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Mosley receives record-setting contract from New York Jets

Posted on 12 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have lost a third former Pro Bowl player on their top-ranked defense from a year ago.

According to NFL Network, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley will receive a massive five-year, $85 million deal from the New York Jets that includes $51 million guaranteed. The deal makes the four-time Pro Bowl selection the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history and shatters the eyebrow-raising four-year, $54 million contract San Francisco awarded veteran linebacker Kwon Alexander on Monday. The Ravens had deemed keeping Mosley a priority and the 2014 first-round pick had repeatedly expressed his desire to stay despite the sides being slow to engage in extension talks last year, but general manager Eric DeCosta was not willing to go as high as the Jets’ lucrative final offer.

DeCosta will now be tasked with rebuilding a Baltimore defense that has already said goodbye to seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle. Those two were well into their 30s and nearing the end of their respective careers, but the loss of the 26-year-old Mosley represents uncharted territory for the Ravens, who had never lost a multi-time Pro Bowl selection in his mid-20s. Baltimore also lost 2018 sack leader Za’Darius Smith, who agreed to a deal with the Green Bay Packers later on Tuesday.

Despite suffering a knee injury in Week 2 that cost him nearly two full games this past season, Mosley played in 15 games and led the Ravens with 105 tackles. His lone interception of 2018 came in the closing moments of the regular-season finale to seal a 26-24 win over Cleveland and Baltimore’s first AFC North championship since 2012.

Selected with the 17th overall pick of the 2014 draft out of Alabama, Mosley was tabbed as the successor to Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who had retired the previous offseason. That responsiblity was one Mosley took seriously, but it led to unfair expectations for some of his critics who were quick to point out his relative deficiencies, particularly in pass coverage. Mosley missed only three games in five seasons and concludes his run with the Ravens fifth on their all-time tackles list behind only Lewis, Suggs, Kelly Gregg, and Ed Reed.

How the Ravens replace Mosley’s presence in the middle of the defense remains to be seen, but weak-side inside linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young are both in line for increased responsibilities. The young duo combined to play fewer snaps (803) than Mosley (875) last year, but the Ravens could also look to add a cheaper veteran or another inside linebacker in April’s draft.

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Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Suggs leaving Ravens after 16 seasons

Posted on 11 March 2019 by Luke Jones

If you weren’t convinced the Ravens defense was entering a new era, Monday brought the biggest sign yet as one of the best players in franchise history is saying goodbye.

After seven Pro Bowls, a Defensive Player of the Year award, a Super Bowl championship, and three times as many career sacks as all but two other Ravens, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is expected to sign with Arizona, ending an incredible 16-year run with the organization that selected him with the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft. The 36-year-old free agent often expressed hope of staying with the Ravens for the remainder of his career, but he acknowledged the possibility of that not happening at the end of last season. The Cardinals provide Suggs the opportunity to return home as he attended high school in Arizona and was an All-American standout at Arizona State.

New general manager Eric DeCosta said last month he wanted Suggs to return for a 17th season, which would have tied Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis for the longest tenure in Ravens history. It remains unclear how far apart the sides might have been in contract talks.

“I think Sizz is definitely a guy that we want back,” DeCosta said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. “This is a good opportunity for us to meet with his agents this week, which will happen in the next few days. He’s a guy that means a lot to our franchise as a player, but also as a leader. I would love to have him back next year.”

Suggs is the second key veteran to leave Baltimore’s top-ranked defense after Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle was released last week and signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Free-agent inside linebacker C.J. Mosley would become the third Pro Bowl defensive player to depart if the Ravens can’t strike a new deal with their 2014 first-round pick.

With Suggs set to join the Cardinals and fellow free agent Za’Darius Smith likely departing as well, the Ravens’ top remaining options opposite starting strong-side outside linebacker Matthew Judon are Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, a pair of 2017 Day 2 draft choices who have yet to live up to expectations at the next level.

Suggs started 16 games last season, collecting 34 tackles, seven sacks, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a fumble return for a touchdown. However, he registered just 1 1/2 sacks over the last 10 games of the season, which included the home playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Pro Football Focus graded Suggs as the 36th-best edge defender in the NFL in 2018.

