Offseason In Review: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens narrowly missed the playoffs last year, blowing a golden opportunity to put themselves in the driver’s seat for a divisional title in Week 16 before allowing the Steelers to drive the length of the field in the game’s waning moments. That was essentially the story of the season for Baltimore, as missed opportunities and fourth quarter collapses turned what might have been a successful campaign into a disappointment.

Depending on who you ask, the offseason has not been much better. The Ravens focused most of their attention, both in free agency and in the draft, on the defensive side of the ball when the offense sorely needed help. While Jeremy Maclin surprisingly falling into their laps late in the spring helped to mitigate that somewhat, the offensive line is still a major question mark. It’s also fair to wonder how wise it is for the team to depend so heavily on third-year wideout Breshad Perriman considering that he missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, had an up-and-down 2016, and is currently being held out of training camp with hamstring soreness (thus halting the momentum he had built in spring and in the early stages of camp).

The Ravens have a fair amount of talent and could make some noise in the AFC North, though their recent spate of injuries is threatening to derail the season before it starts. One might also ask whether the conservative and predictable play-calling of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and defensive coordinator Dean Pees will get the most out of their talent, and whether a mixed bag of an offseason will be enough to get Baltimore back to the postseason.

Notable signings:

The Ravens landed two key offensive pieces late in the offseason in Maclin and Austin Howard, but until that point, they had invested the vast majority of their assets into the defensive side of the ball. One of the most curious moves of the offseason was the massive payday Baltimore doled out to Brandon Williams. Williams is a terrific player to be sure, but he’s not a generational talent, and Baltimore has a quality defensive tackle in Michael Pierce that might have filled in capably for Williams at a fraction of the price. Plus, the Ravens have always been able to find quality defensive linemen. It has been more of a struggle to find quality offensive pieces, and the fact that Baltimore spent so lavishly on Williams and Tony Jefferson while letting right tackle Ricky Wagner walk in free agency and ignoring free agent wideouts like Alshon Jeffery and Terrelle Pryor — who both signed relatively inexpensive deals — certainly raised some eyebrows.

Luckily for the Ravens, it may have worked out anyway, though it’s hard to say it was by design. No one expected a receiver like Maclin to become available when he did, and while Howard could be a solid replacement for Wagner, he is coming off an injury-plagued season in which his performance took a noticeable dip. Danny Woodhead, who for a long time was Baltimore’s big offensive acquisition, offers a nice complement to the bruising running style of Terrance West, and if he can stay healthy — a big “if” for players wearing purple and black these days — he should be a big contributor as a receiver out of the backfield and will surely line up in the slot a fair amount.

Jefferson will join last year’s big free agent splurge, Eric Weddle, to form arguably the best safety tandem in the game, and the Ravens also signed Brandon Carr to bolster its cornerback corps, which has been thin in recent seasons and which has really suffered when No. 1 corner Jimmy Smith has been forced to sit out due to injury. Unfortunately for Baltimore, sophomore corner Tavon Young, who was excellent in his rookie season, tore his ACL and will miss all of 2017, which precipitated the Brandon Boykin signing. Maurice Canady, another sophomore corner who enjoyed a terrific spring and a strong start to training camp, was the favorite to replace Young, but he, too, went down with a potentially serious knee injury, so it looks as if Smith and Carr will man the perimeter while Boykin or stalwart Lardarius Webb will line up in the slot (though first-round draft choice Marlon Humphrey could replace Carr later in the season). That sounds like a decent enough group of CBs, but one more injury could lead to the same problems in coverage that the Ravens have experienced of late.

Nonetheless, the defense looks strong as a whole, and with the influx of young athleticism that the team added to that side of the ball in the draft, the only thing holding that unit back (outside of injury) is Pees. Wideouts Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Perriman offer considerable talent and complementary skill-sets on the offensive side of the ball, and if the Ravens can find some production from the tight end spot — see below — and if Joe Flacco can overcome his back injury, Baltimore should be in pretty good shape.

Notable losses:

Many of the Ravens’ losses will not be missed, as they were marginal starters or roster filler. Steve Smith‘s production should be more than adequately replaced by Maclin and a more seasoned Perriman, and while Zach Orr‘s retirement (?) was an unpleasant surprise, he is hardly irreplaceable. The surprise retirement that arguably hurt the team more was that of John Urschel. His departure from the game, along with the subsequent season-ending injuries to Alex Lewis and Nico Siragusa, have left a massive void at left guard that has led the team to consider signing Jeremy Zuttah (Zuttah would play center and shift Ryan Jensen to left guard). Zuttah was a turnstile in 2016, he does not fit in a power-running scheme, and the Ravens thought so little of him that they traded him to the 49ers earlier this offseason for the right to move up 12 spots in the sixth round of the draft (Zuttah was later released by San Francisco and is currently a free agent).

