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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.

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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.

Ravens Re-Sign Monroe

March 11, 2014 in Free Agency, News

With free agency starting up today, the Baltimore Ravens made a move to keep one of their own players, left tackle Eugene Monroe.

It is a five-year deal worth a total of $37.5 million with $19 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $11 million. This is an average of $7.5 million per season. When all contract details are known, I will post a contract breakdown.

He came over to the Ravens in a mid-season trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars this past season. The Ravens gave up a fourth and a fifth round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Eugene Monroe

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Once he came over in this trade, he helped stabilize the Ravens' offensive line which suffered through a bad season. Protecting quarterback Joe Flacco's blindside, Monroe gave up just five sacks this season.

According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 12th best offensive tackle (10th best left tackle) in the NFL this past season. In 2012 he graded as the 15th best offensive tackle (10th best left tackle).

Re-signing him was the Ravens' number one goal heading into free agency over the last few days. They had already re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year deal earlier this month.

Keeping Monroe is a very important to the Ravens' offense. Since Hall-of-Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden retired after the 2007 season, the Ravens have struggled to find a replacement for him. Monroe is the best left tackle to play for Baltimore since Ogden, so it was important for the Ravens to retain Monroe.

A few days ago, it looked like he wasn't going to re-sign with the team. They were reported to be too far apart in contract negotiations and the Ravens let the franchise tag deadline pass without placing their tag on him. However, over the last day or so, other teams needing a left tackle keyed in on other targets leaving him for the Ravens.

Overall this is a good deal for the Ravens. They needed to keep Monroe as their offensive line was a mess last season and he was a bright spot. Getting him for $7.5 million over five years is a plus for the Ravens as well. He is one of the better left tackles in the league and they re-signed him to an affordable deal.

Ravens March Mock Draft (Pre-Free Agency)

March 8, 2014 in NFL Draft

It is now March so it is time for another Ravens' mock draft using Fanspeak's On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator. Each month I post a new Ravens' mock draft. This month will feature two mock drafts––one before and one after free agency. If you want to see how the rest of this draft turned out, click here.

Please note that while the Ravens only have four picks here, they are likely to get a four compensatory picks from free agency losses last offseason. It was previously reported that they would also be receiving a draft pick from the Miami Dolphins from the Bryant McKinnie trade, but it has been announced that this pick is a conditional pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

First Round: Taylor Lewan, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
With the 17th overall pick, I decided to address the offensive line with Lewan, a 6'7", 309 pound redshirt senior out of Michigan.

Taylor Lewan

Courtesy of ICON SMI

A four-year starter, he started 48 games at Ann Arbor for the Wolverines with all but two coming at left tackle. This past season he was a Second Team All-American and as a redshirt junior he was a First Team All-American. Anchoring the Wolverines offensive line, he was also a two-time First Team All-Big Ten selection and a one-time Second Team All-Big Ten selection.

Facing Jadeveon Clowney in a bowl game as a redshirt junior, Lewan held his own.

At the NFL Combine last month, he put on a show with the fastest forty-yard dash time for offensive linemen (4.87 seconds). Along with that, he had the best broad jump, tied for third in the vertical jump and finished fourth in the three-cone drill.

His best attribute is his size which is perfect for the left tackle position in the NFL. A prototypical left tackle, he doesn't excel in pass protection or run blocking, but he is good at both. On the negative side, there are some character concerns. An Ohio State fan claims that Lewan assaulted him late last November and this incident is currently under investigation. He was also accused threatening a female Michigan student after she alleged that a teammate of Lewan's raped her. This incident occurred four years ago.

As the Ravens head into free agency, it is looking more and more like starting left tackle Eugene Monroe won't re-sign with the team. Reports say that they are far apart in contract negotiations. Ravens' fans can only hope that Monroe doesn't find the type of market he is expecting in a few days. However, that is unlikely as he is a young, top-tier left tackle. Due to this, the Ravens will have to address the position in the draft and taking Lewan would be a good way to do that. He is experienced and if he entered the draft last year, he would have been a top-10 pick, potentially even the number one overall pick.

