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Baltimore Ravens 7 Round Mock Draft 2.0

April 2, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Coaching Staff, Free Agency, JOE FLACCO, NFL Draft

During the 2013 offseason, the then World Champion Baltimore Ravens lost nine significant contributors from the team that defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. Aside from Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retiring, other key losses happened in free agency, the cutting process or via trade. The Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency, amongst others.

07_PresserPrimer_news

The Ravens brain trust with Harbaugh & Newsome in the middle

Without these players and for other reasons, the Ravens were unable to return to the playoffs in 2013, becoming the second straight SB Champion not to return to defend their crown. Unable to find a leader to replace Ray Lewis and forced to try to replace the missing pieces, the chemistry never seemed to gel and Baltimore finished 8-8.

The reward for losing talented players, if there such a thing, comes in the form of compensatory picks in the NFL Draft the following season.  The most NFL teams can receive in any one year for the upcoming draft is four and this year, the Ravens received the maximum allotted picks for the losses sustained in free agency last year.

With only four picks of their own heading to Radio City Music Hall in May, the four picks could not have come at a better time for GM Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens. Baltimore was scheduled to select in the first (17), second (48) and third round (79), as well a pick in the sixth round (184). The four compensatory picks now give the Ravens additional picks in the third (99), fourth (134 and 138) and fifth round (175). The compensatory picks cannot be traded and now give Newsome, Erik DeCosta and the rest of the Draft gurus eight selections total in this year’s draft.

Ozzie Newsome, whom many refer to as the Wizard, when it comes to personnel moves and the draft, will make the most of these picks. In fact, the “Wizardry” in how Newsome works the system can be seen in the compensatory picks alone. Ever since the NFL has implemented the compensatory pick system in 1994, the Ravens have led the league in total compensatory picks awarded with 41. The next closest are the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys who each have received 33. It is also important to remember the Packers & Cowboys had a two-year head start, as the Ravens were the Browns in 1994 & 95.

According to Wikipedia, the compensatory process work this way. In addition to the 32 selections in each of the seven rounds, 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams that have lost more or better compensatory free agents than they signed in the previous year. Teams that gain and lose the same number of players but lose higher-valued players than they gain also can be awarded a pick, but only in the seventh round, after the other compensatory picks. Compensatory picks cannot be traded, and the placement of the picks is determined by a proprietary formula based on the player's salary, playing time, and postseason honors with his new team, with salary being the primary factor.

Newsome is able to gain these picks without losing picks because players cut by teams do not count in this equation and there is a cut-off date for signings to have an impact on the compensatory draft pick formula. According to the formula, the Ravens signed zero free agents that effected compensatory picks. Cut by their prior teams after the deadline, Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears were all had without losing draft picks. Inside linebacker, Daryl Smith was signed after the deadline for signings to affect compensatory picks.

Climbing into the head of any General Manager to try to predict what they will do during the NFL Draft is difficult but trying to get inside the mind of a Wizard is a completely different set of circumstances. The thought process can be damn near impossible to predict. Will it be “Best player available” or filling a need—or will Newsome and the Ravens trade back—or even up to get their man?

Newsome, who is listed as the Ravens’ general manager and executive vice president, is directing his 19th draft and if history repeats itself, Ozzie and his staff will select players that will have immediate and long-lasting impact on the Ravens’ continued success as a playoff contender. Who those players will be and even at what positions is what makes mock drafts so much, but mocking the Ravens is work—-

The Ravens and a few of their players are not making it easy to predict how they will draft in six weeks. Undisciplined off the field behavior, as well as the moves the team has made in free agency to this point all factor in the process this offseason. They have re-signed several of their own players, which is an entirely different approach than they executed last season and have added just three players from other teams.

The returning Ravens include OT Eugene Monroe, Jacoby Jones, Dennis Pitta & Darryl Smith. Speaking of Smith, the Ravens signed former Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, just days after his release in Charlotte. They also signed former Rams safety Darian Stewart and via trade acquired center Jeffery Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fifth round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

With an 8-8 record, one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and a lack of any tangible leadership, the re-signings and outside additions will fix some of these issues but they are not going to fix everything that ailed the Ravens in 2013.

There is still the matter of how the Ravens are going to deal with RB Ray Rice.  Heading into his seventh season in 2014, Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence on Feb. 15 following a physical altercation with his then-fiancée at the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. After taking a month to review the evidence, possibly including a video tape, which allegedly shows Rice getting physical with his fiancé, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office announced last Thursday that the charge has been changed to third degree aggravated assault, which is a far more serious charge. If convicted, Rice could get a prison sentence of three to five years, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Ray Rice & Janay Parker-Rice with their daughter

Ray Rice & Janay Palmer-Rice with their daughter

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has said Rice has a future with the team despite his arrest. Rice, 27, signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Ravens before the 2012 season but is coming off his worst season, rushing for only 660 yards and averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per carry.

Regardless of what the happens in a court of law, the Ravens still very much face the prospect of life without No.27 for possibly a quarter of the 2014 NFL season. Rice will likely face a suspension in the court of Goodell—and if history is indeed a good teacher, that suspension could be a minimum of four games. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will allow the law to run its due course but even if Rice somehow gets off in NJ, Goodell has shown in the past his justice under the leagues conduct policy is swift and his decisions are made regardless of verdicts and in the best interest of the league. Battering women does not sit well at any level of any profession or in any part of our society. Just ask Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger about how much the NFL cares about what happens in court when it involves women and abuse—or in Big Ben’s situation—a case that never even made it into court. In 2010, Goodell cracked down on one of the league's stars, suspending Roethlisberger without pay for the first six games of the 2010 season, even though sexual assault allegations against him in Georgia did not lead to criminal charges. Goodell determined that Roethlisberger had violated the NFL's personal-conduct policy and ordered the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to undergo a "comprehensive behavioral evaluation by professionals."

So, as you see, it’s not just signing free agents and making trades that makes a GM’s life so difficult when the players are off on their own time. Rice is not the only Ravens player to have a run in with the law this offseason. Backup Offensive lineman Jah Reid (Assault) and WR Deonte Thompson’s (Marijuana Possession) actions must also be considered when the Ravens head into next month’s draft. Adding depth or even a potential starter at all three positions (RB, OL, and WR) is a priority for the Ravens.

Without over complicating the process, here is my attempt to get into the mind of the Ravens front office, as I try to predict the Ravens entire 2014 NFL Draft:

Picks: Round

1 (17), 2 (48), 3 (79), 3 (99 Compensatory), 4 (134 Compensatory), 4 (138 Compensatory), 5 (175 Compensatory) & 6 (194)

BALTIMORE RAVENS MOCK DRAFT 2.0

Zack Martin

Zach Martin

Round 1 (Pick 17)

Zach Martin, T / G Notre Dame: 6’4” 308 lbs. / 32 7/8 arm length / 9.5” hands

Combine: 40-yard 5.20 / Bench Press 23 (250 lbs.) /

Many mock drafts have the Ravens now looking to draft one of the two top safeties in the draft. Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS Sports NFL Draft Scout have the Ravens taking Ha-Sean Clinton Dix & Calvin Pryor respectively. If the Ravens select a safety, it would be the third time in franchise history that the team has elected to draft a player from the same position in the first round of back-to-back drafts. They drafted Ray Lewis with their second pick of the first round (26) 1996 and then took Peter Boulware with the fourth overall pick the following season. In 1998 and 99, the Ravens used the 10th overall pick in both drafts to sure up the cornerback position when they drafted Duane Starks & then Chris McAllister. Last year, the Ravens selected Matt Elam and it would not shock me if indeed the Ravens took one of the two safeties, especially with James Ihedigbo signing with the Detroit Lions—but the biggest offseason acquisition not mentioned above may be the one that necessitates selecting Zack Martin.

