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Late for Work 1/17: Ravens’ Free Agents Don’t Rank as High as You May Expect

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Ravens Don’t Have Any Top-20 Free Agents

The talk around Baltimore is all about how the Ravens have some big-time pending free agents this offseason with inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, pass rusher Za’Darius Smith, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receiver John Brown and more.

But outside of Baltimore, it seems the Ravens’ free agents aren’t all that buzzworthy – at least not to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert.

According to Seifert, who ranked the top 50 pending unrestricted free agents, the Ravens’ don’t have a single player in the top 20, and three on the list overall.

On one hand, this seems kinda insulting. Like, how in the world does C.J. Mosley, who has gone to four Pro Bowls in five seasons and is in his prime at 26 years old, rank lower (No. 22) than Buccaneers inside linebacker Kwon Alexander (12), who has gone to one Pro Bowl and is coming off an ACL tear?

On the other hand, perhaps this means the Ravens’ free agents won’t command as much money this offseason, giving Baltimore a better chance at retaining their services if desired.

“Baked into this list are a number of long-standing market variables,” Seifert wrote. “It isn't solely a ranking of talent.”

No. 22 – LB C.J. Mosley

Seifert: “A four-time Pro Bowl player who has missed only three games in five seasons, Mosley was a big part of the Ravens' defensive turnaround in 2018. He also plays a position that traditionally doesn't attract big free-agent offers. But every good defense needs the glue that Mosley provides.”

Mosley is the fifth-highest-ranked linebacker on the list, trailing the Chiefs’ Dee Ford, Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney, Alexander, and Vikings’ Anthony Barr.

According to The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec, negotiations have begun between the Ravens and Mosley’s agent to bring him back on a long-term contract.

“My understanding is those talks have already [started],” Zrebiec wrote in a fan Q&A yesterday. “Not sure how it will play out, but the Ravens now have made it clear they want to keep him. … The Ravens usually keep guys like him in the fold. So if I was to guess, I'd say he's back.”

Zrebiec also dove into the debate about what Mosley’s value should be this offseason. The Panthers’ Luke Kuechly, who is widely regarded as the NFL’s top inside linebacker, is playing on a five-year, $62 million deal.

“Nobody is saying that Mosley is as good or better than Kuechly. However, the deal Kuechly signed was from September of 2015. It’s 3 ½ years old. The salary cap has gone up every year since. “Fewer and fewer top players at their position are hitting the free-agent market every year and more and more teams have money to spend,” Zrebiec wrote.

“So why wouldn’t Mosley ask for Kuechly money? If the Ravens won’t pay it – and they clearly have prioritized trying to keep him- somebody figures to, or at least gets him close to that $12 million number.”

No. 24 – OLB Za’Darius Smith

Seifert: “A part-time starter for the Ravens, Smith played 66.7 percent of their defensive snaps in 2018 and made an impact as a pass-rusher. He had a career-high 8.5 sacks, and Pro Football Focus credited him with 60 pressures, which ranked him No. 17 in the NFL.”

Smith had a breakout season to lead the Ravens in sacks. Now the widely-held view among Ravens pundits, who have seen other pass rushers such as Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee depart after big contract years, is that Smith will also leave for a higher offer.

“I think Za'Darius Smith probably has priced himself out of Ravens' range,” Zrebiec wrote.

However, there are a lot of premier pass rushers set to be free agents, and a bunch are ranked above Smith: Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence, Ford, Clowney, Seahawks’ Frank Clark, Patriots’ Trey Flowers, Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah, Barr.

Could Smith not be as expensive as expected? It should be an interesting market.

No. 33 – WR John Brown

Seifert: “Brown refreshed his career with the Ravens, doubling his 2017 catch total and ranking fourth in the league with an average of 17 yards per reception. In other words, he can still be a deep threat.”

Brown is the third-highest-ranked wide receiver on Seifert’s list, trailing only the Chargers’ Tyrell Williams (No. 20) and Panthers’ Devin Funchess (No. 27).

