How Tony Jefferson's Release Affects the Futures of Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr
We've already seen the Ravens make significant moves in the secondary this offseason, but decisions still loom surrounding the futures of Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson's release could have a direct effect on the veteran cornerbacks.
Jefferson's release opened up $7 million in cap space, while creating $4.7 million in dead money. According to Over The Cap, that gives the Ravens $31.4 million in cap space heading into free agency.
"[T]he nucleus of their secondary is in place for the near future," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "[Chuck] Clark just got his extension. [Earl] Thomas is signed through 2022. Outside cornerback Marcus Peters is under contract through 2022 after his recent extension. Slot cornerback Tavon Young, who missed the entire 2019 season with a neck injury, is signed through 2021."
Keeping both veteran cornerbacks would be ideal, but it's far from guaranteed.
Smith returned from a knee injury early in the season and served as a key piece in the secondary, recording 30 tackles, six passes defensed and one interception.
"Jimmy Smith has battled injuries throughout his career," Sports Illustrated's Todd Karpovich wrote. "But when he's healthy, the Ravens cornerback is one of the team's top playmakers."
But durability has been Smith's biggest question mark. He's only played a full 16 game regular season twice in his nine-year career.
On the flip side, durability has been Carr's biggest strength. He hasn't missed a start in 12 seasons, recording 49 tackles, six passes defensed, and two sacks in 2019.
Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent. He's expressed a desire to stay in Baltimore, but Zrebiec pointed out that the numbers won't make it easy among a crowded secondary.
"Finding a compromise on Smith's value could be challenging," Zrebiec wrote. "If Smith returns to Baltimore, it will most likely be as the team's No. 3 outside corner behind Humphrey and Peters with Young as the top guy in the slot. But how much is that worth to the Ravens? Smith is a starting-caliber cornerback and if he hits the open market, he's going to be paid as such. I'm not talking about No. 1 cornerback money, which basically starts at $10 million a year and gets much higher. But nobody should be surprised if Smith gets short-term offers in the $8 to $9 million per year range. The Ravens might not have to get that high given Smith's preference to stay, but you figure that they're going to have to get pretty close."
Carr's $7 million team option would be the seventh-highest cap hit on the team next season. However, he does provide more versatility than Smith being able to play at cornerback and safety.
Ultimately, these moves will come down to the financials and the Ravens are better positioned to tackle these decisions than in previous seasons.
"Roster movement is fluid, and the Ravens have several options to consider as the offseason marches forward," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "What's certain is that with Jefferson out of the picture, the team has a bit more financial leeway at its disposal."
Finding an Elite Pass Rusher Isn't Easy
Free agency is just over one month away and the top priority for the Ravens remains keeping Matthew Judon.
As our own John Eisenberg wrote, Judon is worth the investment, and John Harbaugh said the Ravens "very much" want to retain their top pass rusher.
Harbaugh also acknowledged that re-signing Judon won't be easy. If Judon hits the open market, there's a good chance he doesn't return. Baltimore ranks in the bottom third of cap space among NFL teams and is not in position to win any bidding wars.
Other teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are also working to retain their top pass rushers. While the idea of pursuing free agent pass rushers is exciting, Zrebiec said the current market serves as a reminder that finding an elite pass rusher isn't easy.
"Look, teams say a lot of things this time of the year and they don't always play out like they anticipate," 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."
The franchise tag still seems like the most realistic option. It would keep Judon in Baltimore for at least one more season and give the two sides more time to potentially work out a long-term deal.
Judon is an ascending talent who has recorded at least seven sacks in his last three seasons. He's going to get paid by someone. If not the Ravens, NFL.com's Gil Brandt thinks it could be the Cardinals.
"The Cardinals' 32nd-ranked defense could use help across the board, but one of their biggest needs is an edge rusher to pair with Chandler Jones, who finished second in the NFL with 19 sacks," Brandt wrote. "Judon would fit nicely, coming off his best season with Baltimore. Following the exits of Ravens stalwarts Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs last offseason, Judon took up the pass-rushing mantle, logging 54 tackles and a team- and career-high 9.5 sacks."
Bradley Bozeman Named One Of Most Underrated Ravens
Remember all the questions and concerns surrounding the left guard spot heading into last season? Bradley Bozeman answered them pretty quickly.
Baltimore Beatdown's Dustin Cox named the second-year guard one of the most underrated Ravens of 2019.
"After a somewhat rocky beginning to his sophomore season, Bozeman rebounded to solidify his place as a starter along one of the league's best offensive lines," Cox wrote. "Bozeman was especially effective as a pulling guard, which was pivotal in the offense's rushing success."
Gus Edwards, Patrick Mekari, Miles Boykin, and Hayden Hurst also made Cox's list.
Bozeman played the fifth-most offensive snaps among guards and only allowed four sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. His consistency with one of the league's best offensive lines directly contributed to Lamar Jackson's MVP season and the success of the Ravens' run game.
With James Hurst suspended for the first four games of the regular season, it's even more important that Bozeman has established himself as the full-time starter at left guard.
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler was excited to see the development of the former sixth-round pick.
"With Bozeman, the Ravens showed the value of drafting well deep into their big board," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens let him develop as a rookie and got him ready to become a full-time starter in his second season. Jackson is the biggest story, yet don't forget about how good the offensive line was. Bozeman quietly had a year better than anybody expected."
Mark Ingram Just Misses Out on PFF's Top 101 List
Following a 14-2 season, it wasn't a surprise that five Ravens made PFF's list of the top 101 players from the 2019. However, it was surprising that Mark Ingram II wasn't among them.
It turns out that Ingram was one of 10 players who just missed the cut.
"Evaluating the Ravens offense this season is an extreme challenge because of how unique that system is and the impact Jackson has on every other player on it," PFF wrote. "That extends to Ingram, who had an excellent season as the primary running back for the team, but obviously benefitted by what Jackson's threat does to defenses. The other thing that counted against Ingram is that he played just 530 total snaps including the playoffs. That he was used in a rotation is obviously not Ingram's fault, but it's hard not to lean toward other backs like Christian McCaffrey who played almost twice the snaps over the season."
To say the signing was a steal seems like an understatement.
Ingram rushed for 1,018 yards, 10 touchdowns, and added five receiving touchdowns. A top 101 player or not in the eyes of PFF, the Ravens will be happy with the return they've seen in just one season.