The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year and owner of seven double-digit sack seasons is first on the Ravens’ career sacks list with 132 1/2 while the next two on the list — Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary — combined for 121. Suggs’ 33 career forced fumbles also top the franchise career list.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 07 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing and bracing for the start of NFL free agency next week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The re-signing of Nick Boyle even after Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews were selected early in last year’s draft signals how important tight ends will remain despite much chatter about the redesign of the Baltimore offense. Expect an abundance of “12” personnel to continue.

2. The Ravens were able to keep Boyle off the market so close to free agency and reports suggested there being much interest in his services, but I’m still not convinced another team would have made him a top-15 tight end in terms of average annual value. He wasn’t cheap.

3. Boyle deserves credit for bouncing back from two performance-enhancing drug suspensions to establish himself as a legitimate NFL player. He was on shaky footing just a couple years ago before maximizing opportunities that might not have been there without injuries to others.

4. Opinions remain split on the lengths to go to keep C.J. Mosley — I’m torn myself — but saying he shouldn’t make as much as Luke Kuechly’s $12.359 million average annual value ignores his deal being nearly four years old and the salary cap increasing by over 31 percent since 2015.

5. I have little doubt Eric DeCosta will find a replacement for Eric Weddle with superior physical tools and the potential to offer better individual play, but accounting for his football intellect and how it impacted the defense will be difficult, especially if there are other veteran departures.

6. I’ll continue to bang the drum about the wide receiver position — shocking, I know — but it’s hard to be encouraged by the list of projected free agents and the salaries they’ll likely command. Hey, Ryan Grant is available again.

7. Terrell Suggs hitting the market wouldn’t be a bad thing for him or the Ravens. Either he’ll gain peace of mind before re-signing or be able to choose between more money and extending his legacy in Baltimore. My guess is this turns out more like Ray Lewis than Ed Reed.

8. With Weddle’s release to save $7.5 million in salary cap space, the Ravens probably have enough room to not be forced to do anything with Jimmy Smith before the market opens. His $15.85 million cap figure remains problematic, but DeCosta has options that could even stretch into the spring.

9. As DeMarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, and Dee Ford all received the franchise tag, I couldn’t help but think of Za’Darius Smith with dollar signs in his eyes.

10. DeCosta lamenting young players lost in recent years gained attention, but who are all these individuals? Kelechi Osemele comes to mind and maybe Rick Wagner, but who else based on the contracts they received elsewhere? I’d contest the shortage of young players warranting a second deal was the bigger problem.

11. There’s plenty of intrigue with the Ravens’ offseason, but I can’t help but be fascinated by Pittsburgh’s current turmoil and Cleveland coming off a seven-win season and sporting over $80 million in cap space. The AFC North could look very different this coming season.

12. Boyle’s new contract was positive news worthy of recognition, but omitting his name in the release announcing the press conference led to negative reaction when fans later learned it wasn’t a bigger name like Mosley. That wasn’t fair to Boyle and could have been avoided by just being direct.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on DeCosta, Harbaugh remarks from NFL combine

Posted on 28 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh answering questions at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you had simply read the transcript, DeCosta sounded very similar to Ozzie Newsome speaking at his first combine as the general manager, which isn’t surprising as few executives and coaches tip their hands with free agency two weeks away.

2. The balance between keeping as much of the defense together as possible and building a stronger offense continues to strike me as a difficult task, especially factoring the age of some key defensive players. This is what happens when trying to rebuild on the fly.

3. DeCosta expressed pride in the Ravens’ identity being built on defense historically and stated a desire to continue that tradition. It’s understandable, but Baltimore continuing that philosophy has netted one playoff win since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed suited up for the final time.

4. Harbaugh expects Marshal Yanda to continue playing, which is great news for an offensive line that could already stand to improve inside. The seven-time Pro Bowl guard is entering the final year of his contract and probably could play at a high level longer than that if he wants.

5. While dancing around questions about Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith, DeCosta said he expects Brandon Carr to return, which could be bad news for Smith and his $15.85 million cap number. Carr is older, but he’s cheaper, more durable, and coming off a more consistent season than Smith.

