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Late for Work 3/25: Big Money Expects to Pay Big Dividends in Secondary 

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Ravens Bolster One of Best Secondaries, at Biggest Price

Is there a new “Legion of Boom” brewing in Baltimore?

When All-Pro safety Earl Thomas inked a reported four-year, $55 million deal with the Ravens this offseason, General Manager Eric DeCosta made a clear statement.

The investment in the secondary is crucial, no matter the cost.

Money talks, and according to OvertheCap.com, the Ravens have roughly $58 million invested in the secondary this season.

Pundits expect it to pay off.

“Given this price tag, the Ravens are expecting this defensive backfield to be among the league's best,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “Baltimore is essentially returning last season's fifth-ranked pass defense but with what many believe is an upgrade at free safety. When healthy, Thomas has shown more range and playmaking ability than Eric Weddle.”

The secondary has always been a crucial part of the defensive success in Baltimore, as Hensley pointed out. The Ravens have allowed the lowest passer rating in the NFL since John Harbaugh took over as head coach.

Veterans Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith, paired with up-and-coming talents like Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young make for a lethal combination.

Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler echoed similar praises and believes Baltimore boasts one of the best units in the NFL.

“The addition of Earl Thomas gives the Ravens a great combination at the safety positions. Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young makes a fantastic cornerback grouping,” wrote Schisler. “Young signed an extension with Baltimore this offseason, and his work as a nickel corner could be an x-factor for this defense.”

Both Hensley and Schisler pointed to the upcoming regular season schedule as a reason for the investment. The Ravens will go up against plenty of high-powered offenses including the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks.

That doesn’t include divisional matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.

In a pass-happy league that continues to trend in that direction, it’s all about countering your opponent’s moves.

But to fully reap the benefits of this talented group, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec believes the Ravens still must solidify the pass rush department.

“The Ravens have clearly shown a willingness to invest in their secondary,” Zrebiec wrote. “It’s a wise play in today’s pass-happy NFL. Now, they need to protect that investment. No matter how talented a secondary is — and the Ravens clearly have one of the top defensive backfields in the league — it’s going to struggle without the benefit of a pass rush.”

Linebacker Darron Lee a Potential Trade Target?

One of the Ravens’ top offseason needs remains inside linebacker and free agency isn’t the only way they could look to fill it.

The rumor mill is never-ending, and the New York Jets could be shopping linebacker Darron Lee this offseason.

Following C.J. Mosley’s departure to New York, could the Ravens pull a switch and target the Jets linebacker?

NJ.com’s Matt Stypulkoski named the Ravens as a potential landing spot for the former first-round pick.

“Lee is expendable precisely because the Jets managed to lure C.J. Mosley away from the Ravens,” Stypulkoski wrote. “That left a hole in the middle of Baltimore’s defense that still hasn’t been filled. Maybe [Jets General Manager Mike] Maccagnan can work some magic and leverage that need he created into a draft pick by dangling Lee as a potential replacement for the Ravens. That would be a masterstroke by Maccagnan, if he were able to pull it off.”

Lee graded as Pro Football Focus’ 24th best linebacker last season. He totaled 74 tackles, five passes defensed and three interceptions in 12 starts.

At 24-years-old, Lee is a dynamic young talent that could fit right into Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale’s defensive unit. Lee is still on his rookie deal and carries a $3.1 million cap hit next season, which could potentially serve as a cheaper alternative to signing a free agent.

The Ravens have ammunition in the form of draft picks – eight to be exact. That includes a third-round compensatory pick (that’s tradeable) and a fourth-round pick from the Joe Flacco trade.

Offseason Power Rankings: Ravens Sit in Middle of Pack

The start of free agency has been exciting, to say the least. We’ve seen free agent splashes, blockbuster trades and plenty of sizeable contracts handed out.

Oh yeah, and we’re less than two weeks in.

While no games have been played, that hasn’t stopped pundits from putting together their offseason power rankings.

The Ravens landed in the top-15 on two lists: NFL.com and CBS Sports.

“Can't wait to see Lamar Jackson operating at quarterback with a full offseason as the starter under his belt,” wrote NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison, who ranked the Ravens at No. 15. “They picked up a reliable running back in Mark Ingram, who can grind out tough yards in the cold of December, when Baltimore should be in the heart of the AFC North race (with Cleveland). Having Earl Thomas replace Eric Weddle is quite the luxury. “

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco offered a different take in his evaluation.

Prisco, who put the Ravens at No. 14, stressed the attention on Lamar Jackson.

“No matter what happened in free agency, their entire season will be determined by Lamar Jackson's growth as a passer,” Prisco wrote.

One pundit who’s expressed confidence in the Ravens this offseason is 247Sports’ Kevin Boilard.

Baltimore sat just outside the top-10 in his rankings at No. 12, one spot behind the Browns.

Both Harrison and Prisco are high on the Browns after a flurry of offseason moves that included trading for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

Harrison has Cleveland at No. 9 and Prisco put the Browns one spot behind at No. 10.

There’s still plenty left to be decided between now and Week 1 of next season. With the draft one month away, rankings will shift as 53-man rosters continue to take shape.

Contract Talks “Ongoing” With Big Ben and Steelers

The Steelers are expected to look like a much different team next season without running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, but one constant remains – quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

As the NFL Annual League Meetings kick off this week, Steelers General manager Kevin Colbert told NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala that contract talks are “ongoing” with Big Ben.

Roethlisberger enters his 16th season in the final year of a four-year deal. With every passing year, he continues to defy father time.

Roethlisberger led the league with 5,129 passing yards last season and added 34 touchdowns to go with it.

For the time being, he’s still very much a threat the Ravens must deal with.

Quick Hits:

"But when you're talking about a power guy, he knows he's going to get it 25-30 times just because I can wear down this defense … The opponents are going to change, obviously, going from the NFC South to the AFC North, but at the end of the day I think it'll fit perfect,” said former Saints running back Deuce McAllister about Mark Ingram during an appearance on Glenn Clark Radio. 

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