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Late for Work 3/20: Ravens Named As a Possible Landing Spot for Clay Matthews 

Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Clay Matthews defends during an NFL game.

Ravens Named As Possible Landing Spot for Clay Matthews

The Ravens have focused on their defensive line during the first week of free agency, trading for Calais Campbell, reportedly signing Michael Brockers, and reportedly re-signing Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis.

The Ravens haven't brought in an outside linebacker to this point, but adding more depth to the position makes sense. And a recently released veteran pass rusher could be on their radar again.

The Rams officially released Matthews for financial reasons after just one season on Thursday, and NFL Network's Mike Garafolo believes the Ravens are a good fit.

"Is he the same player he was in his prime with the [Green Bay] Packers?" Garafolo said. "Of course not. Age is catching up with everybody, but to be this productive at this point in his career, he's still got good football in him.

"... Don't forget, the Ravens actually offered him more money than the Rams did last year. [The] Ravens are looking to beef up that defensive front, maybe get some edge rushers like Matthews on outside. Wouldn't discount that."

The Ravens were reportedly interested in signing Matthews last offseason, but he ultimately agreed to a two-year, $9.25 million deal with the Rams, in part because he wanted to be back home in Southern California, where he was building a house.

Matthews had a bounce-back season in Los Angeles. He totaled eight sacks, 11 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles in 13 starts. Health wasn't an issue aside from a broken jaw that forced him to miss three games, which was more of a freak injury.

Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland projects the Ravens to have around $10 million in cap space once all the contract details are factored in.

"Matthews could be an attractive option for Baltimore, who still need help at outside linebacker after using the franchise tag on Matthew] Judon,” [Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. "... More importantly to Baltimore is that by the Rams cutting him, he won't count against the compensatory pick formula which the Ravens love to game for additional picks.

"With Baltimore's need and Matthews potentially wanting to fix a previous mistake, the Ravens make a lot of sense to land him this offseason."

How Michael Brockers Addition Helps Brandon Williams

High praise continues to roll in for the Ravens' early free agency moves.

NFL Network's Kim Jones said Baltimore got the steal of free agency in reportedly signing Brockers.

"[The Ravens] were fifth last year against the run," Jones said. "They're going to get better. The Ravens are remarkable in being able to fit guys into their system and not just guys, but really good players."

After their season ended with Derrick Henry rushing for 195 yards in the divisional round loss, the Ravens made it a priority to upgrade the defensive line. The additions of Brockers and Campbell give them a solid front three with Brandon Williams.

With Campbell at defensive end and Brockers projected at defensive tackle, Williams would move back to nose tackle. Michael Pierce, who reportedly signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings, said on Glenn Clark Radio that Williams would benefit from moving back to his natural position.

"Brandon was playing out of position so we could play on the field at the same time," Pierce said. "I think he'll have an amazing year now that he'll be back at nose [tackle]."

So why did the Ravens feel comfortable reportedly adding Brockers and moving on from Pierce?

"Versatility is important," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "And I think Brockers is a little more versatile and explosive. Pierce was similar to Williams, so I think the Ravens wanted to get a more versatile and athletic [defensive lineman] who has a little more pass rush juice."

Pierce was known as a run stopper. He had a Pro Football Focus grade of 80+ in three of four seasons against the run, but just 3 ½ career sacks during that span.

Brockers had three sacks last season, and now you've added two interior defensive linemen who can create pressure on the quarterback.

"Brockers has gotten nearly triple the number of quarterback hits over Pierce since the start of the 2018 season," Stevens wrote. "Pierce only had a combined eight pressures over those two years while Brockers had 17 last year alone and nine in 2018. That all boils down into sacks where Brockers had four and Pierce managed just a half-sack over that timeframe.

"Simply put, Brockers was a better all-around player and seems to fit what the Ravens want to do next season. And there's a good case to be made that Baltimore is actually getting a steal by signing Brockers over Pierce."

