Barnwell: Signing Jadeveon Clowney Starts Ravens 'Domino' Effect
While it's fun to speculate on which free agents teams should pursue or attempt to re-sign, it only takes one signing to alter other team's best laid plans. ESPN's Bill Barnwell came up with several scenarios for how the "offseason dominoes" could fall.
In one of them, he has the Ravens signing Jadeveon Clowney, the top edge rusher on the market, to a five-year, $115 million deal.
"After years of being hindered by the Joe Flacco deal, Baltimore … [goes] after one of the rarest things you'll ever see: a healthy superstar edge rusher in his prime in unrestricted free agency," Barnwell wrote. "Clowney takes a slight discount to play for a Super Bowl contender."
Acquiring Clowney would then lead to the Ravens trading pending unrestricted free agent outside linebacker Matthew Judon to the New York Jets for second- and fifth-round picks, Barnwell predicted.
"As the Chiefs did with Dee Ford, Baltimore could franchise-tag Judon before trading him," Barnwell wrote. "The Jets desperately need a pass-rusher across from Jordan Jenkins; they send pick Nos. 48 and 138 to add Judon, who had 33 quarterback hits this past season."
In another scenario involving Clowney and Judon, Barnwell has the Las Vegas Raiders signing Clowney, which prompts the Seattle Seahawks, Clowney's former team, to acquire Judon from the Ravens for second- and third-round picks.
"Seattle sends the 59th pick and the compensatory pick it will receive for Earl Thomas signing with the Ravens to Thomas' new team," Barnwell wrote. "The franchise-tagged Judon signs an extension and takes over Clowney's role as the Seahawks' primary pass-rusher, although the organization obviously still holds out hope for 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier."
A third scenario results in the Ravens losing defensive tackle Michael Pierce to the Miami Dolphins, who sign him to a four-year, $60 million deal.
"The 27-year-old Pierce is a run-stuffing nose tackle who should immediately help the league's 27th-ranked rush-defense DVOA," Barnwell wrote.
Although Barnwell did not write about Marshal Yanda, whether the Pro Bowl right guard decides to return for his 14th season is definitely a domino situation for the Ravens.
"If right guard Marshal Yanda retires, a need for an interior offensive lineman will go from a maybe to a must-have," The Athletic's Zrebiec wrote. "For a run-based offense that depends on controlling the line of scrimmage, the Ravens will need to add some experience if Yanda departs."
Baltimore Beatdown's Frank J. Platko noted that if Yanda returns, the Ravens "have one less hole on their roster to fill and one less position to address in the draft and/or free agency," but if he retires, it "would likely force DeCosta to exhaust an early round pick on a potential replacement in the draft, sign someone in free agency or a combination of both scenarios."
Should Ravens Target Free Agents Shaquil Barrett, Amari Cooper?
Any discussion regarding which positions the Ravens should address in free agency this offseason has pass rusher and wide receiver at the top of the list, so it's not surprising Pro Football Focus believes Baltimore should target outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett and wide receiver Amari Cooper.
With Judon a pending free agent, PFF's Anthony Treash wrote that Barrett is the better option. In PFF's free agent rankings, Barrett is 25th, while Judon comes in at 78th.
Barrett, 27, led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this past season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first season as a full-time starter. He recorded a total of 14 sacks in his previous four seasons in a rotational role with the Denver Broncos.
While Treash thinks Barrett would be a good fit for the Ravens, he also cautioned against putting too much emphasis on his eye-popping sack numbers in 2019.
"He's graded between 71.3 and 82.0 as a pass-rusher in all five years of his career, and that baseline projects a solid player rather than the Defensive Player of the Year candidate that the stats would suggest," Treash wrote. "Barrett deserves credit for taking advantage of a starting role and putting together a career year, but potential suitors must look beyond the gaudy sack totals before investing long term."
Whether Barrett even makes it to the open market remains to be seen, as Tampa Bay could use the franchise tag to keep him. Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians told ESPN in December that Barrett "ain't going anywhere."
The same could be said for Judon, as the franchise tag also is an option for the Ravens. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec doesn't believe Judon is going anywhere.
"Finding an elite pass rusher this offseason to potentially replace Judon will not be easy," Zrebiec wrote. "There will be some other options out there, but it's hardly a lock that the Ravens will be able to upgrade over Judon. This is just an educated guess because Ravens decision makers have been mum on Judon. But the bet here is the Ravens franchise him and keep their options open in terms of a trade, an extension or just having him play out the year on the tag."
In making the case for the Ravens to pursue Cooper, Treash stated the popular opinion that the Ravens need another weapon in the passing game.
Cooper, 25, posted career highs of 1,189 yards receiving and eight touchdowns with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. The four-time Pro Bowl selection has had four 1,000-yard seasons in five seasons in the league.
PFF rated Cooper as the sixth-best free agent overall and the No. 1 non-quarterback free agent.
"Cooper set a career-high with 503 yards on deep (20-plus yard) passes, the third-highest mark in the league, and he caught 62.5 percent of the deep passes that were thrown his way (tied for fifth)," PFF's Sam Monson and Steve Palazzolo wrote. "The Cowboys' passing offense has been one of the league's best with Cooper on the field."
Zrebiec doesn't think the Ravens have the necessary cap space – they're projected to have $27.8 million, according to OverTheCap.com – to sign a top pass rusher and a top wide receiver in free agency.
"If it's a choice between one position or the other, it's not hard to predict which direction the Ravens will go, given their history," Zrebiec wrote. "And with it looking more and more like the Ravens will have to get through Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to get to a Super Bowl, it would be hard to question [Ravens General Manager Eric] DeCosta and company prioritizing the defense this offseason."
Ravens Get Rave Reviews for Re-Signing Chuck Clark
Clark, a 2017 sixth-round pick, became a starter in Week 6 this past season and was one of the main factors in the Ravens' defensive turnaround. His signing continues the trend of DeCosta of retaining good, young players before they hit free agency.
"Stop me if you've heard this before: Eric DeCosta gets a steal of a deal!" Russell Street Report's Cole Jackson wrote. "Seriously, this man is quickly becoming a GM wizard, especially with his contract values."
Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer expressed a similar sentiment.
"The Ravens keeping Chuck Clark at just over $5 million per in new money is like stealing (and I'm not blaming Clark, who, as a former sixth-rounder, had his first chance at life-changing cash)," Breer wrote. "The 24-year-old emerged as a standout this year, and took Eric Weddle's role as the secondary's traffic director — pretty impressive for a fourth-year guy."
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote: "The one thing the Ravens know about Clark is that they will never regret investing in him. Clark has proven to be one of the hardest workers and one of the toughest players. … The Ravens were proactive and because of that they got the best possible deal for both sides. It's good to see."
- In PFF's ranking of every team's quarterback situation by need, Treash wrote: "[The Ravens'] quarterback room seems to be the most locked up of any NFL team heading into next season."