Posted in Ravens Thoughts

Baltimore Ravens winning in NFL Free Agency: 3 big things

The Baltimore Ravens are building a monster. Free agency has lifted them in a big way:

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The Baltimore Ravens have reportedly agreed to terms with Za’Darius Smith. This may be the best move in all of NFL Free Agency. The Ravens are getting a top-level pass rusher, the one that should have never gotten away. According to reports, it’s a four-year deal for $35 million. That’s a great deal for a player who had 12.5 sacks in 2020 and has recovered from the injury that took him out of all but one game in 2021.

Smith was an absolute hit for the Green Bay Packers. In his first season with the Packers, Smith had 13.5 sacks. It was the breakout season his play hinted at in the last year of his rookie contract with the Ravens. Even after an injury took him last season, Smith is still in the prime years of his career. The Ravens are in the rare situation where they get to invest in ascending homegrown talent while also giving that homegrown talent a second stint with the organization.

This is the best part of free agency for the Ravens, but they’ve had some certified master moves already this offseason. They reached a deal with Marcus Williams on the second day of NFL Free Agency. This gives them their starting free safety and should solidify the backend of the defense. Morgan Moses was another addition that filled a dire need for the purple and black. The Ravens basically got their replacement for Orlando Brown Jr. a year later. Moses is a huge offensive tackle that doesn’t give up a lot of pressure and fits into this offense.

The Ravens are a much better team than they were last season, already. Here are three big things to think about.

1. The value the Ravens got is hard to believe:

The Ravens’ deal with Morgan Moses is awesome. He doesn’t have a big cap hit at all on his three-year contract. He’s a starting tackle that didn’t break the bank. Za’Darius Smith was a lot cheaper than you’d think he’d be. Just look at the money that Chandler Jones got. Reports say that Jones got three years for $51 million from the Las Vegas Raiders. Baltimore gets Smith for a little under $9 million per season.

Smith’s injury and the fact that a reunion was so mutually beneficial obviously helped the Ravens get this deal. Smith didn’t get played, but you wonder if any other franchise could have made this deal with the Ravens. This has the potential to be one of the biggest signings in Ravens history. A combination of Za’Darius Smith and Odafe Oweh could bring an organic pass rush back to Baltimore. This is a position where a free agent of Smith’s caliber should cost more. The Ravens get to save at a premium position.

Marcus Williams got a big deal. The thing is he could have gotten more elsewhere. A five-year deal worth $70 million is very respectable for Williams. He gets most of his guaranteed money front-loaded into the deal. Jonas Shaffer of the Baltimore Sun tweeted that PFF and expected these players to get more lucrative deals in free agency.

That kind of says it all. The Ravens understood the assignment. Eric DeCosta managed to improve the team responsibly.

2. The 3 biggest needs for the Ravens have been addressed:

Baltimore had three problems that haunted them last season other than injuries. The Ravens gave up too many big plays down the field. They couldn’t get enough pass rush without blitzing, and the right tackle situation was deeply depressing. The Ravens just found three starters that improve the team in those specific areas.

Cole Jackson (From Two Guys Watching Football) tweeted this out about Moses. He’s one of the best and most consistent offensive line analysts in the Ravens Flock, and his opinion carries weight with me. Jackson’s take is that Moses is best described as steady. That’s the one thing the Ravens need at right tackle. I liked Moses coming out of Virginia, and he’s been good with Washington and the New York Jets. This looks like a win for the offensive line of the Ravens.

The Ravens’ defense is starting to come together. When they get Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey back, it won’t take much for them to get the secondary humming along. Williams gives the Ravens the deep safety they didn’t have. This was one position they couldn’t trust to a rookie and they couldn’t stay put at. They needed a proficient middle-of-the-field safety. Williams has had at least two picks every year of his career and has a PFF score of 80.1.

Smith should give the Ravens a more natural pass rush. Pairing him with Oweh could be a deadly one-two punch. The secondary is close to being where it needs to be as the Ravens head into the draft. The pressure that Smith can provide should work harmoniously with that fact.

3. The Ravens have a lot more work in front of them this offseason:

The Ravens have made their big moves but they are not necessarily done. The only glaring need for the Ravens now is to figure out who’s playing at the center position. It’s important to remember that the Ravens have a lot of draft capital. They have 10 draft picks to work with. The Ravens can do just about anything they want with the 14th pick. They’ve put themselves in a situation where taking the best player available is completely acceptable. Sauce Gardner anyone?

NEXT POST: Introducing PBN Radio: A Baltimore Ravens podcast

The offseason is off to a thrilling start. The Ravens didn’t just sit here and say “All it takes is us getting healthy next year.” The Ravens made a statement. They’re trying to build a monster, and so far the purple and black are winning NFL Free Agency.