Pundits Aren't Ruling Out a Jimmy Smith Return

Eric DeCosta said he suspected Jimmy Smith would test the open market once free agency started. We're now almost four days past the legal tampering period, and it's been a slow start for the veteran free-agent cornerback.

Smith remains unsigned, and pundits aren't ruling out a return to Baltimore.

"The Ravens have made it clear that they want him back, but they also only have a relatively small amount of money to give Smith," Zrebiec wrote. "I'd have to think he's getting better offers elsewhere and it's just a matter of deciding whether he'd leave money on the table to stay where he's most comfortable. The other thing about Smith that I haven't talked much about. He knows he's probably a No. 4 [cornerback] if he comes back here. So you can't blame him if he goes somewhere else to play starter snaps."

The cornerback market has been all over the place. Byron Jones and Darius Slay reportedly signed massive deals worth north of $16 million annually, while Mackensie Alexander and Anthony Brown averaged between $4-6 million a year.

So far, the market hasn't been there for Smith, who turns 32 in July.

Re-signing Smith would give the Ravens tremendous depth in the secondary. But as Zrebiec questioned, where does Smith fit on the depth chart? Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Tavon Young are expected to be the top three cornerbacks.

The Ravens would certainly like Smith back, but it all comes down to financials.

"If the market for cornerbacks remains a little stagnant, Baltimore might be able to woo Smith back on a short-term deal with terms they like," Stevens wrote.

Jets and Cardinals Listed As Trade Destinations for Matthew Judon

In Wednesday’s edition of Late for Work, the Seattle Seahawks reportedly expressed interest in trading for Matthew Judon. He's set to play the 2020 season on the franchise tag, but the possibility of a tag-and-trade still remains an option.

Pro Football Focus identified the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals as potential landing spots for a trade.

"The Jets' pass-rush as a whole was pretty abysmal in 2019, but on the edge specifically, they generated one of the three lowest rates in the NFL," PFF wrote. "New York had a good chunk of change to spend entering free agency, but they've been incredibly quiet and are seeing all the premier guys get snatched up. They might be forced to look in the trade market, and Judon is right there in front of them."

Jets General Manager Joe Douglas was previously part of the Ravens' personnel department, so there's familiarity on both sides. For the Cardinals, they're in the market for a pass rusher opposite of Chandler Jones.

"The Cardinals moved on from Terrell] S[uggs mid-year, and the next guy up was Cassius Marsh — who is a free agent and posted a sub-60.0 pass-rush grade last year," PFF wrote. "A move has to be made at some point on Arizona's end, and options are dwindling."

What Is Joe Flacco's Playing Future?

Just over one year after being traded to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick, Joe Flacco was released on Thursday with a failed physical designation.

Flacco led the Broncos to a 2-6 record in eight starts before a neck injury landed him on season-ending injured reserve. Now, he becomes a free agent for the first time in his career, and his future as a starting quarterback remains uncertain.

The current market suggests Flacco's best option could be as a backup.

"Maybe a team like Jacksonville would take him as a backup to Minshew," Zrebiec wrote. "I'm not sure the Vikings backup situation, but obviously [Gary] Kubiak and Joe were very tight. Honestly, I'm not sure what he'll do. I can't see him embracing a long-term backup quarterback role for multiple years. Maybe he'll try it for a year or two, but I can't see him hanging on for too long if he's not playing."

Flacco’s agent told Broncos reporter Mike Klis in February that Flacco has "every intention" to play, but not at the risk of his long-term health.

Quick Hits

Quick Hits

  • NFL Network’s Terrell Davis loved the move to trade for Campbell. "The Super Bowl has alluded this man," Davis said. "He's now in Baltimore. He has a great chance to win his first Super Bowl, so that was a great move by the Ravens."
  • If the current cornerback market is any indication of Humphrey's next contract, he's going to get paid.

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