What's The Holdup? Morris Claiborne Wants More Money, But Ravens Not Budging
It's been nearly a week since reports first indicated Baltimore wanted to sign Morris Claiborne, but the 27-year-old cornerback remains on the open market with the two sides still linked.
One week feels like an eternity in free agency.
So, what's the holdup?
According to CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora, Claiborne is seeking a payday close to $7.5 million a year because that's what the Chicago Bears "shockingly" gave Prince Amukamura. But Claiborne is "having a hard time getting it."
Meanwhile, the Ravens' offer is closer to $5 million per year, according to the report. So far, it doesn't sound like there's a higher offer out there, and La Canfora says Claiborne could still be headed to Baltimore.
"It's not the offer that he wants, but it could ultimately be the best offer that he gets," ESPN's Jamison Hensley told WBAL Radio's Brett Hollander. "So I would not be surprised if in the next couple of days that we hear another Ravens signing in this free agency period."
To put these numbers in perspective, the Ravens' reported offer to Claiborne is about half of what they are paying starter Jimmy Smith, who makes $10.3 million per year, according to Spotrac.com. At $5 million per year, Claiborne's pay would rank 32nd among all NFL cornerbacks.
The former No. 6 overall pick clearly has ability, but the concern is his availability.
He hasn't played in more than 11 games in a single season since his 2012 rookie year. He was looking like one of the best corners in the league when he started the first seven games last year until a groin injury cost him the rest of the regular season. He returned for the Cowboys' divisional playoff game, but left again with a rib injury.
"Claiborne was having a spectacular season and starting to make plays on the ball, but he suffered another injury," wrote Dallas Cowboys radio network's Kristi Scales. "I really like Mo, but he hasn't shown that he can be reliable. I want a starter that I can count on. Then again, I drive a Prius, not a BMW. For many of us (especially coaches), dependability is just as important as ability."
That's why some Baltimore media members are saying the Ravens should only be open to signing Claiborne at a reasonable price. Paying him the league's 32nd highest annual average salary for cornerbacks doesn't seem like a big stretch for the potential upside Claiborne brings.
"If he could stay healthy, the Ravens would have two of the best press corners in the NFL with Jimmy Smith and Morris Claiborne," said Hensley. "The risk is if Jimmy Smith can't stay healthy and Morris Claiborne can't stay healthy, they may have the most injury-prone cornerbacks as well.
"… If they add Morris Claiborne, he is a significant improvement over a Shareece Wright and it also allows Tavon Young to move to nickel back. But, it does not preclude the Ravens from drafting a corner in the first two rounds because we have seen over the past three years they have started at least four corners every year. They know going into a season, they have to have four starter-quality corners."
If the Ravens had Smith, Claiborne, Young and a top draft pick, that would be the best cornerbacks corps that Head Coach John Harbaugh has ever had, said Hensley.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith's deal was also worth $5 million per year.
With the Ravens' reported offer now public, other teams know what it would take to lure Claiborne to their cities. Based on reports out of Dallas, the Cowboys could still be interested, but they won't overpay either.
"If the Cowboys want to re-sign Claiborne, the price has been set," wrote 247Sports.com's* *Patrik Walker out of Dallas. "The Cowboys have a lot invested in the former first-rounder, but his price has to be [commensurate] with production and availability. And $5-$7.5M isn't exactly a match there."
Why Did Ravens Trade Jeremy Zuttah?
The Ravens reportedly created $2.4 million in cap space after trading veteran center Jeremy Zuttah to the San Francisco 49ers. The trade essentially allowed the Ravens to move up 12 spots in the sixth round of the draft, instead of just outright releasing him for nothing, which was initially reported Wednesday.
Perhaps former-Raven-turned-49er Kyle Juszczyk pulled a few strings.
"Chalk up another win for the leaking your intent to cut a player in order to find a trade partner that allows you to get something instead of nothing in return maneuver," wrote ProFootballTalk.com's Josh Alper."
That small move scored a couple more #InOzzieWeTrust hashtags on Twitter.
But while every bit of cap space helps, $2.4 million only takes you so far on the free-agent market and the Ravens are also stuck with $2.21 million of dead money after the trade. Zuttah's cap hit ($4.6 million) seemed manageable for a starting center.
