Should Ravens Pursue QB Sam Bradford?
There's no shortage of people who think the Ravens will draft a backup for quarterback Joe Flacco in April, but if they do, it may not automatically preclude Baltimore from also signing a veteran.
"I think the Ravens have to be in the quarterback market, either with a third- or fourth-round potential player," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call Monday. "We've talked about Mason Rudolph, Luke Falk, Mike White, Lauletta, Woodside, those kind of players. Or they've got to be looking to sign a veteran free agent just as insurance, or both."
One lesson from the 2017 season is that backup quarterbacks can make or break a team's season.
The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles, who was the backup to Carson Wentz but had plenty of previous starting experience. The Minnesota Vikings advanced to the NFC championship game with backup Case Keenum. Things didn't work out as well for the Green Bay Packers after Aaron Rodger went down and 2015 fifth-round pick Brett Hundley took over. Hundley went 3-6 as the starter.
If the Ravens wanted to pursue a veteran, there are more quality options this offseason than usual. NFL.com draft analyst and former Ravens scout Daniel Jeremiah offered his take on the "best fit" for all free agent quarterbacks and he likes Sam Bradford in Baltimore.
"The Ravens remain committed to Joe Flacco, but I think it makes some sense to bring in some competition to keep him motivated," Jeremiah wrote. "If healthy (that's a big if), Bradford is a more consistent passer than Flacco."
Bradford wouldn't be your typical backup.
When healthy, he's always been considered a starter. One would assume he would want to pursue a starting job again with one of the many QB-hungry teams. But if he doesn't get one – he's had multiple knee surgeries – and he lands in Baltimore, the Ravens would have a pure passer, similar to Flacco, that is more than capable of leading a team to victory.
The Ravens don't have much salary-cap space, so from a financial perspective, the ideal scenario would be to have the primary backup quarterback on a rookie contract. But if a drafted rookie isn't ready to take over, a veteran may be necessary.
Current backup Ryan Mallett is scheduled to become a free agent in March. Mallett only started two games for the Ravens since signing in mid-December 2015. That was the year Flacco suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Flacco has never missed a start since then, but was hampered early last season by a herniated disc. Owner Steve Bisciotti said the offense was altered and more conservative to protect Flacco while he recovered. Bisciotti added that the Ravens have "bigger fish to fry" this offseason than finding Flacco's successor, which may give more weight to finding a capable veteran backup signal caller.
"I think there are two questions here when you're talking about your quarterback Joe Flacco," Mayock said. "One is, A, the quality of play, and B is the age. At this point, from an age perspective, I think he's fine. I don't think there's been any noticeable deterioration. I'm not sure everybody's excited with the way he's played since the Super Bowl year. But I don't think it's an age-related topic.
"But I do believe he and Matt Ryan came out in the same year. You start getting into the league for 10 or 12 years and you're in your 30s, at some point you've got to start drafting a potential backup."
Tag on Jarvis Landry Actually Helps Ravens … What Would a Trade Cost?
Not only did the franchise tag not kill the Ravens' chances of signing Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landy, as we discussed yesterday, but ESPN argues that it actually improves Baltimore's chances.
"If Landry had hit free agency, the Ravens would've been outbid because of their limited salary-cap room," the website wrote. "Teams like the San Francisco 49ers or Chicago Bears could've lured Landry with a front-loaded contract the Ravens financially couldn't come close to matching. That's how the Ravens lost out on Pierre Garcon last offseason.
"Because of the tag, Baltimore can better control talks with Landry on a new deal if it meets the Dolphins' asking price. The Ravens pulled this off for a veteran receiver in 2010, when they traded for Anquan Boldin and signed him to an extension."
In order to land Landry, assuming the Ravens want him, the first obstacle would be getting Dolphins brass to deal with them over other teams. Miami will be motivated to take an offer soon if it wants to avoid the $16 million franchise tag figure on its books at the start of free agency in March. So, the Ravens would have some leverage, but they'd also have to beat out any potential competing offers from other interested teams.
ESPN Stats & Information reviewed what it cost teams in the past five years to acquire big-name wide receivers via trade.
In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks gave up first- and seventh-round picks in that year's draft, plus another third-rounder the next year, to land Percy Harvin. In case you didn't already know, that's A LOT.
In 2015, the Miami Dolphins traded Dannell Ellerbe and a 2015 third-round pick for Kenny Stills. That's getting more in a reasonable price range for the Ravens.
In 2017, the New England Patriots gave up 2017 first- and third-round picks in exchange for Brandin Cooks and a fourth-rounder. The Los Angeles Rams traded defensive back E.J. Gaines and 2018 second-round pick for Sammy Watkins and a 2018 sixth-round pick. And finally, the Buffalo Bills exchanged a 2018 third-round pick and 2017 seventh-rounder for Kelvin Benjamin.
That history suggests the Ravens would be hard-pressed to get a deal done for anything less than a third-rounder, and maybe more. (That's another reason why missing out on a third-round compensatory pick for Rick Wagner, also discussed yesterday, stings.)
"Perhaps the Ravens give up second- and sixth-round picks for Landry and a fourth-rounder," wrote ESPN. "Maybe Baltimore only trades a third-round pick because it's known Miami will be over the cap if the Dolphins keep his $16 million franchise tag on the books by March 14."
If the Ravens and Dolphins were to agree to a deal, the next hurdle would be to get Landry to agree to a long-term deal. He reportedly is seeking at least $14 million per year.
"Because Landry has less leverage than if he was an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens could try to work out a deal that averages $13 million per season (like Alshon Jeffery) but would guarantee Landry more than his tag and lower his cap number to a little over $4 million in the first year," ESPN writes.
If the Ravens are interested, expect conversations to heat up this week while at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Former Ravens Pass Rusher Pernell McPhee Released by Bears
Three years after leaving Baltimore for a big payday in Chicago, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee was released by the Bears yesterday.
McPhee developed in Baltimore after being drafted in the fifth* *round (comp pick) in the 2011 draft, and had a breakout season as a situational pass rusher in 2014, leading to a five-year, $38.75 million deal with the Bears.
His release wasn't surprising because McPhee struggled with knee and shoulder injuries the last two seasons, playing in just 22 games and starting only five, and the Bears saved nearly $8 million by cutting him.
Some fans have asked whether there could be a reunion in Baltimore with McPhee.
Never say never, but the Ravens have restocked with many young pass rushers, including Matt Judon, Za'Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. They received a fourth-round compensatory pick for losing McPhee in free agency, which the team used on defensive lineman Willie Henry.
McPhee's recent injury history will be an obstacle in free agency, but when he's healthy, he's performed well.