Reports: Why Reported Agreement With Smith Fell Through
With the excitement from the arrivals of free-agent additions Marcus Williams and Morgan Moses still fresh Thursday, news broke later that afternoon that the third big-time reported addition, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, wasn't going to sign his contract after all.
According to The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec, the Ravens felt like they had a verbal agreement with Smith on Wednesday afternoon, but then the former Raven changed his mind.
So what happened?
"Smith, according to sources, had second thoughts about the agreement and backed out of it Wednesday night, not long after details started coming out about the contracts agreed to by fellow free agent pass rushers Von Miller (Buffalo Bills) and Chandler Jones (Las Vegas Raiders)," Zrebiec wrote.
The agreement with Smith reportedly was for a four-year, $35 million deal ($8.75 million average per season) that carried a maximum value of $50 million.
According to reports, the deals for Miller (six years, $120 million for an average of $20 million per season) and Jones (three years, $51 million for an average of $17 million per season) were far more lucrative.
"The Ravens, according to sources, worked to revise the deal and alleviate some of Smith's concerns. However, the two sides couldn't find a compromise that worked for both sides," Zrebiec wrote.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley pointed out that this isn't the first time this offseason that a player has backed out of an agreement.
"Outside linebacker Randy Gregory and running back J.D. McKissic also flipped on deals this past week. Gregory went from the Dallas Cowboys to the Denver Broncos, and McKissic went from the Buffalo Bills to the Washington Commanders," Hensley wrote.
"Now, the Ravens will look to add another veteran pass-rusher."
Which Pass Rushers Could Ravens Target Now That Za'Darius Smith Reportedly Isn't Coming?
With Smith reportedly out, the team still has a need for an edge rusher. Unfortunately, the number of quality edge rushers available in free agency has dwindled.
Before looking at the top options still on the market, it's worth noting that the Minnesota Vikings reportedly are trying to trade two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter.
Hunter, 27, has three seasons with at least 12.5 sacks. He recorded 14.5 sacks in both 2018 and 2019. However, there are health concerns. Hunter missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury. Last year, he had six sacks in the Vikings' first seven games before suffering a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season.
Here are some free-agent edge rushers the Ravens could target, with analysis from Pro Football Focus:
"Clowney's sack totals have fluctuated in recent years, but his snap-for-snap production has been very consistent. He's a good, not great pass-rusher and a block-destructing run defender who fits best as the No. 2 pass-rusher on a good defensive line."
"Injuries have started piling up for Ingram, but his power and technique make him effective both against the run and as a pass-rusher. He may not be an 800-plus snap player any longer, but he has plenty to offer in a complementary role."
"Even at 33 years old, Hughes [was] one of the NFL's most effective edge rushers [last] season. He can still bring value to a team as a pass-rushing specialist in the twilight of his career."
"Houston has lost some of the juice that helped make him one of the NFL's best all-around edge defenders in Kansas City, but he [showed last season with the Ravens] that he remains a technician capable of winning one-on-ones."
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal: "Flowers was unable to stay healthy the last two seasons, but he'll only be 29 years old this fall and had a PFF grade over 80 in every season between 2017-2020, making him one of the most consistent defensive linemen in football. He should still have good football left in him in the right scheme."
"Barnett has been extremely consistent in his five NFL seasons, showing to be an effective run defender and a mediocre pass-rusher. He is a complementary piece in a good defensive line rotation."
"At his best, Pierre-Paul is an every-down edge defender who understands how to use his length to impact both the run and pass game. It just remains to be seen how much of his best remains as injuries continue to mount for the 33-year-old."
Takeaways From Ravens' First Week of Free Agency
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker looked at what we learned from the Ravens' first week of free agency. Here are some excerpts:
The Ravens' urgency matched the scale of their needs.
"So why did the Ravens come out hotter than usual? Well, they had more problems to address. The modern NFL is built on passing and stopping the pass. The Ravens did not do well enough at either in 2021. … As [General Manager Eric] DeCosta assessed his roster, he saw no big-play safety, no proven edge rusher and too few healthy bodies at offensive tackle. He could solve some of these problems with draft picks but not all of them. He could not afford to be complacent. … Though the Ravens acted boldly, they did not buy chaotically, as some teams flush with cap cash do. Each move addressed a specific deficiency from the last two seasons."
Morgan Moses might have been the niftiest signing of all.
"With [Ronnie] Stanley's health still a source of concern, the Ravens desperately needed stability at tackle, and there aren't many offensive linemen more stable than the 6-foot-6, 318-pound Moses, who has started 16 games each of the last seven seasons. … If Moses can continue doing so and deliver the mistake-free play that became his trademark in Washington and New York, he would be worth more than the $15 million the Ravens agreed to pay him over the next three years. His deal could prove similar to the Kevin Zeitler signing last season — a modest expense for peace of mind at a key spot."
As much as they accomplished this week, the Ravens still need a rich draft class.
"Even a cursory glance at the roster tells us the Ravens could use multiple edge rushers, a starting center, several defensive linemen, cornerback depth and a younger candidate for playing time at offensive tackle. … A good first-round pick won't be enough. The Ravens have too many holes to fill right away, especially on defense. DeCosta will need to be on point with his enthusiasm for the third- and fourth-round targets in this class."
Reactions to Michael Pierce Agreeing to Return to Baltimore
While there will be no reunion between the Ravens and Smith, there will be one between the team and defensive tackle Michael Pierce.
Pierce, who spent four seasons in Baltimore (2016-2019), agreed to terms on a three-year contract reportedly worth $16.5 million.
Here's a sample of what pundits are saying about the move:
Zrebiec: "Grade: C+. Pierce is a solid player and the Ravens certainly need an inside presence on their roster. Pierce is a better fit at this point than [Brandon] Williams, because he's more explosive. The concern has to be Pierce's health and conditioning. He had issues with the latter ahead of his final season in Baltimore. As for the former, he opted out of the 2020 season and he played just eight games last year, sidelined for more than half the season with elbow and triceps injuries. If the Ravens get the Pierce that they had earlier in his career, this will turn into a good deal. But that's a big if."
Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton: "Grade: C. Going into his age-30 season after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, he didn't draw any suitors on the trade market. As a rotational interior defender who missed 25 games over the past two years, Pierce will probably play about 50 percent or less of the defensive snaps as a cog in the Ravens run defense. They need his 6'0", 340-pound frame with defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell and Justin Ellis on the free-agent market."
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley: "The Ravens get a replacement for Brandon Williams, the longtime starting nose tackle who is now a free agent. Pierce is more versatile than Williams but he comes with a lesser price tag because of durability concerns. … The addition of Pierce lessens Baltimore's need to use the No. 14 overall pick on Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis."
Hayden Hurst Agrees to Deal With Bengals, His Agents Say
Tight end Hayden Hurst is returning to the AFC North, but not with the Ravens. The former first-round pick has agreed to terms with the Cincinnati Bengals, per his agents.
The Bengals had a void at tight end after C.J. Uzomah signed with the New York Jets. There had been speculation that the Ravens might target Hurst in free agency.