- Justin Forsett, RB: Three years, $9MM. $3MM guaranteed.
- Kyle Arrington, CB: Three years,$7MM. $2.8MM guaranteed.
- Matt Schaub, QB: One year, $2MM. $2MM guaranteed.
- Chris Canty, DE: Two years, $4.65MM. $1.53MM guaranteed. Ravens hold 2016 team option.
- Kendrick Lewis, S: Three years, $5.4MM. $1.4MM guaranteed.
- Lawrence Guy, DE: Two years, $2.3MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Anthony Levine, CB: Two years, $2.2MM. $400K guaranteed.
- Christo Bilukidi, DT: Two years, $1.5MM. $80K guaranteed.
- Morgan Cox, LS: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Justin Tucker, K: One year, $2.356MM. Signed second-round RFA tender.
- Will Hill, S: One year, $1.542MM. Signed original-round RFA tender.
- Jah Reid, T: One year, minimum salary.
The Ravens’ weakest link last season was, without question, their secondary. Veteran corner Lardarius Webb missed three games early in the 2014 campaign with a lower back injury that clearly plagued him throughout the course of the season, and he would finish the year ranked 78th out of 108 qualified cornerbacks per Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required). An even bigger problem was the loss of standout corner Jimmy Smith, whose season was ended by a Week 8 Lisfranc injury. Due to injury and inconsistent performance, Baltimore was forced to deploy Anthony Levine, a natural safety, at cornerback, call on the services of bargain bin veterans such as Dominique Franks and Danny Gorrer, and thrust Rashaan Melvin from the practice squad into a starting role.
Making matters worse was the disappointing play of 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam, who was moved to his natural position of strong safety after spending his rookie campaign at free safety. PFF ranked Elam 78th out of 87 eligible safeties, which included an especially poor -12.7 grade in coverage. As his struggles continued, Elam appeared to lose confidence, and his ignominious season ended with his failing to make several relatively simple tackles in the team’s Divisional Round loss to the Patriots. Indeed, it was that playoff contest, in which the Ravens’ secondary failed to present even a meager challenge to New England’s pass offense, that prompted Baltimore to devote a great deal of attention to the unit this offseason.
The Ravens retained Will Hill on an original-round RFA tender, which was something of a no-brainer. Hill was suspended for the first seven games of the 2014 season, but he played very well when he returned to action, living up to the promise that he showed with the Giants in 2013. Joining him in the defensive backfield will be Kendrick Lewis, who parlayed a strong season as Houston’s free safety into a three-year, $5.4MM deal with Baltimore. Lewis will not make anyone forget about Ed Reed, but he and Hill should bring some much-needed stability to the Ravens’ safety position.
Baltimore also bolstered its cornerback corps by signing Kyle Arrington, who was released by the Patriots in May. Although Arrington has struggled when defending receivers outside the hash marks in his career, he has proven to be a very capable slot corner, which is most likely how the Ravens will use him.
The team’s secondary depth is still suspect; Baltimore did not select a corner in the 2015 draft until using a fourth-round selection on Texas Southern project Tray Walker, and it may still need to rely on the contributions of largely unproven players like Melvin and Asa Jackson and uninspiring veterans like Cassius Vaughn. However, the additions of Lewis and Arrington, the re-signing of Hill, and the anticipated good health of Smith and Webb may help turn a glaring weakness into a relative strength.
Outside of the secondary, Baltimore also addressed its backup quarterback situation by allowing Tyrod Taylor, who had served as Joe Flacco’s backup for four seasons, to leave in free agency. To replace him, the Ravens signed veteran Matt Schaub, whose skill set is more similar to Flacco’s and who brings a great deal of experience to the table. Schaub struggled in the team’s offseason practices, but he should at least be able to steady the ship for a couple of weeks should Flacco suffer an injury that keeps him out of game action for the first time in his career.
The Ravens also retained Justin Forsett on a relatively team-friendly deal after the journeyman back finally got his big break in 2014, gaining 1,266 yards while maintaining an excellent 5.4 yards per carry average and serving as a capable blocker and receiver. He did seem to slow down in the latter stages of the season and will likely be spelled more frequently by second-year back Lorenzo Taliaferro and rookie Buck Allen, but his return assures the Ravens of at least one high-quality player in the backfield.
- Antoine Cason, CB
- Terrence Cody, DT: Released
- Owen Daniels, TE
- Danny Gorrer, CB
- Jacoby Jones, WR: Released
- Kevin McDermott, LS
- Pernell McPhee, LB/DE
- Jeromy Miles, S
- Bernard Pierce, RB: Waived
- Will Rackley, G
- Torrey Smith, WR
- Darian Stewart, S
- Phillip Supernaw, TE: Waived
- Tyrod Taylor, QB
Luckily for the Ravens, they did not lose any truly irreplaceable players via release or free agency (the one player who may qualify as irreplaceable was traded, as we will detail below). Owen Daniels filled in nicely as the starting tight end after Dennis Pitta was lost for the season after a Week 3 hip injury, but Daniels, who has struggled with injury himself, is past his prime and was likely overpaid by the Broncos, who gave the Wisconsin product a three-year, $12MM deal this offseason. The Ravens hope that Pitta will be able to fully recover from his second major hip surgery in two years, but even if that seems unlikely at this point, Baltimore has confidence in second-year tight end Crockett Gillmore, who has shown proficiency as a blocker and some talent as a receiver, and highly-touted rookie Maxx Williams.