6. DeCosta didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of using the franchise tag on C.J. Mosley, but he made it clear a long-term deal remains the goal with talks “ongoing” and expected to continue with agent Jimmy Sexton in Indianapolis. This figures to be a critical week on that front.

7. The Ravens brass being complimentary of John Brown wasn’t surprising, but I remain skeptical there’s a great fit there — from his perspective — in terms of price tag and offensive philosophy. Either way, he should do well in what appears to be an underwhelming free-agent market for wide receivers.

8. Terrell Suggs stated his intentions months ago to continue playing in 2019, but talks will be delicate in trying to be realistic about the 36-year-old’s current value without insulting someone who’s been so critical to the organization. You hope something can be worked out that makes sense for both sides.

9. Harbaugh praised the inside-outside versatility and intensity of Za’Darius Smith, but the lack of discussion about Baltimore’s 2018 sack leader reflects how few expect him to return. His market should be interesting, especially if a few other free-agent pass rushers indeed receive the franchise tag.

10. DeCosta summed up his thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability by saying, “We certainly want to keep him healthy, but we also want to win and … score points.” The keys are his passing development and adding enough talent to diminish the need for him to run 15-plus times per game.

11. Harbaugh acknowledged the organization’s need to draft and develop wide receivers more effectively while DeCosta said, “We’ve got to add playmakers.” Yes.

12. Counting the Joe Flacco trade and the Michael Crabtree release, the Ravens are already dealing with nearly $22 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. With another big release or two still very possible, that figure is shaping up to be their largest amount since 2015.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Flacco trade to Denver

Posted on 13 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to trade longtime quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick next month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Credit Eric DeCosta for extracting value from an inevitable divorce, especially after the organization hadn’t even tried to be coy about its intentions. I was skeptical he’d find a trade partner. Taking the entire $16 million dead money hit in 2019 will leave a clean salary cap for 2020.

2. Flacco will be remembered in part for what he never became — below-average post-Super Bowl numbers bear that out — but he was the best quarterback in team history and, most importantly, a champion. The Ravens are lucky he passed their way after years wasted in the quarterback doldrums.

3. It’s easy to say Flacco didn’t live up to his historic contract signed after his 2012 postseason, but the organization never adjusted upon seeing he couldn’t do it by himself, continuing to prioritize defense and putting far fewer resources into the offense. The letdown was mutual at the very least.

4. He’d never admit something that’s subconscious anyway, but I don’t think Flacco has recovered mentally from his 2015 ACL injury. Some free-agent departures on the offensive line didn’t help, but his tendencies to check down and feel pressure even when it wasn’t there became more pronounced after the injury.

5. The Ravens dumping Anquan Boldin remains indefensible six years later, but the post-Super Bowl fall of Ray Rice was even more devastating to Flacco’s career considering what he produced as a receiver out of the backfield. Baltimore still hasn’t come close to replacing that element.

6. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are among the best Ravens ever, but they didn’t own a single playoff win until 2008. Flacco benefited greatly from them too, of course, but you wonder what could have been if he’d come along five years earlier instead of Kyle Boller.

7. Of the Ravens’ 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17, Crockett Gillmore, Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Ronnie Stanley were the only offensive players selected. Flacco’s hefty contract never explained that.

8. Durability was one of Flacco’s biggest strengths early in his career, but injuries have either disrupted his preparation or cost him games in each of the last four seasons. It’s tough seeing that trend improving as the 34-year-old enters his 12th year in the NFL.

9. I never understood the criticism of Flacco not making his receivers better. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace became 1,000-yard receivers again after appearing to be in decline elsewhere. Torrey Smith’s numbers crashed as soon as he departed. Who are these former Ravens receivers who suddenly blossomed elsewhere?

10. It’s strange to think exactly six years, two months, and one day after the “Mile High Miracle,” the Broncos will officially welcome Flacco to Denver. I’m guessing Rahim Moore and Jacoby Jones won’t be at the introductory press conference.

