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Late for Work 3/22: With Justin Houston Off Board, Ravens Still In Need of Pass Rushers

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Houston Price Was Right for Colts, Not Ravens

“Right player, right price” has been the Ravens’ mantra for years. In regards to Justin Houston, the verdict apparently was “right player, wrong price.”

The former Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker had been mentioned often as a good fit for the Ravens, who are in need of pass rushers after the departure of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. Ravens safeties Tony Jefferson and recent signee Earl Thomas even made pitches to recruit him.

Houston, however, ended up signing with the Indianapolis Colts yesterday for a reported two years, $24 million.

According to The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec, the Ravens were in on Houston,” although CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora said “the Ravens were never in the top three” for the veteran.

“While there’s no doubt it would’ve been a great fit for both parties, the final numbers that Indy settled on to bring in the All-Pro likely priced Baltimore out of contention,” Baltimore Beatdown’s Jacob Loque wrote.

Earlier this week, Zrebiec indicated that while Houston would be a good fit for the Ravens, it’s likely that the price tag would be too steep.

“Some reports indicate that Houston could get a deal for north of $10 million per year, and that’s more than what the Ravens can afford to spend,” Zrebiec wrote. “His price would have to come down for a deal to work with the Ravens."

So now that the top pass rusher is off the market, how will the Ravens address the need for a pass rusher to join Matthew Judon, who had seven sacks last season? Doing so should be a top priority, according to Zrebiec.

“The Ravens have to find a pass rusher to come in and contribute immediately,” Zrebiec wrote, “or else they’re not giving their investment in the secondary a chance to pay off.”

As far as free agency, available pass rushers include Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, Nick Perry, Adrian Clayborn, Shane Ray, Aaron Lynch, Cassius Marsh and Connor Barwin.

Ansah, a former Detroit Lion, is the biggest name on that list.

“If he stays healthy, he's good for double-digit sacks,” wrote NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling on the website’s list of top remaining free agents. “That's a Brobdingnagian ‘if’ after injuries limited him to a combined six sacks in 2016 and ’18. Ansah is already looking down the barrel of 30 after getting a late start to his football career.”

The pass-rusher class in the NFL Draft is an especially strong one.

“In​ last​ year’s​ NFL Draft,​ quarterbacks [football’s most​ important position] dominated​ the​ top​ half of the​ first round,” The Athletic’s Dane Brugler wrote. “In​ this year’s​​ draft, edge rushers [football’s second-most important position] will dominate the top half of the first round.”

NFL.com’s draft analyst Chad Reuter wrote: “The 2019 D-line class features at least eight edge players with first-round potential, based on their production in college and/or the agility they showed at the NFL Scouting Combine. Josh Allen, Nick Bosa, Brian Burns, Clelin Ferrell, Rashan Gary, Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat and even Louisiana Tech star Jaylon Ferguson [who nipped Allen by half a sack to be the nation's leader in the category last fall with 17.5] could end up in the first round.”

Will any of those players be around when the Ravens pick at No. 22? Baltimore Beatdown’s Vasilis Lericos believes the Ravens should consider trading up to grab one of them.

“Pass rushers are in high demand across the league, leaving few surefire early contributors available after the first round,” Lericos wrote. “Trading up into the late teens of the first round would probably cost the Ravens a third-round pick and, therefore, the ability to add depth to a secondary need. However, that loss could be outweighed by the benefit of adding a foundational player at a premium position. Moving up for a bluechip outside linebacker is a logical possibility.”

There’s also a possibility that Ravens outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, both entering their third NFL seasons, could assume larger roles this season.

“We push these guys and we need them to meet us there,” Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said prior to the start of free agency. “I think they will. I just think some guys take a little time.”

Re-Signing RG3 One of Ravens’ ‘Smartest’ Moves

The Ravens scratched “sign a backup quarterback” off their to-do list yesterday after agreeing in principle to a two-year contract with Robert Griffin III, pending a physical.

Griffin rejuvenated his career last season as the Ravens’ third-string quarterback after sitting out the 2017 season. A mentor to starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, Griffin’s mobility and familiarity with the Ravens’ run-heavy scheme makes him a logical choice to serve as Jackson’s backup.

“Robert Griffin can continue to be Jackson’s teacher and groom him to become a true franchise quarterback,” Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw wrote. “The Ravens have made a few moves this offseason, but resigning Robert Griffin III has been their smartest yet.”

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley concurred.

“The re-signing of Griffin will get overlooked because it was expected,” Hensley wrote. “But, if Jackson gets sidelined, this could prove to be the most critical move of the offseason.”

NFL Considers Replay Expansion

NFL owners will consider the proposal to expand replay to include pass interference and perhaps roughing the passer and defenseless player fouls the NFL’s league meeting, which begins Sunday and continues through Wednesday.

“Owners will be asked to separately consider whether to just allow pass interference to be reviewable or to allow pass interference, roughing the passer and defenseless player calls to be reviewable,” NFL.com reporter Judy Battista wrote. “ … If anything is approved, it will be implemented for one year and then reviewed after the season.

There has been a strong sentiment for pass interference calls to be reviewable ever since a controversial non-call in last season’s NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.

However, “[NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy] Vincent and one member of the Competition Committee said that there remains no appetite for allowing review to address non-calls,” Battista wrote, “meaning that even if these rules had been in place for the NFC Championship Game, nothing could have been done to address the missed pass interference call that started the controversy.”

The Ravens’ proposal to add a “sky judge” -- which would have added an eighth member to the officiating crew with the power to overturn a limited scope of calls or non-calls on the field during limited stretches of the game -- has generated little support, according to Battista.

“One of the big concerns: Where would the league find all those extra officials, who would have considerable power?” Battista wrote.

Per USA Today, the Ravens’ proposal stated: “The Sky Judge will communicate with the officials on the field through the headset ... [and] advise the Referee of any relevant [penalty] that is clear and obvious in the following situations: Major fouls [15-yard penalties], even when a foul is not called. Fouls for defensive pass interference, even when a foul is not called.”

The Alliance of American Football implemented this position and televised and mic’d the conversations, allowing more transparency than ever in that part of the game.

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