Second Round: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tight End, Washington
In the second round, I continued to add to the offense by taking Seferian-Jenkins, a 6'5", 262 pound junior out of Washington.

A massive target for quarterbacks, he was a major component of the Huskies offense over the last three years. As a freshman, he caught 41 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns. His best season came as a sophomore where he had 69 catches for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. This past season he his production dipped a bit as defenses keyed in on him a bit more. He caught 36 passes for 450 yards and eight touchdowns. A steady performer, his best game this past season came against Idaho State where he had five catches for 62 yards and one touchdown.

Size and athletic ability are what set him apart from other tight ends in the draft class. He uses this size well when running routes. This makes him a great red zone target––as you could probably tell based off his touchdown numbers. His blocking needs some improvement, but he has the frame to be very successful. In March of 2013 he was arrested for a DUI. At the NFL Combine, it was found that he has a fractured bone in his foot. This kept him out of drills there and will sideline him for a little.

Gary Kubiak––the Ravens' new offensive coordinator––loves to run two tight ends sets, and adding Seferian-Jenkins will allow the Ravens to have the personnel to run this effectively. Currently Dennis Pitta is the only tight end on the roster, and he just re-signed recently. He is more of a slot tight end while Seferian-Jenkins can line up in right next to the tackle more. The two would compliment each other well and allow the Ravens' offense to have a new dynamic.

Third Round: Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, LSU
Continuing to build the Ravens' offense, I took a wide receiver this time in Landry, a 5'11", 205 pound senior out of LSU.

Over the past two seasons, he has been a key contributor to the Tigers' offense. As a sophomore he caught 56 passes for 573 yards and five touchdowns. This past season he caught 77 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns. His best game of the season came in a 44-41 loss to Georgia where he caught 10 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown.

A solid possession receiver, he is a good route runner but is a bit on the small side. He has strong hands and knows how to make contested catches. He isn't afraid to go across the middle of the field to make a catch. He also has experience playing special teams. On the negative side, he has average speed and size. He also can struggle against press coverage.

His offensive coordinator for this past season at LSU was Cam Cameron. Cameron is a former Ravens' offensive coordinator so he would provide great insight into how Beckham would fit in with the Ravens. The Ravens need another receiver to pair with Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. Landry could step in right away and provide quarterback Joe Flacco with another target.

Fourth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe during the season.

Fifth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Monroe during the season.

Sixth Round: Chris Davis, Cornerback, Auburn
With the Ravens final draft pick in this mock draft, the I finally addressed the defense by selecting Brown, a 5'10", 202 pound senior cornerback.

Of course, he is best known not as a cornerback, but for his 109-yard touchdown return of a missed field goal against Alabama as time expired to win the game. Arguably the best ending in college football history, he corralled the missed field goal and ran down the sideline for a touchdown to help Auburn upset the number-one ranked Crimson Tide. This victory helped Auburn make it to the National Championship Game against Florida State where they lost by three.

In this game, he gave up the game-winning touchdown pass with less than one minute left in the game. Going up against a receiver who is seven inches taller than him, Davis was outmatched in the end zone on this play.

A great athlete, he possesses quick change of direction and acceleration. He is a talented punt returner and could potentially develop into a decent cornerback.

For the Ravens, this pick makes sense for two reasons––both of them free agency related. Nickel cornerback Corey Graham is about to hit the open market and it is unknown whether he will return. If he leaves, another cornerback needs to be added. Also, kick and punt returner Jacoby Jones is slated to be a free agent. If either of these two leave, then this pick makes sense for the Ravens as Davis can provide depth at cornerback and contribute right away as a return man.

Seventh Round
This pick was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for center A.Q. Shipley before the start of the season.