11. Flacco didn’t perform to his record contract, but he remained a good teammate and never complained about the aforementioned variables that didn’t help his cause. Yes, he made a ton of money, but that hasn’t stopped other high-priced athletes from being malcontents over the years.

12. What would you really change about the Flacco era? The Ravens weren’t letting the Super Bowl MVP walk, and he had extraordinary contract leverage. The success early in his career should far outweigh the last several years in which he and Baltimore remained competitive but weren’t quite good enough.

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How did Ravens linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 08 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl 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 extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens linebackers ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen

Terrell Suggs
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 744
PFF ranking: 36th among edge defenders
Skinny: The 36-year-old appeared on his way to another double-digit sack season with 5 1/2 through the first seven games, but he slowed considerably with just 1 1/2 the rest of the way. Suggs remains a solid player, but his price tag as a free agent will likely determine whether he stays a Raven.

C.J. Mosley
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 875
PFF ranking: 22nd among linebackers
Skinny: His PFF grade didn’t align with a fourth trip to the Pro Bowl in five years, but Mosley remains one of the NFL’s top inside linebackers. Eric DeCosta has made it clear retaining him is a top priority, but are the Ravens willing to potentially have to pay Mosley upwards of $14 million per season?

Matthew Judon
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 674
PFF ranking: 54th among edge defenders
Skinny: Judon never seems to grade favorably in PFF’s eyes, but he’s become a well-rounded starter on the Baltimore defense over the last two seasons and played very well late in the season. The Ravens should at least explore a long-term deal this offseason as Judon is scheduled to hit the market after 2019.

Za’Darius Smith
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 690
PFF ranking: 33rd among edge defenders
Skinny: His steady improvement over the last few years resulted in a breakout campaign as he led the Ravens with 8 1/2 sacks and had PFF’s 15th-best pass-rushing grade. Smith is the kind of free agent who has usually departed in the past, but does the lack of an heir apparent for Suggs force Baltimore’s hand?

Patrick Onwuasor
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 434
PFF ranking: 40th among linebackers
Skinny: Most expected Onwuasor to lose his starting job in favor of rookie Kenny Young, but the former was one of the defense’s best players down the stretch. The former undrafted linebacker is a restricted free agent and will likely receive a second-round tender to keep other teams from pursuing his services.

Kenny Young
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 369
PFF ranking: 67th among linebackers
Skinny: The fourth-round pick appeared to hit the rookie wall as the season progressed, but he still contributed and has flashed enough upside to become a legitimate starter in the future. Young needs to improve in coverage and to play faster in general, but much of that will come with more experience.

Tyus Bowser
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 162
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2017 second-round pick managed to play only one more defensive snap than he did as a rookie and hasn’t established himself as anything more than a special-teams player. Opportunities will remain in 2019, but time is running out for Bowser to avoid being Baltimore’s latest second-round bust.

Tim Williams
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 119
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2017 third-round pick appeared to be establishing himself as a situational pass rusher with two sacks over the first four games before he hurt his ankle and fell out of favor in the second half of the season. Like with Bowser, the clock is ticking on Williams, who wasn’t active again after Week 8.

Chris Board
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 14
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The rookie free agent from North Dakota State was one of the feel-good stories of the preseason and essentially replaced former special-teams pillar Albert McClellan. Board will now try to develop into a versatile depth option at linebacker in addition to maintaining his prominent role on special teams.

2019 positional outlook

No position group holds as much potential volatility right now as you can envision plausible scenarios for the Ravens keeping or losing any of Mosley, Suggs, and Smith. How DeCosta proceeds at this position will be fascinating when considering the other needs on each side of the ball, but you wouldn’t expect Baltimore to allow all three free agents to exit with so many unproven options waiting in the wings. Regardless of what happens with Suggs or Smith, the Ravens need to be looking for another edge rusher in this year’s draft because of the lack of progress from Bowser and Williams. Of course, Mosley accepting a lucrative payday elsewhere would instantly move inside linebacker up the list of positional needs.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2019 class of free agents

Posted on 09 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens enter their most interesting offseason in recent memory after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson helped lead them to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2019 salary cap commitment of roughly $163 million to 45 players (not including free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future deals), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2019 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

New general manager Eric DeCosta is likely to clear additional cap space by renegotiating or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. Of course, that list will be headlined by former starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be traded or released after 11 seasons in Baltimore. A trade or pre-June 1 release will save $10.5 million in cap space while leaving $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap, but Jackson’s $2.1 million cap number for next season makes that dead money easier to endure.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are other potential candidates to be cap casualties. Those decisions will depend on how drastically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year replacing Ozzie Newsome.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2019 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any team beginning on March 13 at 4 p.m.