It is no secret former Houston Texans HC, new Ravens offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak, loves the zone-blocking scheme, and it’s no secret that the Ravens tried and failed last season to execute a version of their own. The hiring of Kubiak certainly does not suggest the Ravens will return to the man-on-man blocking schemes of yesterday but instead will stick with the scheme that gave them fits. Free agency tells us that the Ravens want versatility, as Michael Oher is in Tennessee and former TB Buc center / guard, Jeremey Zuttah is now a Raven. Zuttah is not an All-Pro but he is an upgrade over center Geno Gradkowski and he can also play guard. Zuttah was Pro Football Focus' 22nd ranked center last season out of 35 qualifiers. The Ravens' incumbent center, Gino Gradkowski, ranked 35th, according to PFF's grading.

Zach Martin, unrelated to Jonathan Martin by genetics or style of play, is a coach's dream. While perhaps lacking the body type scouts prefer at tackle (where he started 50 of his 52 career games for the Irish), Martin slides well laterally and controls opponents. He is smart, fierce and versatile with excellent hand usage. Martin may not have the ideal size to play tackle but he will work out just fine at right tackle for the Ravens and would be an upgrade over Michael Oher. The Ravens need Martin more than any other player, as his versatility would allow them to make adjustments if they decided that Kelechi Osemele should move to RT. Ozzie Newsome does not have the luxury of trading back to get Martin; the Dolphins will not let him past No.19. That would leave a player like Cyrus Kouandjio as the likely next best option and in my opinion—they would simply be redrafting Michael Oher if Kouandjio were the selection.

If the Ravens are serious about making the zone blocking work and they have to be with Kubiak in charge of the offense, then drafting a safety or WR would be the wrong decision here, especially when you consider the important hole on the right side of the fourth worst offensive line in the NFL last season. Besides, is it more important to protect your $120.6 million investment or find a ball hawking safety–while Clinton Dix and Pryor are solid prospects, they aren't Ed Reed or Sean Taylor and that's the only type of safety that should have the Ravens thinking any other way than right tackle in this draft with this pick. It is possible given his recent legal troubles that Michigan's Taylor Lewan could fall to the Ravens—–either way, Martin or Lewan need to be wearing purple next season and I'm not talking about Minnesota purple.

Carlos Hyde

Carlos Hyde

Second Round (pick 48) 

Carlos Hyde, RB Ohio State 5’11” 230 Lbs. / 32” Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands

Combine 40 yds. 4.66 / Bench Press 19 / Broad Jump 114” /

Dare to be BOLD—–For whatever reason, the Ravens rushing attack in 2013 has to be considered the root of the offensive evils of last season. Yes, the offensive line was equally inept and the two run hand-in-hand but Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce aren’t the long term answers in Baltimore. Both were affected by injuries and a lack of consistent blocking all season but Rice is entering his seventh season and Pierce is showing a knack for injury and an inability to make the necessary big plays. In addition, Rice's offseason has been marred after being charged with aggravated assault by an Atlantic County Grand Jury on Thursday, following an incident at an Atlantic City casino in February. The Ravens gained a franchise-record low 1,328 rushing yards last season, averaging 3.1 yards per carry with just seven touchdown runs. Rice rushed for just 660 yards for the season, a career low as a starter.

Head Coach John Harbaugh was not bashful about his disappointment in the Ravens running game last season when asked about it at the NFL Combine. "I think the whole thing just needs an overhaul," Harbaugh said at the NFL scouting combine. "It was a myriad of things. We didn't block people well. We didn't move people. We didn't get on people. … Our backs both weren't 100 percent and they didn't make enough guys miss, didn't break enough tackles. So the yards weren't there. We also didn't throw well enough to get people out of single-high, press man [coverage]. We were always pretty much regularly going up against a heavy box, so that compounded a problem. We were probably a throw to set up the run offense the last 11, 12 games and we didn't throw the ball well enough to set up the run. We just didn't get the job done."

The Ravens are going to use either this pick or their third round selection on a RB. Including Carlos Hyde, they met with five of them at the NFL Combine. Hyde, if he is even on the board at this point, would be a great fit in the Ravens offense. Hyde reminds me a lot of a RB that called Baltimore home for six seasons. Jamal Lewis gained nearly 8,000 yards, including a season in which he rushed for 2,066 yards. At 5’11” and 240 pounds, Lewis was a powerful runner could flash the speed when he needed it. Hyde, the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and first-team All-Big 10 pick finished the season with 100-plus rushing yards in nine consecutive games. He finished with 1,508 rushing yards and 15 TD’s—this, after being suspended for the first three games for being a "person of interest" in an assault investigation. NFL.com says, Hyde has outstanding size, explosive power and run strength — can be his own blocker and create his own holes. Punishes linebackers running downhill and usually falls forward. Superb contact balance and finishing strength — does not go down easily and can barrel through arm tackles. Extremely powerful short-yardage/goal-line runner, which the Ravens could use. Remember the Green Bay game? He gets better as the game progresses, wearing down defensive fronts.  Took over the game in the fourth quarter vs. Northwestern (2013) and willed team to victory. He is surprisingly quick in short spaces and can plant hard and go. Is solid in pass protection and can stonewall blitzers in their tracks. Good awareness and anticipation to react to stunts and adjust to movement. Soft hands-catcher.

Terrance Brooks

Terrance Brooks

Third Round (Pick 79)

Terrance Brooks, Safety Florida State

Vitals: 5’-11” & 198 Lbs. / 31” Arm Length / 9 Hands
Combine: 4.42 40-yard / 38” Vertical / 119” Broad Jump / 10 Reps Weight Bench

The Ravens are expected to shift Matt Elam from free safety to his natural strong safety position and would like to acquire a play-making centerfielder to work in tandem with Elam, whose strong suits are his tackling and blitzing capabilities. Brooks is a 2013 Second-team All-ACC selection. In addition, he played and started in 13 games, missing one game due to concussion. Brooks' lack of dominating statistics led to his being overshadowed at times but NFL scouts are intrigued with the former cornerback's agility, range and willingness to be physical in run support. Voted to the First Team All-ACC unit by coaches (but only second-team by the media), Brooks' toughness and versatility could lead to a second-day selection in the draft despite few outside of Tallahassee realizing his importance to the Seminoles' undefeated season.

From CBS Sports Rob Rang: While a touch shorter than scouts would prefer, Brooks looks the part of an NFL free safety, boasting broad shoulders, a well-built frame and trim waist. He possesses good balance, agility and straight-line speed, including an impressive burst to close. A former cornerback who is asked to drop down and cover slot receivers, on occasion, demonstrating good balance, fluidity and change of direction for coverage. Brooks is more physical than you might expect given his cornerback background, often dropping down into a linebacker-like role for the Seminoles, which the Ravens will love in a defense that requires versatility and physicality. Long arms and good balance to play off blocks and make plays near the line of scrimmage amid traffic. A big-hitter who seems to enjoy the physicality of the game. Flashes strong hands for the interception, as well as the ability to track over his shoulder (North Carolina State). Good special teams’ player.

CJ Fiedorowicz

CJ Fiedorowicz

Round Three (Pick 99 Compensatory)

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

Vitals: 6’6” & 265 Lbs. / 33” Arm Length / 10 ¼ Hands /      

Combine: 4.76-40 yard / 31 ½” Vertical / 25 Reps on Weight Bench

Fiedorowicz showed off his athletic ability at the NFL Combine when he was first among TE’s in the 3-Cone (7.10) & 20 Yard Shuttle (4.26) Drills. Underutilized in the Hawkeyes offense, Fiedorowicz finished the 2013 season with a career-high six touchdowns and was voted First Team All-Big Ten. In need of a TE, the Ravens met with Fiedorowicz in Indy and came away impressed. C.J. won the Alabama Power Most Outstanding Receiver for the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday practices at the Senior Bowl. He has excellent size with a proportioned body and is physical enough to continue developing as a blocker. He demonstrated more suddenness in and out of his cuts that will allow him to get separation when facing man coverage. He is a throwback tight end who blocks and has excellent size at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and is a sure-handed receiver. Fiedorowicz finished with 91 career catches for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns over his final 30 games of his career, catching at least one pass per game during that span. Dane Bugler of NFL Draft Scout says he shows good versatility, showing the ability to come off a down block to get past defenders as a receiver. Good body control and soft hands for such a large man, traits that have led Washington junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins to earn a lot of attention as a possible first-round pick. Fiedorowicz is not as flashy as ASJ, but he is just as big and fast in a straight-line and is a much more physical and attentive blocker. If Fiedorowicz is as advertised and even the rigid Nolan Nowrocki thinks so (see below), he could be just what ails the Ravens opposite Dennis Pitta. Fiedorowicz tries to pattern his game after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and if he could provide a third of what Gronk gives to the Pats when healthy, this is a bonafide home run with the 99th pick.