Dennis Pitta Contract Breakdown

March 4, 2014 in Contract Breakdowns

Name:  Dennis Pitta

Age:  28

Position:  TE

Awards:  None

Dennis Pitta

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Contact Length:  Five years

Total Contract Money:  $32 million

Signing Bonus:  $11 million

Guaranteed Money:  $16 million (Signing bonus and base salaries in 2014 and 2015)

2014 Base Salary:  $1 million

2014 Cap Hit:  $3.2 million (No cap savings if cut, $12.8 cap charge taken)

2015 Base Salary:  $4 million

2015 Cap Hit:  $6.2 million (No cap savings if cut, $6.6 cap charge taken)

2016 Base Salary:  $5 million

2016 Cap Hit:  $7.2 million ($600,000 saved if cut)

2017 Base Salary:  $5.5 million

2017 Cap Hit:  $7.7 million ($3.3 million saved if cut)

2018 Base Salary:  $5.5 million

2018 Cap Hit:  $7.7 million ($5.5 million saved if cut)

Other important information:  The average of $6.4 million per year makes Pitta the ninth-highest paid tight end in the NFL.

Ravens Re-Sign Pitta

March 1, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Yesterday, the Baltimore Ravens announced that they had re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta.

An impending free agent, he has signed to a five-year deal worth $32 million with $16 million guaranteed. This pays him as a top-10 tight end, which he is. At this point in time. all the other specific details of the contract––signing bonus, yearly cap hits, etc.––are unavailable, but when they are, I will post a contract breakdown. Expect his cap hit this season to be between $3-4 million. Cap hits in the first year of contracts are usually much lower than the average per year value of the contact, which in the case is $6.4 million.

Drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 28-year old (29 at the start of the season) has quickly developed into quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite target.

Off the field, the two are best friends and on the field, this relationship carries over. Flacco's favorite receiver to look for is Pitta. This is one of the reasons why Flacco struggled this last season as Pitta missed the first 12 games with a hip injury.

Dennis Pitta

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Early in training camp, Pitta landed badly on his hip after making a leaping catch. In doing so, he dislocated and fractured his hip. At the time, it was thought that he would be out for the season. However, just before the season began, the Ravens placed him on injured reserve with a designation to return. This allowed to to return later in the season and he didn't have to take up a roster spot while recovering.

When he finally returned in week 14, he had an instant impact catching six passes for 48 yards and one touchdown in a 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

He finished the season with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.

His best season came the year before when the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII. For the season, the sure-handed Pitta had 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. In the postseason, he added another 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns, including four catches for 26 yards and one touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Not run blocker by any means, he is a pure pass-catching tight end––something that has become more and more common over the recent years. He spends a lot of his time lined up in the slot a receiver to create mismatches over the middle of the field. This led to speculation that he could have been ruled a wide receiver if the Ravens placed the franchise tag on him. Thanks to this new deal though, that won't be necessary.

New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to utilize tight ends and two tight end sets in his offense. While he has remade his offense to better fit the Ravens, expect Pitta to be a key component of this offense.

Currently, Pitta is the only tight end under contract with the Ravens right now, so more work is needed at this position. However, the main goal was to re-sign him and that has been accomplished.

It may look like he is overpaid a bit, but consider two things: he is Flacco's favorite target and tight ends are becoming more important to offenses every year. Even at $6.4 million per year, Pitta is only in the top-10 for tight ends in terms of average value of the contract. He is certainly a top-10 tight end the NFL and is worth more to the Ravens than any other team.

Entering this offseason, the Ravens had two priorities. One was to re-sign Pitta and the other was to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe. Now that Pitta has been re-signed, the Ravens can shift their focus to Monroe. If a deal can't be reached with him, then a possibility is to use the franchise tag on him. The deadline for this is Monday and it would cost the Ravens $11.7 million this season.

Suggs Signs Contract Extension

February 17, 2014 in Free Agency, News

Today, the Baltimore Ravens and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs agreed to a contract extension that will likely make him a Raven for life.

It was announced last night that the 31-year old Suggs and the Ravens had agreed to terms on a new contract and today they made it official at a noon Eastern time press conference.

A four-year extension on top of this season (so really a five-year deal), the total value of the contract is around $30 million. There is $16 million in guaranteed money and an $11 million signing bonus. The other $5 million in guaranteed money comes from the base salaries for this season ($1 million) and next season ($4 million). For this season, his cap hit is reduced from $12.4 million to $7.8 million which creates $4.6 million in cap space for the Ravens. In terms of actual money that he makes this season, he receives an increase as he will earn $12.4 million.

