Predicting Who Will Stay and Who Will Go
The Ravens' top brass is back from its meeting at Owner Steve Bisciotti's house in Jupiter, Fla., and that means the framework for the offseason is in place.
Baltimore has decided its strategy on which of its free agents it wants to keep (at approximately what cost), which veterans it will let go and more.
With that in mind, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec looked at 10 prominent Ravens "with uncertain futures" this offseason and gave his prediction on whether they will stay or go. I won't hit all of them, but here are some of the biggest:
QB Joe Flacco
2019 status: Flacco has three years left on the six-year, reported $125 million deal he signed in 2016. He will make a base salary of $18.5 million in 2019, which is the amount Baltimore would save by trading or releasing him.
Zrebiec's prediction: "The Ravens find a team that is interested in Flacco as a stopgap one-year starter, and they trade the former Super Bowl MVP for a Day Three draft pick. Flacco's departure is inevitable, but it will still mark the end of the winningest era in franchise history."
ILB C.J. Mosley
2019 status: Mosley is a pending unrestricted free agent who would likely be one of the most sought-after defensive players if he were to hit the open market.
Zrebiec's prediction: "When the Ravens prioritize keeping one of their own, they almost always manage to do it. They might have to go out of their financial comfort zone a little bit to keep Mosley in the building, but they've proven with other free agents that they're not opposed to doing that."
OLB Terrell Suggs
2019 status: For the first time in his career, Suggs is in position to be an unrestricted free agent. Suggs said he wants to finish his career as a Raven, but he will play in 2019, even if it's for another team.
Zrebiec's prediction: "This is probably one of the toughest calls the Ravens have, but the guess here is they bring Suggs back on a one-year deal. Suggs is still a solid all-around player, and his teammates revere him."
S Eric Weddle
2019 status: Weddle has one more year left on his deal with a base salary of $6.5 million and cap hit of $8.25 million, per Spotrac. Considering the price, if the Ravens don't want him back, Weddle said he will retire.
Zrebiec's prediction: "This one is as difficult to forecast as Suggs, but Weddle is so well-respected by everyone at the team facility that his loss would be felt by many. The Ravens decide that his value goes beyond interceptions and tackles, and they keep him for one more year."
CB Jimmy Smith
2019 status: Smith rounded into form in the second half of the season, but he's entering the final season of his five-year, $58.9 million contract. He has a $15.85 million cap hit, and parting ways with him would save $9.5 million, per Spotrac.
Zrebiec's prediction: "It's difficult to foresee the Ravens keeping Smith under his current deal with their cap space at such a premium. The two sides will be unable to come to agreement on a revised contract, and Smith will hit free agency, where the talented corner should have a decent market."
OLB Za'Darius Smith
2019 status: After leading the Ravens with 8.5 sacks, Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Even though the market is rich with pass rushers, Smith will be near the top of the pack.
Zrebiec's prediction: "Smith absolutely deserves a lucrative long-term contract after the way he played throughout this past season, and he'll get one. However, history tells you it likely won't be from the Ravens. He'll follow the path of guys like Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones who parlayed big contract years into nice contracts elsewhere."
Stay: CB Brandon Carr, G Marshal Yanda
Go: WR John Brown, WR Michael Crabtree
In-Depth Look at What to Expect From Greg Roman's Passing Attack
Much has been said about new Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's talents in directing a successful run game. What's less known is how he'll orchestrate Baltimore's passing attack.
Zrebiec pointed out last week that in Roman's five seasons as an offensive coordinator between the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, his passing offenses ranked 29th, 23rd, 30th, 30th and 28th.
Of course, you have to take into consideration the quarterbacks he was working with. His offenses largely centered on the run, and that likely won't change in Baltimore.
But there's also no doubt that the Ravens want and need to make improvements in their passing attack as well with Lamar Jackson. The best-case scenario, even if Baltimore does continue to lean on the ground game more than other teams, is to have an effective passing game when needed.
"They need to make sure they are doing everything possible to have a competent passing game," Zrebiec wrote.
