Five Dream Free Agents for the Ravens
It's always fun for Ravens fans to pore over the list of pending NFL free agents and envision some of the big names wearing purple and black next season.
That's exactly what Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw did, as he identified five "dream players" for the Ravens.
Before we dare to dream, let's first look at the reality of the Ravens' salary cap situation. Baltimore has its own pending free agents to think about, including the likes of outside linebacker Matthew Judon, defensive tackle Michael Pierce and cornerback Jimmy Smith, and has around $29 million in projected cap space, per OverTheCap, which ranks them near the bottom third of the league.
Not surprisingly, edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue were among the five players mentioned by Bradshaw. Both undoubtedly will be highly sought-after.
The Ravens, whose 37 sacks ranked 21st in the league this season, were frequently mentioned as a potential trade partner for Clowney this past offseason before the Houston Texans ultimately dealt the former No. 1-overall pick to the Seattle Seahawks in late August.
"The Ravens need any help they can get when it comes to rushing the quarterback, and Clowney not only provides that help, but his versatility in the Ravens' odd defensive fronts provides huge value to them," Bradshaw wrote. "At [6 feet 5, 255 pounds], Clowney is able to stand up or put his hand in the dirt. Clowney now has experience in both a 3-4 defense and a 4-3 front, giving him the tools to work no matter where he may line up.
"You can't teach effort, either, and no one brings it on every play the way Clowney does. This is a player who embraces the 'Play like a Raven' mentality unlike anyone else on the free agency market. If Baltimore were to go-big or go-home, it would be for Jadeveon Clowney."
Like Clowney, Ngakoue has often been linked to the Ravens. The former University of Maryland star has 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in 63 games and missed just one game due to injury in his four seasons. By comparison, Clowney has 32 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 75 games and missed 21 games over six seasons.
"Ngakoue would be a great fit for what the Baltimore Ravens like in their pass rushers," Bradshaw wrote. "Ngakoue has most of his experience in a 4-3 defense with his hand in the dirt, but he's more than talented enough to run Baltimore's odd fronts. … Ngakoue is vicious off the snap and would pair nicely across from Matt Judon (provided he stays in Baltimore for 2020)."
Ngakoue's one-word tweet last week notwithstanding, there's no guarantee he will hit the open market, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
"Every offseason, there always seems to be one player who the Ravens fan base is enthralled with adding. This year, Ngakoue, the pending Jacksonville Jaguars free agent pass rusher, seems to be that guy," Zrebiec wrote. "It makes sense. … However, he has to get to the open market first.
"The Jaguars have been very vocal this offseason about their plans to keep Ngakoue and this comes after they didn't entertain thoughts of trading him before the in-season deadline, even though they didn't have a winning record at any point during the 2019 season."
If the Ravens are looking for a pass-rushing stud on the interior, the Kansas City Chiefs' Chris Jones would be ideal. Jones has 24.5 sacks the past two seasons, including 15.5 in 2018.
"In Jones, the Ravens [would] have themselves a difference-maker on every down," Bradshaw wrote. "Jones remains a solid run defender, so Baltimore can take solace in that. Where he makes a world of difference for the unit is as a pass rusher. The Ravens don't have anything like Jones on their defensive line and haven't since the days of Michael McCrary. Adding Chris Jones would be the best possible move for the team."
The other two pending free agents on Bradshaw's list were wide receiver Amari Cooper and guard Brandon Scherff.
"Cooper would give [the Ravens'] receiving corps a major boost and take an already great offense over the top," Bradshaw wrote. "Adding Cooper to the Ravens almost seems unfair, but he's a need and a great fit for what the team is trying to build."
Scherff, who was selected fifth overall (one pick after Cooper) by the Washington Redskins in 2015, has missed 15 games because of injury over the past three seasons, but he's been to three Pro Bowls.
"Scherff will require the Ravens to spend some extra dough to bring him in, but he's a valuable piece for a run-heavy offense," Bradshaw wrote. "Scherff is a luxury with [Marshal] Yanda, but if Yanda does retire, he becomes a priority signing for Baltimore."
Za'Darius Smith a Cautionary Tale for Ravens With Judon?
In yesterday's Late for Work, we discussed whether the Ravens would tag-and-trade Judon. Zrebiec noted the similarities between Judon's pending free agency and Za'Darius Smith's situation with the Ravens this past offseason.
"A former Day 3 draft pick has a solid four seasons with the team, posts a career-high in sacks in his contract year and then prices himself out of the Ravens' market," Zrebiec wrote.
Smith signed with the Green Bay Packers for a reported four years, $66 million.
"The price tag seemed steep for a player who had three of his 8.5 sacks in one game and a modest 10 sacks over his first three NFL seasons," Zrebiec wrote. "However, it doesn't anymore. Smith had 13.5 sacks in his first season in Green Bay and probably should be getting more buzz in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year talk. To say that the Packers got great early returns from the Smith deal would be a significant understatement."
Zrebiec wrote that Smith could serve as a cautionary tale in how the Ravens handle things with Judon.
"I also wouldn't necessarily blame the Ravens if they opted not to pay Judon $18 to $20 million per year, but somebody almost certainly will if they don't," Zrebiec wrote. "And the Ravens better have a suitable backup plan. They can't afford to lose another effective pass rusher without truly replacing him."
Baltimore Sun Mocks Kenneth Murray to Ravens
Oklahoma inside linebacker Kenneth Murray continues to be a popular pick for the Ravens at No. 28 in mock drafts. The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon released the fourth version of his mock draft, and he also has Murray coming to Baltimore.
"The Ravens never quite filled the void left by C.J. Mosley, and L.J. Fort, Chris Board and Otaro Alaka are the only returning inside linebackers under contract in 2020," Doon wrote. "Murray offers high-end athleticism and sideline-to-sideline coverage in the middle of the defense and can also use his explosiveness as a pass rusher in the Ravens' blitz-heavy scheme."
In the second round, Doon mocked Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims to the Ravens at No. 60.
"Mims impressed during Senior Bowl practices, showing improved route running and footwork," Doon wrote. "He's a solid blocker, too, something the Ravens expect from their wide receivers, and his size (6-3, 206), speed and athleticism make him a valuable target for an offense that could use another playmaker on the outside."
While the majority of mock drafts are predicting the Ravens to select an edge rusher or linebacker in the first round, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks mocked LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton to Baltimore.
"Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey are solid starters, but the Ravens could use another CB to fill out the room," Brooks wrote.
Incidentally, Fulton is the third player from national champion LSU to go to the Ravens in the first round of a mock draft. ESPN's Mel Kiper had the Ravens picking LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, while SB Nation's Dan Kadar and The Draft Network projected the Ravens to select Tigers wide receiver Justin Jefferson.
- ESPN identified one player from each team who made a big leap from last season to this season. I bet you can guess who was named for the Ravens.