Ravens May Have to Address Three Defensive Stars' Contracts Next Offseason
When it comes to defensive personnel, the Ravens front office has enjoyed a quiet(er) offseason. That could drastically change next year.
Most of the Ravens' defensive starters were already under contract heading into 2018, but that won't be the case again a year from now. Unless new deals are struck before next March, Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi pointed out that two of the biggest-name Ravens will become unrestricted free agents.
Both outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley are heading into the final years of their current deals. Additionally, Lombardi says to keep an eye on cornerback Jimmy Smith's situation as 2019 is the final year of his contract.
Let's take a look at all three:
In 2014, Suggs signed a reported four-year, $28.5 million contract extension that he said would make him a "Raven for life." Here we are with just one year left on that deal, and Suggs hasn't slowed down and appears capable of playing many more seasons. He's coming off a Pro Bowl campaign and is still in phenomenal shape with no clear end to a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
He said earlier this month that he hasn't considered retiring, and yet he's not looking ahead to contract negotiations either. "I've always crossed that bridge when it happens," Suggs said. "I've never been one to jump into that topic before it was time, so I'm not going to worry about it now."
Says Lombardi, "Suggs is in outstanding shape as he looks to build upon his legacy as the team's all-time sack leader. But at this point in his career, his most important attribute is arguably his ability to set the edge against the run. Even at the age of 35 (he turns 36 on October 11), there is no one on the Ravens roster who can affect the running game from the position of outside linebacker the way the seven-time Pro Bowler can."
Mosley's contract situation has been a hot topic this offseason because he's heading into the fifth-option year of his rookie contract, and the two sides would ideally like to agree to an extension before he's a free agent next year. That hasn't happened yet, however, and unlike many of his 2014 first-round peers, Mosley hasn't held out of offseason work as a form of protest to gain leverage. Contract negotiations could continue into the season, and into next offseason if needed, but the Ravens would like to wrap things up before the 26-year-old veteran hits the open market.
"All has been quiet on the Mosley extension talks and at this point, it's reasonable to think that the Ravens will take a wait-and-see approach with their three-time Pro Bowler," Lombardi wrote. "The prudent, albeit possibly more costly strategy as it relates to Mosley's future in Baltimore, is to see how things play out under new Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale."
Adding Smith to this already premature list may be, well, even more premature. He still has two years left on his contract and he's primed to play Week 1 after tearing his Achilles in December. Pairing two first-rounders like Smith and Marlon Humphrey, both possessing the ability to be shutdown corners, could make for one of the league's best duos. That said, the reason Lombardi says to keep an eye on Smith's contract situation next offseason is because of the rise of young talent at the position (Humphrey, Tavon Young, etc.), Smith's injury history (played all 16 games in just two of seven seasons) and his large cap hit in 2019 (reportedly the second highest on the team).
"When healthy, Smith is among the league's best CBs – 'when healthy' being the operative words," wrote Lombardi. "Everyone wants Smith to succeed but the consensus is that the 2011 first-round pick needs to play to the level of his pay in 2018 or it could be his last as a Raven.
"The California native is scheduled to make $9.5 million [base salary] in 2019 and carry a cap figure of $16.175 million. It's his last season under contract. His season will make for an interesting storyline in 2018, particularly when the team's depth at the position is considered."
Per Spotrac, other key defensive players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next year include starting defensive end Brent Urban, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, linebacker Albert McClellan and defensive tackle Carl Davis. Starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor and defensive tackle Michael Pierce will become restricted free agents.
Michael Crabtree a 'Clear' No. 1 Receiver
Every team has a designated No. 1 receiver, but that doesn't mean all teams actually have a player worthy of the title.
"The premise that not all teams rely on a clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver is obviously correct," wrote ESPN's Mike Clay. "In some cases, that's because a team has several very good wide receivers. In others, the team simply doesn't have an alpha dog at the position."
Clay decided to find out which teams have a clear No. 1 by examining their projected target shares. Based off those numbers, he separated receivers into one of four categories:
In Baltimore, newly-acquired veteran Michael Crabtree is the Ravens' top receiver, and based on Clay's target predictions, Crabtree is in the top tier as a “clear” No. 1.
Clay sees the 10-year veteran getting 23 percent of the target share in Baltimore (by comparison, Antonio Brown projects to 29 percent, the highest in the league). During all nine of his NFL seasons, Crabtree has handled a target share of at least 21 percent.
"Joe Flacco already has referred to the Ravens' biggest free-agent addition as 'the guy,' and their rapport has stood out in offseason practices," ESPN wrote. "Crabtree won't be running past many cornerbacks, but he's physical and will fight for contested passes. The best comparable is Anquan Boldin, who led the Ravens in receiving yards in each of his three seasons in Baltimore (2010-12). Crabtree signed a three-year, $21 million contract in March, but it could just be a one-year, $8 million deal if he doesn't pan out this season."
Eric Weddle Found an Old Scouting Report That Says He'd Never Be a Pro Bowl Player
Sometimes it stinks to be a prognosticator, especially when you get it royally wrong.
Safety Eric Weddle found an old scouting report from 2007 when he was coming out of the University of Utah, and the BlockU report knocked Weddle for playing in a less prestigious conference (Mountain West) and for a smaller frame that would "handicap him when he's fighting through blocks to support the run."
Then there was this doozy …
"Though he isn't going to be a Pro Bowl-type player, he should be a serviceable back who adjusts well to the pro game," wrote Sean (last name not provided).
Weddle is a five-time Pro Bowler. Oh, and he's also a two-time All-Pro and led the NFL in interceptions in 2011 (he finished tied for third last year).
To Sean's credit, he called Weddle a "stud" that "did it all" for the Utes. He added that Weddle's "work ethic often compensates for some of the negatives and I've never met a harder competitor."
