Late for Work 3/15: Pundits Praise Deal With Veteran Guard Kevin Zeitler

031521-LFW
Free Agent G Kevin Zeitler

Ravens Reportedly Land Offensive Line Help

With excitement building in Baltimore ahead of free agency, the biggest news broke before most even woke up.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Ravens have reached an agreement with former New York Giants guard Kevin Zeitler on a three-year deal reportedly worth $22.5 million.

Teams are allowed to enter into negotiations with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents today, but Zeitler was free to sign at any time because he was released by the Giants last week.

NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that Zeitler had interest from other teams, including the Seattle Seahawks.

"The guard market is shallow this year, with Zeitler representing one of the few starting-caliber options. It's no surprise he landed a new gig so swiftly," NFL.com's Kevin Patra wrote. "Upgrading the offensive line was a priority in Baltimore. The club struggled to replace star guard Marshal Yanda, who retired just over a year ago. Zeitler is no Yanda, but he represents the closest the Ravens could come to a suitable substitute in this market. Zeitler immediately upgrades the Ravens' interior blocking and should be a boon for Lamar Jackson in both the run and passing attacks."

"Eric DeCosta said one of the major priorities this offseason was to improve the pass protection for Jackson, and he backed that up with Baltimore's first free-agent signing," ESPN's Jamison Hensley added. "Last season, Baltimore allowed Jackson to get pressured on 22.7% of his passes (17th in the NFL)."

Zeitler started 31 of 32 games in two seasons with the Giants and had an AFC North upbringing in Cincinnati and Cleveland before being traded to New York. USA Today's Doug Farrar gave the reported move an "A" grade because of Zeitler's fit in the Ravens' gap blocking scheme.

"It's a great addition for the Ravens not only because Zeitler is still a great player in the abstract at age 31, but more specifically because he's a perfect schematic fit for his new team," Farrar wrote. "In 2020, per Sports Info Solutions, the Ravens ran gap blocking with one or more pulling guards in the run game on a league-leading 245 snaps, gaining a league-leading 1,518 yards, a league-leading 672 yards after contact, and a league-leading 13 touchdowns. The Giants in 2020 ran behind those kinds of blocking patterns on 125 snaps for 552 yards, 292 yards after contact, and one touchdown. Of course, the Giants didn't have Jackson or Jackson's running backs (especially with Saquon Barkley's injuries), but it speaks to the fact that Zeitler won't have to start from scratch schematically."

Not only would Zeitler upgrade the offensive line, he also wouldn't count against the compensatory pick formula. For a team that has the most comp picks of all time, that's always taken into consideration.

Plus, the other top guard option, Joe Thuney, is expected to sign at a much higher rate, along with top center Corey Linsley.

Praise for Reported Pernell McPhee Resigning

Another free agency domino fell for the Ravens on Friday when Schefter reported that veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee reached an agreement to re-sign with Baltimore.

McPhee told our own Clifton Brown earlier this month that his plan was to return to Baltimore.

McPhee was a key part of the pass rush rotation last season, totaling 34 tackles, 15 quarterback hits, and three sacks playing 42 percent of the defensive snaps. He was even the Ravens' highest-graded pass rusher, according to Pro Football Focus.

"Even at age 32, McPhee continues to be an impact player," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "He played a value rotational role during the regular season in 2020 but was one of the team's most impressive defenders in the postseason. Against the Titans and Bills, McPhee played 52 combined snaps — well more than Yannick Ngaouke — and had seven combined tackles with a sack, quarterback hit, and tackle for loss."

"Re-signing McPhee again is even more important this time around. The Ravens currently have just one outside linebacker under contract in Jaylon Ferguson with Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, and Ngaouke set to hit unrestricted free agency."

Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens added that the re-signing brings some stability to the position ahead of free agency.

"Baltimore still has Judon, Ngakoue, and Bowser set to hit free agency," Stevens wrote. "While the team didn't use the available franchise tag on any of them but could look to re-sign one or more of those players, the Ravens could be allowing them to hit free agency to better determine their value in an uncertain market, potentially losing all three."

Prediction Sends Judon to Jaguars and Ngakoue to Jets

With free agency's negotiating window opening today, it seems the Ravens' top free agents of Judon and Ngakoue will officially hit the market.

The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia predicted where the top 50 unrestricted free agents will land. He predicted the Ravens will lose Judon to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Ngakoue to the New York Jets.

For Judon, Kapadia pointed to familiarity with former Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen, who was hired as the Jaguars' defensive coordinator.

"[Cullen] knows how versatile and disruptive Judon is. Last season, Judon hit the quarterback on 8.5 percent of his pass-rush opportunities," Kapadia wrote. "That ranked third behind only T.J. Watt and Joey Bosa. The Jaguars aren't good enough to worry about need. They just need to add talent."

A move to New York for Ngakoue would pair him with a strong defensive mind in newly-hired Head Coach Robert Saleh.

"There are two things Joe Douglas will value about Ngakoue: production and durability," Kapadia wrote. "Ngakoue has missed just two games in his career, and since entering the league in 2016, his 45.5 sacks rank 12th, and his 95 quarterback hits rank tied for 14th. Saleh's defensive scheme will be predicated on pressuring the quarterback with four pass rushers. Ngakoue fits well, and he'll be just 26 years old at the start of the 2021 season. At worst, the Jets get a top-20 pass rusher. And there's a chance that Ngakoue's best football is ahead of him if Saleh can find a way to unlock him further."

NFL.com currently has Judon as the ninth-best free agent available and Ngakoue as the 11th best.

Kapadia also expects the Ravens to be active in signing free agents. His predictions have the Ravens landing pass rusher Justin Houston and center David Andrews. Houston was a player that Hensley also pointed to as a free agent target for Baltimore.

"Houston, who drew interest from the Ravens a couple of years ago, could be signed for a bargain ($7 million per year) despite recording at least eight sacks in the past four seasons," Hensley wrote. "Jadeveon Clowney and Melvin Ingram III are unrestricted free agents who might be within Baltimore's price range."

Could Recent Moves Make It Harder to Trade Orlando Brown?

Garafolo reported that six teams are showing interest in Orlando Brown Jr., but Stevens said recent moves could make it harder for the Ravens to trade him.

"Orlando Brown Jr. has made it clear he views himself as a left tackle and wants to start on that side, going as far as requesting a trade to make it happen," Stevens wrote. "Unfortunately, the Kansas City Chiefs releasing top tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz on Thursday is going to make Brown's dream significantly harder to achieve this offseason.

"If Brown is dead-set on leaving and Baltimore is willing to make it happen, the Ravens could get quite the haul thanks in part to his level of play and his low 2021 cap hit. But the biggest reason for Brown's potentially high trade value had just as much to do with the scarcity of top talent available. As one of the premier positions in the NFL, top offensive tackles don't become available very often — either by trade or in free agency — and this offseason was no different prior to Thursday."

Stevens said the tackle market was limited after players such as the Carolina Panthers' Taylor Moton and Jaguars' Cam Robinson were given the franchise tag, but Fisher and Schwartz provide more options.

There's also an argument to be made that Brown still has plenty of trade value given his age and lack of injury history.

Schwartz missed 10 games last season because of a back injury and underwent back surgery this offseason, while Fisher turned 30 years old in January. On the other hand, Brown is just 24 coming off two straight Pro Bowl seasons.

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