Some thoughts on the cuts and other moves the Ravens made to trim their roster to 53 players by Saturday's deadline:
I felt really good about my 53-man roster projection this year. Getting down to the limit seemed easier than usual. But a few surprises intervened and I wound up getting 50 correct. (Sigh.) I didn't expect them to cut defensive tackle Willie Henry, even after seeing him on the field late in Thursday night's preseason finale – never a good sign. I didn't expect them to keep nine offensive linemen. (I had them with eight.). I didn't have running back Kenneth Dixon going on injured reserve, ending his season. In the end, three guys who were not on my projection made the roster – tackle Greg Senat, linebacker Otaro Alaka and cornerback Iman Marshall. I'll try again next year.
For me, the biggest surprise is Henry. No, he hadn't stood out in training camp or the preseason, but he was coming off hernia surgery, had played well before, and I thought the Ravens were hoping he could eventually work his way up to a significant role pressuring quarterbacks from the interior. Now they'll have to find that pressure from another SBD (source to be determined). Cutting Zach Sieler and Gerald Willis along with Henry leaves them with just five defensive linemen, and yes, I hear you, that seems like too few. But football is changing. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is fond of using linebackers instead of linemen in certain situations, lessening the need for a large stock of linemen. Still, look for multiple guys at this position to land on the practice squad.
Who are the big winners? You have to start with Trace McSorley, who made the team so easily as a No. 3 quarterback that there was little doubt he'd survive Saturday's cutdown. His prospects were far less certain a month ago, but an injury to the No. 2 quarterback, Robert Griffin III, turned the preseason into the Trace McSorley Show, and he took full advantage, playing so well that the Ravens feared they'd lose him if they cut him and tried to put him on their practice squad. Other winners? Jaleel Scott earned a job over a crowded field at wide receiver. Senat seemed squarely on the bubble after drawing several holding penalties Thursday night, but he survived. Alaka and offensive lineman Patrick Mekari certainly are winners, making the 53 as undrafted rookies. That's 16 years in a row for an UDFA to make the 53 in Baltimore.
Here's a look at the initial roster for the 2019 season.
Since it was revealed earlier this month that slot cornerback Tavon Young had suffered a neck injury, the Ravens had quietly held out hope that he might be able to return late in the season, prompting doubts about what they would do with him Saturday. But they made a definitive move, putting Young on season-ending injured reserve. Who will replace him? One of the candidates, Maurice Canady, was cut Saturday, but he was not at the top of the list of possibilities. The job could go to Cyrus Jones, also the team's primary punt returner, or Anthony Averett, a promising second-year corner. Brandon Carr would put the team's top three cornerbacks on the field at the same time. Safeties DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark might also see time there. It'll be a point of scrutiny heading into the season opener.
It was no surprise to see second-year running back De'Lance Turner get cut; there simply was too much talent in front of him. But I'd be surprised if the Ravens don't put him on their practice squad, provided he clears waivers. With his toughness and speed, Turner looks like an NFL-caliber back. With Dixon out of the picture, Turner could become a fallback option if injuries strike during the season – and he'd make a nice fallback option.
What was the thinking in going with nine offensive linemen instead of eight? It could be a result of the uncertainty over who'll start at left guard next Sunday when the Ravens open the 2019 season in Miami against the Dolphins. Will it be James Hurst? Ben Powers? If it's Hurst and the Ravens had NOT kept Senat, well, Hurst also would have been Ronnie Stanley's backup at left tackle, and that's a lot on Hurst. Keeping the big-bodied Senat provides another option at left tackle if the Ravens want to keep Hurst at left guard. Yes, multiple scenarios are possible, with Powers and Bradley Bozeman also involved. Perhaps the Ravens opted for safety in numbers as they try to sort out the situation.
The Ravens' trade of kicker Kaare Vedvik to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth-round draft pick might go down as the front office steal of the year. The Vikings cut Vedvik Saturday, 20 days after the trade. Kudos to General Manager Eric DeCosta, who basically snapped his fingers and made a fifth-round pick appear, like magic.
As always, it's worth noting that the roster remains fluid and the Ravens could start making adjustments as early as tomorrow. It wouldn't surprise me, for instance, if Marshall, who has played little, lands on a list that sidelines him, making room for someone else (possibly Brynden Trawick?) to return. We'll know soon enough.