RB Buck Allen The former fourth-rounder went from leading Ravens backs in snaps in some early games to being a healthy scratch late in the season, but his special-teams ability helps his value.

TE Nick Boyle He doesn’t offer too much as a receiver, but Boyle’s blocking ability was a critical part of Greg Roman’s run-game schemes, making his return a bigger priority than you might think.

WR John Brown The speedy wideout says he’s open to returning, but he caught only 10 passes for 128 yards in Jackson’s eight starts, which certainly didn’t do any favors for his market value.

QB Robert Griffin III The former first-round pick was a helpful mentor to Jackson and is open to returning as his primary backup unless he receives an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere.

RB Ty Montgomery – Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery is good in pass protection and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited duty, but the Ravens may want to look elsewhere.

LB C.J. Mosley – The Ravens would certainly love to keep the four-time Pro Bowl selection, but they may need to make him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker to do it, making this a tougher call.

LB Za’Darius Smith The versatile pass rusher isn’t the type of player Baltimore has typically re-signed to a big contract in the past, but other in-house options haven’t exactly stepped up.

LB Terrell Suggs The 36-year-old plans to return for a 17th NFL season and wants it to be with the Ravens, but his quiet second half of the season and asking price will be factors to consider.

DE Brent Urban The oft-injured lineman played in all 16 games and didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but a return on another cheap deal doesn’t appear out of the question.

TE Maxx Williams Though he never lived up to his second-round draft standing and makes minimal impact as a receiver, Williams developed into a useful blocker over the last two seasons.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

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

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2019 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.149 million in 2018) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.914 million in 2018) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.907 million in 2018) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

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

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

RB Alex Collins (fifth) – Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2017, Collins once seemed like a good bet to receive a second-round tender, but a foot injury and disappointing production leave his future uncertain.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second) – The 6-foot-3 defensive back had a chance to make the team before breaking his arm late in the summer, but he could be back to compete for a spot on a cheap deal.

LB Patrick Onwuasor (undrafted) – A strong second half could prompt the Ravens to use a second-round tender on him to deter teams from pursuing him and to serve as insurance for Mosley.

DT Michael Pierce (undrafted) – Baltimore’s best defensive lineman this season, Pierce will likely receive the second-round tender and could be in line for a substantial payday after the 2019 campaign.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

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

WR Quincy Adeboyejo After missing the entire 2018 season, the 6-foot-3 wideout will compete for a roster spot after flashing from time to time in his first training camp in 2017.

RB Gus Edwards One of the great stories of 2018, the 238-pound back will go into his second season trying to maintain the starting job in a run-heavy offensive attack.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor The 2017 fifth-round pick spent a few weeks on the practice squad early in the season and will again be competing for a job on the 53-man roster

C Matt Skura The former practice-squad member started all 16 games at center, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens seek an upgrade at this important position along the offensive line.

RB De’Lance Turner It’s easy to forget Turner received a practice-squad promotion before Edwards, but he’ll be fighting for a spot after spending most of the season on injured reserve.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-17 loss to Chargers

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ season coming to an end in a 23-17 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I understand John Harbaugh wanted to make it a one-score game when he had Justin Tucker try a 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter, but the decision was surprising based on analytics and his team’s psyche. Even before the miss, it felt like a demoralizing choice.

2. The Ravens made clear they were just about finished with Joe Flacco during the draft and reached the point of no return when Harbaugh officially benched him. Considering the Chargers’ pass rush, I didn’t have an issue with leaving someone who hadn’t played in over two months on the bench.