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Entering the final year of his six-year $62.5 million deal, he was set to count as $12.4 million against the salary cap. This was the third-highest cap number on the team behind defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and quarterback Joe Flacco. Cutting or trading Suggs would have saved the Ravens $7.8 million in much needed cap space. Due to this high savings number––the largest on the team––it was widely reported that the Ravens would either cut him or renegotiate his contract to create a lower cap hit.

Drafted by the Ravens with the 10th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, he has been with the Ravens his entire career and now seems set to finish his career in Baltimore.

Despite starting only one game as a rookie, he recorded 12 sacks (a Ravens' rookie record) and earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.

An electrifying pass rusher, he has five seasons with over 10 sacks (2003, 2004, 2010, 2011 and 2013).

In the 2011 season, he performed at his best setting career-highs in sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (7). He all tied a career-high with two interceptions. With this dominant performance, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, making him the third Ravens' defender to earn with award along with linebacker Ray Lewis (2000 and 2003) and safety Ed Reed (2004).

The following season––2012––wasn't so kind to Suggs as he tore his Achilles' tendon during the offseason. A significant injury that causes many players to miss entire seasons, Suggs returned in late October about five and a half months after surgery. In his first game back, he recorded four tackles and one sack against the Houston Texans.

Late in the season though, he tore his biceps muscle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Missing only one game, he came back and played in the final two regular season games.

As the Ravens started their postseason run to Super Bowl XLVII, he was clearly at less than 100 percent, but that didn't stop him from recording 10 tackles and two sacks against the Denver Broncos in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This two-sack performance helped the Ravens' upset the heavily favored Broncos.

In Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers, he had two tackles in the Ravens 34-31 victory.

Despite being injured for most of the season, he battled his way through it, and his reward was a Super Bowl ring.

This season, he entered the season in the best shape of his life and it showed early in the season. Through the first eight games of the season, he had nine sacks and seemed on pace to be named defensive player of the year again. However, over the second half of the season, his performance faded as he had only one sack over the last eight games of the season. He also had only 20 of his 80 tackles during the final eight games.

Not only is he a good pass rusher, he is also stout against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the best run defending 3-4 outside linebacker this season. The worst he has finished as a run defender since they started grading in 2008 was 13th during his injury riddled 2012 season. Take that season away, and the worst he has finished is third.

The impact of this deal on the Ravens is massive. By reducing his cap number this sea on by $4.6 million, they free up much needed cap room. Left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta are two key free agents that the Ravens had who are set to hit the open market. This $4.6 million can now be used to help sign either of them. It is enough money to take up the entire 2014 cap hit of one of these two.

Before, the Ravens could have easily been outbid for one of these two, but now with Suggs' new contract, they have a much higher likelihood of being able to re-sign both of them.

For Suggs, this deal makes sense as well because he now has a contract through the 2018 season. At the end of this season, he will be 36-years old and his football future will likely be in question. This deal lets him stay in Baltimore for what is likely to be the rest of his career and gives him more money this season.

Overall, this deal is a win-win. Both sides get what they wanted as the Ravens receive cap room this season and lock up one of their veteran leaders for a few more years. Suggs gets the security of a new contract, earns more money this season and gives him the opportunity to do something he saw Lewis do just one season ago––retire as a Baltimore Raven.

Ravens February Mock Draft

February 9, 2014 in NFL Draft

It is now February so it is time for another Ravens' mock draft using Fanspeak's On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator. Each month I post a new Ravens' mock draft. If you want to see how the rest of the draft turned out, click here.

Please note that while the Ravens only have four picks here, they are likely to get a four compensatory picks from free agency losses last offseason. It was previously reported that they would also be receiving a draft pick from the Miami Dolphins from the Bryant McKinnie trade, but it has been announced that this pick is a conditional pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.

First Round: Zack Martin, Offensive Lineman, University of Notre Dame
The number of the Ravens' first round pick is either going to be the 16th or 17th overall, but this has yet to be determined as they will have to flip a coin with the Dallas Cowboys at the NFL Combine later this month. With the Ravens first round pick, I took Martin, a 6'4", 305 pound offensive tackle out of the University of Notre Dame.