"That's not only on Jackson. The onus will fall heavily on Roman, whose ability to jumpstart the passing game will be highly scrutinized given his history. It's on [Head Coach John] Harbaugh, who needs to think about adding another piece or two on his coaching staff to help in that area. And it's on new general manager Eric DeCosta to get a couple of wide receivers this offseason."
With that in mind, it's worth checking what Roman's passing offense may look like next season, which The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer laid out in great detail.
"With Marty Mornhinweg leaving the Ravens staff, the receiving corps subject to change and Jackson entering an important developmental offseason, the Ravens' aerial attack is in flux," Shaffer wrote. "But Roman's work at his first two offensive coordinator jobs, with the San Francisco 49ers (2011-14) and Buffalo Bills (2015-16), offers lessons for what might lie ahead."
Ravens will still take big-play shots
Over 18 games with Roman as offensive coordinator, the Bills averaged nearly one 20-plus-yard passing touchdown per game, Shaffer pointed out. They had 16 such scores, four more than the Seattle Seahawks.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor finished third among quarterbacks in 2015 in average "air yards," which is the distance of a pass attempt between the line of scrimmage and where the ball is caught. In 2012, Colin Kaepernick was first in air yards among quarterbacks who finished with over 1,500 passing yards, according to Sporting Charts.
A strong play-action passing game
From 2011 to 2013, the 49ers ranked fifth, second and third in play-action efficiency. In 2015, Buffalo was first in play-action efficiency. The run-pass option offense and a strong rushing attack overall certainly lends itself to play-action fakes, and Baltimore hopes to use its talented tight end duo of Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in this capacity.
Mirrored passing design to simplify reads
Quarterback is (not so arguably) the hardest position in all of sports to play. Thus, every coach tries to make things as easy as possible for their young signal callers.
Shaffer points out that one way to do that is with mirrored passing design, which means the route concepts are the same on both sides of the formation. Roman used such passing concepts with Alex Smith, Kaepernick and Taylor, which led to top-10 passer ratings in 2012 and 2015.
"While some offenses prefer more flexible play structures, mirrored concepts ease the quarterback's decision-making and can be used against almost any defensive call," Shaffer wrote. "As the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator, Sean McVay helped Kirk Cousins' development with his use of mirrored designs, which he then carried over to his work with the Los Angeles Rams' Jared Goff."
Another tool is the "Sail" concept, which is designed to overload and stretch one side of a defense (normally zone) with three receivers. With Jackson's strong ability to throw on the run, this could help roll him out and give him targets along the sideline.
Competition Committee Will Consider Making Pass Interference Calls Reviewable
The talk of the NFL is still on the blown call at the end of the Saints-Rams NFC championship, which likely prevented New Orleans from going to the Super Bowl.
It was an obvious missed pass interference call that everybody immediately could see on instant replay (and a lot of people in live action).
Thus, it's no surprise that yesterday The Washington Post's Mark Maske reported that the NFL competition committee will consider making pass interference calls reviewable by instant replay.
Harbaugh and the Ravens have long pushed to broaden the scope of instant replay, and it may finally come true after such a huge gaffe on such a big stage.
"It will be discussed at length along with additional fouls that coaches feel should be subject to review," one person familiar with the league's inner workings told Maske.
The competition committee will have discussions in the weeks after the Super Bowl and will make its rule-change proposals at the league meeting in March in Phoenix. Any change would have to be approved by 24 of the 32 team owners.
"The competition committee has been staunchly opposed in the past to making judgment calls such as pass interference reviewable by replay," Maske wrote.
"But the outcome Sunday in New Orleans, which sent the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl, might be enough to change some minds. It represented one of the NFL's worst officiating nightmares, with a Super Bowl berth being determined in part by a blatantly missed call, as conceded by the league."
- Ravens Assistant Defensive Line/Outside Linebackers Coach Drew Wilkins was the defensive coordinator for the West team at the East-West Shrine Game this past weekend. Pretty cool for him, and an up-close look at prospects in this year's draft.