Are Ravens the Best Fit for Gerald McCoy?
Free agent defensive tackle Gerald McCoy visited the Cleveland Browns on Friday and reportedly will visit the Ravens today. So which team is the best fit for the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer?
There's no clear-cut answer, but there's another AFC North team that could be a factor: the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Don't overlook the Cincinnati Bengals, who have one of McCoy's old coaches in Tampa, [former Maryland head coach] Mark Duffner, on staff as a senior defensive assistant," NFL Network's Tom Pelissero said. "McCoy is also close with Bengals stars A.J. Green and Geno Atkins. It is safe to say he's getting the pitch for recruiting from all angles."
McCoy, who has never been to the playoffs in his nine seasons in the NFL, has said that he wants to play for a contender. The Browns are the odds-on favorites to win the AFC North this season and the Ravens are the defending division champions. The Bengals, conversely, have had three straight losing seasons and are coming off a last-place finish, but McCoy reportedly sees potential in them.
Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot wrote: "[McCoy] believes the Bengals will be a lot better this year, which has them still in the running."
Reportedly there are at least nine teams, another of which is the Carolina Panthers, interested in the 31-year-old McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowl selection with 54.5 career sacks. The Ravens are McCoy's only other reported visit.
"Baltimore pulls out all the stops when it comes to recruiting, which is why this franchise has built a reputation on not letting coveted free agents leave without deals," Hensley wrote. "In recent years, wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace both canceled their trips to New England and signed with Baltimore during their visits. It doesn't hurt that the Ravens bring free agents to 'The Castle,' a facility that resembles a country club more than an NFL team headquarters."
While The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec has written that "the Ravens are pretty well stocked in defensive linemen, so McCoy] might be a luxury in Baltimore rather than a necessity,” [The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shafer wrote: "Even with the big names returning along the Ravens' defensive line, as well as those still yet to break out, there is space for a talent like McCoy."
"The Ravens are rich with interior defensive linemen, but there's little overlap with McCoy's best-utilized deployment. [Brandon] Williams and [Michael] Pierce typically line up over the center or in a center-guard gap; fifth-round pick Daylon Mack did the same at Texas A&M."
NFL Network's Marlon Favorite believes the Browns are the best fit for McCoy.
"You have him coming in as a three-tech. You already have Sheldon Richardson over there, and then Myles Garrett coming off the end, along with [Olivier] Vernon. I think they have the potential to be a top 5 defensive line if McCoy gets there," Favorite said.
Dawgpound Daily’s Dan Justik wrote that McCoy "may end up being a perfect fit in [Browns Defensive Coordinator] Steve Wilks' defense.
"Wilks wants to get up-field and create havoc in the backfield, so adding a player who can penetrate like McCoy would be a good addition for his defense. And surrounding McCoy with Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, and Olivier Vernon would provide him with more one-on-one blocking opportunities to take advantage of."
If McCoy's decision comes to down to money, the Browns appear to be in the best position. The Browns have $33.3 million in cap space, while the Bengals have $22.7 million and the Panthers are at $9 million, according to NFL.com’s Herbie Teope. The Ravens currently have a little over $13 million, according to Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland, who added that the number "will drop to a little over $11 million once the three unsigned draft picks sign."
"The Ravens have little wiggle room," Shafer wrote. "With conventional wisdom dictating that NFL front offices leave themselves at least a few million dollars for emergency midseason signings, the Ravens will unlikely be able to offer McCoy a contract worth $10 million-plus in 2019. (The Browns certainly could, and perhaps the Bengals, too.) [Ravens General Manager Eric] DeCosta could free up space by restructuring contracts already on the books, delaying guaranteed money until years ahead, but his strategy so far with new signings and extensions has favored 'flat' annual rates.
"The Ravens will pay their interior defensive linemen over $20 million this season, according to Over The Cap. Now they have to decide the value of adding McCoy — and convince him it's the right price at the right place, too."
Is This Ravens' Best Secondary Ever?
The Ravens have had some star-studded secondaries over the years, but could this season's unit prove to be the greatest in team history?
Obviously that's saying a lot for a franchise that has had players such as Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Rod Woodson and former All-Pro Chris McAlister, but Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler believes it's quite possible.
Schisler wrote that the Ravens' 2019 secondary has both talent and depth.
"Earl Thomas is a ball hawking free safety. Tony Jefferson is a very good strong safety," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens have four cornerbacks who are all players the team can highly count on. Marlon Humphrey is a cornerback entering the prime of his career. Jimmy Smith is a veteran cornerback whose best performance is still borderline elite. Brandon Carr has been in the NFL a long time and he's never missed a game. Tavon Young is one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league when he's healthy.
"The Ravens have more depth in the back-end of their defense than they ever have before. They have a handful of safeties that can contribute in sub packages. Anthony Levine Sr. can be used as an extra linebacker or a hovering defensive back, for example. The Ravens depth isn't just a Plan B and a Plan C. They have players that can contribute."
Schisler admits that touting this season's secondary as the team's best ever is a bold statement, especially considering how good the unit was on the 2000 team that won Super Bowl XXXV.
"The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV on defense. While much of the credit surely goes to Ray Lewis and the defensive front, the secondary was incredibly good," Schisler wrote. "The secondary was as punishing and intimidating as the front seven was.
"Even when the Ravens had the 2000 defense, they didn't have this much depth. Even when the Ravens had Ed Reed and Chris McAlister as Pro Bowl level talents, the Ravens never had this complete of a picture in the secondary."
In an era in which teams are throwing more than ever, a strong secondary has never been more crucial.
Hensley noted that the Ravens' secondary this season "has been bestowed an investment unlike any other in the NFL." The unit has combined for a league-high $56.7 million salary-cap figure, according to ESPN's Roster Management System. That accounts for 30 percent of Baltimore's entire cap.
"Given this price tag, the Ravens are expecting this defensive backfield to be among the league's best," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore is essentially returning last season's fifth-ranked pass defense but with what many believe is an upgrade at free safety."
Praise for Ronnie Stanley
Pro Football Focus’ Mike Johnson ranked the top offensive linemen in pure pass sets, and Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley came in at No. 2.
"Last season he produced an 87.0 pass-blocking grade in the regular season, which ranked third among all offensive tackles, and he allowed just 17 total pressures from 577 pass-blocking snaps," Johnson wrote.
Schisler also praised Stanley, writing that "Stanley can be borderline elite."
Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport predicted who would be the "surprise rookie gem" on every team, and running back Justice Hill was his pick for the Ravens.
"With 4.4 speed and good pass-catching chops, Hill could carve out a role on offense PDQ," Davenport wrote. "And if he starts peeling off big plays, his role will only grow."