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Late for Work 5/30: Is ESPN's Ravens Offseason Grade Off the Mark?


ESPN Gives Ravens' Offseason a 'C' Grade

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the Ravens at this point in the offseason, but not everyone agrees with that assessment.

ESPN’s Mike Sando, who graded all 32 teams after speaking with executives, evaluators and coaches throughout the league, gave the Ravens a "C" offseason mark.

The loss of leaders Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle from last season's top-ranked defense was the main factor in the Ravens not receiving a grade above "satisfactory."

"The big issue is what they lost defensively, and can a player-friendly defensive staff adjust to having lost who they lost?" an executive said, per Sando. "Guys they really leaned on, culture setters, are gone."

But what about the signing of safety Earl Thomas, who was regarded as one of the very best free agents on the market?

The deal was costly on a couple levels, according to Sando.

"Beyond the $32 million that was guaranteed at signing, the deal canceled out the 2020 third-round compensatory pick Baltimore could have received for losing Mosley in free agency," Sando wrote.

Despite the Ravens' losses on defense, they appear to have one of the strongest secondaries in the league. Plus, they drafted the all-time NCAA sacks leader in Jaylon Ferguson and acquired low risk/potential high reward free agents Shane Ray and Pernell McPhee in an attempt to bolster the pass rush.

Sando noted that executives agreed that promoting Greg Roman to offensive coordinator and committing to Lamar Jackson as the starting quarterback made sense, but some questioned if the defense will be strong enough to enable the Ravens' offensive style.

"It is possible Jackson will make a Year 2 jump under Roman," an executive said, "but I think high expectations are misplaced. The defense is going to regress. They are not going to have any flexibility or balance and they will be stuck. It was good for [Ravens Head Coach] John Harbaugh to get that contract extension."

Admittedly, opinions on Jackson run the gamut, but surprisingly there was nothing in Sando's article about the moves the Ravens made to surround Jackson with weapons.

Those weapons include veteran running back Mark Ingram, whose signing received mostly high grades from analysts. Draft picks Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Miles Boykin and Justice Hill also are expected to boost the offense.

While the "C" may be disappointing and perplexing for Ravens fans, they perhaps can take solace in the fact that only one team in the AFC North fared better -- and barely so, at that.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals also got a "C." The heavily hyped Cleveland Browns, who made the biggest splash of the offseason by trading for star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., only received a "C-plus." Only one team (the Colts) got in the "A" range, and 13 were in the "B" range.

"Execs who weren't sure whether the 2018 Los Angeles Rams could easily assimilate Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters thought the Browns were taking much greater risks," Sando wrote. "Cleveland has less stable ownership, a less established head coach, no track record of recent success and a more explosive combination of personalities.

"While execs lauded GM John Dorsey's eye for talent, they saw the Browns taking a short-term approach that is creating great expectations without necessarily laying a stable foundation."

Can Ravens Offer McCoy Dollars That Make Cap Sense?

While we're on the subject of grades, you probably saw that coveted free agent defensive tackle Gerald McCoy's two-day visit with the Ravens was described as an "A+++," per ESPN’s Josina Anderson.

Still, McCoy left without signing a contract and reportedly will visit the Carolina Panthers today and tomorrow.

As much as there appears to be significant mutual interest between McCoy and the Ravens, is actually putting pen to paper realistic from a salary cap perspective? Russell Street Report’s Brian McFarland took an in-depth look at the situation.

After rookies Brown, Ferguson and Boykin are signed, McFarland estimates that the Ravens' cap space will be around $11.62 million. The Browns reportedly have $33.3 million in cap space, while the Panthers are at $9 million.

"While that may seem like plenty of cap space, the reality is that that amount will greatly decrease come September when the Rule of 51 cap accounting ends and all players start counting against the cap," McFarland wrote. "At that time, all players on the 53-man roster, IR/PUP and the practice squad begin fully counting against the cap. So, the number of players that will count against the cap will, at a minimum, be 63 (53-man roster plus 10 PS players). … Teams also like to carry $3 million-$5 million into the season to cover in-season injuries."

It's been reported that McCoy is seeking a one-year deal and turned down a one-year, $11 million offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because he wants to be with a playoff contender.

"If the going rate is anywhere in that range, it's going to be hard for the Ravens to fit that kind of 2019 cash outlay under their cap because, on a one-year deal, that entire amount would have to count against the 2019 cap," McFarland wrote. "Needless to say, with their present cap space, that's not possible.

"As such, the only way that the Ravens could get McCoy $11 million in cash this year and fit him under their 2019 cap would be to get him to agree to a multi-year deal. Such a deal would include a signing bonus, which would allow the Ravens to give him the necessary amount of cash in 2019, while still lessening his 2019 cap number."

If McCoy insisted on a one-year deal, the Ravens would have to trade or release a player or restructure or extend an existing contract, according to McFarland, who noted that "there really aren't any ideal candidates to do so."

Not ideal, but also not impossible.

"Defensive tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson both have high salaries that would be easy to convert with a restructure, but they both have already been restructured twice over the last two seasons," McFarland wrote. "This, of course, has continued to add to the Ravens' cap woes over the last couple of years and has helped continue the yearly cycle of tight caps.

"Despite that, and keeping in mind that the Ravens should have a more optimistic cap outlook in 2020 (though not as much as many seem to think), the Ravens may bite the bullet one more time and restructure a guy like Jefferson. Again, it's not ideal, but may well be necessary, either now or in the coming months, if the Ravens feel that McCoy is a piece of the puzzle that they must have."

Not So Fast: Three Ravens Make All-Slow Team

Much has been made of the speedy players the Ravens added to their offense this season, but they have some darn good "slow" players as well.

Several Ravens were named to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit’s All-Slow Team, which is made up of players who ran slower-than-average 40-yard-dash times at their respective NFL combines.

Stars such as Tom Brady, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins made the list.

For the Ravens, Ingram made the offensive team, while Williams and Jefferson were recognized on defense.

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