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Late for Work 3/2: Ravens Free Agency Whispers From Combine on Austin, T. Smith, Gore & Landry

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Ravens Free Agency Whispers From Combine

Things are starting to heat up at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Oh, and a bunch of prospects weighed in and spoke to reporters too.

That nearly became the side note Thursday as free agency news, reports, speculation and rumors shifted into high gear ...

*Tony Jefferson Recruiting Baltimore Native WR Tavon Austin With Release Expected *

The Los Angeles Rams will either trade or release wide receiver Tavon Austin before the start of free agency on March 14, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

“His time with the team is done,” Garafolo wrote.

Ravens safety Tony Jefferson is already trying to recruit Austin, a Baltimore* *native and Dunbar High School graduate.

Sky was the limit for Austin coming out of college (West Virginia) in 2013.

He was billed as a speedy and prolific playmaker, for whom the Rams sacrificed four draft picks to move up eight spots and select at No. 8 overall. Austin had his biggest season in 2015, amassing 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, which he parlayed into a reported four-year, $42 million contract.

Austin had a disappointing 2016 season. Then, he fell out of the lineup altogether last year as new Head Coach Sean McVay revamped the offense by bringing in Buffalo Bills wideouts Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods and drafting Cooper Kupp.

It’s highly unlikely the Rams will find a trade partner for a receiver that lost his return duties, finished last season with 13 catches for 47 yards and has a scheduled $8 million cap hit next year. So, Austin is expected to hit free agency shortly.

That’s where a team could take a flyer on a once bright and ascending star to see if a change of scenery could reboot his career. The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec seems to agree with Jefferson, and believes the Ravens could be just the place.

“Austin has two things the Ravens badly need: speed and elusiveness,” he wrote. “The 27 year old could be an ideal change of scenery candidate.

“The connection is obvious. The Ravens liked Austin in the 2013 draft, but the speedy receiver was taken by the Rams eighth overall. The Ravens are also doing their due diligence on all of the potentially available pass catchers, knowing they’ll have to overhaul their receiver corps this offseason.”

A Ravens Reunion With Torrey Smith Is a ‘Very Real Possibility’

Speaking of Baltimore reunions, how about one with former Ravens receiver Torrey Smith?

A “very real possibility?”

La Canfora reported something similar last year, calling a return to Baltimore a “very, very strong likelihood.”

Smith ended up signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, but that didn’t make La Canfora wrong. The Ravens and Smith did talk about a reunion, and even quarterback Joe Flacco got into the mix by reaching out to the wide receiver. But in the end, the Ravens’ 2011 second-round pick decided to go with the Eagles, and it was a smart choice seeing how he lifted his second Lombardi Trophy with them last month.

Smith told “The Lounge” podcast last month that he’d love to return to Baltimore sometime in the future.

Smith is being talked about as a potential cap casualty in Philadelphia because the Eagles are reportedly OVER the cap limit by about $10.5 million. They could save $5 million by cutting Smith, who only recorded 36 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns last season. Smith also struggled with drops, and he’s talked about wanting to be more consistent.

The Ravens are expected to actively pursue receivers in the draft, free agency and trade markets.

“The Ravens need to add reliable, playmaking receivers to their roster,” wrote Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy. “The question remains, is Torrey Smith the right fit in Baltimore?”

Jarvis Landry Receives Permission From Dolphins to Seek Trade … Ravens Among Interested Parties?

Let the trade talks begin!

The Miami Dolphins have given Jarvis Landry permission to seek a trade, and Landry plans to work with the Dolphins in helping to facilitate one, according to The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson.

Ravens players took notice, as Jefferson retweeted the news and Chris Wormley is watching closely.

“Landry plans to sign the franchise tag - a necessary step before he can be traded - and that’s expected to happen soon,” wrote Jackson. “Landry’s agent, Damarius Bilbo, and the Dolphins met Wednesday in Indianapolis, and the Dolphins informed Bilbo that they would not be making a long-term contract offer to Landry at this time, if at all. The Dolphins also said they would be OK with Landry playing next season with the $16 million franchise tag if a trade cannot be facilitated.”

Jackson added that Miami would “clearly prefer” a trade over spending that massive cap figure for one year. The organization is seeking “a draft pick or a player” in exchange for Landry.

The Dolphins reportedly already offered Landry a contract that would pay him $13 million per season, and his agent countered with a deal closer to $15 million. The two sides never agreed on a final figure.

Jackson reported the Chicago Bears are among the teams that have emerged as a possibility. He did not mention the Ravens, but others have. Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton tweeted “Cleveland, Baltimore and Chicago as [three] teams I've heard from sources as some of the interested parties.”

Seven ESPN NFL Insiders were asked to predict where Landry will play in 2018, and four (Kevin Seifert, Dan Graziano, Matt Bowen and Aaron Schatz) selected Baltimore. One chose Chicago (Field Yates), one picked Cleveland (Mina Kimes) and another (Mike Sando) said Landry will stay put in Miami because it’ll be too much to ask another team to sacrifice draft/player assets for the opportunity to pay a huge contract to Landry.

Schatz called Flacco “the king of short completions” after he led the NFL in 2017 with 241 attempts that traveled 5 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage. 

“If he's going to throw short passes, the Ravens might as well pursue a slot receiver who excels at catching them,” wrote Siefert.

Baltimore a Potential Landing Spot for RB Frank Gore

The list of players Baltimore could “potentially” pursue is getting long.

Before we get to the next possibility, let’s be clear that there’s no way the Ravens could sign and pay everyone that has been speculatively linked to them. The rumors are more a result of the team exploring any and all opportunities to upgrade its roster, especially on offense.

