11 sacks in six games.

With a two-game lead in the AFC North and about to face six teams with a .500 or better record over their next seven games, the Ravens clearly signaled their strong intentions to contend in the AFC with Tuesday’s trade.

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Elliott goes down with latest season-ending injury in Ravens secondary

Posted on 14 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The injury hits to the Ravens secondary keep on coming.

A week after starting safety Tony Jefferson suffered a torn ACL, reserve safety DeShon Elliott sustained a knee injury against Cincinnati that’s expected to sideline him for the rest of the season. The second-year defensive back hurt his left knee in a collision with teammate Justin Bethel on a deep pass intended for Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s just way worse than we thought it was going to be — that the doctors thought after the game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s preliminary, but it sounded like they were pretty confident that it wasn’t good. We’ll go with that until further notice, and that’s where we’re at. We’ll have to find a replacement there and move forward.”

A 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas, Elliott had just stepped into a larger role as the top backup behind starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, playing a career-high 27 defensive snaps and finishing with one tackle and a pass breakup in the 23-17 win. The 22-year-old missed his entire rookie season with a fractured forearm and turned heads with his play during spring and summer practices.

With the Ravens revamping the inside linebacker position over the last two weeks and playing without starter Patrick Onwuasor against Cincinnati, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale frequently used sub packages that didn’t include any traditional inside linebackers as Elliott entered at safety and Clark played in the box. Elliott’s injury leaves Baltimore with only one healthy reserve safety — dime back Anthony Levine — behind Thomas and Clark, making an outside addition likely. Safety A.J. Howard was signed to the practice squad last week, but the Appalachian State product hasn’t appeared in an NFL game after going undrafted last year.

The Ravens began the regular season with six safeties on the 53-man roster before losing veteran reserve Brynden Trawick (elbow), Jefferson, and now Elliott. Cornerback Maurice Canady also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring issue, which forced Bethel — almost exclusively a special-teams player — into fourth-quarter action against the Bengals.

“I don’t know to what degree,” said Harbaugh about Canady’s hamstring injury. “I’d say he’s probably day-to-day. We’ll see how he does Wednesday, Thursday.”

It remains unclear when cornerback Jimmy Smith will return to practice after missing his fifth straight game with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee. The Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury and rookie corner Iman Marshall to a toe injury in August, but the latter remains eligible to return later this season.

Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 7 availability of Onwuasor and top wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both missed Sunday’s game with right ankle injuries suffered against Pittsburgh. The two remain “day-to-day” after missing practices all last week.

“If we see them practicing as the week goes on, we’ll be confident that they can play,” Harbaugh said. “If we don’t, then we won’t. They both have ankles that they’re dealing with, and those things just kind of heal when they heal.

“They had a chance [to play Sunday]; I was told that they had a chance for the game. After Friday, it didn’t look as good. They just didn’t feel that they were there, and they weren’t.”

After this Sunday’s game at Seattle, the Ravens will welcome their Week 8 bye to try to get healthy for a challenging second-half schedule.

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Ravens defense aiming to finish job against Kansas City this time

Posted on 20 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The numbers are very good for the Ravens defense so far.

Through two games, Baltimore is second in total defense, first in rush defense, fourth in points allowed, fifth in third-down defense, and tied for ninth inside the red zone. You’ll gladly take that kind of defensive profile over the course of the season with few concerns.

But what have we truly learned about the Ravens defense watching games against what could be the worst team in modern NFL history (Miami) and a rebuilding team with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start (Arizona)? Appropriately praising Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense for setting franchise records in Week 1 is one thing, but how do you judge a defense that does about what you’d expect of any good unit against such competition?

The Baltimore defense was always going to be good, but it’s a matter of just how good, a relevant question when you’re traveling to Arrowhead Stadium for the best game of Week 3.

“Miami was Miami. They’re struggling this year,” said six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas about the unit’s performance through two games. “But last week [against Arizona], we kind of felt a little type of way because we didn’t dominate like we wanted to dominate. It was a lot of well-schemed-up plays. We got to watch the tape, and we learned from those mistakes.