Those characteristics are still true 11 years later, and they're likely what helped Weddle overcome any negatives in his natural talent and size.
Ranking Ravens' Backup QB Situation Among Rest of NFL
All it takes is one play to knock out a team's quarterback, the most valuable position on any roster. The Ravens discovered that fate all too well when Joe Flacco tore his ACL and the team went 5-5 without him in 2015.
As such, it's important to have a strong backup that can keep the team afloat the way Nick Foles did last year after starter Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury. Foles led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl win.
Bleacher Report ranked all 32 teams’ backup quarterback situations, and placed Baltimore at No. 23 after the team drafted first-rounder Lamar Jackson, signed 2012 No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III and retained Josh Woodrum.
"Jackson and Griffin are both 20-something-year-old first-round picks, which makes it hard to call this a terrible backup situation," wrote Brad Gagnon. "The former could become a franchise quarterback, while the latter is an intriguing reclamation project.
"Woodrum is just a camp arm, so if something happens to Flacco and Griffin can't suddenly rediscover the magic from his past, the Ravens will be in trouble."
Woodrum showed last preseason that he's more than a camp arm, and he's drawn strong reviews from his coaches so far this offseason. That said, Woodrum is No. 4 on the depth chart, and the Ravens can't keep all four on the 53-man roster.
Head Coaching Rankings: John Harbaugh No. 5
NFL.com's Elliot Harrison put together his rankings of NFL head coaches, and Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh came in fifth on the list.
It's hard to argue against putting the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick atop this list, but after him, the order can be debated. For Harrison, the next four are the New Orleans Saints' Sean Payton, Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll, Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin and Harbaugh.
"For whatever reason, Harbaugh is never mentioned among the NFL's elite head coaches," wrote Harrison. "While the Ravens haven't enjoyed a ton of success over the past three seasons, mitigating circumstances have played a huge role.
"Massive injuries derailed the 2016 campaign, and yet Baltimore might have taken the division if it weren't for an Immaculate Extension on Christmas. Last season, the Ravens were again beset by scores of injuries – starting with the season-ender to all-world guard Marshal Yanda – but still would've made the postseason field if it wasn't for that meddling Andy Dalton."
Since Harbaugh came into the league in 2008, the Ravens have produced the NFL's fourth-most total victories with 104. The team has also enjoyed the fourth-most playoff berths (six, tied), second-most regular-season home wins (59, tied) and second-most playoff wins (10).
Peter Schrager: Ravens Can Win Super Bowl LIII
NFL Network's Peter Schrager told the "Good Morning Football' crew yesterday that he thinks the Ravens could win Super Bowl LIII because nearly everyone on the always-steady defense is returning and the unit will be combined with a more exciting offense.
The Ravens were one fourth-and-12 play away from returning to the playoffs last year, and have almost always been in contention since Harbaugh took over. The hope in Baltimore is that the offseason additions will put the team over the top.
Last year, the Ravens offense gained a reputation for being "boring," but the injection of five new receivers, two tight ends and Jackson should have more people tuning in come September.
"It's a team that we said had the least sex appeal going into the draft, and now after the draft, might be my most fascinating team," Schrager said.
"They will be one of the best defenses in the league. Marlon Humphrey is clearly going to be a No. 1 corner in this league. They have Terrell Suggs back. They add this new element on offense with Lamar Jackson and at the very least I'm tuning into Ravens games."
Doubtful the Ravens Jump Into Supplemental Draft
The Ravens were reportedly one of 14 teams to attend the workout of supplemental draft prospect Brandon Bryant, a safety out of Mississippi State.
Bryant told NFL.com's Chase Goodbread that his favorite interviews were with the Ravens and Indianapolis Colts.
"Those teams really stuck out to me the most. I had a great conversation with those guys," Bryant said.
As such, it's got people wondering if Baltimore will be active in the supplemental draft come July 11. In addition to Bryant, the other prospects include Virginia Tech cornerback Adonis Alexander and Western Michigan cornerback Sam Beal.
While you can never say never, Ryan Mink called the idea "doubtful" in the video below.
Lombardi isn't particularly impressed with Bryant, writing, "You'd have to think that there will be a similarly-skilled player available late on Day 3 of the 2019 NFL Draft."
Russell Street Report's Ken McKusick added that Bryant has a reputation as a strong safety, where the Ravens already have plenty of options. They're more in need of a free safety with ball skills.
"The Ravens seem too deep across the secondary to easily make room without a painful cut at safety or corner," McKusick wrote.
- "The Baltimore Ravens could have one of their stronger tight end duos in recent memory," wrote Kyle Andrews. "After adding Hayden Hurst (25th overall) and Mark Andrews (86th overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Ravens now have a dynamic duo of tight ends that can catch the ball. … By making these selections, the Ravens are hedging their bets on two tight ends who have shown the ability to be offensive weapons. The days of purely blocking tight ends are gone. In today's NFL, tight ends must be flexible enough to line up all over the offensive side of the field." [Baltimore Beatdown]
- Which defensive personnel packages did the Ravens use most last year? Turns out, the unit was very balanced. "Minnesota, Atlanta, Seattle, and Cincinnati were the least balanced defenses in the league, sitting in nickel more than two-thirds of the time," wrote Bryan Knowles. "Contrast that with Houston, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, who didn't use any defensive personnel package more than 40 percent of the time, freely flipping between base, nickel, and dime packages depending on what personnel the offense trotted out. It's interesting that even with the homogenization we've seen in personnel packages on the offensive side of the ball, there are still so many different ways that defenses choose to handle it. It's not like there's an obvious right or wrong way to do it, either – the Vikings, Ravens, and Rams were about as far from one another as you can possibly get, yet all three were in the top six defenses by DVOA." [Football Outsiders]