Ravens Considering Offer for Cameron Meredith
Ravens fans aren't the only ones anxiously anticipating which "stone unturned" could lead to a signing.
Chicago Bears media and fans are waiting to see what Ravens brass' next move will be too. They want to know if homegrown restricted free-agent wide receiver Cameron Meredith will stick around.
"One source said the Ravens are considering presenting an offer to Meredith," wrote Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs last Monday.
We'll know within the next few weeks whether Baltimore's "consideration" turns into an actual offer. The deadline to sign an offer sheet with another club is April 20. In a league where deadlines spur action, it wouldn't be surprising for a decision to be* *made closer to the cutoff date.
The same would be true if Baltimore wanted to make an offer to New Orleans Saints restricted free-agent wide receiver Willie Snead, who reportedly visited the Under Armour Performance Center for the second time Friday.
Even if the Ravens make an offer to either receiver, both the Saints and Bears have the opportunity to match the deal to retain their players. For New Orleans, cap space could be a big factor as it only has about $6.3 million, according to Spotrac.com. That's about $3 million less than the website says Baltimore has.
In Chicago, money isn't as big of an issue because the Bears have $31 million in cap space. Biggs says that may not be the biggest factor, however.
"A decision on Meredith isn't going to come down to cap space for the Bears if he signs an offer sheet," Biggs wrote. "It will come down to the value the Bears place on him — and their confidence in the medical information they possess."
Meredith suffered a torn ACL and partially torn MCL in a preseason game last August. His return date is targeted for training camp, per Biggs, but his visit to the Ravens (and also the Indianapolis Colts and Saints) likely included a meeting with team doctors to get their own analysis of his knee.
"All three teams are interested in his rehabilitation progress," wrote Biggs.
If healthy, Meredith presents tremendous upside. He stands in at 6-foot-3, 207 pounds and is young at 25 years old. He had a breakout year in 2016 before his knee injury, catching 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bears' depth chart has gotten crowded with their recent signings of wide receivers Allen Robinson ($14 million per year) and Taylor Gabriel ($6.5 million per year). They also added tight end Trey Burton ($8 million per year). With those additions, Biggs says Meredith projects as the Bears' second or third receiver.
"How much is another team willing to pay him coming off an injury? Robinson also is rehabilitating from a torn ACL and his health status didn't deter the Bears one bit," Biggs wrote.
"We'll know before the draft what team [Meredith is] with."
Top Remaining Free-Agent Options at Wide Receiver and Tight End
At this point, the most impactful moves the Ravens can make at wide receiver and tight end are likely in the NFL Draft later this month. That said, recent reports suggest Baltimore is still in the hunt for another veteran.
The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec looked at the top remaining options on the market, and Meredith, Snead and Michael Floyd were all on his list. We’ve discussed all three already, so let's take a look at Zrebiec's other options.
TE Marcedes Lewis2017: 24 catches, 318 yards, 5 touchdowns; 33 years old; released by Jaguars in March after 12 years
Zrebiec: "Lewis is not considered a significant threat in the passing game. … He is a very good blocker, which isn't exactly the Ravens' need at the position."
TE Julius Thomas2017: 41 catches, 388 yards, 3 touchdowns; 29 years old; cut by Dolphins in March after 1 year
Zrebiec: "Once one of the league's top young tight ends, Thomas has not been the same player since leaving the Denver Broncos in 2014. He's dealt with some injuries, and doesn't seem to have the same speed and explosiveness."
WR Michael Campanaro
2017: 19 catches, 173 yards, 1 TD; 27 years old; unrestricted free agent
Zrebiec: "It still seems unlikely that Campanaro will be back, but he'll remain an option until he's officially off the free-agent market."
WR Eric Decker
2017: 54 catches, 563 yards, 1 TD; 31 years old; unrestricted free agent (lose comp pick)
Zrebiec: "Given the Ravens' history with signing veteran receivers and their interest in Decker in the past, it makes some sense."
WR Dontrelle Inman2017: 23 catches, 334 yards, 1 TD; 29 years old; unrestricted free agent (lose comp pick)
Zrebiec: "There are some in the Ravens organization who like Inman, who split last season with the Los Angeles Chargers and Chicago Bears. He didn't make much of an impact in 2017, but he's just one year removed from catching 58 balls for 810 yards and four touchdowns."
WR Jordan Matthews
2017: 25 catches, 282 yards, 1 touchdown; 25 years old; unrestricted free agent (lose comp pick)
"The Ravens didn't move on a Matthews deal when the Philadelphia Eagles made it clear he was available in Tim Jernigan trade talks last offseason. It's hard to imagine the Ravens suddenly becoming interested now."
Shannon Sharpe: Tight End Is Second-Most Important Position on Offense
He might be biased as a Hall of Fame tight end himself, but Shannon Sharpe makes a convincing argument that tight end is the second-most important position on offense behind the quarterback.
"Look at [New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski]," Sharpe told The Baltimore Sun. "He is the most dominating player in the game next to the quarterback. The way the passing game is emphasized in the NFL, I'd take a 70- to 80-catch tight end with over 1,000 yards over a 1,000-yard rusher anytime.
"You can't match up with tight ends anymore.* *No one wants to cover them with a No. 1 or even No. 2 cornerback, so they are either drawing a safety or linebacker. These guys are now 6-6, 6-7 and weighing 260 and 270 pounds. And they are running the 40 in 4.4 or 4.5. That's where we're at and where we're headed."
The position has evolved over the years, and Sharpe, a former Raven, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome helped transform tight ends from extra blockers to bona fide targets in prolific passing games.
The Ravens know how hard it is to cover tight ends, as they ranked second-worst in Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings for tight-end coverage. Baltimore gave up the ninth-most yards per game (57.4) and tied for the third-most points per game (8.1) to tight ends.
"[Teams] are trying to cover tight ends with linebackers," Sharpe said. "These guys are used to setting the edge or getting after the quarterback, not trying to run with a tight end downfield. These are clearly mismatches to be taken advantage of."
AFC North Fatal Flaws
NFL Network's Matt Harmon pinpointed one fatal flaw on all 32 teams’ rosters, and it's not surprising he picked tight end for Baltimore.
But what about the Ravens' rivals? Where do they still have major holes?
Cincinnati Bengals: Run blocking
"Bengals running backs averaged 2.8 yards per carry against loaded boxes last season, ranking 29th in the league and proving far too easy to defend. Cincinnati was especially poor on runs to the outside, not even allowing backs to get to the line of scrimmage (-0.3 yards gained on average) before defenders closed within 1 yard of them. Joe Mixon didn't have the rookie season many expected, but the Bengals need to give him a fair shake with more help up front in 2018."
Cleveland Browns: No. 2 edge rusher"Cleveland spent last season's No. 1 overall selection on edge rusher Myles Garrett. He was as advertised, leading the team in pressures despite playing just 11 games as a rookie. The rest of the QB hunters on the team were not as productive. Cleveland's edge rushers as a whole posted a 12.5 percent pressure rate in 2017, the lowest mark for any NFL defense."
Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside linebacker
"Losing Ryan Shazier to a career-threatening injury took an emotional toll on the Steelers and dealt a crushing blow to their defense. … Pittsburgh allowed just 5.2 yards per play when lined up in its base 3-4 defense with Shazier on the field last season – and 7.1 yards per play in base without him (including playoffs). He left a gaping hole that will need filling for the upcoming season, at the very least."