Could Ravens Make A Play for Le'Veon Bell?
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell's saga ended yesterday when he didn't sign his franchise tender by 4 p.m. As a result, Bell will not play this season, and will become a free agent next year.
When it became apparent that Bell was not going to report to Steelers' headquarters, pundits began shifting their talk to where the three-time Pro Bowler could play next season, and the Ravens were frequently mentioned among the top options.
"This would provide Bell with two cracks at the Steelers every year. In terms of need, current Baltimore backs Javorius Allen and Ty Montgomery have expiring deals, and Alex Collins will be a restricted free agent — and he hasn't proven ready to be the long-term solution," USA Today's Nate Davis wrote. "Finally, imagine Bell's career had he played alongside [quarterback] Michael Vick. Now imagine him in the same backfield with [quarterback] Lamar Jackson. Frightening potential."
NFL Network's Kyle Brandt believes the Ravens are the best option for Bell. On "Good Morning Football," he even laid out the elements that when combined, could create the ultimate revenge tour for Bell. Granted, some of this seems a little far-fetched, but Brandt thinks it would be the best move for Bell.
"The best-case scenario for Le'Veon is clean cut from the Steelers, it's 100 percent done, he signs a big fat $50 to $60 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens. He plays the Steelers twice a year," Brandt said. "We have Lamar, we have Le'Veon and Javorius Allen for the LL Cool J backfield. You can call it a comeback, and he has the revenge tour twice a year. That's the best-case scenario."
Those scenarios involve a number of steps the Ravens have not taken yet, such as making moves to free up cap space and deciding that the time is right for a change at quarterback. We'll see if any of that happens, but Twitter was certainly intrigued by the prospect of Bell in the same backfield as Jackson.
As far as how an offense surrounding Jackson and Bell would function, ESPN's Fields Yates gave his opinion on it.
"If you have Lamar Jackson under center, it would behoove you to have basically a bunch of satellite-like players on your offense," Yates said. "Le'Veon Bell and Lamar Jackson would make things very difficult. It would force defenders to have to make decisions on the fly, and with the athletic ability of both of those players, it would be an awesome pairing in this backfield."
247Sports' Connor Casey agrees with Yates' line of thinking, writing "someone like Bell could take this team to the next level." Yates' fellow ESPN commentator Tim Hasselback also thinks Bell would be a fantastic fit for Baltimore.
"It makes a lot of sense for them, in terms of the type of player," Hasselback said. "You mentioned a run game being a quarterback's best friend. If Lamar Jackson is in fact the starter, which we believe is going to happen, then it's no different than the situation in New York with [rookie quarterback] Sam Darnold."
Though Hasselback does think Baltimore would be a good fit for Bell, he also offered a reason why the Ravens may not land him.
"Le'Veon may get what he wants in terms of two teams competing for him, and certainly I believe the Ravens will be well aware of the type of player Le'Veon is," Hasselback said.
With all due respect to Hasselback, there will probably be more than two teams inquiring about Bell's services. It's not very often a player with Bell's talent and age becomes available, and while the Ravens are being mentioned by a lot of pundits as one of the likely landing spots, other teams are too.
The New York Jets, who have more cap space and a young quarterback in Darnold, are being often named as the best fit.
A scenario with multiple bidding wars probably would not favor the Ravens. While moving on from quarterback Joe Flacco would certainly create some money, they'd probably have to do more cap maneuvering to have as much space as other teams. It's certainly possible, but the front office would have to make more difficult decisions than other teams. And with how much money Bell has left on the table by not playing in 2018, he'll want to get as big of a deal as he can.
Bell officially becomes a free agent in March of 2019. There's a lot of football to be played between now and then. Who knows where the Ravens will be at that time?
Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit Believes in the Defense and Rookie Tight Ends
The Ravens' playoff chances are an oft-discussed topic these days. Barring a collapse from either the Los Angeles Chargers or Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore is one of many teams seemingly battling for the second wild-card spot. ESPN gave the Ravens a 36.1 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Many pundits have tied the Ravens' chances to their quarterback situation, but Sports Illustrated's Andy Benoit believes they are linked to the team's defense, which he spoke about during an appearance on Glenn Clark Radio yesterday.
"That defense I think is a top five defense. It's not just a top five defense, it's a dynamic defense," Benoit said. "We saw the defense win the game in Tennessee in that matchup, and I think they can do that a few other times this season."
