Late for Work 3/24: Could Jadeveon Clowney Still Be in Play for Ravens?

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney runs around the edge during an NFL game.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney runs around the edge during an NFL game.

Could Jadeveon Clowney Still Be in Play for Ravens?

When reports surfaced nearly a year ago that the Houston Texans were open to trading edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, the Ravens were identified as one of the teams who could land the former No. 1-overall pick, who ended up being traded to the Seattle Seahawks.

In the lead-up to free agency this offseason, Clowney -- one of the biggest names on the market -- was described by several pundits as a perfect fit for the Ravens.

We're now a week removed from the legal tampering period for free agency, and Clowney remains unsigned. As long as he's a free agent, there's still a chance Clowney could be wearing a Ravens uniform in 2020, but is it a realistic scenario?

Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw made the case that Clowney -- who has not found the market he expected -- signing with Baltimore is not that far-fetched.

"Is it next to impossible? Seemingly, but nothing is impossible these days," Bradshaw wrote. "No one would've predicted that Jadeveon Clowney would still be a free agent past the first 24 hours of the legal tampering period. … This may lead the 27-year old star to take a one-year deal with a contender like the Baltimore Ravens."

Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens also believes the Ravens should pursue Clowney.

"If Clowney is looking at a bunch of one-year deals, Baltimore being so close to a Super Bowl and having a major need at outside linebacker might be able to boost his value for next offseason," Stevens wrote.

The Ravens are near the bottom of the league in salary cap space, which would appear to preclude them from having a shot at Clowney. Bradshaw, however, contends that there are viable ways to make cap room, including restructuring some players' contracts.

The most obvious solution would be to trade outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who has had the franchise tag placed on him.

"Dealing Judon would give the team $16 million back in cap space, which is plenty to offer Clowney," Bradshaw wrote.

However, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec thinks it's becoming more likely that Judon remains in Baltimore. He also believes the Ravens will draft an edge rusher and perhaps sign a veteran such as Clay Matthews or Pernell McPhee, both of whom would be far less expensive than Clowney.

"There's been no indication that the Ravens are close to dealing franchise-tagged outside linebacker Matthew Judon, so the odds are much better that he'll be with the team come September than they were earlier this offseason," Zrebiec wrote. "... Still, there is room for another outside linebacker, and the addition of one would make it a little easier for the Ravens to part with Judon if they get an acceptable offer."

Secondary Maintains Depth With Jimmy Smith, Anthony Levine Signings

The Ravens obviously are firm believers that there's no such thing as too much depth in the secondary, as evidenced by the re-signing of cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety/linebacker Anthony Levine to one-year deals yesterday.

Smith, who has played at a high level when healthy during his nine seasons in Baltimore, remains a member of the Ravens' all-rotation of cornerbacks along with Pro Bowl selections Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters and nickel cornerback Tavon Young, who is expected to return to the field after missing the 2019 season with a neck injury.

This offseason, the Ravens have improved their defensive line by trading for Calais Campbell and reportedly signing Michael Brockers while also keeping their loaded secondary intact.

"The focus has been all defense from the Ravens front office in the early going of free agency," Ebony Bird's Keith Runk wrote. "The Smith signing is just the latest of a string of outstanding maneuvers GM Eric DeCosta has pulled to bolster a Ravens defense that finished fourth in total defense in 2019."

Despite the Ravens' having two of the best young cornerbacks in the league in Humphrey and Peters, keeping Smith, 31, in the fold could prove to be a key move, Ravens Wire's Stevens wrote.

"If either Humphrey or Peters was to miss a few games and Smith had to start in their place, the Ravens wouldn't be at a huge disadvantage," Stevens wrote. "Given the Ravens' injury issues at cornerback over the last five years, having this type of insurance can be the difference in making the playoffs or not.

"The additional plus to re-signing Smith is that, while he'll get plenty of playing time, he won't have to play every down of every game. Having him in a slightly reduced role will hopefully help keep him healthy for the entire season, which has been Smith's biggest issue since being drafted in 2011. … If Smith can remain healthy throughout the entire season, Baltimore's secondary looks to be the best in the league and could be the thing that propels them to another Super Bowl."

In Levine, the Ravens are bringing back a versatile, durable defender and special teams captain. Levine has not missed a game since 2012.

"Levine, who turns 33 on Friday, gives the Ravens important depth elsewhere in the secondary," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "While Earl Thomas III and Chuck Clark are the team's unquestioned starters at safety, Levine has shown the ability to play in the box as a run stopper and pass rusher and cover receivers downfield. He's averaged about 15 defensive snaps per game over the past three years."

Who Should Ravens Pursue at Inside Linebacker?

With the moves the Ravens have made this offseason, they arguably have a better roster than last season's 14-2 squad. That doesn't mean they don't have needs, and the consensus is that inside linebacker should be at the top of the team's priority list at this point. L.J. Fort – a midseason acquisition who signed a two-year contract extension in November – is the only returning regular.

Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski wrote that the Ravens should sign free agent Nigel Bridham, a 30-year-old veteran who spent the past four seasons as a starter with the Philadelphia Eagles and relayed the signals on defense.

"Nigel Bradham can step in as an experienced starter and three-down linebacker to create a cohesive unit at all three levels," Sobleski wrote. "His 96 starts in eight seasons would easily make him the most experienced linebacker on the Ravens roster."

Former Ravens Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor are still available in free agency and could return.

"Bynes is the more likely to re-sign, though Onwuasor has the greater potential and can contribute on special teams," Shaffer wrote.

It's a strong draft class at inside linebacker, and Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray and LSU's Patrick Queen have been linked to the Ravens at No. 28 in mock drafts. In looking at needs of the top Super Bowl contenders heading into the draft, Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner identified linebackers Zack Baun of Wisconsin and Jordyn Brooks of Texas Tech as potential fits for Baltimore.

"With how much the Ravens blitz (54.3% of passes last year, most in NFL), adding an off-ball linebacker who can add as a pass-rusher could provide a ton of value," Renner wrote. "That's Wisconsin's Zack Baun, as he earned a 91.0 pass-rushing grade going against offensive tackles off the edge last year at Wisconsin. He also blazed a 1.54 10-time, which was tops among edge players at the Combine.

"With two picks at the end of Round 2, one of them could be Texas Tech's Jordyn Brooks, who racked up 44 pressures on 117 pass-rushing snaps as an off-ball linebacker last season. While not quite as adept as Baun at beating offensive linemen one-on-one, Brooks comes downhill with reckless abandon and will blow up running backs en route to the quarterback."

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The Ravens were involved in three of the top 24 most-watched sporting events of the past decade.

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