Late For Work 2/23: Hail Mary Time? Ravens Will Take Another Crack At Keeping Top Free Agents

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Hail Mary Time? Ravens Will Take Another Crack At Keeping Top Free Agents

Folks, we are getting awfully close to the start of free agency.

The Ravens have exactly two weeks to lock up their top pending free agents before they hit the open market on March 9, when any NFL team can try to lure them to their city.

The NFL Scouting Combine, which starts Tuesday, may be Ravens brass' final chance to make a convincing enough pitch to persuade their top targets to avoid the open market. One day after the combine ends, the free-agent negotiating window begins.

"The Ravens have made offers to several of their top free agents, a group that includes right tackle Rick Wagner, nose tackle Brandon Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, in the hopes of keeping them off the open market," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "Nothing appears imminent on those fronts, but the Ravens will surely take another crack at trying to re-sign them at the NFL Scouting Combine this month.

"While it may be overstating things a bit to describe negotiations two weeks before free agency starts as a front office version of a Hail Mary, it is extremely difficult to get desired free agents to eschew the open market at this stage of the game. The Ravens will try and get Williams, Wagner and Juszczyk to do just that."

It was reported last week that Wagner rebuffed the Ravens' initial offer. We haven't heard any specifics on Williams and Juszczyk, but at this point, it must be tempting for them to at least dip their toes in free-agent waters.

The Ravens are expected to meet with agent Joe Linta next week in Indianapolis, per Zrebiec. If Linta's name sounds familiar, it should. He's also Joe Flacco's agent and worked closely with the front office on the quarterback's two blockbuster deals. Linta also represents Juszczyk.

In addition to Linta, Zrebiec says meetings with Williams' and Wagner's respective agents "should be in play as well."

While Zrebiec has a hard time seeing Baltimore locking up any of the three before the deadline, he'd bet on Juszczyk having the best shot based on the fullback market.

With many teams no longer even employ a fullback on their roster any more, fullbacks don't usually command a lot of money. The highest paid is Cincinnati's Ryan Hewitt, who makes $2.5 million per year, according to Spotrac.com.

"Linta has done plenty of deals with the Ravens and as versatile as Juszczyk is, the market obviously won't be as robust for him as it will be for the likes of Wagner and Williams," he wrote.

"Linta will obviously pitch Juszczyk as much more than a fullback, given his role in the passing game and on special teams. Still, there will only be so much interest, given many teams don't use fullbacks."  

One other quick note on an under-the-radar Ravens free agent.

Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett is also scheduled to hit the street next month, and whether he gets a shot at a starting job or accepts another backup role, he could get a handsome payday. According to TheMMQB.com's Albert Breer, the Jacksonville Jaguars re-signed backup quarterback Chad Henne to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

That'd be $1 million more expensive than keeping Juszczyk at the highest fullback rate.

"If that's the going rate for a veteran backup signal caller, I do not like the Ravens' chances of re-signing pending free agent Ryan Mallett," wrote Zrebiec.

Mike Wallace Is NFL's Best Receiver At Running Slant Route

Pro Football Focus (PFF) did a study on which NFL wide receivers ran the best routes last season, and the Ravens' Mike Wallace set the standard with slant routes.

The route is designed for the receiver to cut across the field inside on a diagonal to pick up short-to-medium gains, while also giving him the opportunity to explode up-field. That's where Wallace could hit the turbos and let his lightning speed take over.

"Wallace left defenders in the dust when running the slant route," wrote PFF's Eliot Crist. "He was targeted 18 times and caught 16 of them for 294 yards and two touchdowns. Wallace dropped his only two incompletions and led all wide receivers in both yards after the catch (181), WR rating (155.8) and total yards.

"Wallace twice went over 50 yards on slants, including one for 95, 87 of which were after the catch. On top of that, more than half (10/18) of the slants thrown to Wallace resulted in a touchdown or a first down."

You remember that 95-yard touchdown, don't you?

It was against Wallace's former team and the Ravens' arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a Week 9 win. The long score set a Ravens' regular-season franchise record for longest play from scrimmage. After the game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was worried that it broke a Steelers record they set together in 2009. It ended up tying it.

Below is a PFF graphic that shows which NFL receivers are best at each route.

Football Outsiders: Joe Flacco Set Record For 'Failed Completions'

It sounds like an oxymoron: "failed completion."

If a pass is successfully completed, how is it a fail?

Well, statistical website Football Outsiders defines it* *as "any completed pass that fails to gain 45 percent of needed yards on first down; 60 percent of needed yards on second down; or 100 percent of needed yards on third or fourth down." 

You'd often hear complaints last season when Flacco completed passes short of the first-down marker on third down. If you were one of those fans complaining, you were murmuring about a failed completion.

It's important to note that not all failed completions are bad. For example, sometimes they're necessary to get into field goal range or avoid a potential sack or turnover.

Nonetheless, Football Outsiders studied all NFL quarterbacks' failed completions last season, and Flacco "smashed" the record for most failed completions in a season with 144. About a third of Flacco's passes (33 percent) were failed completions.

"It did not matter that the Ravens replaced Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman with Marty Mornhinweg during the season," wrote Scott Kacsmar. "Flacco had nine of the 38 performances this season in which an offense had at least 10 failed completions, including four from Weeks 12 to 16. No other offense had more than three such games in 2016. Flacco also had five games in a row with double-digit failed completions from Weeks 3 to 7."

Of course, somebody had to be on the receiving end of the failed completions, and the person who caught the most of them was Flacco's good friend Dennis Pitta. Pitta had a league-leading (among tight ends and receivers) 31 failed receptions.

"Pitta averaged 10.5 yards per reception through Baltimore's 2012 Super Bowl season, but [his hip] injuries have limited him to 23 games in the last four years, and slowed him down to just 8.4 yards per reception," wrote Kacsmar. "Wide receiver Breshad Perriman was also not a real big-play threat in his recovery from a rookie season wiped out by injury. With the Ravens losing Steve Smith to retirement, a new weapon could be in order for this offense."

Ronnie Stanley And Lola To Be Featured On Animal Planet

Lola may be becoming the most famous pit bull in Baltimore (and beyond).

We first met her when Ravens first-round pick Ronnie Stanley set out to adopt the dog nobody else wanted in June, and since the two joined forces, Lola has been featured in a PETA video and then on "Good Morning America" to kick off the "Pawdoption Bowl."

Now, the six-year-old female pit bull will be featured on Animal Planet's "Stars to the Rescue," which airs 8 p.m. Saturday. Stanley will continue to tell their story and encourage others to adopt animals that may appear "unadoptable." "Adopting Lola was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and I encourage everyone looking for a dog to consider an older one who might otherwise never get that chance," Stanley has said. "There's no better feeling than knowing that Lola's hard days are behind her because she's safe with me."

Here's a sneak peek of their continued love with a clip from the Animal Planet Facebook page.

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