Nolan Nowrocki summary on Fiedorowicz:  Big-framed, linear and dependable, Fiedorowicz looks the part and has balanced skills to be a legitimate “Y” tight end in the pros. Is an asset as a competitive blocker and as a sure-handed receiver. Will be in demand in a relatively thin tight ends class.

Chris Davis

Chris Davis gets ready to tackle James Franklin of Mizzou

Round Four (Pick 134)

Chris Davis, CB Auburn

Vitals: 5’-10” & 202 Lbs. / 31” Arm Length / 9 ¼ Hands: 

Combine/ PD: 4.55-40 yard / 124” Broad Jump / 15 Bench Reps

The Ravens are dangerously thin at the CB position. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are both solid starters but both have been injury prone and been inconsistent with a lack of focus at critical times. You may remember Davis as the guy that cemented his name in Auburn lore with his 108-yard touchdown return off a missed field goal to upset Alabama in 2013. However, he is also a very accomplished cover corner. According to NFL Draft Scout, Davis possesses a compact, well-developed build with light feet, fluid change of direction and smooth acceleration. Alert zone defender with quick-twitch athleticism to break downhill on the ball. Good athleticism for coverage responsibilities, demonstrating the agility and balance to mirror receivers, as well as the straight-line speed to keep up on vertical routes. However, they also point out that he lacks the height preferred in a man-heavy scheme and that he is inconsistent with his physicality as an open-field tackler. He does his share of standing around the pile and will occasionally lunge toward the legs of ball carriers with his shoulder, rather than forcefully wrapping, leading to some missed tackles. He’s versatile—-a compact, physical zone corner with intriguing return skill, Davis will be more challenged by his lack of height and tight hips in the pros. His intangibles, toughness against the run and ability to factor as a punt returner will allow him to carve out a role on a team like the Ravens. I’ve seen Davis as low as a fifth rounder and as high as an early third rounder. This seems to be the more likely landing spot and if he’s there, he’s not a bad catch for the Ravens.

Round Four (Pick 138 Compensatory)

Cody Latimer

Cody Latimer

Cody Latimer, WR Indiana

Vitals: 6’-3” & 215 Lbs. / 32 5/8 Arm Length / 9 5/8” Hands  

Pro Day: 4.39 40-yard (4.43 second try) / 39” Vertical / 126” Broad / 24 Bench Reps

According to the Baltimore Sun, the Ravens sent a scout to evaluate the former Hoosiers standout WR back on March 25. In fact, the Ravens are one of six teams that scheduled him for private workouts. Ravens WR coach Bobby Engram flew to or will be flying to Bloomington to conduct the Ravens private session. Laitmer finished his career with 135 receptions for 2,042 yards and was named second-team All-Big Ten Conference. As a junior last season, he caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. The Ravens love is size and speed. He was a prep basketball standout; Latimer is a well built, sure-handed and if he develops, could nicely fill the big-bodied possession receiver role the Ravens have relished since the departure of Anquan Boldin. Latimer’s hardwood background is evident in his leaping ability, body control and hand-eye coordination. Although he lacks ideal explosiveness and isn’t smooth is “gear change and flexibility” he will be an effective slant runner and making contested catches to beat zone coverage and could also have a lot of success in the red zone where Joe Flacco likes to loft the ball to his bigger receivers.

Ryan Carrethers

Ryan Carrethers

Round 5 (Pick 175 Compensatory).

Ryan Carrethers, DT Arkansas State 6’-1” 337 Lbs. / 31 ¾ Arm Length / 9 3/8” Hands

Combine: 40 yds. 5.47 / Bench Press 32 Reps /

Carrethers is a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection (2012-13). In 2013, he blocked two kicks and led Red Wolves with four sacks. In 2012, he started all 13 games. He is big and thick with outstanding weight-room strength. He squats a small house and maintains low body fat. Has sheer mass and natural girth to dig in and hold his ground vs. double teams. Has a wrestling background and understands leverage. Has two-gap ability and is a heavy tackler. He has a great work ethic, which is part of the “Raven Way”. He is tough and durable and possesses a solid personal and football character. While I just made him sound like the second coming of a top pick, there is a reason he is a projected as a fifth or sixth round selection. He lacks ideal height and has short arms and small hands. He is not very quick at the point of the attack and is considered heavy-legged with limited range. Carrethers needs to improve hand use, quickness, placement and shed timing. He has marginal pass-rush value but the Ravens have found and developed guys with his work ethic. If he is committed, he could have a future in a rotational role.

Matt Patchan

Matt Patchan

Round Six (Pick 194)

Matt Patchan, OT Boston College

Vitals: 6’-6” 302 Lbs. / 33” Arm Length / 9 3/8” Hands

Combine: 4.97 40-yard / 33 ½” Vertical / 22 Bench Reps

With Jah Reid likely on his way out the door and Ricky Wagner & David Mims not quite the answer, the Ravens may take a chance on a quick athletic tackle like Patchan. He would give them depth at the tackle position and if he can stay away from his “X” Games lifestyle and remain healthy, he could prove to be quite a steal in the sixth round. Patchan has been unable to remain on the field, mostly due to a maddening array of injuries. In May 2008, he was shot in the left shoulder, as a bystander at a park in Brandon, Fla. He later injured his left knee in the first of two scooter accidents while at Florida, one of which also led to his being hit by a car. He missed all but the first four games of the 2009 season with a torn ACL (right knee), all of 2010 with a fractured right wrist and all of 2012 with a torn pectoral. However, he looks the part of an NFL offensive tackle. He has broad shoulders, long arms and a trim middle. He has very good initial quickness off the snap, firing off the ball when run-blocking to turn and seal his opponent from the action. Surprising straight-line speed to get to the second level and shows good lateral agility and body control to adjust to moving targets. Originally recruited by the Florida Gators, he transferred to Boston College in 2013 and managed to start all 13 games being voted Second-team All-ACC at left tackle. He blocked for Heisman Trophy candidate Andre Williams, who ran for 2,177 yards. Patchan has been listed as low as priority free agent to an early sixth round selection. If the Ravens or any of the scouts are satisfied with his medicals from the combine, his size, speed and production in 2013 will not see him make it to undrafted free agent status. Do not forget, Ozzie Newsome is not afraid to spend a late round pick on a college player with an injury history or currently coming off an injury. Last year, the Ravens selected DE Kapron Lewis Moore from Notre Dame, who tore his ACL in the BCS Championship game vs. Alabama. Ironically, the Ravens selected Moore with their sixth round pick, the 200th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Draft Breakdown:

Offense: 5 Selections

I have the Ravens filling their need at Left Tackle with Zack Martin in the first round (17) and picking up some depth with Matt Patchan in the sixth round (194). I also have them addressing needs at RB, TE and WR with Carlos Hyde in the second (48), CJ Fiedorowicz in third (99) & Cody Latimer in the fourth round with the 138th overall pick. Hyde would be the big prize for the Ravens in this scenario, as the rushing attack was one of the worst in the league last season. I also believe the Ravens are far more disturbed about what happened in their backfield last season and during the offseason than they are letting on.

