Analyzing the Ravens' Top Pending Free Agents
It's always fun for fans to make a wish list of free agents they'd like their team to sign. The other side of the coin isn't as much fun.
When discussing the Ravens' pending free agents yesterday, Harbaugh said: "I want everybody back, but you can't get everybody back."
Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz looked at the Ravens' 19 pending free agents (17 unrestricted, two restricted) and the decisions that lie ahead for the team's front office. Here are some excerpts regarding several key players:
OLBs Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngaokue, Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee
"[Ngakoue and Judon are] different types of edge rushers — Ngakoue has more explosiveness as a pass-rush specialist and Judon carries greater versatility — but they sit in similar situation as a productive players at a highly-valued position who must navigate the unknowns of the open market in a year when many teams are bracing for a salary cap squeeze," Kasinitz wrote. "So could either player return to Baltimore? It's a possibility. … The Ravens have just one returning edge rusher under contract next season: Jaylon Ferguson, who was a healthy scratch for both playoff games.
"In the past, Baltimore has let talented pass rushers leave in free agency because other teams were willing to pay top dollar for those players. This year, the Ravens will risk leaving their depth chart bare if they don't re-sign Ngakoue, Judon, Bowser or McPhee before free agency begins. But the front office is famously disciplined — or stubborn, depending on the viewpoint — and history suggests Baltimore won't overpay for an edge rusher, no matter what the roster looks like."
DL Derek Wolfe
Wolfe, 30, tied his career-high with 51 tackles this season and was an anchor on the defensive line, especially when Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams missed time due to injury. Wolfe has said that he'd "love to stay here in Baltimore."
If the Ravens don't re-sign Wolfe, Kasinitz wrote, Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, [a] third-round pick from April, has the tools to replace Wolfe in the Ravens' starting lineup if his maturation continues."
Restricted free agents RB Gus Edwards, ILB Chris Board
"If the Ravens place second-round tenders on both players, they'd likely scare off any outside suitors and keep Edwards and Board on the roster at a price projected to be around $3.4 million apiece, according to OverTheCap," Kasinitz wrote. "If another team signed a restricted free agent with a second-round tender, they'd owe the Ravens a second-round pick. It's difficult to imagine any team accepting that tradeoff."
WRs Willie Snead and Dez Bryant
Snead, 28, was third on the team in receptions (48) and receiving yards (432) and had three touchdown catches. The sure-handed veteran had a 68.8 percent catch percentage, the second-highest of his career.
"Baltimore needs to decide whether young players are ready to take a significant step forward," Kasinitz wrote. "For instance, if the Ravens believe third-round rookie Devin Duvernay will grow into a productive slot receiver next season, it'd be easier to let Snead walk."
After missing two full seasons, the 32-year old Bryant played in eight games (including the playoffs) for the Ravens, finishing with six catches for 47 yards and two touchdowns.
"It's possible the team would be interested in keeping Bryant around to see if he can make further strides after re-establishing his footing in the NFL," Kasinitz wrote. "More likely, the team will look elsewhere to supply receiver talent and allow Bryant to explore free agency."
Brian Baldinger: Signing No. 1 Wide Receiver Won't Fix Ravens' Passing Game
During Head Coach John Harbaugh's season-ending press conference yesterday, he pushed back against critics such as NFL Network's Steve Smith Sr. and Kurt Warner who contended that the Ravens' passing attack was too simplistic.
Another NFL Network analyst, Brian Baldinger, weighed in on the subject, and he agreed with Smith and Warner's assessment, saying Baltimore's aerial attack is "too elementary, too simplistic."
Baldinger was not suggesting the Ravens abandon their league-leading running game, but when opponents have success stopping the run — as the Buffalo Bills did in their 17-3 win over the Ravens in the divisional playoff game — he said the Ravens need to be able to make them pay through the air.
"[Bills Defensive Coordinator] Leslie Frazier and [Head Coach] Sean McDermott figured it out, and they blitzed off the edges and they shrunk the field, and they didn't let Lamar [Jackson] escape, and they were masterful at it," Baldinger said in his "Baldy's Breakdowns" podcast. "But, ultimately, when you start blitzing your safeties and your corners to fix the run game, you have to make them pay. And the Ravens simply can't do that."
"Can't" and "didn't" are two different things. Baldinger said the Ravens landing a No. 1 wide receiver in free agency such as Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin or Kenny Golladay won't necessarily change anything.
"If you put Stefon Diggs in that offense, Stefon Diggs isn't getting 1,500 yards in catches. He's not leading the league in receptions, as great as he is," Baldinger said. "Until they start opening the offense up in different ways, where receivers can actually run routes, beat man coverage, all those kinds of things, there's got to be a better balance in how you throw the football right now, and it can't just be, 'third-and-8, all right, let's throw it.'"
The Ravens have had a lot of success with their run-oriented offense the past three seasons, as Jackson is 30-7 in the regular season as a starter. They led the league in scoring last season and were No. 7 this season. In the postseason, however, they're 1-3 and have scored a total of 32 points in the three losses.
"They're going to get to the playoffs almost every year right now the way the roster is built, the depth that they have, the way that they restock. But can they move in the playoffs?" Baldinger said. "Because this is three years in a row where they've been bounced like this, and it's the same problem three years in a row."
NFL Network's Nick Shook shared a similar outlook, writing that for the Ravens' offense "something needs to change, it seems, but the answer isn't as clear."
"Baltimore can win a ton of games playing its current style, sure, but to take the next great step toward a title, the Ravens need some offensive depth," Shook wrote. "It's fair to wonder if there's more for the Ravens to discover offensively."
Baldinger said when the Ravens get comfortably ahead in regular-season games, they should work on their passing concepts rather than continuing to run the ball.
"[The Ravens should] say, 'We've got to find ways in these games during the season when we've got Cincinnati put away, that we've got to work on our passing game,'" Baldinger said. "To hell with running for 400 yards. Who cares. 'Let's work on our concepts in the passing game. Against blitzes, red zone, third downs. We've got to get better in that area of football, because if we don't we're not going to get past Kansas City and whoever's in front of us at this point.''"
Baldinger said he has no doubt about Jackson's commitment to keep improving.
"I have faith that Lamar will work at the craft," Baldinger said. "I do believe he wants to be great."
Mark Ingram II Can Sign With a Remaining Playoff Team
The Ravens won't be playing again until next season, but there's a chance running Mark Ingram II could see action before then.
Ingram, who was released by the Ravens earlier this week, has cleared waivers, which means one of the four teams playing in the conference championship games could sign him, just as the Green Bay Packers may do with cornerback Tramon Williams, who was waived by the Ravens and unclaimed.
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said the decision to waive Ingram and Williams now benefits the Ravens as well as the players.
"By giving the players a shot at landing with another team following Baltimore's exit from the postseason instead of squatting on them until after the Super Bowl, the Ravens have scored points with other players who may be thinking about joining the Ravens in the future," Florio wrote.
Some Bills fans have taken to Twitter to advocate for Buffalo to sign Ingram. The Bills, who play the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, lost running back Zack Moss to a season-ending ankle injury during the Bills' win over the Colts in the wild-card round. Moss had been in a timeshare with Devin Singletary in the Bills' backfield.