Zack Martin

Courtesy of ICON SMI

The starting left tackle for the Fighting Irish, he started a school record 52-straight games during his time at South Bend. A redshirt senior, he was redshirted his freshman year and then became a four-year starter at left tackle. This season he was the anchor of the Notre Dame offensive line. In fact, in the Fighting Irish's Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers, Martin was the MVP of the game. An offensive lineman receiving and MVP award is very rare and shows the kind of talent that he has.

For his NFL career, his position is likely going to depend on what team selects him. He doesn't have the ideal size for the left tackle position in the NFL––key here is his short arm length––though he could succeed depending on the team. If he doesn't play at left tackle, he would move inside to guard where he would be even better. While his qualities don't make him an ideal left tackle in the NFL, they do make him an ideal guard. His athleticism is good and he has a mean streak that sees him finish blocks.

For the Ravens, this pick would make sense as their offensive line was the number one weakness last season. If starting left tackle Eugene Monroe leaves in free agency, then Martin could come in and take his spot. If Monroe stays in Baltimore––as expected––then Martin could play either right tackle or left guard. Most likely, he would play at left guard. This would move Kelechi Osemele to right tackle. He played right tackle his rookie season and moved to left guard for the playoffs of that season and for this season. Martin seems to be a good fit for the zone blocking scheme that the Ravens run. Overall, the Ravens' offensive line needs to be improved this offseason and Martin would be a perfect player for the job.

Second Round: Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver, LSU
In the second round, I continued to add to the offense by taking Beckham. A 6 foot, 187 pound junior, he is rising up draft boards at the moment and I considered him to be a steal here.

Playing in the ever-tough SEC, he caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Five times this season he had games with over 100 receiving yards including a 204 yard outburst on six catches against Furman University. As a sophomore, he added 43 catches for 713 yards and two touchdowns. Contributing right away as a true freshman, he caught 41 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns. Also a dangerous return man, he averaged 24.9 yards on kickoff returns and 8.2 yards on punt returns in his time with the Tigers.

An all-around receiver, he is an explosive playmaker who can also go across the middle of the field. His speed and quickness are his best assets as he can get in and out of routes quickly and create separation. He isn't just a deep threat with this speed as he has found success with intermediate routes. He doesn't seem to have trouble catching the ball either, which is the most important asset for a receiver to have. On the negative side, he is only 6 feet tall and being 187 pounds, he is a bit small. However, he can add some weight to his frame and his size isn't a major problem.

This pick makes tons of sense for the Ravens for more than one reason. First off, they need help at wide receiver and Beckham can be the man that completes their WR corps. Him next to Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown would be a great, young wide receiver corps. Second, Beckham would more than likely be the best player available on the Ravens' draft board at the time. There is talk right now of him going in the late first round so this pick represents good value. Lastly, his offensive coordinator last season was none other than Cam Cameron. Cameron is a former Ravens' offensive coordinator so he would provide great insight into how Beckham would fit in with the Ravens.

Third Round: Troy Niklas, Tight End, University of Notre Dame
Continuing to build the Ravens' offense, I took another Notre Dame player in Niklas, a 6'7", 270 pound tight end.

As a junior this season, he caught 32 passes for 498 yards and 5 TDs. His best game this season came against the University of Michigan where he caught a career-high six passes for a career-high 74 yards. Along with that, he added one touchdown in the Fighting Irish's 41-30 loss. His sophomore season he caught five passes for 75 yards and one touchdown. As a freshman, the coaching staff moved him to outside linebacker for a season in order to have him see the field. He recorded 20 tackles at that position.

His biggest strength is obviously his size. The prototypical size for a tight end these days, he not only is this big, he uses his size to his advantage not only as a receiver, but as a blocker. He isn't afraid to block and is a physical guy. This is likely due to his season as an outside linebacker. He does a good job making a catch in tight coverage and can pluck the ball out of the air. Not all is good though as he lacks good speed and needs to develop his route running more.

Currently, the Ravens have no tight ends on their roster so a tight end is a must draft at this point. Starter Dennis Pitta is expected to be retained as a free agent, but nothing is a guarantee in free agency. Assuming that Pitta is re-signed, Niklas would be the perfect compliment to him. Pitta isn't a good blocker and is more of a receiver. Niklas can be used all over the field and be used as a blocker more while he develops his route running. Two-tight end sets are an essential part of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense. Pitta and Niklas would be a great combination.