3. In the big picture that shouldn’t be ignored, Lamar Jackson remaining in the game and finding some late success was important. Harbaugh benching him at the first sign of trouble would have been a tough message for Jackson — and the entire locker room — to forget this offseason.

4. Lost in the disappointment was another strong defensive performance as the Chargers were held to one touchdown and Philip Rivers averaged just 5.0 yards per passing attempt. Prior to the fourth quarter, this game very much reminded me of the excruciating 2006 playoff loss to Indianapolis.

5. Was fumbling on three consecutive offensive plays or going two hours in real time between pass completions the more embarrassing feat? It’s remarkable the Ravens didn’t lose by four touchdowns.

6. Matthew Judon registered two tackles for a loss and five quarterback hits in another superb effort. He really elevated his play down the stretch, which is significant since he’s the only starting-caliber outside linebacker under contract for 2019.

7. James Hurst is a hard worker and a high-character individual, but Sunday was a reminder that he’s better suited to be a versatile backup and not a starter. Pro Football Focus credited him with surrendering three sacks and a quarterback hit and gave him a 0.0 pass-blocking grade. Ouch.

8. Scheduled to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Onwuasor elevated his standing down the stretch as he recorded another forced fumble and a sack. With C.J. Mosley uncertain to return as an unrestricted free agent, Onwuasor’s emergence is even more significant.

9. The snap count was skewed by the final two drives, but I still can’t believe heavy formations and power rushing weren’t bigger factors against the Chargers’ quarter defense employing seven defensive backs. Nick Boyle played a season-low 18 snaps while Maxx Williams’ 17 were his fewest since Week 12.

10. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns don’t make up for a disappointing season from Michael Crabtree. It’ll be interesting to see how the wide receiver position plays out this offseason after the dramatic shift toward the running game, but his $9.33 million salary cap number for 2019 doesn’t sound appealing.

11. Playing fewer snaps than last season resulted in just 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 for Terrell Suggs, who reconfirmed his desire to continue playing for the Ravens while acknowledging that may not happen. Even if Suggs signs a cheap short-term deal, Eric DeCosta really must address this position.

12. I understand players reacting to fans booing in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss and admire their desire to stick up for Jackson, but they needed to move on by Monday’s media availability instead of fanning the flames. Robert Griffin III provided both an experienced and measured response HERE (4:00 mark).

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-24 win over Cleveland

Posted on 01 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first AFC North championship since 2012 with a 26-24 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The running game produced a season-high 296 yards and finished 2018 with the second-most rushing yards (2,441) in franchise history behind the 2003 team and ahead of the 2008 Ravens. What do those three playoff squads have in common? A rookie quarterback started a large portion of their games.

2. From going for a fourth-and-1 on the 48 on the first drive to using Cover 0 on the final four defensive plays, Baltimore was aggressive with the season on the line. Wink Martindale’s mindset was quite the contrast from rushing four and playing zone on fourth-and-12 last New Year’s Eve.

3. C.J. Mosley hasn’t had his best season and may not be worth the money required to re-sign him, but he made the game-sealing interception and was credited with four hurries by Pro Football Focus. I’ll maintain he’s underappreciated by much of a fan base using Ray Lewis as its standard.

4. Sam Koch deserves much credit for his 51-yard punt that put the Browns on their own 26 for their final drive. After a 37-yard return earlier, Antonio Callaway had nowhere to go near the sideline. A lesser punt very likely would have given Cleveland a potential game-winning field goal try.

5. The Ravens were an inch or two away from a 27-7 lead before Lamar Jackson’s fumble at the goal line. Not only were they fortunate a whistle prevented a Cleveland touchdown the other way, but the Browns failed to take advantage of further sloppy play from Baltimore before halftime.

6. Baker Mayfield made mistakes, but I couldn’t help but feel the Browns wasted plays at times trying to run and throw to the flats when they were having so much success pushing it down the field. The 7.6 yards per play allowed was easily a season worst for the Ravens.

7. Even in victory, it was concerning to see the offense unable to sustain a late drive to protect a one-score lead for the second straight contest. Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling inside the red zone and on that fourth-quarter drive was questionable.

