Weighing Free-Agent Signings and Compensatory Picks
By now, it's no secret the Ravens value the NFL's compensatory pick formula. No team has received more picks (50) since the system began in 1994.
Ozzie Newsome coveted the picks throughout his tenure as general manager and Eric DeCosta is following a similar path.
Former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, who signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Raiders last week, said in an interview with Denver radio station Orange & Blue 760 that the Ravens were interested in giving him a long-term deal.
The twist – he'd have to wait until May. That way the Ravens could sign him without losing a compensatory pick.
"Marshall's story checks out in at least one regard — the Ravens, and first-year general manager Eric DeCosta, cherish comp picks," wrote PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz.
A few things to note here. Based on OverTheCap's compensatory pick cancellation chart, the Ravens are projected to receive a 2020 third-round pick after pass rusher Za'Darius Smith signed a multi-year deal with the Green Bay Packers. The addition of Earl Thomas wipes out compensation for the loss of C.J. Mosley. Justin Bethel eliminates the loss of John Brown and Mark Ingram scratches out Terrell Suggs. Thus, any more unrestricted free-agent signings would, presumably, jeopardize the comp pick for Smith.
DeCosta and company received a third-round pick this year following Ryan Jensen's record-setting deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason.
Since compensatory picks became tradeable in 2017, they're more valuable than ever.
Thus, the Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes if the Ravens make any signings in the coming weeks, it will be one of their own.
"Their remaining available true free agents are running backs Buck Allen and Ty Montgomery, tight end Maxx Williams and defensive end Brent Urban — or a player who has been released and doesn't count toward the compensatory formula," Zrebiec wrote.
NFL analytics guru Warren Sharp noted that the Ravens have benefitted heavily from compensatory picks over the past five years.
Two factors play into the success, according to Sharp – avoiding high-priced free agents and building through the draft.
"Each year, teams are given only 7 draft picks by the NFL, and it is very difficult to consistently excel at evaluating and projecting college athletes," Sharp wrote. "In a somewhat random game, teams that acquire more draft picks are more likely to walk away with better players."
Kasinitz added that the reported interest in Marshall suggests the Ravens may consider adding a veteran linebacker to the mix.
While that could be in play, there are in-house options. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence in young linebackers Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor.
"Those guys have to step up and be guys," Harbaugh said. "But I feel really good about them, because I really like our defensive line and I really like our secondary. And I really like the fact that those guys play fast, and I think they're hungry."
Harbaugh: 'Draft Should be Earlier'
We're less than a month away from the NFL Draft and teams are quickly gearing up for one of the most crucial parts of the offseason.
The first pick will be called out by Commissioner Roger Goodell on April 25, but if John Harbaugh could have it his way, it would be much sooner.
"I think the draft should be earlier, sooner," Harbaugh told The Boston Globe's Ben Volin at the NFL's annual league meeting last week. "We don't need to be so involved where we need three months to watch the players ourselves. Let's draft these guys, let's get them to us."
"And let's be honest, they're all coming. Nobody's taking their last semester of school. You want to get in the real world here? Let's understand that that's how it works. Because they end up graduating a high percentage of the time we get them, anyway, because we make sure they do. Let's help them, but let's not have them worried about running 40 times. Let's get them working on football so they can contribute their first couple of years."
"There are a few reasons the Ravens head coach feels this way," wrote NBC Sports' Ryan Wormeli. "Primarily, he'd like to start working with the team's rookie class earlier in the offseason, to get them up to speed as much as possible."
The draft process has become a mainstream media spectacle. From the Senior Bowl in Mobile to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indy, everything is televised.
This offers a unique viewing experience for the casual fan, but NFL teams have scouting departments evaluating players year-round.
An earlier draft date could swing the entire dynamic of how teams approach the offseason and play right into the strengths of the Ravens.
"It also brings to mind past offseasons when, due to a work stoppage while negotiating the collective bargaining agreement, the draft took place prior to free agency," Wormeli wrote. "This is especially appealing to an organization like the Ravens who values the draft above other areas to improve the team."
Pundits Think Ravens' Playoff Hopes Are in Trouble
The Ravens' path to the playoffs last season was one to remember.
After a 4-5 start, the Ravens strung together six wins in their final seven regular-season games to capture an AFC North division title and a playoff berth.
It was an incredible run, but could they be in danger of taking a step back?
Various pundits from NFL.com picked one playoff team from last year that's in most trouble heading into the 2019 season.
Brian Baldinger and Charley Casserly – two of the five contributors – picked the Ravens.
"The defense, which ranked first in yards allowed and second in points yielded, lost four major players in Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith, and Eric Weddle," Baldinger wrote. "Weddle was the quarterback of the unit; Suggs brought leadership and dominance, even in his 16th season; Smith led Baltimore with 8.5 sacks, and Mosley will no doubt be the toughest defender to replace."
Casserly highlighted two different factors: the drastic improvement of the Cleveland Browns and the offensive development under Jackson.
"Defenses – specifically the Chargers, who beat the Ravens in the Wild Card Round – found a way to control the Ravens' offense with Jackson at the helm," Casserly wrote. "The offense will have to change, and Jackson must improve, for the Ravens to make the playoffs next season."
The Chiefs and Texans were the two other teams that made the list.
If we're playing the addition by subtraction game, the Ravens face questions at the point, but so do a lot of teams. Keep in mind that we're still in the early portions of the offseason. The Ravens have eight picks heading into the draft.
In other words, roster construction is far from over.
In NFL.com's AFC North predictions for 2018, only one pundit (Daniel Jeremiah) predicted the Ravens to finish with a 10-6 record or better.
So let's pump the brakes before expectations are set this early.
The Ravens will benefit from 12th-easiest strength of schedule. They'll face a number of young starting quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson
- Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen offered high praise for defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce over the weekend.
- Arizona State wideout N'Keal Harry has been a popular player linked to the Ravens in multiple mock drafts and there are good reasons why.