Much has been made of Dennis Pitta‘s release, which was precipitated by yet another hip injury, and the hole that will leave in the Ravens’ offense. In reality, although Pitta did haul in 86 catches last year, very few of his receptions went for significant yardage, and he was more of a dump-off option (in a dump-off heavy offense) in 2016. The Ravens’ tight end corps is far from reliable, given that Ben Watson is 36 and is coming off a torn ACL, Crockett Gillmore suffered a season-ending knee injury, Maxx Williams has had difficult staying healthy in his young career, and Darren Waller managed to get himself suspended for the entire 2017 season. Nonetheless, it is hard to argue that Pitta will be missed from an on-the-field perspective, as he had no explosiveness in 2016 and his YAC was non-existent. He was a fan favorite and it is a shame that his career has been (presumably) cut short by a series of unfortunate hip injuries, but it was time for Baltimore to move on.

Aside from the above-mentioned departure of Wagner and Urschel’s retirement, the only notable losses the Ravens sustained this offseason were due to injury, not free agency.

Trades:

  • Acquired a 2017 sixth-round pick (No. 186) from the 49ers in exchange for C Jeremy Zuttah and a 2017 sixth-round pick (No. 198).
  • Acquired a 2017 third-round pick (No. 74) from the Eagles in exchange for DT Timmy Jernigan and a 2017 third-round pick (No. 99).

Draft picks:

The Ravens waited until the fourth round to select an offensive player in this year’s draft, and while their fourth-round selection, Siragusa, was a quality pick, he will miss the season with a torn ACL. Nonetheless, the team began making a concerted effort in 2016 to infuse its defense with sorely-needed speed and athleticism, and that was never going to be a one-year project. Adding Bowser and Williams should be a boost to a flagging pass rush, and Bowser has looked like a three-down back in training camp. Those rookies, along with second-year linebacker Matt Judon and the aging but still effective Terrell Suggs, should allow the Ravens to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback in 2017.

The selection of Humphrey puzzled many observers, as the Ravens could have selected an offensive play-maker like O.J. Howard even though their top wide receiver targets were off the board long before Baltimore was on the clock. However, Humphrey has plenty of promise as an outside corner, and the same analysts who criticized the team for failing to select an offensive talent were also quick to point out in recent seasons that the Ravens needed to address their thin secondary. While Humphrey is not suited to play in the slot, the injuries to slot corners Young and Canady underscore the need to continuously restock the defensive backfield, and Jimmy Smith’s injury history — and the Ravens’ struggles when he is unable to suit up — made Humphrey a solid choice. Thus far, he has validated his draft status with a strong showing in spring and in training camp.

Eluemunor was selected as a raw talent that the team hoped to bring along slowly, but he could be thrust into the starting lineup sooner rather than later considering the holes that the Ravens have on their O-line. Indeed, he could emerge as one of the surprise impact players of 2017 if he can somehow start living up to his potential right away.

Extensions and restructures:

The Ravens were forced to restructure Jimmy Smith’s contract for the second straight year to give themselves a little breathing room, especially since they will probably need to sign at least one more offensive lineman before the regular season begins. The team has been tight against the cap for the past several seasons, and contracts like the one they handed out to Williams have exacerbated that problem. Baltimore actually has so much D-line depth at the moment that it will probably need to trade at least one quality player in the coming weeks, which further emphasizes the point that it could have spent its money more wisely.

Other:

The theme of the Ravens’ offseason has been injuries. We have already touched on most of the injuries referenced here, but the Dixon injury will also hurt the team in a big way. While West is a competent back, and Woodhead offers solid ability as a receiver out of the backfield, Dixon has explosive playmaking ability that the Ravens will sorely miss in 2017. The team brought in Greg Roman to strengthen a run game that was among the league’s worst in 2017, but his task becomes considerably more difficult in light of Dixon’s torn meniscus. At this point, UDFA Taquan Mizzell might be the second-best back on the roster, and Baltimore could look into adding a player like Ryan Mathews to replace Dixon.

Top 10 cap charges for 2017:

  1. Joe Flacco, QB: $24,550,000
  2. Jimmy Smith, CB: $12,600,000
  3. Marshal Yanda, G: $9,125,000
  4. Mike Wallace, WR: $8,000,000
  5. Terrell Suggs, DE: $6,950,000
  6. Brandon Williams, DT: $6,000,000
  7. Eric Weddle, S: $5,750,000
  8. Tony Jefferson, S: $5,500,000
  9. Ronnie Stanley, T: $4,655,530
  10. Eugene Monroe, T: $4,400,000 (dead money)

The Ravens are clearly a team with some holes, particularly along the O-line. Tight end and running back are also a bit of question mark, and if Flacco is not 100%, Baltimore is not going anywhere, Colin Kaepernick or no Colin Kaepernick.

But the Ravens also have talent. They have quality receivers (if they can stay healthy), and they have all the makings of a top-5 defense, which they will probably need to rely on heavily in 2017. The biggest obstacle for the defense, aside from health, might be Pees, who has struggled to get the most out of his defenses in his career as a defensive coordinator, and whose conservative philosophies led to some of the team’s late game collapses last year.

Luckily for Baltimore, their AFC North foes also have some serious flaws, and the Ravens have enough talent to be competitive in every game they play. If they can win one or two more of the “toss-up” games that they dropped last season, they could find themselves back in the playoffs, despite a postseason that generated as many groans as grins.

Information from Over the Cap and Roster Resource was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

View Comments (1)
newest oldest

One comment on “Offseason In Review: Baltimore Ravens

  1. sportsjunkie24

    Please please sign barnidge and some ol and rb help and we be a good team

    0
    0

Leave a Reply