Ravens Linked to Recently Cut Mo Wilkerson, Who Signed a Mega-Deal Just Two Years Ago
While everyone in Baltimore is screaming, "offense, Offense, OFFENSE," a defensive player just hit the street that has been linked to the Ravens.
The New York Jets released defensive end Muhammad "Mo" Wilkerson Wednesday, just two years into a blockbuster five-year, $86 million deal. The Jets' 2011 first-round pick made $37 million over the last two seasons, but his play dipped after the deal while chronic tardiness increased, which led to his release.
Wilkerson still has plenty of football left in him at 28 years old, and is expected to get lots of interest on the free-agent market, including potentially from the Ravens.
Baltimore could use help at defensive end.
After Brent Urban went down with a Lisfranc injury in Week 3, the defense struggled to replace him. The Ravens first tried with Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley – two young players that weren't quite ready – then eventually used defensive tackle Willie Henry.
Urban appeared to be on the verge of a breakout year, and now the Ravens have to decide whether to re-sign the pending unrestricted free agent. There's talk he could return on a team-friendly deal and he'd have to prove he can stay healthy after three season-ending injuries in his four-year career. Urban is still going through the rehab process from the most-recent injury and said he hopes to remain in Baltimore.
With little stability and young players still finding their way at the position, an accomplished veteran like Wilkerson could be a welcomed addition.
Wilkerson was a beast coming out of college (Temple) and continued to ascend until he was voted into the 2015 Pro Bowl after notching 12 sacks that season. The Jets subsequently invested a massive amount of money into the rising star.
But Wilkerson got caught in a downward spiral after signing the mega-deal, which is why he now finds himself on the market.
He broke his ankle in the last game of the 2015 season, which affected his play the next year when he finished with just 4.5 sacks. In 2017, he played through shoulder and toe injuries, then off-the-field issues started creeping in.
"The habitually tardy and underachieving defensive lineman was de-activated for the final three games last season after repeatedly breaking team rules," wrote the New York Daily News' Manisih Mehta. "He morphed from Pro Bowl player to Pro Bowl excuse-maker before the Jets finally had enough and put him in timeout toward the end of the season before they could file divorce papers.
"Wilkerson was invisible after getting his big pay day. He recorded only eight sacks in 28 games and was disciplined multiple times for repeatedly being late to meetings and missing a practice since getting the monster deal that he had coveted for so long. … Wilkerson made fools out of everyone in the organization that believed in him."
Those are strong words, and don't represent the player that former Jets Head Coach and Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan saw when he drafted and coached Wilkerson from 2011-14.
"It's definitely sad," Ryan told ESPN in December. "I wish the kid the best. He played his ass off when I had him. He played his ass off. I never worried about him on or off the field. I never once worried. He wanted to learn, he wanted to get better, he was a local kid ... and he was a hell of a player. I don't know what happened. I don't know this Mo Wilkerson."
The Ravens, or any other team, wouldn't want a player with chronic tardiness issues, but if he returns to the player that Ryan knew, somebody could take a chance with a one- or two-year "prove it" deal, and La Canfora envisions the Ravens in that mix.
2018 Draft Class Doesn't Have What Ravens Want, But Offers What They Need
If you had to characterize this year's draft class, here's what many analysts would say:
It doesn't have top-end stars, but offers plenty of depth.
"The wide receiver class is deep but not star-studded," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "There is a gaggle of solid pass-catching tight ends but not much in the way of versatile performers who can also block. The interior offensive line class is loaded. However, there's not much excitement about the available tackles."
The Ravens are no doubt looking for offensive playmakers, and while top talent likely won't be available at No. 16, they could strike gold in subsequent rounds.
Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley could be gone, and no tight end appears worthy of a first-round pick. Outside of Penn State's Saquon Barkley, the running back group is more likely to heat up in the second and third rounds.
Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said at the NFL Scouting Combine yesterday that there are "an inordinate number" of receivers deemed as top-three-round-caliber players, but no "easily identifiable franchise-type receivers."