“Hopefully, we get them corrected once we get out there against Kansas City because it’s a copycat league.”

Yes, the Ravens were without cornerback Jimmy Smith — and will be again Sunday — and were already dealing with the loss of nickel corner Tavon Young, but surrendering 349 passing yards, 6.5 yards per play, and seven pass plays of 20 or more yards to Kyler Murray and the Cardinals don’t look like harbingers for success against 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s difficult to expect the same results on third down and inside the red zone against an offense that scored just over 35 points per game last year and has averaged nearly as many (34.0) in two road wins to begin 2019.

Still, the Ravens were that close to knocking off the Chiefs in a 27-24 overtime loss last December, which should give them plenty of confident going into Sunday.

It’s a different year, of course, with the likes of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and Eric Weddle out of the picture, but the formula for success remains as the defense allowed just 24 points in regulation in that Week 14 clash, the Chiefs’ lowest output of the 2018 season. The Chiefs won’t have star wide receiver Tyreek Hill and starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but there’s still four-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and no shortage of speed at wide receiver.

Most importantly, they have Mahomes, whose sensational 48-yard completion to Hill on fourth-and-9 kept his team alive and allowed them to tie the game late in the fourth quarter last year.

“You have to handle the series of events,” defensive coordiantor Wink Martindale said. “He’s going to make plays. We know that going in. But what we can’t do is let him make too many plays, and then we have to play great red-zone defense.”

The Ravens did that for long stretches of last year’s game, holding Kansas City scoreless on four of five possessions in the third and fourth quarters and forcing field goals on two of five trips inside the red zone. With Jackson and the offense confident and playing at a higher level than last year, you’d love the Ravens’ chances to win with a comparable defensive performance. But if this one turns into a full-blown shootout, is the Ravens offense truly ready to go toe to toe with an proven heavyweight in a hostile environment for 60 minutes?

Keeping the Chiefs in the mid-20s on the scoreboard is easier said than done with their offense already completing 14 passes of 20 or more yards, two more than the explosive Ravens. That’s with the speedy Hill having played just 12 snaps before injuring his shoulder in the season opener, forcing the Chiefs to turn to veteran Sammy Watkins and younger options Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.

Thomas believes he’s just the guy to limit those offensive explosions, something the Ravens didn’t do on Mahomes’ game-saving play to Hill last season. It’s a big reason why general manager Eric DeCosta made the four-year, $55 million investment in the former Seattle Seahawk’s services.

“I think that comes down to personnel,” Thomas said. “Luckily, the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end. I plan on eliminating all the big plays.”

It isn’t just about the vertical passing game as Kelce can frustrate defenses in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field and Kansas City uses its running backs as receivers out of the backfield as effectively as anyone. That creates quite the challenge for strong safety Tony Jefferson and Ravens linebackers, who all experienced hiccups in pass coverage last week. As head coach John Harbaugh noted, the Ravens will throw enough coverage looks at Kelce to “try to keep the batting average down just a little bit,” understanding he’s going to make his share of plays.

Perhaps more than anything, we’ll truly find out about the pass rush that was scrutinized throughout the spring and summer. Thanks to promising starts by Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens lead the league with 20 quarterback hits over the first two weeks, but Pro Football Focus ranked Arizona 30th and Miami 32nd in its offensive line rankings entering the season. It’s nothing for which to apologize, of course, but drawing conclusions against that level of competition would be premature.

The good news for the Ravens is that the Chiefs will be depending on former Cleveland first-round bust Cam Erving at left tackle to protect Mahomes’ blind side. If Martindale’s defense wants to approach the 15 quarterback hits registered in Kansas City last December, that matchup will be one to exploit.

Amid the hype for Mahomes-Jackson II, the Ravens have a great opportunity to avenge last December’s loss while proclaiming themselves legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a win. It’s the kind of game in which we used to ask if the offense would be able to do enough, but times are certainly changing and a younger defense is aiming to prove its standard remains high in matchups such as these.