Defense: 3 Selections

I have the Ravens addressing their need at safety position with FSU’s Terrance Brooks in the third round (79). The drafting of Brooks would allow the Ravens to move Matt Elam back to his more natural position of strong safety. I also have the purple and black selecting their obligatory defensive lineman in the fifth round with Ryan Carrethers from Arkansas State and with only Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb, Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson at corner back; I have the Ravens selecting CB Chris Davis from Auburn. Davis, who is mostly known for his 108-yard return of a missed field with no time left to beat Alabama last season, may not be the CB the Ravens select but they will select a corner and in what could be the surprising pick of the draft for the Ravens, I would not at all be surprised to see Ozzie Newsome take a corner, as high as the second round.

I will update the Ravens Draft Board each week here on Fanspeak until the NFL Draft in May

Along with my own scouting reports of the players, I also used the scouting reports of CBS Sports NFL Draft Scout, ESPN Scouting service and of course, Fanspeaks very own, Stephen Shoup.

Jeremy Zuttah Contract Breakdown

March 31, 2014 in Contract Breakdowns

Name:  Jeremy Zuttah

Age:  27

Position:  C

Jeremy Zuttah

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Awards:  None

Contact Length:  Five years

Total Contract Money:  $18 million

Signing Bonus:  $3.5 million

Guaranteed Money:  $6.5 million (Signing bonus, 2014 base salary and $2 million of the 2015 base salary)

2014 Base Salary:  $1 million

2014 Cap Hit:  $1.7 million (No cap savings if cut, $4.8 cap charge taken)

2015 Base Salary:  $3 million

2015 Cap Hit:   $3.7 million (No cap savings if cut, $1.1 cap charge taken)

2016 Base Salary:  $3.5 million

2016 Cap Hit:  $4.2 million ($2.2 million saved if cut)

2017 Base Salary:  $3.5 million

2017 Cap Hit:  $4.2 million ($2.8 million saved if cut)

2018 Base Salary:  $3.5 million

2018 Cap Hit:  $4.2 million ($3.5 million saved if cut)

Other important information:  There is a $750,000 playing time and Pro Bowl incentive in 2014 and a $1 million playing time and Pro Bowl incentive in 2015.

Ravens Receive Four Compensatory Picks

March 24, 2014 in News, NFL Draft

The Baltimore Ravens have received four compensatory draft picks today for losses sustained in free agency last year.

These four picks come in the third (No. 99 overall), fourth (Nos. 134 and 138) and fifth round (No. 175). The maximum number of compensatory picks that a team can receive is four. The addition of these four picks––which can't be traded––push the Ravens total pick count in the upcoming draft to eight.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Ever since the NFL has implemented the compensatory pick system in 1994––two years before the Ravens were established in 1996––the Ravens have led the league in total compensatory picks awarded with 41. The next closest are the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys who each have received 33.

General manager Ozzie Newsome loves compensatory picks as they are "free" draft picks. This shows in the numbers above.

Teams are awarded compensatory picks for losing more or better free agents than they signed during the free agent period. Players cut by teams don't count in this equation and there is a cut-off date for signings to have an impact on the compensatory draft pick formula.

Last offseason the Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency.

According to the formula, the Ravens signed zero free agents that effected compensatory picks. The outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears were all cut by their prior teams. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith was signed after the deadline for signings to impact compensatory picks.

It comes as no surprise that the Ravens received four compensatory draft picks as this was expected. The actual picks that the Ravens received represented the best case scenario for the team as it was thought they would receive two fourths, one fifth and one sixth by many people––including me.

Ravens Trade For Jeremy Zuttah

March 23, 2014 in News

The Baltimore Ravens have traded a 2015 mid-round draft pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for center Jeremy Zuttah.

The Ravens have signed him to a new, long-term contract that reduces his cap hit for this season from what it was on his old contract. At this point in time, terms of the contract are unknown.

Just 27-years old (28 at the start of the season), he had two years left on a four-year contract worth $16.5 million that he signed with the Buccaneers back in 2012. He was owed $4.5 million this season and $4.25 million next season.

Jeremy Zuttah

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This past season, he started all 16 games for Tampa Bay with 15 of these starts coming at center. (The other start was at left guard.) According to Pro Football Focus, he graded as the 22nd best center in the league (out of 35). If his performance at left guard is taken into account, then he would have been the tied for the 19th best center.

Drafted by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Rutgers, he spent his entire career in Tampa Bay before this trade.

As a rookie in 2008, he started five games (right and left guard). In 2009 he started all 16 games at left guard. The next season (2010) saw him lose his starting job, but earn a new starting job at center partway through the season as he started nine games (eight at center and one at right guard). In 2011 he moved back to left guard for 13 starts and one start at center. In 2012 he split his 16 starts between center (seven) and left guard (nine).

His best season came in 2008 as a rookie according to Pro Football Focus, but that was as a limited starter. His best season as a full-time starter was in 2011 where he graded as the 26th best left guard in the league (out of 78).

Playing his college football at Rutgers, he blocked for current Ravens' starting running back Ray Rice. Growing up in Edison, N.J., he grew up about 10 miles away from the Ravens' starting left tackle Eugene Monroe who is from Plainfield, N.J. It is reported that Monroe and Zuttah are friends––which would make sense.

The exact draft pick compensation is unknown at this time, but it is expected to be a 2015 mid-round pick. This makes it the fourth trade that the Ravens have completed in the past year dealing with their offensive line. They have traded for Monroe and A.Q. Shipley while trading away Bryant McKinnie. All of these trades have involved draft picks:  fourth and fifth-round picks for Monroe, a seventh-round pick for Shipley and a seventh round pick in return for McKinnie.

For the Ravens, he is expected to play center. Last year's starter Gino Gradkowski graded as the worst center in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. It was obvious that the Ravens needed to upgrade this position and it looks like they have found their upgrade with Zuttah.

Assuming that Zuttah's brand new contract isn't worth too much––about $3 million per year sounds right––and assuming the 2015 draft pick is a mid-round pick––the fourth and fifth rounds are usually considered this––then this is a good trade for the Ravens. While it sounds like there are a lot of conditions for this to be a good trade for the Ravens, when you consider that his contract is being lowered from just over $4 million per year and the pick is already being called a mid-round pick, then it doesn't look like that.

Overall the Ravens upgraded at center, where an upgrade was severely needed. Zuttah should come in and give the Ravens solid play. He won't be anything special, but he should solidify the center position.

The Baltimore Ravens and Their Wizard–Ravens 7 Rd. Mock: Part 1

March 22, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, NFL Draft

Part 1: The Wizard of Oz, The Other Men in Charge, & How the Ravens Do it, 

You cannot go “Mocking” unless you know the philosophy surrounding the madness and arguably, no other team in the NFL has been, as successful or as unpredictable on draft day than the Baltimore Ravens.ozzie-newsome-draft-newsomeThe Ravens have a “Wizard” in charge of their “War Room” on draft day. Vice President &General Manager Ozzie Newsome knows a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to the NFL Draft.

Under the guidance of the former Cleveland  Brown and Hall of Fame tight end, the franchise rarely brings home a bad report card from the league’s annual job fair. For every considered draft bust, the Ravens produce at least two or three solid starters. Heading into his 19th draft with the franchise, 13th as the General Manager, Newsome has a formula for success and rarely does he deviate from it. While he is known as the Wizard, Newsome is not alone nor does he deserve all of the credit for all of the success. The Ravens have proven through the years that they possess one of the top front office and scouting staffs, not just in pro- football but also in all of professional sports.

Since moving to Baltimore in 1996, Newsome and his scouting departments have had 18 drafts and selected 18 players in the first round. These picks have earned an amazing 55-combined Pro Bowls, several All-Rookie honors, multiple Defensive Player of the Year Awards and two Super Bowl MVP honors.