As for why he has faith in the defense, Benoit pointed to a few players who play centrally for the Ravens, specifically safeties Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle, as well as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. To him, the range of those players allows the Ravens to give looks that few other defenses are capable of, and few offenses know how to deal with.
"If you have guys that are running around everywhere, you might give up some runs, but at least the offense isn't dictating the game to you the way the Rams and Chiefs and all these other offenses seem to do," Benoit said.
Benoit did comment on the offense as well, in particular where he believes the unit is heading. He touched on what the offense could look like with Jackson under center, saying the Ravens could do something similar to what the Houston Texans did last season with quarterback Deshaun Watson.
However, Benoit's primary focus was on Baltimore's rookie tight ends, and how he believes the Ravens are trending in a direction where they'll be leaning heavily on Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews soon.
"There's a lot of dimension with those tight ends and it's a question of what does that mean for quarterbacking. Flacco is the more veteran guy, so theoretically you could do more in the passing game as a multidimensional offense. Jackson is the more versatile player so that gives you more options in the running game," Benoit said. "It's really a philosophical conversation at that point, but I think there's no question that offense is gradually shifting towards a tight end-centric offense and their running game and passing game will derive from what they use their tight ends as."
Bengals Game Perfect for Throwing the Kitchen Sink
There's just no way around it: the game against Cincinnati this Sunday is a big one for the Ravens. Most pundits believe that for the Ravens to have a realistic shot of making the postseason, a victory is a must.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec is among those, writing "It's a win-or-else game pretty much." Because the stakes are that high, Zrebiec thinks the Ravens will pull out all the stops to beat the Bengals.
"This is again true regardless of who is playing quarterback, but I'd expect the Ravens to empty the playbook in all three facets Sunday…," Zrebiec wrote. "There's no point in holding anything back. The Bengals also always seem to have an answer to the Ravens, so why not throw some different things at them? A bye week should have been ample time for the Ravens staff to come up some unique ideas."
Head Coach John Harbaugh did note the coaches spent plenty of time self-scouting during the bye and have some new wrinkles sprinkled into the offense.
As for where the team could really get creative, Zrebiec pointed to newly-acquired running back Ty Montgomery, who has yet to play a game for the Ravens. To Zrebiec, this Sunday would be a perfect opportunity to unleash the Ravens' new weapon against an often-seen opponent.
"He should have a reasonably big role either way against the Bengals, but it could be even more significant if Jackson is the quarterback," Zrebiec wrote. "If that's the case, the Ravens would likely run the ball a lot and also try to get Jackson in a rhythm with a bunch of short and easy throws. That's where Montgomery comes in."
Patrick Onwuasor Likes to Play Physical, Fast and Dominant
Inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor participated in a Q&A with KweséESPN, Africa's ESPN outlet, and spoke about a variety of topics, including his favorite play (his interception against the Broncos), how he defends both the pass and the run ("My mindset is more about balance") and his favorite linebackers to watch (Ray Lewis and Atlanta's Deion Jones).
Onwuasor, who earlier this year won KweséESPN's NFL Africa Zone player of the week for his performance against the Broncos, also chimed in on how he views his role in Baltimore's defense.
"Play vicious, play physical, play fast, play dominant, just fly around and be around the ball all the time," Onwuasor said.
When asked about trash talking on the defense, Onwuasor revealed that the outside linebackers seem to lead the charge. The inside linebackers sound like they're plenty active in that department too though.
"It goes 50-50 with the O-linemen and running backs but I'd really say the running backs. Because when you give them a good hit, they'll get up saying, 'That ain't nothing' or something like that," Onwuasor said. "I think I got into it with [Oakland Raiders running back] Marshawn [Lynch] one time last year. He said something and I had to get on him. It was just my natural reaction."
- In light of cornerback Maurice Canady being able to practice today after coming off the injured reserve list, Zrebiec took a look at what the Ravens could do with the 53-man roster to include him. "If [left tackle Ronnie] Stanley and [right tackle James] Hurst are indeed ready to go Sunday, the Ravens probably can afford to make a move to subtract an offensive lineman. They currently have nine on the roster. Jermaine Eluemunor and Hroniss Grasu are probably the two that could be in jeopardy."
- Fantasy football players: If you have a spare roster spot, Pro Football Focus' Mike Castiglione thinks picking up Jackson could be a savvy move. "Jackson's potential QB1 fantasy ceiling presents an awfully intriguing insurance stash for the stretch run."