If the defense can again keep Mahomes and the Chiefs from lighting up the scoreboard, there’s no reason to think Jackson and an improved offense won’t get the job done. And if it again come down to the ball being in Mahomes’ hands late, there’s experience from which to draw.

“You have to play to the whistle,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He’s a guy that can extend the play — smart guy, big arm, strong arm. You’ve got to lock in each and every down. They have a lot of different movements and gadgets and a lot of different things going on with their offense, so you have to have disciplined eye control, 100 percent communication, and just play as a unit for 60 minutes.”

Sixty minutes, indeed.

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Needing cornerback depth, Ravens promote Canady to 53-man roster

Posted on 14 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens boosted their depth at cornerback by promoting fourth-year player Maurice Canady from the practice squad to the 53-man roster ahead of Sunday’s home opener against Arizona.

Baltimore waived reserve offensive tackle Greg Senat to make room for Canady.

With the Cardinals’ “Air Raid” offense using four wide receivers on roughly two-thirds of their plays last week — more than the rest of the NFL combined — and veteran Jimmy Smith out with a right knee injury, Baltimore chose to add Canady to the game-day mix behind the current top three of Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, and Anthony Averett. The Ravens also had cornerbacks Cyrus Jones and Justin Bethel active in Week 1, but both are viewed more as special-teams contributors than defensive players.

On Friday, head coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence in the cornerback group without Smith, but he left open the possibility of making a roster move prior to Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

“We could consider it. We’ll see where that goes,” Harbaugh said. “Yes, we’re good with what we’ve got. Yes, we could consider making a move.”

Canady was waived at the end of the preseason and re-signed to the practice squad as a valuable depth piece after the Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury in August and placed rookie cornerback Iman Marshall on injured reserve earlier this month. A 2016 sixth-round pick, Canady has appeared in 19 career games and collected 34 tackles and one pass breakup. He has the ability to play outside or inside as a nickel back, a role he played in the second half of the 2017 season.

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith exits Sunday’s win with knee injury

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The only damper on a spectacular record-setting performance by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in their 59-10 demolition of Miami Sunday was another injury to a secondary already testing its depth.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. The 31-year-old limped off the field and went to the locker room soon after inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor fell into Smith’s right knee on the sixth defensive snap of the game. Smith returned to the sideline in the second half wearing street clothes.

“It’s not a season-ending injury as far as we know right now,” head coach John Harbaugh. “It does not look like that at all. I’m sure he’ll get an MRI tomorrow. We’ll just see if it’s days or weeks or what. We’ll know tomorrow after we get the MRI.”

The Ravens were already dealing with the loss of standout slot cornerback Tavon Young, who sustained a season-ending neck injury last month. Rookie fourth-round cornerback Iman Marshall was also placed on injured reserve last week, but he remains eligible to return later in the season.

With Smith out, the Ravens turned to second-year cornerback Anthony Averett on the outside with veteran cornerback Brandon Carr now playing extensive snaps inside at the nickel in Young’s absence. Averett fell down in coverage on the Dolphins’ lone touchdown of the day to wide receiver Preston Williams late in the second quarter, but the 2018 fourth-round pick from Alabama finished with four tackles and a pass breakup.

“It’s always tough to see one of my boys go down,” said Carr, who played in his 177th consecutive regular-season game Sunday. “We put so much work into this game and we know it can be taken away at the blink of an eye, and that’s what happened to [Smith].

“Of course, the football game is the next-man-up mentality, and we had [Averett] that’s been champing at the bit to get out there and make some plays. He had his work cut out for him today, but he made some big plays for us and he had some fun.”

Injuries have been the story of the talented Smith’s career as he’s played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his first eight years. The 2011 first-round pick is in the final year of his contract and is making $9.5 million this season.

The Baltimore defense had two interceptions against the Dolphins with six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas picking off a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass on his first defensive series as a Raven and cornerback Marlon Humphrey intercepting Miami backup Josh Rosen on the first play of the fourth quarter.

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