Late For Work 3/16: Why Ravens Made A Move They Usually Hate

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Why Ravens Made A Move They Usually Hate

When the Ravens signed safety Kendrick Lewis Saturday, it marked a move that is out of character for GM Ozzie Newsome.

Lewis is a true unrestricted free agent, not a salary-cap casualty. The former counts against the league's compensatory pick formula, but the usually hated move shouldn't hurt Baltimore's chances of getting the maximum four compensatory picks in 2016.

That's because the Ravens have already lost five unrestricted free agents to the market, and Lewis is the first they've signed.

The compensatory pick formula is complicated and details are not revealed to the public or teams, but the Ravens seem to have figured it out. They have received the most comp picks in the league since the league started handing them out in 1994.

The nuts and bolts of the formula are that teams get picks in the following year's draft if they lose more expensive players than they sign in free agency.

So far, here's the Ravens outlook:

LossesWR Torrey Smith: 5 years, $40 million
OLB Pernell McPhee: 5 years, $38.75 million
S Darian Stewart: 2 years, contract details not announced yet
TE Owen Daniels:  3 years, $12.25 million
QB Tyrod Taylor: 2 years, $7 million

Signing
S Kendrick Lewis: 3 years, N/A

The losses of Smith, McPhee and Daniels will "easily" help the Ravens nab compensatory picks, says Russell Street Report's cap guru Brian McFarland.  It's not yet known how much Lewis and Stewart's deals are worth, but Stewart and Taylor getting two-year deals "is likely good" for the Ravens' pick prospects in 2016.

The Ravens got the maximum number of four picks the last two years, and they're in line for the max in this April's draft, too.

As of Friday afternoon, the Ravens were one of just three teams that hadn't signed a player that was on another squad last year, according to ESPN's Rob Demovsky. The other two teams? It should come as no surprise that it was the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, both perennial playoff contenders.

"It helps that Newsome is also smart about drafting players good enough to contribute when he uses those compensatory picks," wrote ProFootballTalk.com's Michael David Smith. "Seven of the eight compensatory picks the Ravens have had in the last two years were spent on players who are still on the roster. It's a lot easier to build roster depth when you're consistently getting more draft picks than other teams, and consistently using those picks on players who are good enough to make your team.

"So while it may look like the Ravens got worse during the first week of free agency, that's short-term thinking. The Ravens are thinking about the long term, and about the players they'll draft next year thanks to the players they lost this year."

Lewis Solid First Addition; Shows Playmaking Ability With Boller Pick

The Ravens could have used their one true unrestricted free-agent hall pass at a number of other positions, including wide receiver, tight end or cornerback. But the fact that they used it on Lewis, 26, should say something about the big need at the safety position and about Lewis himself.

"Lewis is far from a household name. He also won't alleviate concerns about the gaping holes in the Baltimore Ravens' passing game," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "But the Ravens' first addition in free agency this offseason was a solid and necessary move."

Will Hill is the expected starting free safety, but the person lining up next to him was in question because last year's third-round pick, Terrence Brooks, will start the season on the physically unable to perform list and Matt Elam isn't a sure bet. Newsome called out Elam in the team season-review press conference.

"The Ravens might say the other starting spot next to Will Hill will be an open competition, but the favorite has to be Lewis," wrote Hensley.

"What stands out the most about this addition is Lewis' knowledge of defenses. He was known to line up teammates last season with the Texans. This is extremely important for the Ravens after high draft picks Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks have struggled to find a comfort level at that position. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has made the point more than once that safety is one of the toughest positions to transition from college to the NFL. "

Lewis was ranked the 39th-best safety last year (among those with 300 snaps or more), per Pro Football Focus. To put that in perspective, below are the Ravens safeties rankings:

No. 14 Will Hill
No. 23 Jeromy Miles
No. 30 Darian Stewart
No. 78 Matt Elam

In addition to being a strong tackler (52 last season) and solid in run defense (ranked No. 13 by PFF), Hensley says Lewis has also flashed playmaking ability. He made two picks and six passes defensed last season, which would be a boon to a Ravens defense that made six picks as an entire unit in 2014.

The GIF below of Lewis picking off former Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller showcases that playmaking ability.

"Some will be disappointed because the Ravens haven't signed a target for quarterback Joe Flacco in free agency. But the addition of Lewis makes the Ravens better," concluded Hensley.

What Happened On WR Market Over Weekend

I'm giving everyone an update on the wide receiver market because, let's face it, everyone wants to know. Analysts still expect the Ravens to sign a veteran before the draft.

Stevie JohnsonThe eight-year veteran is scheduled to visit the New England Patriots Monday, as first reported by Diana Marie Russini of NBC 4 in Washington. Johnson already visited San Diego Friday, after being released by the San Francisco 49ers, but left without a deal. The New York Jets are also reportedly interested.

Dwayne Bowe
The Cleveland Browns had Bowe in for a visit Saturday with the "intention of not letting him leave," tweeted NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, adding the hashtag #Boweheldhostage. The Browns want to make the 30-year-old wideout their No. 1 receiver after losing Josh Gordon to suspension.

Kenny StillsThe New Orleans Saints traded speedster Stills, 22, to the Miami Dolphins Friday for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick.

Mike Wallace
The Dolphins had been reportedly shopping Wallace for months, but didn't get anyone to bite. So, the football world thought he would eventually be cut. But on Friday, the Vikings traded a fifth-round pick for Wallace and a seventh-rounder. The Ravens would have had interest in Wallace, per The Sun, had he been cut instead of traded. Unless they strike a new deal, the Vikings now pick up what's left of Wallace's $60 million contract, including reported cap hits of $9.9 million in 2015 and $11.5 million in 2016 and 2017.

Greg JenningsTwo years after signing Jennings to a reported five-year, $45 million deal, the Vikings released him because of the Wallace trade. Jennings had two underwhelming seasons (2013: 68 catches, 804 yards, 4 touchdowns; 2014: 59 catches, 742 yards, 6 touchdowns) and they had to clear salary-cap space. The Vikings' transaction listed Jennings as a failed physical.

Ravens On To 'Plan C' At Tight End

The Ravens reportedly had interest in tight end Scott Chandler before he signed with the New England Patriots. He was a popular fit for the Ravens among analysts, but that ship has sailed.

Now that Daniels has signed with the Broncos last week, followed by Chandler on Friday, more questions arise for the Ravens.

"What's Plan C for the Baltimore Ravens at tight end?" asked Hensley.

The Ravens only have one person, Steve Smith Sr., on the roster that caught 25 passes last season. Second-year player Crockett Gilmore and Phillip Supernaw are the only healthy options the Ravens currently have.

"The available options aren't particularly great, especially if the Ravens want to continue their trend of signing salary-cap casualties," wrote Hensley.

Among the cap casualties still available are Zack Miller and James Casey. If the Ravens get a true unrestricted free agent, several analysts say the best available is Jermaine Gresham.

"A veteran presence to provide some steady production at tight end is a huge short-term need for the Ravens. Gresham is solid, not spectacular, but comes with the bonus of leaving Cincinnati without one of its most reliable receivers, as well," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli.

"Miller was a hot free-agent target when he signed with Seattle from Oakland in 2011. He's coming off an ankle injury but is just the type of move tight end the Ravens need, and he can block a bit, too. He'd also give the Ravens a good red-zone option."

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