Fourth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe during the season.

Fifth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Monroe during the season.

Sixth Round: Tre Boston, Safety, University of North Carolina
With the Ravens final draft pick in this mock draft, the Ravens finally address their defense as they take Boston, a 6'1", 205 pound senior out of North Carolina.

Contributing all four years for the Tar Heels, he had 281 tackles, three forced fumbles and 13 interceptions in his career. His best season was this year where he recorded 94 tackles and five interceptions, both career-highs. As a junior he had 86 tackles and four interceptions, as a sophomore he had 70 tackles, one forced fumble and three interceptions and as a freshman he recorded 31 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception.

Earlier in the draft process, he played in the East-West Shrine Game and performed well in practice and in the game. He showed the ability to play deep safety and make plays in coverage while also being able to defend the run decently. As his stats show, he was a playmaker for the Tar Heels and that is something that can't really be taught to a player. You either have that ability or not.

On defense, the main position that the Ravens need a player at is free safety. Last season Matt Elam was at free safety and James Ihedigbo at strong safety. Both of them are more natural strong safeties so this left the Ravens exposed on the backend. With Ihedigbo a free agent and Elam the Ravens first-round pick last year, it is likely that the Ravens will let Ihedigbo walk in free agency and search for a free safety to play next to Elam. Since Boston would only be a sixth-round selection, he likely wouldn't challenge for the starting job, but he could play on special teams while he develops.

Seventh Round
This pick was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for center A.Q. Shipley before the start of the season.

Potential Ravens Cap Casualties

January 12, 2014 in Free Agency

With the Baltimore Ravens being projected to have just over $10 million free in cap space this offseason, the Ravens are going to need to free up some room and there are a few prime candidates to be released.

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it known during his end-of-season press conference that the Ravens will not restructure any contracts. This has always been the way that the Ravens have operated over the last few years.

Every season a few players are released to create more cap room and here are the four main candidates this season.

Outside Linebacker Terrell Suggs

2014 Cap Number:  $12.4 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $7.8 million

Why He Would Be Released
Also at the press conference, Newsome talked about Suggs, and indicated that he might not return next season. In the last year of a six-year contract, his cap hit is the third-highest cap figure next season and offers the biggest savings if let go of.

At the beginning of the season, the 31-year old looked to be on pace to contend for the Defensive Player of the Year award which he won in 2011. In the first eight games of the season, he had nine sacks, but in the final eight games of the season he had just one. This led to a streak of six-straight games with no sacks for Suggs.

Terrell Suggs

Courtesy of ICON SMI

It wasn't just his performance as a pass-rusher that dipped, as his run defense suffered in the second half of the season as well. Normally a strong run defender, he still played decent, but it was clear he wasn't the same. It has been suggested that he gained weight late in the year and that is a viable reason. He entered the season in the best shape of his life and his performance early on backed that up.

Last season, the Ravens showed that they weren't afraid to get rid of a key player who wasn't willing to take a pay cut in order to improve the team as a whole. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded after an exceptional postseason and he only had a salary of $6 million.

The $7.8 million saved by cutting him would go a long way to being able to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta and any other free agents that the front office may like.

Suggs' disappearing act at the end of the season is a main reason why he could be cut. Combine that with one of the highest cap figures on the team, and he may be gone next season.

Why He Would Stay
Being in the last year of a contract, the Ravens could easily sign him to a contract extension that would keep him in Baltimore and reduce his cap hit this season. This is likely what the Ravens will try and do with him.

Also, he has been a Ravens his whole career and has been a key contributor for the entire time. The Ravens may not want to get rid of him as they hope he can regain his early season form. When he was playing well, him and Elvis Dumervil formed one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league. (Though the presence of Dumervil can also be seen as a reason why Suggs could leave as the Ravens will still have one of the better pass-rushers in the league on their defense).

It is likely that the Ravens will try and get him to agree to a new contract. That way the Ravens would be able to keep him one of their defensive leaders on the roster and free up some much needed cap room. If he doesn't agree to a new contract, then the Ravens could let him walk.