For that reason, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec said the move "appears to be more about improving performance at the position than saving money."
At the end of the season, both General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh emphasized the importance of getting bigger and stronger along the offensive line. Harbaugh said improving the unit is priority one.
Even though Zuttah made it to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, Zrebiec described how he had declined.
"Zuttah struggled the past two seasons with both injuries and inconsistency, and the Ravens want to get more athletic and physical up front in between guards Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda," he wrote. "The Ravens hope their next center will limit the amount of inside penetration on quarterback Joe Flacco and help a running game that has fallen on hard times.
"… His toughness and accountability made him a popular teammate, but Zuttah struggled at times, especially against big nose tackles."
The obvious next question is: Who will replace the nine-year veteran?
Zrebiec doesn't see an "obvious upgrade" on the roster, in free agency or the draft. John Urschel or Ryan Jenson are the next in line for the spot internally. A popular name tossed around is seven-time Pro Bowler Nick Mangold, who was cut by the New York Jets last month.
"[Mangold] is considered the best center remaining on the open market. However, there are concerns about his age (33) and recent injury history, and the Ravens haven't expressed much interest in him to this point," wrote Zrebiec.
"As for the draft, Ohio State's Pat Elflein and Louisiana State's Ethan Pocic are considered the best centers in the class. However, it's not an especially deep or highly regarded center class."
Todd McShay's Mock Draft Interesting For Who Ravens Picked AND Passed Over
In his newest mock draft following the NFL Scouting Combine, ESPN's Todd McShay has the Ravens using their 16th overall pick on Washington wide receiver John Ross.
Ross dominated headlines when he made history and broke running back Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash record of 4.24 seconds from 2008. Ross got it down to 4.22.
"If the Ravens opt to take a second first-round wide receiver in three years, they'd have a tough decision between the electric speed of Ross and the size/jump-ball ability of Mike Williams," McShay wrote. "Ross' tape shows his 4.22 40 is no fluke, and his savvy route-running ability and reliable hands make him a great all-around prospect."
It's interesting that McShay has the Ravens addressing the wide receiver position (which is in need of new blood) over cornerback or pass rusher. But what is more interesting is that he has Baltimore selecting Ross over Clemson's Williams, who is a big-bodied receiver and shows up on the biggest stages.
In the NFL.com video below, former scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks debate who the best receiver in the draft is, and their top three candidates are Ross, Williams and Corey Davis (Western Michigan).
While all three are special talents, Hensley believes the best fit for the Ravens would be Williams.
"Putting Ross together with Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman would give the Ravens one of the fastest receiver tandems in the NFL," he wrote. "Ross is another big-play target who set the school record with 11 receptions of at least 50 yards in a career.
"But, assuming Western Michigan's Corey Davis is taken in the top 10, the better fit for Baltimore is Clemson's Mike Williams. He has more size (6-foot-4) and strength than Ross and better complements Wallace and Perriman. Williams compares favorably to Brandon Marshall and excels at those inside-breaking routes, which would pair nicely with Baltimore's speedy deep threats. It's possible the Ravens will have their choice of all the top wide receivers when they're on the clock with the No. 16 overall pick."
Is Kamar Aiken Ravens' Best WR Option At This Point?
As the wide receiver market continues to dry up, Kamar Aiken still sits there for potential suitors. His former teammate, Justin Forsett, gave Aiken a nice reference for those who might be considering the six-year veteran.
Aiken made his frustration with the Ravens known at the end of the season after his role diminished from the No. 1 option in 2015 (injuries pushed him up the depth chart) to No. 4 in 2016 (the returns of Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, and addition of Mike Wallace pushed him down the depth chart).
But at this point, a reunion could be good for both sides.
"Things can change when you look out there and see what your market is, then all of a sudden the team that had you might be a little more attractive again," Hensley said on WBAL Radio. "If the Ravens can say to him, '[We] only have two proven guys, you can come back and it will be just like 2015 again.'
"Getting Kamar Aiken I think makes more sense than anything else out there, but do you significantly improve yourself if you're re-signing a Kamar Aiken? I think if they re-sign Kamar Aiken, it puts a lot more pressure on this team to take a wide receiver somewhat early in the draft."* *