Late for Work 2/22: Free Agency Predictions Send RB Mark Ingram to Ravens

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Free Agency Predictions Send RB Mark Ingram to Ravens

With the start of free agency less than three weeks away, the predictions are flying. Who’s going where?

NFL.com’s Marc Sessler released one prediction for each team, and his pick for the Ravens is adding veteran running back Mark Ingram.

“Baltimore's pound-the-rock-down-your-throat attack was exposed in January's playoff loss to the Chargers,” Sessler wrote.

“With Lamar Jackson at the controls, though, the Ravens aren't about to ditch their devotion to the run. I like the idea of new play caller Greg Roman unleashing a hammer-dropping ball-carrier like Ingram alongside Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon.”

Ingram has been part of the New Orleans’ Saints’ dangerous 1-2 punch alongside Alvin Kamara. Last year, he ran for 645 yards and got in the end zone seven times. The two years prior, when he played all 16 games, Ingram topped 1,000 yards in each season.

Sessler isn’t the only one who likes Ingram to Baltimore. In it’s “bold offseason predictions” released earlier this month, ESPN also projected Ingram to the Ravens.

“Baltimore has done its best with patchwork at running back over the past four seasons -- from Justin Forsett to Terrance West to Alex Collins to Gus Edwards-- but the team needs a proven featured back in building an offense around Lamar Jackson,” ESPN wrote.

“Under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, veteran runners such as Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy have thrived. Ingram is the type of durable, physical and efficient back (4.5-yard career average) who would be the perfect fit in Baltimore's offense.”

The downside on Ingram is he’s 29 years old and has a lot of tread on his tires. He’s about to enter his ninth NFL season and his physical style has led to a lot of hits over the years. He has more than 1,500 career touches.

Ingram’s average yards per carry has dropped each of the past two seasons. He went from a career-high 5.1 in 2016 to 4.9 to 4.7. He still carries a healthy career average of 4.5 yards per rush.

Plus, Ingram served a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs at the start of last season.

There seems to be a burgeoning groundswell of support for RB Mark Ingram to the Ravens,” wrote Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi. “If the decision was mine, I’d take a hard pass. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ingram, but there are far less expensive players like him available in the draft.

“DeCosta has stressed fiscal responsibility so why should the Ravens take a chance on a 29-year-old player with eight seasons under his belt, fresh off a four-game suspension for PEDs? Ingram isn’t a difference maker.”

Ingram’s projected free agency market value is $4.4 million, per Spotrac. The Ravens could certainly find a cheaper option in the draft.

There’s also been a lot of buzz about the possibility of adding a different Alabama running back: rookie projected first-round pick Josh Jacobs.

By the way, another free agency prediction that Sessler made is that Za’Darius Smith will go to the Tennessee Titans to reunite with former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

“Smith generated plenty of rough-and-tumble tape for the Ravens last season. PFF credited him with 61 pressures, a breakout leap from his 40 in 2017,” Sessler wrote. “The Titans need help pressuring the quarterback -- just like every team in the NFL -- and would hope to grab Smith just as the 26-year-old hits his prime.”

Reaction to Tavon Young’s Reported Record-Setting Deal

In case you were hibernating yesterday, cornerback Tavon Young agreed to a three-year contract extension, per multiple reports. The extension is expected to be officially announced today at 11 a.m.

In what will be a busy offseason for new General Manager Eric DeCosta, it wasn’t the most highly-anticipated or debated move, yet it was a good one met with a collective thumbs up.

“Addressing​ the​ contract​ of Tavon​ Young wasn’t included​ in any of​ the​ outside​ offseason priority lists​ for Ravens​ first-year general​​ manager Eric DeCosta,” wrote The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec, who first reported the news.

“However, today’s news that the Ravens have agreed to a three-year extension with the 24-year-old slot cornerback says plenty about DeCosta’s plans for building the team’s roster. Draft, develop and take care of your own.”

Just a few weeks ago, DeCosta told reporters that one of his primary objectives would be to retain Baltimore’s young, talented players. He lamented losing some over the years when the Ravens were tight against the salary cap.

“Young’s deal is proof that it wasn’t just lip service,” Zrebiec wrote.

Young was a key member of the Ravens’ top-ranked defense and fifth-ranked secondary. Called a “pit bull” by Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale, he’s a sticky cover man, aggressive blitzer and strong tackler.

“He exudes the qualities the Ravens covet: competitiveness, swagger and toughness,” Zrebiec wrote. “Pound-for-pound, the 5-foot-9 and 185-pound cornerback is considered by his teammates to be one of the toughest players in the locker room.”

A fourth-round pick in 2016, Young rebounded extremely well from a torn ACL that cost him his entire sophomore season. Despite playing through a sports hernia injury for much of the second half of the season, he still scored two touchdowns and had one interception (of Baker Mayfield in Week 5).

