Late for Work 3/14: With Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram, Eric DeCosta Makes His Grand Entrance

031419_LFW

DeCosta’s Patience, Plan Pay Off With Earl Thomas

“In Ozzie we trust.”

The slogan, once coined for former General Manager Ozzie Newsome now holds significant weight with his successor.

In his first offseason, Eric DeCosta made his grand entrance into free agency Wednesday.

After releasing Eric Weddle and losing key defensive pieces in C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, the Ravens made a splash by signing Seahawks’ safety Earl Thomas.

The three-time All-Pro heads to Baltimore on a reported four-year, $55 million deal with $32 million guaranteed.

Patience pays off after all.

"DeCosta isn't trying to win headlines. He's trying to win games," wrote NFL.com's Jim Trotter.

“On Tuesday, we wondered who would become the face and voice of the Ravens’ defense in a post Suggs, Weddle and Mosley world,” wrote the Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec. “On Wednesday, we got the answer. We should have seen it coming.”

Since entering the league in 2010, Thomas has been widely regarded as one of the league’s best safeties. He was a key part of the Seahawks’ legendary “Legion of Boom,” locking down the back third of the field. Check out the huge impact he had on that unit.

Thomas now joins a long list of established safeties in Baltimore.

“Few teams hold the free safety position in such high regard as the Ravens, and Baltimore's track record backs it up,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.

"When the Ravens set the record for the fewest points allowed in a 16-game season in 2000, Rod Woodson was patrolling center field. When Baltimore ranked No. 1 in defense in 2006, Reed was frustrating quarterbacks by always finding the ball. When the Ravens had the NFL's top defense for the second time in team history, Eric Weddle was quarterbacking the defense and helping disguise coverages.”

Thomas played in only four games last season before fracturing his left leg. He’s missed 19 games over the past three seasons, as Zrebiec pointed out.

But the risk is worth the price tag with Thomas’ talent. He still nabbed three picks last year – more than any Ravens defender.

Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale must be licking his chops knowing the kind of playmaker he’s inherited. The addition of Thomas in an attacking 3-4 defense solidifies a secondary that allowed just 210 yards per game through the air last season.

Paired with Tony Jefferson, the schematic options seem endless in the eyes of pundits. 

Added Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz: “Thomas is one of the few free safeties in the NFL — and perhaps the only one available in free agency — who can match Weddle’s instincts in pass coverage. And he brings newfound playmaking to Baltimore’s defense.”

Reaction to the Mark Ingram Signing

Earl Thomas wasn’t the only big addition in Baltimore on Wednesday. Shortly after, news broke that the Ravens had agreed to terms with running back Mark Ingram on a three-year, $15 million deal.

While it’s not the splash the New York Jets made with Le’Veon Bell, Ingram brings plenty to the table in Greg Roman’s offense at a much lower cost.

Pundits saw this as a free-agent match throughout the offseason and Ingram brings a veteran presence to the Ravens’ backfield. He’s quietly been one of the most productive running backs in recent years playing alongside a superb talent in Alvin Kamara.

Opposing defenders are aware of Ingram’s ability and he’s been one of the hardest running backs to bring down.

Sounds like the perfect fit.

Ingram reportedly chose Baltimore over New Orleans because of guarantees. The Saints never offered the same financial incentives, according to ESPN’s Mike Triplett. When the Saints signed running back Latavius Murray, the Ravens swooped in.

“Losing Ingram will hurt the Saints,” wrote NOLA.com’s Josh Katzenstein. “Murray might replicate Ingram’s production on the field as the No. 2 option behind lead back Alvin Kamara. But even if Murray is a perfect fit in the locker room, he’ll never replace what Ingram meant to his teammates.”

Needless to say, it was an emotional send-off for Ingram.

But he’s one happy addition in Baltimore. Ingram reunites with former Saints teammate Willie Snead IV.

Inside Linebacker Zach Brown a Free*-*Agent Option?

The Ravens may not be done in free agency. We’re just over two days in and there are needs to fill, most notably at inside linebacker following Mosley’s departure.

One free-agent target could be Zach Brown. The eight-year vet was released by the Washington Redskins, after they reportedly tried to shop him, and comes in at No. 8 on Pro Football Focus’ top-25 remaining free agents.

“Zach Brown’s high-end play is as good as any in the league and at still just 29 years old, his pedigree over the past four seasons should make him a highly sought after target,” wrote PFF. “He’s shown well in coverage over the past four years as well, as his 2017 season in which he struggled in Washington seems more like an anomaly than a sign of his true ability.”

Brown totaled 96 tackles, 10 for loss and two forced fumbles in 12 starts last season. He’s only three seasons removed from being the NFL’s second-leading tackler (149) in 2016.

The Maryland native also earned an 84.4 grade in coverage, per PFF. Pretty good for a player who reportedly played through a torn oblique last year.

Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young are promising young talents, but Brown could provide a necessary stop-gap. Because he was released, Brown wouldn’t count against the compensatory formula.

The Ravens followed a similar path in 2013 when signing veteran Daryl Smith after losing Ray Lewis. Smith started all 16 games in three straight seasons as the leader in the middle of the defense.

Brown could offer the same impact – at the right price, of course.

Time to Crown Browns AFC North Champs? Not So Fast …

We live in a world of instant reaction and what the Cleveland Browns have done in the past two days is certainly attention-grabbing.

By now you already know. Browns GM John Dorsey landed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and pass rusher Olivier Vernon from the Giants. Last year, they went from 0-16 to 7-8-1 behind rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. Now pundits are pointing to them as potential Super Bowl contenders next season.

We’re less than six months away from the start of the 2019 season and the hype is already building in Cleveland. Is it time to crown the Browns as AFC North Champs?

“Are the Browns still the worthy new favorites of the AFC North? Sure—their roster is very appealing,” Benoit wrote. “But the Steelers are built around their Hall of Fame quarterback and the Ravens around their aggressive, innovative defensive scheme. Neither of those entities can be expected to decline in 2019. Which means neither of these teams should be expected to take a step back.”

It’s hard to deny the Browns’ upgrades, but Benoit made a point to note that the Ravens’ and Steelers’ offseason losses came at their greatest areas of strength.

For the Ravens, their complex defensive scheme is still very much intact, according to Benoit.

“Much of it comes down to executing disguised blitzes, which require a strong secondary,” he wrote. “That’s why this part of the roster has not just been maintained, but enhanced. Earl Thomas costs more than predecessor Eric Weddle because Thomas can still run and consistently tackle in space. Like Weddle, he’s a cagey veteran who, along with expensive 2017 free-agent pickup Tony Jefferson, can play either safety spot.”

The AFC North is generally considered one of the toughest divisions in football. Since 2002, no team in the division has won three or more consecutive titles.

The Browns will have some proving to do. During that span, they’ve yet to win a division title.

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