Posted in NFL News

Baltimore Ravens: Moving forward after Marcus Peters injury

By Michael Natelli

Apart from the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie class, there were two players I was particularly excited to watch this year: JK Dobbins and Marcus Peters. As both entered their second full seasons in Baltimore, each seemed poised to have a year that would start to truly etch them into team lore as one of the key cogs of this era of Raven football. Evidently, that’s not going to happen. At least not this year.

As if that weren’t enough, Gus Edwards, L.J. Fort, and Justice Hill are all set to miss the season with injuries as well, and several other key contributors enter the season injured or still working their way back from injury. 

It’s enough to make your head spin and your hope wane. But the growing IR list is no excuse for this Ravens team to phone it in and take their eyes off a postseason run. Not only is there still plenty of talent on this loaded roster, but as bumps in the road emerge, Baltimore may have more ways (and ammo) to address injuries and roster needs than ever before.

Eric DeCosta has been just about as effective in the trade and free agency markets as any general manager in the NFL and should stand to capitalize from the wide range of options he has available.

The Free Agent Market

The Baltimore Ravens are a team that went 14-2 in 2019 in part thanks to their ability to get production out of off-the-street free agents like LJ Fort, Josh Bynes, Domata Peko, Justin Ellis, and a rejuvenated Pernell McPhee.

In 2020, it was signings like Trystan Colon-Castillo and Devontae Harris that helped the Ravens stay afloat as they weathered COVID issues and a depleted secondary. Time and time again, the Baltimore front office and coaching staff have made a living turning post-prime veterans and undrafted free agents into solid contributors, and this year’s free-agent market has them well-positioned to do it once again in addressing current and potential roster needs.

At corner, Richard Sherman, Quinton Dunbar, and former Raven Pierre Desir headline a shallow group of options. Sherman obviously offers the most star power and upside, though pending legal troubles make his status for the season somewhat unclear (to say nothing of his less-than-ideal fit in Wink Martindale’s defense). 

Desir is interesting because he comes with some level of familiarity with the defense having spent time with Baltimore late last year. Metrics didn’t like his play in limited action with the Ravens, but he was highly graded as recently as 2019 and could return to form given a longer stretch to get comfortable with regular reps. 

Dunbar has likely been asked too much of in recent stops and wasn’t up to the task. But at 6’2, the 29-year-old offers the kind of length the Ravens like in corners and could thrive (or at least reasonably contribute) in a more complementary role.

Early to start dealing with injuries: 

Perhaps the most unfortunate part about the injuries Baltimore has endured so far is the unknown of what’s still to come. Injuries come up throughout the course of a football season, so there will inevitably be a few roster holes that need to be plugged between now and January. Will the free-agent market be somewhere that gives the pieces the Ravens need to go win a Super Bowl without key players? Probably not. But does it offer savvy veterans that can help the team stay afloat and at least scrap their way to the postseason in a year with a seventh playoff spot? Absolutely.

Mitchell Schwartz and David DeCastro are out there as options along the offensive line. Geno Atkins and Kawann Short are available in the trenches, and Olivier Vernon is out there to rush the passer. John Brown is available to make his second tour through Baltimore if the receivers can’t get healthy, and Trey Burton is there if tight end depth becomes a problem. Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Frank Gore are all ready to go if the running back room hasn’t exorcised whatever continues to haunt it yet. 

Make your jokes about how those names all sound good as options in Madden 17, but while most are not what they used to be, enough talent is out there in a pinch that injuries at just about any position shouldn’t be the reason the Ravens aren’t a playoff team this year. 

The Trade Market:

If DeCosta (understandably) finds the free-agent market to have uninspiring options, he also has more than enough draft capital to fill a need or two via trade without putting the Ravens in a disadvantageous position come April.

Before even factoring in any compensation picks for departing free agents this coming offseason, the Ravens are slated to have 14 picks in their 2022 war chest. While such a loaded draft arsenal will come in handy next offseason with Mark Andrews and likely Lamar Jackson signed to new expensive contracts, it also gives the team more than enough ammo to comfortably part with a pick or two for midseason upgrades.

Whether that means swinging a trade for a corner Jacksonville’s C.J. Henderson or Denver’s Bryce Callahan, or star chasing at other spots around the roster, there’s no reason that the Week 1 roster has to be as good as it’s going to get in Baltimore this year. It may take until close to the Trade Deadline, but one would have to think DeCosta is already exploring options to make sure John Harbaugh and company can still be successful this year.

No Excuses

The Ravens are not a team that looks to make excuses. They say the right things because they believe the right things. “Next man up” is not just good coach speak in Baltimore, it’s a culture, and fans should expect nothing short of that attitude and that approach regardless of what the IR list looks like.

NEXT POST: More Ravens injuries are sobering: Next man up starts early

Even as more challenges emerge, the Ravens should be more than equipped enough to weather the storms that come their way and charge forward towards another postseason run.