"Maybe that's not bad news for the Ravens," wrote Zrebiec, who noted that only one first-round receiver in the last three years has been to the Pro Bowl (Amari Cooper).
"This draft could set up well for the Ravens to use a second- or third-round pick, if not both, on a receiver. Maryland's DJ Moore, Oklahoma State's James Washington, Southern Methodist's Courtland Sutton, Washington's Dante Pettis and Colorado State's Michael Gallup are among the receivers who should go in that range."
Unless Ridley unexpectedly slides to the Ravens at the 16th overall pick, Zrebiec says it would be logical for the Ravens to draft an offensive tackle to pair with Ronnie Stanley as bookends on the offensive line.
"This might not be a draft that offers exactly what the Ravens want," Zrebiec wrote. "But it should produce plenty that they need, particularly in the middle rounds."
Three Lessons Learned From Breshad Perriman
Last week, Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz talked about how the Ravens evaluate their drafting process at each position to ensure they are correctly valuing the most important attributes. That includes at wide receiver.
"I think we're always trying to tweak how we scout all positions," Hortiz said on "The Lounge" podcast. "Obviously, it's been well-documented that we haven't had as much success at the wide receiver position. It's a fact."
While Hortiz didn't reveal the changes they've made, ESPN listed three lessons it thinks the Ravens should've learned after drafting Breshad Perriman in the first round of 2015.
1) Avoid bad hands. "Too often, teams talk themselves into believing they can correct this. They get enamored with desirable physical attributes that they convince themselves into thinking bad hands can turn into serviceable ones."
2) Look for strong personalities. "History has shown that the top receivers are usually the divas on the team. They're the alpha males, from Terrell Owens to Randy Moss. … Perriman is an anti-diva. He appears to be more of an introvert."
3) Speed sometimes doesn't translate. "The 40-yard dash doesn't tell the whole story for wide receivers. Being fast on a track sometimes doesn't translate to the field."
Dolphins Give Jarvis Landry 'Tepid' Endorsement
When asked at the Combine Wednesday if he wants wide receiver Jarvis Landry to play in Miami in 2018, Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase stumbled over his words momentarily and then said in the video to the right, "That's why we franchised him."
Gase was also asked why the team used the franchise tag on the first day possible, instead of waiting until closer to the deadline as many other teams do.
"We knew [what] we were going to do," Gase said. "We weren't sure when the best timing was for us. We just decided to do it on that first day. We felt like that was the best thing for us to really, for him to know that that's there. We'll just kind of see how this plays out."
It's certainly possible that the Dolphins and Landry agree to a long-term deal, or he could play on the $16 million tag figure. The Miami Herald's Adam Beasley explained how that could happen, and said that possibility isn't covered enough in the media.
That said, the way Gase answered the questions of whether Landry will play for Miami this season didn't infuse much confidence.
"Gase said the Dolphins did not use the franchise tag on Landry with the intent to trade him. He, however, gave a tepid endorsement of the productive wide receiver being part of the 2018 Dolphins," wrote Zrebiec.
Ravens Rank No. 8 in Most Dead Cap Accrued Since 2013
There are plenty of reasons the Ravens find themselves tight against the cap year after year, and many of them are good.
For starters, they choose to spend to the limit, when many teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers simply can't, or won't, invest that much. Also, the Ravens invest big money in the draft picks that they've nailed.
But there is another factor that shouldn't be completely ignored, and that's dead money. According to a study done by Spotrac, the Ravens have accrued the eighth-most dead money since 2013 with $96 million.
The teams ahead of Baltimore are the New Orleans Saints ($137.5 million), Cleveland Browns ($133.5M), Buffalo Bills ($125.3M), San Francisco 49ers ($110.9M), Dallas Cowboys ($107.4M), Oakland Raiders ($105.4M) and New York Jets ($99.7M).
A chunk of the Ravens' dead money over that period came with the release of running back Ray Rice, which accounted for $14.25 million. Per Spotrac, that was the sixth-highest dead cap hit in the league since 2011. Other big hits came from tight end Dennis Pitta, tackle Eugene Monroe and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.