Inside Linebacker Jameel McClain

2014 Cap Number:  $4.4 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $3.2 million

Why He Would Be Released
Part of a three-man rotation at the second inside linebacker spot next to Daryl Smith this season, McClain played in 10 games this season after starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List due to a neck injury suffered at the end of last season.

In these 10 games, he recorded 52 tackles and one forced fumble. These stats seem good, but his performance all season wasn't that good. He would get pushed around in the run game and struggled in pass coverage. He has always been a better run defender than pass defender, but he seemed to take a step back this season in both categories.

This performance doesn't warrant the $4.4 million cap hit that he will earn. Cutting him would save $3.2 million and every single dollar counts in terms of the salary cap.

Why He Would Stay
Like Suggs, McClain is in the last season of his contract so he could be extended at a reduced rate. The Ravens could also offer him a pay cut before cutting him.

Other than a contract extension or a pay cut, it is highly unlikely that he will be back. These two options seem unlikely though. The Ravens drafted Arthur Brown in the second round last year so he is the future of the position. They also have Josh Bynes who can play inside linebacker and both of them performed better than McClain this season.

The only way that I see him sticking around next season is if he agrees to return at a reduced rate.

Punter Sam Koch

2014 Cap Number:  $2.8 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $1.6 million

Why He Would Be Released
Drafted by the Ravens in the 2006 NFL Draft, Koch has been the Ravens punter ever since and was signed to a five-year contract in 2011 which keeps him in Baltimore through 2015.

This season, his performance punting the ball wasn't as good as the last few seasons as he ranked 22nd in the league in net punt average (38.9 yard average). He also ranked tied for 13th in punts inside the 20-yard line (27), tied for the fifth-most touchbacks, ranked 13th in yards per punt (46.0) and had the third-most punts in the league this season (90).

These stats show that he was an average punter this season. His contract pays him as an above-average punter, so the Ravens need better performance from him based on his contract.

The Ravens could easily spend a late-round pick on a punter or bring one in as an undrafted free agent to take over for Koch or at the very least compete for the job. I see the latter route as the most likely option for the Ravens. They did this with kickers Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker a couple years ago.

Why He Would Stay
Throughout his time in Baltimore, Koch has been the definition of a consistent punter and his stats back this up.

While he had a down year this season, a rookie punter could come in and produce worse than Koch did this season. With head coach John Harbaugh being a former special teams coach with the Philadelphia Eagles before joining the Ravens, he is going to want to have the best special teams unit possible.

His contract is a bit of a detriment, so the Ravens will likely bring in an undrafted free agent to compete with him for the starting job. This wouldn't free up the cap space until after free agency is over, but it would give the Ravens more cap flexibility for the rest of the season and for the following season.

Fullback Vonta Leach

2014 Cap Number:  $2.33 million

Cap Room Saved With Release:  $1.75 million

Why He Would Be Released
Actually released by the Ravens after the draft last year because the Ravens drafted another fullback, the Ravens re-signed him to a two-year deal in July after Kyle Juszczyk, the fullback drafted, failed to impress in mini-camps.

This season, Leach's playing time was very limited as the Ravens' offense spread the ball out more with three wide receiver sets for the majority of snaps. Part of the reason why the offenses spread it out more was because the run game failed to produce so they tried to pass the ball more.

A traditional fullback — a dying bread in the NFL — this left him out of the offense for the most part and had him playing only a few snaps each game. Even when he was on the field, he couldn't spark the run game as the problems extended farther him.

Since the Ravens drafted Juszczyk in the fourth round of the draft, it is highly unlikely that Leach will be back next season. He was only brought back because Juszczyk wasn't deemed ready to play this season, but after a full year in the league, he should be ready to play next season. Also he is a less traditional fullback — one who is a good receiver — so he is a better fit in the new offense.

Add that to the fact that the Ravens can save $1.75 million by releasing Leach, it seems very likely that the 32-year old will be gone next season.