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

The Ravens do not belong to the National Football Scouting group, which provides member teams a list of and reports on players eligible for the draft. Instead, Newsome, along with Eric DeCosta (Asst. G.M.), Joe Hortiz (Dir. Of college scouting),  and a confirmed 19 full-time members of the personnel department, which does not include the coaching staff, work year round on a proven scouting system that has produced as much in the early rounds as it has in the later rounds of the draft.

Day two and three of the NFL Draft has even greater importance on the future of a franchise and the Ravens have excelled there as well. They have found Pro Bowlers and top notch starters on the second and third day as much as they have the first. Players such as Marshal Yanda (3rd) Lardarius Webb (3rd), Jarrett Johnson (4th), Dennis Pitta (4th), Pernell McPhee (5th), Adalius Thomas (6) and Sam Koch (6) were taken well after the Commissioner was calling names at the podium. Newsome and company also have a knack in signing the right undrafted rookie free agents who also make significant contributions. Mike Flynn (‘97), Priest Holmes (‘97), Will Demps (‘02), Bart Scott (‘02), Ma’ake Kemoeatu (‘02), Jameel McClain (‘08), Dannell Ellerbe (‘09), Morgan Cox (‘10) & Justin Tucker (‘12) all went undrafted and subsequently signed  with and starred for the Ravens.

The Ravens have had 31 different players earn Pro Bowl honors since the team’s inception in 1996. Of those, 16 are homegrown players, 15 drafted, and two signed as rookie free agents. The secret to Newsome and the Ravens success has several key components. It begins with the staff, which has continuity, loyalty and longevity. Most of Ozzie’s staff has been with the team since the franchise started in 1996 or has graduated from the “20/20” club.

Success Breeds Success:

The “20/20” group includes members who started with the Ravens as young assistants and grew into evaluators with more input. The term “20/20” refers to hiring “20-year-olds for $20,000.” “Actually, the guys started when they were a little older than 20 and for more than $20,000, but that’s what we call them,” said Newsome. The process is really quite simple but it involves the hard work of everyone. The Ravens have eight scouts assigned to every part of the country during college football season. They have an additional eight player personnel directors and of course, it’s all tied together through Ozzie Newsome, as well as Assistant GM Eric DeCosta.  

DeCosta and the Ravens’ directors of college scouting, Joe Horitz, are perfect examples of what makes the Ravens so successful in the front office. They have been with the organization for a combined 34-years and began of course, as members of the prestigious 20 / 20 club.

Once the Ravens define a player as a “draftable” talent, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff are assigned to add more study, which could include visits and workouts with some of the players. According to Newsome in the teams media guide, “Another advantage we have is that many of us have worked together or known each other for a while, so we scout the scouts and coaches. We may have a scout or coach who has proven he really knows how to spot talent at a certain position. That opinion carries more weight when we’re finalizing the board.”hi-res-168103308-head-coach-john-harbaugh-of-the-baltimore-ravens-speaks_crop_north

Newsome encourages all scouts and coaches s to have strong opinions. “We have very open dialogue. We want everyone’s opinion, especially from the scouts who have looked at the players the longest. I think another strength of our room is that we respect and listen to each other,” Newsome says. Success breeds success and while a great many of the Ravens scouts began in the 20 / 20 club and have stayed, many have gone on to have successful careers elsewhere because of what they learned from Newsome and the “Raven Way”.

The current director of the Senior Bowl in Mobile Alabama, Phil Savage, is one of those examples. Savage began, as one of those 20 / 20 guys, with the Cleveland Browns in 1991 and worked his way up the ladder in the front office as a scout and personnel evaluator with the Browns, eventually following Cleveland's former owner Art Modell and the rest of the front office to Baltimore in 1995. Savage then played an important role in the drafting of 10 Pro Bowl players, including Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden and future HOF linebacker Ray Lewis. Ironically, Savage would go back to Cleveland,as their General Manager, in 2005. However, following a poor 2008 season, Savage was fired.

The Highest Rated:

Newsome always talks about taking the “highest-rated player on our board” when it comes time to select a player. The Ravens’ history proves that. When they had a Pro Bowl left tackle with Tony Jones, Baltimore selected Jonathan Ogden, who was the first pick (fourth overall in ’96) in team history. When they had Pro Bowl players like Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap in the first round. “When we have grades that are even, we sometimes select the player in the area we have the greatest need,” Newsome notes. “But, our confidence in our staff and the process we use make draft days easy, exciting and fun. The hay is in the barn, so to speak. The hardest work is done year round prior to the draft.”

Wizardry Extends Beyond Draft:

Heading into this year’s draft, the Ravens currently only have five assured picks in Rounds 1 (No. 17), 2 (No. 48), 3 (No. 79), 6 (No. 178,) and this past week received a seventh rounder in return for the Bryan McKinnie trade to Miami. This additional pick essentially replaces the seventh-round selection that the Ravens traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason for center-guard A.Q. Shipley.

The five picks would be the fewest in any draft in franchise history, which is not a good thing when you consider how deep this draft is. This year’s crop of players looking for NFL employment is considered by many to be one most well rounded NFL Draft classes in years. Fortunately, for Ravens fans, Newsome is the master at collecting compensatory picks and that is a good thing this year.

9037295_600x338Compensatory picks are picks teams receive in addition to their selections in each of the seven rounds. A total of 32 compensatory picks are awarded to teams that have lost more or better compensatory free agents than they signed in the previous year. Teams that gain and lose the same number of players but lose higher-valued players than they gain also can be awarded a pick, but only in the seventh round, after the other compensatory picks. Compensatory picks cannot be traded, and the placement of the picks is determined by a proprietary formula based on the player's salary, playing time, and postseason honors with his new team, with salary being the primary factor. So, for example, a team that lost a linebacker who signed for $2.5 million per year in free agency might get a sixth-round compensatory pick, while a team that lost a wide receiver who signed for $5 million per year might receive a fourth-round pick. All compensatory picks are awarded at the ends of Rounds three through seven. If fewer than 32 such picks are awarded, the remaining picks are awarded in the order in which teams would pick in a hypothetical eighth round of the draft (These are known as "supplemental compensatory selections"). Compensatory picks are awarded each year at the NFL annual meeting which is held at the end of March; typically, about three or four weeks before the draft.

Compensatory picks have been very important during the Ravens draft history. In fact, it is important to note that since 1996, Baltimore has received 37 compensatory choices. That is the most during that span with Packers having the second most with 30. According to Jamison Hensley of ESPN, the Ravens will get the league-maximum four compensatory picks in this year’s draft and will now be able to save face with nine total draft selections.  The exact placement of those picks will be determined next week at owners meetings. The four players the Ravens will get compensatory picks for are Ed Reed, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams.

Here is where the genius of Newsome really shows through. He collects these picks without losing picks. The big name players the Ravens signed last off-season in Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff and Marcus Spears, will not count against them because all of those free agents were released. Compensatory picks are only for players who leave after their contracts have ended.

What should the Ravens receive for those four players—according to Hensley, the best-case scenario is that they receive one in the third round (Kruger), two in the fourth round (Ellerbe and Williams) and one in the fifth (Reed). The worst-case is two in the fourth one in the fifth (Williams) and one in the seventh (Reed). Remember the Ravens do not currently own any picks in the fourth and fifth rounds because they traded them to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Not Always a Success Story: 

Once the NFL Draft is complete, experts evaluate every team and hand out grades. The Ravens typically receive grades of an “A”, possibly a B+ but if you go back and look at some drafts, they wouldn’t exactly receive such a high grade if you waited a year to grade them. That’s the nature of the beast in the “War Rooms” on drafts days. Player may look and grade out as top tier talent but fail to become a bust.