With that being said, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport named the Ravens as named a potential suitor for running back Frank Gore.

While the Ravens drastically improved their rushing attack with the leadership of now-Assistant Head Coach Greg Roman and the emergence of Alex Collins, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta said the team is still looking for a “game-breaker.”

“It appears the Ravens are transitioning to a more run-centric offensive philosophy, which, by the way, is fine with me,” wrote our own John Eisenberg last month. “The framework for a productive ground game seemingly is falling into place. With a few key moves in the coming months, that ground game could develop into a real powerhouse. … Given the direction the Ravens are moving in, investing picks and dollars in the running game might be the smartest move of all.”

At 34 years old, Gore may not qualify as a game-breaker anymore, but he continues to defy Father Time and puts up big numbers. In his 14th NFL season last year, Gore notched 961 rushing yards for the Indianapolis Colts. In fact, he’s surpassed 950 yards 11 times over the years, including nine 1,000-plus-yard campaigns.

Gore is a pending unrestricted free agent, who Rapoport says the Colts will not try to re-sign before the new league year in mid-March.

The connection to Baltimore is obvious because Gore could reunite with Roman, who was with the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator from 2011-14 when Gore put up four consecutive 1,100-yard rushing seasons and was selected to three Pro Bowls.

The Ravens already have Collins, Buck Allen, Danny Woodhead and Kenneth Dixon on the roster and are set to return next season. They could also add to that group through the draft, which will offer plenty of depth and value in the second, third and fourth rounds. Would it be wise to use the little cap space the Ravens have on another veteran running back?

On the other side of the coin, there’s speculation that Woodhead could become a cap casualty and the Ravens can’t totally bank on Dixon given his injury and suspension history.

“We will have to see where the future Hall of Famer will land once free agency begins,” wrote Baltimore Beatdown’s Evan Mazza. “If [Gore] heads to the Ravens, it could make a good running back unit even deeper.”

Ray Lewis Names Biggest Mistake in Ravens History

Ravens Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis applauded the Jacksonville Jaguars for re-signing quarterback Blake Bortles to a reported three-year, $54 million contract.

Bortles isn’t viewed as a top quarterback in the league, but the Jaguars know they can advance deep into the playoffs with him as their signal caller. Jacksonville wasn’t knocked out until the AFC championship game, where the New England Patriots won, 24-20.

Lewis says he knows from experience that teams should stick with a proven playoff commodity at the quarterback position.

“One of the biggest mistakes we made in the Ravens’ history,” Lewis said on “The Herd with Collin Cowherd,” “was we go and win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer … ”

“Yeah, why didn’t you bring him back?” Cowherd interjected.

“Why don’t you bring Trent Dilfer back?” Lewis echoed.

The Ravens instead signed Elvis Grbac after he had made the Pro Bowl in 2000 because he passed for 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs. Dilfer entered that season as the Ravens backup and only became the starter in Week 9 after Tony Banks was benched.

Lewis said he thinks he could have at least six Super Bowl rings had the Ravens made the correct choice with Dilfer and/or subsequent quarterback decisions. He says Baltimore should have stuck with what it already knew worked.

“It wasn't even rooting for [Dilfer] to come back, because we didn't even know that they were going to cut him,” Lewis said. “So when we found out, it came like a shocker to all of us. Like, the Ravens just let Trent Dilfer go. Are you serious? Like, how do you – how do you get better from a Super Bowl quarterback, right?

“It took us a 12-year stint to get back to another Super Bowl. We went through, what, 17 quarterbacks?”

The Ravens actually tried eight different starting quarterbacks until the ninth – Joe Flacco – was drafted eight years later. Lewis was right, though, it took 12 years until they lifted the Lombardi Trophy again.

“So when you ask me, Blake Bortles – look, I think Jacksonville has something very special,” Lewis concluded.

"One of the biggest mistakes we made in the Ravens history, was we go win a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer. Why [didn't we bring] @DilfersDimes back?" — @raylewis pic.twitter.com/16HgATjo0p — Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) February 28, 2018

Quick Hits

  • “Ozzie Newsome is attending his final NFL combine as the Ravens' general manager, and there are certain numbers that reflect his excellence as the franchise's only No. 1 personnel executive. That's the number of general managers and top personnel executives who have worked in the NFL since Newsome was given control of the Ravens' 53-man roster in 1996. The only current primary decision-makers who precede Newsome are two owners: Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys.” [ESPN]
  • “I don’t usually like to evaluate one draft compared to another,” Head Coach John Harbaugh told Zrebiec. “I think there are guys that do that for a living, but to me, there’s a lot of good players. There’s more than enough available for us to add what we need. It’s our job to get it done and add it.” [The Baltimore Sun]
  • “Five years ago, the Ravens were confronted with a similar reality to what the Eagles are currently grappling with at the scouting combine. The Ravens had just won the Super Bowl and they fully understood that they were not going to be able to keep several players who helped make it happen. They were powerless to stop a free-agent exodus … The Philadelphia Eagles, fresh off their Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, almost surely won’t endure the amount of changes the 2012 Ravens did. … However, Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman acknowledged Wednesday that the organization is still bracing for significant change.” [The Baltimore Sun]
  • “[Pursing recently cut defensive end Mo Wilkerson] would be an extremely questionable decision for Baltimore,” wrote Levy. “Not only do the Ravens have some depth on the defensive line, but Baltimore has several other pressing needs they must address first. In addition, with their current cap-space, Wilkerson may not be in the Ravens’ price range.” [Baltimore Beatdown]
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