It was something of a curious decision to release Jacoby Jones, as the move did not save the Ravens a great deal of cap space and will leave the team without one of the more dynamic kick returners in the league. Baltimore has several potential replacements in Jackson, Michael Campanaro, and undrafted free agent DeAndre Carter, but it will be difficult to replace Jones, who is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.
Torrey Smith, of course, is the biggest name to depart in free agency. However, Smith never developed into the complete receiver that the Ravens had hoped for, and though he played a crucial role in the Ravens’ success during his career in Baltimore, it wouldn’t have made much sense for the team to match the five-year, $40MM pact Smith landed from the 49ers. That is especially true for a receiver who is a good deep threat and who has an underrated knack for drawing pass interference penalties, but who seemed to regress in 2014 and who still struggles with route running and making contested catches. The Ravens are confident in their unheralded collection of receivers behind Steve Smith Sr., a group that includes Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Campanaro, and, most notably, Breshad Perriman, the team’s first-round pick in the 2015 draft who should at least be able to provide the deep threat that the Ravens lost with Torrey Smith’s departure.
On the opposite side of the ball, Pernell McPhee landed a five-year, $40MM contract from the Bears, which seems to be a steep price to pay for a player who has been used primarily as a situational pass rusher in his career. However, the Ravens will certainly miss McPhee’s Swiss Army knife ability to line up virtually anywhere along the front seven and get to the quarterback with such aplomb (despite his limited snap count, PFF graded McPhee as the second-best 3-4 OLB in the league, and his pass rush grade was lower than only two other players: All-Pros Justin Houston and Elvis Dumervil). Although Baltimore’s front seven, anchored by C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Dumervil, and Brandon Williams, should continue to be a strength, it will certainly need younger talents like Za’Darius Smith, Brent Urban, and Kapron Lewis-Moore to help fill the pass-rushing void.
Extensions and restructures:
- Jimmy Smith, CB: Extended through 2019. Four years, $41.102MM. $21MM guaranteed.
- Lardarius Webb, CB: Restructured contract. Three years, $16.25MM. $5.25MM guaranteed. $2MM+ available via incentives.
- Sam Koch, P: Extended through 2020. Five years, $18.75MM. $7.3MM guaranteed.
As outlined above, Baltimore really had no other choice but to lock up Jimmy Smith with a long-term deal, despite the season-ending injury he suffered in Week 8. And, given the contracts handed out to top-flight corners like Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman, and the lucrative deal that Byron Maxwell was able to pull down from Philadelphia, the extension for Smith looks eminently reasonable. He has demonstrated shutdown ability and is still in the prime of his career, so as long as he stays healthy, the contract may end up looking like a bargain.
Webb, meanwhile, is on the downside of his career, and he knew that if he did not take a pay cut, he would likely be released. He therefore agreed to rework his deal with the Ravens, which still allows him to earn more money than he would have received on the open market, but it also gives Baltimore a little financial flexibility. He and Smith will remain atop the Ravens’ cornerback depth chart this year, and the team did well to retain what should be a pretty strong starting tandem.
The Koch extension keeps one of the league’s more reliable punters under club control through 2020. Koch had been set to become a free agent after the 2015 season.
- Acquired a 2015 fourth-round pick and a 2015 fifth-round pic from the Lions in exchange for DT Haloti Ngata and a 2015 seventh-round pick.
- Acquired a 2016 fourth-round pick from the Broncos in exchange for C Gino Gradkowski and a 2016 fifth-round pick.
- Acquired a 2015 second-round pick (No. 55; TE Maxx Williams) from the Cardinals in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick (No. 58; DE/OLB Markus Golden) and a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 158; DE Shaq Riddick).
Losing Ngata is the biggest blow the Ravens were dealt in the offseason. The five-time All-Pro has been a mainstay in the interior of Baltimore’s defensive line since 2006, and he has put together a career that will easily get him entrenched in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor and could arguably earn him a bust in the NFL Hall of Fame. Ngata managed to do the dirty work required of interior linemen—eat up blockers and double-teams to give the linebackers room to run—while also establishing himself as a dominant playmaker in his own right. Excellent against both the run and pass, Ngata’s fearsome presence will missed in Baltimore.
However, he was suspended for the final four games of 2014 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and in those four games, the Ravens saw their two young linemen, Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan, effectively carry the load. With continued growth from those two players, along with expected contributions from solid if unspectacular mainstays like Chris Canty and DeAngelo Tyson—not to mention high-upside rookie Carl Davis—Baltimore can reasonably hope to minimize the impact of losing Ngata. Furthermore, the team created $8.5MM of cap room by dealing Ngata, and it used one of the draft picks obtained in the trade to land potential McPhee replacement Za’Darius Smith and the other as part of a package to land Williams, the consensus top tight end in the draft.