Last April's draft received a grade of “B” or higher by many experts but looking back on it now, you couldn’t possibly think to give it anything other than, at best, a C to C-. Safety Matt Elam, whom the Ravens selected with the final pick in the first round had the best season of any draftee but as expected Elam struggled at times and didn’t exactly make anyone forget about Ed Reed. The next three draft picks LB Arthur Brown, DT Brandon Williams and LB John Simon didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Brown and Williams are expected to have much bigger roles this season and Simon, who was a standout at Ohio State, didn’t see the field much at all in his rookie campaign.

Until the drafting of Joe Flacco, every QB selected by the team was a bust and Newsome and company have yet to hit on a wide receiver that has significantly contributed to the team for any length of time. Many would consider Ozzie’s biggest offensive bust to be QB Kyle Boller, whom the Ravens selected in the first round with the 19th overall pick in 2003 after trading away their first round pick to New England the following year to move up and get him. kyle boller

WR’s Travis Taylor, who was taken in the first round back in 2000 and a Newsome scouted player, as well as a more recent Newsome selection, WR Mark Clayton (Round 1- pick 22- 2005) were both first round flops. This draft is loaded with wide receivers so The Wizard, a Hall of Fame pass catcher himself, has a chance to redeem that knock on his scouting eye.

In the end, The Ravens are truly one of the league’s best on draft day. Chris Mortensen of ESPN says of Newsome and the Ravens front office, “There’s a saying within the Ravens that goes, ‘In Ozzie we trust.’ The reason for that is his track record is tremendous. He has a philosophy, he stays true to it, and they’re not going to deviate from that. If the No. 3 player is the No. 3 player, and he’s on the board, that’s the guy they’re taking.”

With that in mind—-it’s off to part two and the Ravens seven round mock—-In part 2 I will provide you with the most comprehensive Ravens Mock Draft on the web or in any magazine. Thanks to the top Draft scouting sources, which includes Fanspeak.com and the work of Stephen Shoup, I was able to compile a ton of great information, as I predict all nine selections in the seven round draft.

 

Ravens Sign Darian Stewart

March 21, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today the Baltimore Ravens announced that they have signed safety Darian Stewart, formerly of the St. Louis Rams, to a one-year contract.

At this point in time the monetary value of the contract is unknown, but it is likely that the contract isn't for much money. The deal is pending a physical which will occur on Sunday.

Darian Stewart

Courtesy of ICON SMI

This past season the 25-year old started six games for the St. Louis Rams at strong safety and recorded 36 tackles, one forced fumble and five passes defended.

After going undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Rams signed him as an undrafted free agent out of the University of South Carolina.

By 2011 he was a 13-game starter for St. Louis and he recorded 84 tackles, three sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, 11 passes defended and he scored one touchdown.

In 2012 he was a backup again like 2010 and only had 10 tackles in 12 games. This past season he regained some of the playing time that he had lost.

According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 41st best safety in the league last season (out of 86). When he was a full-time starter in 2011 he graded as the 83rd best safety out of 87. That season he really struggled un run support.

On special teams, he is an average contributor and will likely see time there this season for the Ravens.

When he was signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent, the Rams' head coach was Steve Spagnuolo. After spending last season as a Senior Defensive Assistant, Spagnuolo is now the Ravens' secondary coach. This likely precipitated the move to sign Stewart as Spagnuolo knows him well and clearly likes him.

This offseason the Ravens are looking for a rangy free safety to play next to last year's first-round pick Matt Elam. Stewart doesn't fit that mold as he is more of a strong safety and is a better fit as a backup. However, this is a good depth signing as the Ravens needed some depth at safety.

Ebron To Visit Ravens

March 19, 2014 in News, NFL Draft

University of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is scheduled to visit the Baltimore Ravens next month.

While speaking with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk on PFT Live, Ebron mentioned that he would be visiting the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and the Carolina Panthers next month.

Eric Ebron

Courtesy of ICON SMI

The Ravens have already met with the 6-foot-4, 250 pound tight end at the scouting combine. This planned visit with the Ravens will be one of 30 official visits that NFL teams are allowed to have with draft prospects prior to the draft. Teams can also meet with players at the combine, the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Bowl. All three of these events have already happened so it is down to just official visits now.

Back in January, I slotted him to the Ravens in my mock draft. The number one tight end prospect in this year's draft, he has been compared to Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers. This comparison comes because both Ebron and Davis are physical specimens at the tight end position and have great speed.

After a good sophomore season with 40 catches for 625 yards, Ebron had a breakout season this year for the Tar Heels. He recorded 65 catches for 973 yards and four touchdowns. His best game came against the University of Miami (FL) when he had eight catches for a career-high 199 yards. In his bowl game––the Belk Bowl vs the University of Cincinnati––he impressed with seven catches for 78 yards.

His size creates major mismatches for defenses as he is too big to be covered by a defensive back, yet to fast for a linebacker. This athletic ability is what sets him apart from other tight ends in the draft. Players like this have become more and more popular in the NFL today. He has shown the ability to run a variety of routes including the popular seam route for tight ends. His blocking needs work––like almost all college tight ends––but he has potential and would be a decent blocker from the outset.

Currently, the Ravens have only one tight end under contract, Dennis Pitta––who was re-signed to a five-year contract this offseason. Pitta is a good, dependable tight end who works the middle of the field, but Ebron would add a different element to the Ravens' passing attack.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to utilize two-tight end sets so Ebron would be on the field often for the Ravens despite being second on the depth chart.

Ebron would be a good fit for the Ravens' offense and quarterback Joe Flacco would certainly appreciate having Ebron to throw to.

If Ebron is on the board when the Ravens pick with the 17th overall selection in the first round, expect him to receive heavy consideration.

Ravens Free Agency Recap: Week 1 Ends with "A" Grade

March 19, 2014 in Baltimore Ravens, Free Agency

For Baltimore Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the rest of Ravens front office, the 2014 off season is the polar opposite of what their 2013 off season campaign produced. Having just beaten the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens watched, as no less than nine contributing starters from that team left via free agency, trade or was cut by the team. Two key contributors, Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired. All of the losses would add up to a very different looking team than the one that had just captured the franchises second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. images (20)

The Ravens were forced to re-sign QB Joe Flacco, who parlayed a remarkable championship run into a then NFL record $120.6 million dollar contract. Not able to reach a deal the prior off season, Flacco entered the final year of his rookie deal literally having to stay healthy and play for his next big pay day—he hit the jackpot. Because of Flacco’s deal, the Ravens chances of being able to bring back some of those key players from the 2013 squad became an impossible feat. WR Anquan Boldin refused to restructure his contract and was dealt the team he had a very big part in beating in the Super Bowl. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, the heir apparent to Ray Lewis and coming off a stellar playoff run himself, took his talents to South Beach and signed with the Dolphins when the Ravens could not enter the same ballpark at the negotiating table.

However, Newsome refused to throw money away on players that contributed to a Super Bowl title but were not exactly stars—but because they were coming off a championship, those players, as Flacco did in Baltimore and Ellerbe in Miami, cashed in elsewhere with other NFL teams. We see it every off season. Teams overpay for the right to bring in a player that appeared more valuable to their team than they actually were during a title run. Newsome did not throw away money at players like Paul Kruger and for that, he was able to bring in other free agents for less money. He managed to sign players such as Elvis Dumervil, Darryl Smith, and Chris Canty and although they did not finish the year, Michael Huff and Marcus Spears were considered value signings at positions of need when they were originally signed.

With the retirement of Lewis (37) and Birk (36), the trading of Boldin (32) and allowing Ed Reed (34) to sign elsewhere, the Ravens were able to get younger, which was another goal of Newsome and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. The off season value signings failed to produce a winner on the field, as the Ravens battled injuries, a poor rushing attack and bad offensive line and became the second straight Super Bowl champion to miss the playoffs, finishing with an 8-8 record.