8. It’s been an up-and-down season for Jimmy Smith, but he came up with the first two-interception game by a Baltimore player since 2013. Per PFF, he allowed just one catch for one yard on seven targets into his coverage. Especially with Marlon Humphrey struggling mightily, that was a critical performance.

9. The short-term ramifications of Sunday’s game dominated the attention, but I’ll gladly sign up for many more Jackson-Mayfield meetings in the years to come. Terrell Suggs’ praise for both rookies said it all. Ben Roethlisberger remains the AFC North quarterback king for now, but a shift is already underway.

10. John Brown registered games of 116 receiving yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 4 and 134 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans. Since Jackson became the starter, Brown has a total of eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. That’s rough playing on a one-year deal.

11. Sunday’s playoff contest will mark exactly six years since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed played their final home game as Ravens. It’s fitting Jackson, the most exciting player to arrive in Baltimore since Super Bowl XLVII, will start his first playoff game on that anniversary. What fun it should be.

12. Opinions differed on the black jerseys being paired with the purple pants for the first time, but I liked the unique look and hope to see it again, especially for a prime-time game. That was the 10th different uniform combination used by Baltimore this year. Oregon who?

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 30 December 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens just need to win.

Dreams of a first-round bye evaporated with New England and Houston handling their business in Week 17, but Baltimore clinches its first AFC North championship since 2012 and first playoff appearance since 2014 with a victory over Cleveland on Sunday. Of course, a loss coupled with a Pittsburgh win over Cincinnati would knock the Ravens out of the playoffs for a fourth straight season and the fifth time in six years. With the Patriots and Texans winning, the AFC North champion would remain the fourth seed in the conference.

Despite the Ravens issuing a statement last week announcing John Harbaugh would return in 2019 as the sides are working on a contract extension, speculation persists about the 11th-year head coach’s future. Multiple national outlets reported Sunday that NFL teams could seek a trade for Harbaugh’s services, especially if the Ravens were to lose in Week 17. Harbaugh remains under contract through the 2019 season.

There were no surprises among Baltimore’s inactives as linebacker Terrell Suggs (hamstring), wide receiver John Brown (hamstring), defensive back Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), and slot cornerback Tavon Young (groin) are all active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. However, guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is once again inactive despite practicing fully all week, making it apparent that he’s lost the starting left guard job to the combination of veteran James Hurst and rookie Bradley Bozeman.

Veteran running back Buck Allen was a healthy scratch for a second straight week while outside linebacker Tim Williams was deactivated for the eighth straight game, continuing his disappointing second season.

The Browns had already ruled out cornerback Denzel Ward on Friday as the rookie sensation continues to recover from a concussion. Cleveland starting center JC Tretter is active despite being listed as questionable with an ankle injury.

Sunday will mark the final regular-season game of Ozzie Newsome’s terrific 23-year run as Ravens general manager, making his photo a natural choice for the Week 17 game-day program cover (below). Longtime assistant general manager Eric DeCosta will take over at the end of the season with Newsome expected to remain with the organization in some capacity.

Sunday’s referee is Shawn Smith.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds light and variable and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their black jerseys with purple pants, the first time they’ve ever worn that uniform combination. Cleveland dons white tops with brown pants for its season finale.

Sunday marks the 40th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with the Ravens enjoying an overwhelming 29-10 advantage. Baltimore is 18-3 against Cleveland in the Harbaugh era, but the Browns are seeking their first season sweep of the Ravens since 2007, the last time they finished with a winning record.

The Ravens are trying to avoid a fourth consecutive Week 17 loss. Their last victory in a regular-season finale came in 2014 when they defeated the Browns to punch their ticket to the playoffs as a wild card.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
RB Buck Allen
FB/DL Patrick Ricard
LB Tim Williams
G Alex Lewis
DL Zach Sieler

CLEVELAND
CB Denzel Ward
QB Drew Stanton
WR Blake Jackson
OL Kyle Kalis
OL Desmond Harrison
DL Chad Thomas
DL Carl Davis

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