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Late for Work 3/16: What Will Ravens Do to Replace Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue?

Left: DE Yannick Ngakoue; Right: OLB Matthew Judon
Left: DE Yannick Ngakoue; Right: OLB Matthew Judon

What Will Ravens Do to Replace Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue?

One the first day of free agency, the Ravens' pass rush took a significant, if not unexpected, hit.

It was reported Friday that veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee reached an agreement to re-sign with the Ravens, but clearly there is work to be done to fill the void left by Judon and Ngakoue.

Re-signing outside linebacker Tyus Bowser becomes a top priority, wrote The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, who added that "the Ravens not only need to find an 8-10 sack guy, they also have to add a strong-side linebacker to the mix."

"All along, it appeared that the Ravens' plan was to let Ngakoue and Judon walk for potential future compensatory selections and to try to re-sign Bowser, Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward, and then either add another edge rusher in free agency or early in the draft," Zrebiec wrote. "They've already agreed to terms with McPhee, but General Manager Eric DeCosta now needs to execute the rest of the plan.

"If Bowser walks as well, that would leave DeCosta with a lot of heavy lifting to do at the position. The good news is that there are plenty of pass rushers available and the Ravens should be able to get a bargain or two."

CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported that the Ravens are monitoring the market for veteran edge rushers Melvin Ingram III, Kyle Van Noy and Carlos Dunlap. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler added Haason Reddick to that list. It was noted in Late for Work last week that the Ravens were among several teams interested in Dunlap.

Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw wrote that re-signing Bowser should be Baltimore's top priority regarding its pass rush, but also thinks the team should consider "making a splash" by signing four-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Houston.

Houston, 32, has had at least 7.5 sacks in eight of his past nine seasons. He had four sacks in an injury-shortened 2016 season when he was limited to five games.

"Houston has remained a consistently good pass rusher when healthy and he is looking for one final payday before his prime is over and done with. The Ravens should be the team that gives him that fat check," Bradshaw wrote. "Bringing in Houston would be a ground-shattering move across the league and the Baltimore Ravens would perhaps get themselves an upgrade over anything they had a year ago. Houston looks like he still has plenty left in the tank and would restore some validity to the team's pass rush. If Baltimore decided to go big on someone, we'd love to see it be Houston."

In addition to whatever the Ravens do in free agency to boost the pass rush, they'll almost certainly address the position in the draft, perhaps in the first round.

"If the Ravens opted to go the draft route to recreate its pass rush, round one is the place to do so," Bradshaw wrote. "There are tons of directions the team can go to add talent and so many guys who would be excellent value to Baltimore."

If Ravens Don't Land a Top Free-Agent Receiver, Should They Bother Signing Any?

Several pundits had predicted that free-agent wide receiver Corey Davis would sign with the Ravens, but the former Tennessee Titan reportedly agreed with the New York Jets on a three-year, $37.5 million deal.

Davis was the lone top-tier receiver to come off the board yesterday. Nelson Agholor reportedly agreed with the Patriots on a two-year, $26 million deal. Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Curtis Samuel and Will Fuller V are still available.

A popular opinion is that the Ravens will look to add a veteran receiver at an affordable price rather than one of the top-tier guys, but Press Box’s Glenn Clark said the Ravens should sign one of the top free-agent receivers or none at all.

"If the Ravens aren't able to acquire Davis (or one of the other top free-agent receivers they happen to like), then they shouldn't acquire anyone. At all," Clark wrote. "This isn't the year to take a flier on A.J. Green or decide that signing Golden Tate would make sense because it wouldn't impact their compensatory pick formula. This team doesn't need quantity at receiver. They need quality.

"Not only will [Marquise] Brown be back next year, so will former third-round pick Miles Boykin and last year's rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche. They have quantity, even if much of it is unproven. Should they fail to land Davis or someone of that ilk, the draft is again the place to try to find receivers. The Ravens should take whatever money they have to spend to address other needs."

How Will TE Jonnu Smith's Deal Affect Mark Andrews's Pending Extension?

Free agent tight end Jonnu Smith reportedly agreed to a monster four-year, $50 million deal ($31.5 million fully guaranteed) with the Patriots.

Even though Smith will not be joining the Ravens, his deal could have a significant impact on the team, specifically in regard to a contract extension for tight end Mark Andrews, who has one year left on his rookie contract.

"If the Ravens and Andrews want to get an extension done early, now the negotiating floor has been raised due to the Smith deal," Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle P Barber wrote. "Before Smith's deal, I already expected the negotiations for Andrews to sit around $13 million [per year]. Reason being, the top contracts for tight ends are George Kittle with $15 million [average annual value] and Travis Kelce at $14.3 million.

"Though Andrews is one of the best tight ends in the league, he's arguably a tier below the two, and I figured the Ravens won't want to pay him more than these two. However, the amount of money guaranteed in the Smith deal most certainly impacts the negotiations."

Andrews has averaged 61 catches, 776.5 yards and 8.5 touchdowns the past two seasons. Smith is coming off his best season (41 catches, 448 yards, eight touchdowns).

More Praise for Ravens Signing Kevin Zeitler

Pundits continue to praise the Ravens’ signing of veteran guard Kevin Zeitler to a three-year contract reportedly worth $22.5 million. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert and Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr both gave the signing an "A-" grade.

"Zeitler won't have the same impact as [Marshal] Yanda or [Jonathan] Ogden, obviously, but he'll without question elevate the consistency of the Ravens' line," Seifert wrote. "And while there is always concern about signing a 31-year-old free agent, Zeitler has been exceptionally durable in his career: He has missed only one game in the past six seasons. The Ravens did well to jump on one of the two or three best interior linemen available in this market at a price that did not break the top 10 in average per year for guards."

"Zeitler is one of the more prolific inside blockers in football, which makes complete sense that he'd roll down 95 to Baltimore and help anchor the spot once held by the great Marshal Yanda," Orr wrote. "Zeitler has missed one game since 2015 and, despite a collective offensive line struggle in 2020 with the Giants, should be in a place to maximize Baltimore's downhill running game. A bonus for Baltimore: Zeitler does not ding their compensatory pick formula because the Giants let him go. So they salvage a major cap casualty and don't lose much in return."

Joe Thuney, regarded as the top guard on the market, reportedly agreed to a five-year, $80 million deal ($32 million fully guaranteed) with the Kansas City Chiefs.

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