“Young being a priority for an extension is a reflection of today’s NFL in which most teams use the nickel package as their base defense,” WNST’s Luke Jones wrote.

A little bit after the initial news of the extension came the reported details of the deal. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Young will become the NFL’s richest slot corner.

A bunch of Ravens players expressed their joy about the deal on Twitter, but offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. may have summed it up best once the reported contract terms came to light.

“The price will surely raise some eyebrows, because Young has technically only played two full seasons,” Zrebiec wrote.

“All of these ‘early’ extensions come with risk, but for the Ravens, they’ve dealt with the alternative too many times and they could experience it again in a couple of weeks if middle linebacker C.J. Mosley reaches free agency and departs for a big deal. The closer a player gets to free agency, the harder he is to sign and the more expensive he becomes. The Ravens are betting on Young, a player the coaching staff loves, continuing to improve.”

One thing that should be taken into account is that it’s 2019. As the salary cap rises, prices keep going up, especially at a position that is increasingly important in today’s pass-happy NFL. Remember, the Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster ran a ton of routes out of the slot this past season.

 “The Ravens are also recognizing the increasing importance of his skillset,” Zrebiec wrote. “Offenses load up with wide receivers on the field and often put one of their top pass catchers in the slot to take advantage of mismatches. Contracts for the better nickel corners are only going up along with the demand.”

Plus, the contract reportedly does not hamper the Ravens’ ability to make other moves this offseason, as the reported details this morning show:

What Young’s Contract Means for Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr

The Ravens’ investment in Young makes him one of their highest-paid defenders, and it could mean some other cutting needs to be done.

“The contract is a big one for a slot corner and it could impact Jimmy Smith‘s standing in Baltimore,” wrote Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper. “Smith has a cap number of $15.85 million for the 2019 season and the Ravens would get $9.5 million of that space back if they moved on without the veteran corner.”

“[The Ravens] may have to move forward without cornerback Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle, who are both potential salary cap casualties,” Zrebiec wrote.

Smith’s cap hit is the second largest for any cornerback in the NFL, and the Ravens could free up $9.5 million by cutting him. Fellow veteran Brandon Carr would carry a $7 million cap hit if the Ravens pick up his 2019 option.

“This might come down to whether the Ravens can convince Smith to take a pay cut. The Colorado product has a $9.5 million base salary in the final year of his deal, and while he would attract interest on the free-agent market, I don't think any team would give Smith that sort of money,” ESPN’s Bill Barnwell wrote.

“If they can extend Smith for a couple of years and bring down his overall compensation to a cap hit in the $10 million range, they would be smart to keep Smith and move on from Carr. At their current cap hits, I think Baltimore would part ways with Smith and keep Carr.”

More Extensions Could Be on the Way for Young Ravens

Young’s extension could also mean more similar deals are on the way for young Ravens. Zrebiec tweeted that the Ravens are “hoping to do a few of these type deals this offseason.”

Multiple outlets speculated that outside linebacker Matthew Judon, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive tackle Michael Pierce and kicker Justin Tucker could get new deals before entering the final years of their contracts.

Judon seems to be the most likely, especially considering the Ravens could lose Terrell Suggs and Smith in free agency.

“The Ravens probably have to choose between Smith and Judon given their spending elsewhere on defense,” Barnwell wrote. “I'd lean toward the latter, who has been more consistently productive throughout his career. Judon has 19 sacks and 49 knockdowns through three seasons, along with 10 tackles for loss against the run over the past two seasons. Smith had two over that same time frame.”

Pierce is a tougher case because the Ravens already gave defensive tackle Brandon Williams a hefty five-year contract before the 2017 season. Williams is slated to have cap hits of $14.2 million each of the next three years, per Spotrac.

“Pierce, meanwhile, could be subject to other moves. Baltimore gave nose tackle Brandon Williams a five-year, $52.5 million deal in March 2017, which is a huge contract for someone who rarely gets after the quarterback,” Barnwell wrote.

“Defensive end Brent Urban just completed his best season as a pro and is now a free agent, and the Ravens might choose to lock him up instead. Pierce is a valuable player, but the Ravens probably can't pay Williams and Pierce what they're worth at the same time.”

The Ravens still have a lot of moving parts in free agency, and DeCosta has many decisions to make. But getting extensions for more young talent could be high on the list.

“This move is just the beginning,” Lombardi wrote. “Eric’s close relationship with Pat Moriarty will fuel more moves like this one so that in the future the Ravens will reach a point of financial freedom. That coupled with productive drafts will enable the team to be regular threats in the AFC.”

Quick Hits

  • Here are the other five offseason moves that ESPN’s Bill Barnwell thinks the Ravens should make, including locking up C.J. Mosley and signing quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

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