With Boldin gone and one of those major injuries to his favorite target TE Dennis Pitta, Joe Flacco threw as many interceptions (22) last season as he did in the previous two seasons (12 & 10) combined. He produced only 19 touchdown passes and never did find the long ball in an offense that produced so many big plays for the team the year before. The Ravens really seemed to miss the leadership of Ray Lewis and from Head Coach John Harbaugh all the way down, the Super Bowl champs never seemed to be on the same page. The Ravens still managed to remain in the playoff hunt, as the AFC’s sixth seed, up until 4:00 p.m. on the last Sunday of the regular season but the goal was clear, after five straight playoff appearances and  Super Bowl title, missing the playoffs wasn’t going to be tolerated or accepted in the organization. It was understood that making the playoffs had to the norm and missing the exception to the rule for this franchise.

Entering this offseason the plan was simple —fix what ailed the team in 2013. During the final press conference of the 2013 season, in what team officials call “The State of  the Ravens,  every important member of the Ravens organization off the field attended and answers questions about what went wrong in 2013. Promises were made and lines, albeit soft one, drawn in the sand.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti summed up the Ravens approach best by saying, “I have to be patient to let people fail, but I don't have to be patient enough to let people repeat failure. I'll be more apt to get my way next year if their solutions don't change the problems. That's fair, that's where I am as owner”.

Bisciotti would go on to say, "They know they've failed, they know they need to change, and to make improvements. If it's not the way I think it should be and then it fails again, then obviously it comes down to owner-head coach relationship."  Bisciotti knows the No. 1 priority this offseason was to build the offense. Head coach John Harbaugh has usually had offenses that finished in the middle of the rankings, but the Ravens were No. 29 last season. They averaged only 83 rushing yards per game.

With the goal clear, the Ravens have entered this off season to this point having done the exact opposite of what occurred last year. Instead of watching their free agents sign elsewhere, the Ravens locked their biggest ones up early in the process and stayed patient with the remaining ones, re-signing them at deals considered good values.

It began in mid-February when the Ravens and LB Terrell Suggs agreed on a new contract. The 31-year-old Suggs was entering the last year of a long-term contract that would have put his cap number at $12.4 million next season, but the new deal lowered that number to $7.8 million, which gave the Ravens much needed salary cap space. GM Ozzie Newsome hinted during the January state of the Ravens press conference that the Ravens would look to restructure his contract after he failed to produce much during the second half of last season. Suggs had nine sacks through the first eight games of the 2013 season. He finished with 10 sacks.

That deal allowed the Ravens to get started on contract talks with TE Dennis Pitta and 11 days before Joe Flacco’s favorite was set to hit the FA market, he agreed to a five-year $32 million deal, which makes him one of the top 10 paid tight ends in the league in terms of annual average salary.

The biggest priority this off season was to make sure the Ravens did not lose both offensive tackles. Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher were set to become free agents when the market opened and all signs pointed to losing the pair just days before the March 11 4:00 p.m. deadline. Baltimore was willing to part with Oher but Monroe was a different story. Acquired for a fourth round draft pick in October from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Monroe was listed as high as the No.3 free agent this off season on NFL.com. The two sides appeared to be far away as the deadline approached but as he always seems to do, Ozzie Newsome got his guy and at his price.

The Ravens agreed to terms with Monroe, whom the Ravens did not franchise and would have been forced to pay $11 million if they had. Instead, Newsome signed one of the better tackles in the game to a five-year $37.5 million deal, which has turned to be not just one of the best values in free agency for the Ravens but one of the best in all of free agency. Newsome and the Ravens got a little bit lucky in signing Monroe as quickly as they did. The market seemed to dry up a bit for Monroe when several other highly sought after tackles took advantage of one of the NFL’s newer policies in that players are free to negotiate with teams two days prior to the actual start of free agency. Once 4:00 p.m. Tuesday rolled around, Jared Veldheer and Branden Albert were signing on the dotted line with Arizona and Miami respectively.

The Raiders chose to replace Veldheer with the Rams Roger Saffold but after failing his physical, owner Mark Davis killed the deal sending Saffold back to the Rams. Luckily, for the Ravens, Monroe had already agreed to terms. Oakland entered the free agency period with nearly $66 million in salary cap room and would have offered him a deal likely for what Albert got from Miami. The Dolphins gave the former Cardinal Tackle nearly nine million more than Monroe and before he failed the physical, Saffold’s deal in Oakland would have paid him five million more than Monroe and Saffold isn’t nearly the tackle Monroe is.  While they say it’s better to be lucky than good—the saying timing is everything applies just as well in this case for the Ravens and when it comes to issues such as this—it always seems to.

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Dick Cass, John Harbaugh, Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti

Baltimore also re-signed WR / KR Jacoby Jones and inside linebacker Darryl Smith—both key contributors to last year’s squad and both salary cap friendly value based deals. Jones was considered a luxury as the primary kick returner and likely third or fourth wide receiver but after visiting the NY Giants, signed for a maximum value of $14 million if he hits all of his incentive clauses, sources said. He's guaranteed $4.5 million and he has a $2 million incentive clause based on catches.

Last Friday the Ravens re-signed ILB Darryl Smith, who started every game at middle linebacker last year and led the Ravens in tackles. His deal was for four years and could be worth up to $16.1 million.  Losing Smith would have been costly. Starting all 16 games in the same position that Ray Lewis occupied for the Ravens for the previous 17 seasons, Smith finished first on the team in tackles (125), third in sacks (five), tied for second in interceptions (three), second in passes defended (19) and tied for first in forced fumbles (two). Even more was the value in the deal. Former Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson signed for four years and $22 million with Indy while Karlos Dansby replaced Jackson in Cleveland by inking a four-year, $24 million with Cleveland. Both more than Smith. ProFootballFocus.com ranked Smith 16th among all inside linebackers in 2013, while Dansby was fifth and Jackson 42nd.

The Ravens did not attempt to re-sign CB Corey Graham (Bills) WR Tandon Doss (Jaguars), OT Michael Oher (Titans), ILB Jameel McClain (Giants) and DE / DT Arthur Jones, who hit the jackpot with his old defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis. They did bring back Safety Jeromy Miles as well as ILB Albert McClellan.

The Ravens went outside the organization last Friday afternoon for the first time in free agency when they signed former Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith. The move was puzzling in that back in 2011, the Ravens cut a player similar to Smith in Derrick Mason and is Smith really the type of receiver the Ravens need? He is not really the Anquan Boldin type and said so himself. Smith’s best days are well behind him, as he turns 35 in May. However, last season in Carolina, he still managed to haul in 64 passes for 765 yards and 4 TD’s. His receptions and yards would have placed him second on the Ravens in 2012 behind Torrey Smith, which is where Steve Smith will play.

In 2012, No.89 caught 73 passes for 1,174 yards and four scores. In 2011, he logged 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns, earning his fifth Pro Bowl selection. Smith passion for the game will be good in a mundane Ravens huddle. He is not likely to allow Flacco off the hook so easy when he isn’t playing at his best, which is similar to how Anquan Boldin handled Joe Cool.

To Smith’s credit, he knows what his role will be and will likely do it well. He has acknowledged that he is no longer a No. 1 receiver at this stage, and he admitted that one of the draws to signing with the Ravens was that they have several established players on offense – he specifically mentioned Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice – so there is not as much pressure on him. Smith also spoke highly about new OC Gary Kubiak’s offense with the Houston Texans.  He said he saw himself not in the role of perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson, but in the role of Kevin Walter, who never caught more than 65 passes in a season.