- 1-26: Breshad Perriman, WR (UCF): Signed
- 2-55: Maxx Williams, TE (Minnesota): Signed
- 3-90: Carl Davis, DT (Iowa): Signed
- 4-122: Za’Darius Smith, DE/OLB (Kentucky): Signed
- 4-125: Buck Allen, RB (USC): Signed
- 4-136: Tray Walker, CB (Texas Southern): Signed
- 5-171: Nick Boyle, TE (Delaware): Signed
- 5-176: Robert Myers, G (Tennessee State): Signed
- 6-204: Darren Waller, WR (Georgia Tech): Signed
We have already touched on most of these selections. Perriman will be expected to be an immediate contributor, and his speed, athleticism, and playmaking ability give him the potential to be an effective replacement for Torrey Smith. Perriman’s hands and his struggles with drops in his collegiate career have been justifiably criticized, but the Ravens have contended that those drops were due to more of a lack of concentration than a fundamental flaw in his ability. Even if Perriman does not become the top-flight wideout that has always eluded the Ravens, his physical gifts should at least help take the top off of opposing defenses and open underneath routes for Steve Smith Sr. and the team’s stable of tight ends.
Williams, meanwhile, has drawn favorable comparisons to former Raven Todd Heap, and his ability to stretch defenses and make catches up the seams should land him a fair amount of playing time in 2015, particularly if Pitta is unable to recover from his hip injury. Davis appears to be a steal at the No. 90 overall pick and should immediately become an effective part of the team’s defensive line rotation, and Za’Darius Smith—the less-heralded teammate of Pittsburgh first-round selection Bud Dupree—showed terrific edge-setting ability in college and has upside as a pass rusher.
Allen will likely be the team’s No. 3 running back to start the season, but his abilities as both a runner and receiver may allow him to overtake Taliaferro on the Ravens’ depth chart at some point in the 2015 campaign, and he certainly has the upside to be the eventual replacement for Forsett. Walker, as mentioned above, is raw and a developmental project, but Boyle and Waller are intriguing late round prospects who have the size to be effective redzone targets in their rookie seasons. Boyle also brings abilities as an inline blocker and could team with Gillmore and Williams to form a surprisingly effective tight end corps.
- Hired Marc Trestman to replace Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator.
- Signed nine players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed 15 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
Of these players, UDFA Carter probably has the best chance to make the club, thanks to his upside as a return man. Julian Wilson, the former Oklahoma cornerback who became one of the most sought-after UDFAs before agreeing to sign with Baltimore, suffered a broken leg during a spring practice and will miss the 2015 season. The Ravens often strike gold with undrafted free agents, and Wilson, largely because of his prototypical size and Baltimore’s need for secondary depth, was a good bet to make the club if he had stayed healthy. Former Prairie View A&M signal-caller Jerry Lovelocke has some promise, and the Ravens may stash him on the practice squad with the hopes of grooming him to take over the backup quarterback role in the near future. Former East Carolina wide receiver Cam Worthy has some upside but will find it difficult to crack a largely unproven but talented group of receivers.
The Ravens did see one major coaching change, as Gary Kubiak turned his success as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator into his second head coaching gig, taking over the top job with the Broncos. Marc Trestman, who flopped as the Bears’ head coach in the past two seasons, is still a well-respected offensive mind who generally adheres to the same West Coast principles and zone-blocking schemes as Kubiak. Flacco, who enjoyed a career year under Kubiak, should be pleased, and the Ravens offense as a whole should be able to maintain last year’s success.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Joe Flacco, QB: $14,550,000
- Ray Rice, RB: $9,500,000 (dead money)
- Lardarius Webb, CB: $9,250,000
- Marshal Yanda, G: $8,450,000
- Eugene Monroe, LT: $7,700,000
- Haloti Ngata, DT: $7,500,000 (dead money)
- Elvis Dumervil, OLB: $7,375,000
- Dennis Pitta, TE: $6,200,000
- Steve Smith Sr., WR: $4,166,666
- Terrell Suggs, OLB: $3,950,000
As this list indicates, the Ravens are absorbing a combined cap hit of $23.2MM for players who either will not suit up for them in 2015 (Rice, Ngata) or who may not suit up (Pitta). Considering those limitations, GM Ozzie Newsome has done a nice job of addressing the team’s biggest needs and putting together what looks to be a playoff roster. The AFC North, which sent three teams to the playoffs in 2014, will once again be a tightly-contested division, but Baltimore, which advanced further in the playoffs than rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, looks like a better team on paper than it did when its season ended in Foxboro in January. As such, look for the Ravens to make some noise as they attempt to qualify for postseason play for the seventh time in eight years of the John Harbaugh/Flacco era.