Brown’s production dramatically declined after the switch from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson, but the veteran said he’s like to come back to Baltimore. Is he the best option as the Ravens continue to build around their new, young franchise quarterback?

Zrebiec believes the Ravens need to address the wide receiver position via the draft instead of free agency, where he expects it to be a “tough sell” to get wide receivers to sign on for a run-heavy offense, at least until the Ravens “evolve a little more into a balanced offense.” Zrebiec does think Jackson’s personality will help with recruiting.

“I think they're going to have to address the WR position and I've long said that they need to stop with the stopgap Band-Aid veteran WRs,” Zrebiec wrote. “They need to start drafting and developing young WRs to pair with their young QB.”

Outside the Top 50 – OLB Terrell Suggs, QB Robert Griffin III, DE Brent Urban, TE Nick Boyle, TE Maxx Williams, RB Ty Montgomery, RB Javorius Allen

Veteran players did not get much love in Seifert’s list, though quarterbacks did (the Saints’ Teddy Bridgewater came in at No. 6 and Browns’ Tyrod Taylor at No. 16). So it’s not too surprising to see Suggs not ranked, though Griffin is perhaps a bit odd.

Brandon Carr Had an All-Pro Season, Per NextGenStats

Marlon Humphrey was named the Ravens’ MVP by the team’s beat writers. Jimmy Smith drew praise for rounding into his elite form at the end of the season.

One cornerback who often gets lost in the shuffle is veteran Brandon Carr. Perhaps because so much attention (deservedly so) gets heaped on his consecutive games played streak, people forget not just that Carr plays, but that he plays very well.

Well, NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling and Nick Shook put together their annual All-Pro teams, which is an exercise in the eye test (Wesseling) vs. the analytics (Shook), and per NextGenStats and Shook, Carr was an All-Pro last season.

“Carr allowed the lowest passer rating of any cornerback when serving as the nearest defender to targeted receivers (62.3), and his 0:2 TD-to-INT ratio allowed and minus-7.3 percent difference between expected completion percentage and catch percentage proved throwing in his direction tended to mean trouble for opposing passers,” Shook wrote.

Shook’s other All-Pro cornerback was the Bears’ Kyle Fuller while Wesseling took the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore and Texans’ Kareem Jackson.

Carr, 32, has two more years left on the four-year deal he signed during the 2017 offseason. The Ravens opted to keep him at a higher price last year. Will they do it again if Carr doesn’t retire?

“Brandon Carr has been oft-mentioned as a potential salary cap casualty with the Ravens, but I think they’d be foolish to move on from him right now,” Zrebiec wrote.

“He was one of their most consistent players last year and his durability is unmatched. He’s also a leader in a locker room that stands to lose several of them this offseason. Carr is due to make $6 million next season. That’s not a lot for a starting-caliber cornerback. Thirty different cornerbacks are making more than $6 million on average per year.”

The Joe Flacco vs. Nick Foles Debate

One of the Ravens’ biggest questions this offseason is whether they can trade quarterback Joe Flacco or will have to release him. Zrebiec isn’t holding out much hope for a trade.

He believes there might be one or two teams willing to trade for him, and that the Ravens would be “fortunate” to get a mid-round pick in return.

“If you currently look at the teams in the market for a veteran stopgap quarterback, you can’t be overly optimistic that there will be a big market for Flacco,” Zrebiec wrote. “Reports are already out that the Jaguars, who just hired John DeFilippo, a former Philadelphia Eagles assistant, will target Nick Foles this offseason.”

The Flacco vs. Foles debate will be a hot one as free agency approaches. Russell Street Report’s Adam Bonaccorsi dove into it in detail yesterday.

“Ultimately, I think teams will look to Baltimore and be willing to surrender a Day 2 draft pick in exchange for some risk in Flacco, knowing they can drop him … the second he shows signs of falling off, as opposed to ponying up three or four years with plenty of guaranteed money for a guy with similar risks and stats in Nick Foles,” Bonaccorsi concluded.

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