Smith got a three-year contract with the Ravens,  worth $11.5 million with a $3.5 million signing bonus  and only time will tell if he’s a good fit for the Ravens offense, and if what he has to offer on the field and in the locker room is what the Ravens need. He could be a nice complementary piece and should help quarterback Joe Flacco. But the success of the Ravens’ passing game in 2014 will still depend on Flacco improving his accuracy and decision-making and the offense line doing a better job of protecting him. The other issue is how fast Flacco and Smith make a connection. Flacco has a tendency to avoid throwing to new receivers in the Ravens system and tends to stick to his “favorites”. Smith won’t tolerate that if he’s open and he won’t keep quiet about it. He also said one of the reasons he elected to sign with Baltimore was because HC John Harbaugh said he wanted him to be himself.  That also seems opposite of what the Ravens have wanted over the last few off seasons. Harbaugh seemed very content to allow the more vocal players—players with Steve Smith’s type of personality to sign elsewhere or the Ravens cut them.

images (21)

Dennis Pitta..Photo credit Baltimore Ravens

Derrick Mason, Bernard Pollard, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin were all jettisoned. But it is possible that Harbaugh realizes leadership can be too quiet at times and rattling a few cages by employing a few alpha males may not be such a bad idea after all.  Re-signing Jacoby Jones and signing Steve Smith are a good indication of that. If for no other reason, the Smith signing may wake up a few players.

The Ravens front office is steadfast in its basic philosophy and has showed so far this offseason why they are one of the top front offices in all of sports. They refuse to overpay players who are past their prime, as they showed in giving Terrell Suggs a new contract. Suggs would surely have been cut had he not agreed to a lesser number in 2014. The Ravens also stay patient—very patient in free agency.

That was also on full display with players such as Darryl Smith who was allowed to watch, as two other players set the market for his position. They also know when to pounce as they did with Steve Smith. As soon as the Panthers cut the 13-year veteran, the Ravens scheduled his visit and never let him leave town without a deal. Smith had options, plenty of them. The Chargers had a deal on the table for him and he was on the phone with Patriots HC Bill Belichick, as he prepared to board a plane but the weather last Friday along the east coast delayed his visit until Monday to New England. That visit was obviously not necessary, as Smith signed that day with the Ravens.

The Ravens also pounced without overpaying, as they demonstrated with Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe. Signing Pitta 11 days before the open of free agency and getting Monroe on day one at a great value has been the highlight of the free agency period for them.

They also showed their versatility in thinking. There is a lot of irony in re-signing many of your own players following a season when you finished .500 and missed the playoffs, as opposed to allowing seven available starters to leave in any fashion from a Super Bowl winning team. This versatility and adaptability is also, what makes The Wizard of Oz and company so special. Nate Davis of the USA Today handed out first free agency week grades and the Ravens are one of just three teams to receive an A grade thus far.

The Ravens still have plenty of work to do. They have roughly $12.3 million in cap space to use, this according to spotrac.com. GM Ozzie Newsome said during the State of the Ravens press conference that they would get the receiver that seemed to be missing last season. It is hard to imagine Steve Smith is that guy but as I noted earlier—his numbers would have been second best on the team last season.

Aside from the big-bodied receiver the Ravens still need, they must address the Tight end position and the offensive line at center and right tackle. On defense, Baltimore needs help at safety and could use another defensive tackle. Linebacker and cornerback could also use some depth.

On the offensive line, the Ravens will probably wait until after the draft to fill the guard or tackle position if they choose the free agency route. Center could be a different story. Cleveland's Alex Mack got the transition tag, and Evan Dietrich-Smith (the top unrestricted free-agent center) signed with the Buccaneers. This leaves the New York Giants' David Baas, Cincinnati's Kyle Cook and New Orleans' Brian de la Puente as the top options.

At tight end, the Ravens have Dennis Pitta and two practice squad players, Matt Furstenburg and Nathan Overbay. Tight end and safety are the Ravens' thinnest group, in terms of experience. There had been talk of the Ravens showing interest in Owen Daniels but the Ravens may elect to draft one or sign a cheaper option. Carolina's Ben Hartsock, Seattle's Kellen Davis and the New York Giants' Bear Pascoe are still available if the Ravens decide they want a blocking option to compliment Pitta.

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

At safety, the Ravens want someone whose strength is coverage. This would complement strong safety Matt Elam. But the Ravens elected to not throw their hat in the ring as many of the best safeties were signed on the first day of free agency. Their remaining options are Miami's Chris Clemons, Atlanta's Thomas DeCoud and Denver's Champ Bailey. Bailey is a 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback who is open to switching to safety. There are also rumors tying Ryan Clark to the Ravens—-yes that Ryan Clark of the Steelers—the same Ryan Clark who said the Ravens would never win a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco at quarterback. The Ravens continue to monitor safety James Ihedigbo.

Ihedigbo had a career-high 101 tackles and three interceptions last season while starting every game for the Ravens. The team has not ruled out bringing back Ihedigbo, who visited the Detroit Lions last week and left without a deal.

Newsome will continue to add to a roster that less than two years removed from its Super Bowl win, is vastly different. There are still the familiar faces of Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs but the Ravens' 2014 team has just 22 of the 46 players who dressed for SB 47.  If history tells us anything it’s that Ozzie Newsome will fill the Ravens positions of need with the best available players and he will do it at the price the Ravens want to pay.

Steve Smith Contract Breakdown

March 15, 2014 in Contract Breakdowns

Name:  Steve Smith

Age:  34

Position:  WR

Awards:  5x Pro Bowl (2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011), 3x All-Pro (2001, 2005 and 2008) and 2005 Comeback Player of the Year

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Contact Length:  Three years

Total Contract Money:  $11.5 million

Signing Bonus:  $3.5 million

Guaranteed Money:  $3.5 million (Signing bonus)

2014 Base Salary:  $1 million

2014 Cap Hit:  $3.166666 million (No cap savings if cut, $333,334 cap charge taken)

2015 Base Salary:  $3 million

2015 Cap Hit:   $4.166666 million ($1.833333 million saved if cut)

2016 Base Salary:  $3 million

2016 Cap Hit:  $4.166666 million ($3 million saved if cut)

Other important information:  This season there is a playing time incentive worth $1 million if Smith plays 60% of the Ravens offensive snaps.

Ravens Sign Steve Smith

March 14, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they have signed veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to a three-year contract.

This three-year contract is worth a total of $11.5 million. This makes the average value per year of the contract $3.83 million. There was a signing bonus of $3.5 million. The total guaranteed money is currently unknown. When all of the contract information is available, a contract breakdown will be posted.

Since being drafted by the Panthers in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft, the 34-year old had spent his entire NFL career there (13 seasons).

Steve Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

His best season came in 2005 where he caught 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. All of these are career-highs.

During his time in Carolina, he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection (2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011) and a three-time All-Pro (2001 and 2005 first-team and 2008 second-team).

Last season he caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns while playing in 15 games. As their number one receiver, he helped lead the Panthers to the playoffs number two seed in the NFC. They would lose in the Divisional Round to the San Francisco 49ers.

Back in the 2003 season, he helped lead the Panther to Super Bowl XXXVIII against the New England Patriots. The Panthers lost 32-29 in a thrilling game where he caught four passes for 80 yards and one touchdown.

An expressive player, he is known for being outspoken on and off the field. Last season, he and former Patriots––now Broncos––cornerback Aqib Talib got into it during a game. Tailb later left the game due to an injury. In a post game interview, a reporter asked Smith if he had anything to say to Talib. In response, Smith gave one of the best one-linners in history: "Ice up son."

Released by the Panthers a few days ago due to salary cap reasons––a high cap hit and old age never bode well for players––he will get to face the Panthers this season as the Ravens will host them this season.

He is the only free agent that the Ravens have signed so far that isn't one of their own. The Ravens tend to not be very active in free agency as they build through the draft. Since he was released, he won't count against the Ravens' compensatory picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Currently, the Ravens would be getting three––the maximum is four––due to the losses of Arthur Jones, Corey Graham and Michael Oher.

With the addition of Smith, the Ravens top four wide receivers (in no particular order) are now him, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones. This is an improvement from last season and gives the team flexibility heading into the draft. Torrey Smith and Brown are young and Jones is experience, but a true veteran presence was lacking last season without Anquan Boldin. Steve Smith can fill that void.

Overall, this is a good signing for the Ravens. They got a veteran receiver for quarterback Joe Flacco at a reasonable price. At the end of the day, the Ravens' receiving corps is improved.