Why He Would Stay
The only reason that I can think of for why he would stay with the Ravens is if Juszczyk suffered a season-ending injury and the Ravens needed a new fullback. With that being said, that is highly unlikely to happen so expect Leach to be released soon after the Super Bowl.

Ravens January Mock Draft

January 4, 2014 in NFL Draft

The Baltimore Ravens season is over so it is time to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Each month I will post a Ravens' mock draft using Fanspeak's On the Clock Mock Draft Simulator. If you want to see how the rest of the draft turned out, click here.

Please note that while the Ravens only have four picks here, they are likely to get a few compensatory picks from free agency losses last offseason. Also, they will be getting a draft pick from the Miami Dolphins from the Bryant McKinnie trade, but this pick hasn't been announced yet. This is likely to be a sixth or seventh-round pick.

First Round: Eric Ebron, Tight End, University of North Carolina
The number of the Ravens' first round pick is either going to be the 16th or 17th overall, but this has yet to be determined as they will have to flip a coin with the Dallas Cowboys at the NFL Combine in late February. With the Ravens first round pick, I took Ebron, a 6'4", 245 pound tight end out of the University of North Carolina.

Eric Ebron

Courtesy of ICON SMI

A junior, he has already declared for the draft (the deadline is Jan. 15). After a good sophomore season with 40 catches for 625 yards, he 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.

For the Ravens this pick would make sense as they have no tight ends under contract for next season. While it is likely that Dennis Pitta — the starter and quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite target — will return, the Ravens need weapons for Flacco and two tight end sets are very effective. The Ravens tried to do this with Pitta and Ed Dickson, but Dickson's inconsistent play saw the end of the effectiveness of this. Adding Ebron would allow the Ravens to start to use these formations more effectively and would give Flacco another player to throw to — something that has to be a priority for the Ravens this offseason.

Second Round: Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Florida State University  
In the second round, I continued to add to the offense by taking Benjamin, who like Ebron, can create mismatches for Flacco as a receiver. He is only a redshirt sophomore, so he might not declare for the draft, but since he will be 23-years old in February, it is likely that he will declare for the draft this year, especially after his big year.

For the number one ranked Seminoles, he has caught 50 passes for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns. As a redshirt freshman he caught 30 passes for 495 yards and four touchdowns. His best game of the season came against the University of Florida when he caught nine passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns helping Florida State blowout their in-state rival. He has yet to play his bowl game as the Seminoles face the Auburn Tigers in the National Championship Game on Monday Night. Be sure to watch for him (number one is his jersey number).

He creates massive mismatches via his size. At 6'5" and 234 pounds, he has the size of Calvin Johnson — the best receiver in the NFL right now. Benjamin is an absolute handful for a cornerback to cover as no cornerback can match this size. While he isn't fast, he is great at coming up with jump balls and is a major weapon in the red zone. He is a raw prospect, but he has the body and potential to become a great receiver in the NFL.

After giving Flacco a $120.6 million contract in the offseason last year, the Ravens need to provide him with weapons on offense to help him succeed. The lack of playmakers on the offense was evident this season, so adding players like Ebron and Benjamin is a must in the offseason. Adding Benjamin would give the Ravens a receiving corps of Torrey Smith and Benjamin on the outside with Marlon Brown in the slot. It would also make the Ravens a very tough team to guard in the red zone as they would now have Benjamin and Brown as big receivers for jump balls and Pitta has shown an ability on these passes as well.

Third Round: Calvin Pryor, Free Safety, University of Louisville
With receivers for Flacco taken care of with the first two picks, Pryor would be a good addition in the third round as the Ravens are lacking a true free safety.

A junior who has already declared for the draft, he had 75 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles this season with six tackles in the Russell Athletic Bowl in the Cardinals 36-9 dismantling of the University of Miami (FL). A three-year starter, he has seven career interceptions and eight career forced fumbles. At 6'2" and 208 pounds he has the size to play safety effectively in the NFL.

He has the ability to play as both a deep safety in coverage in come up into the box and defend against the run. This is important in the Ravens' defense as they run many different schemes. His best ability is in coverage as he good speed and ability to read-and-react when the ball is in the air. This allows him to effectively play as a single-high safety and makes him a weapon in two-deep coverages.

This coverage ability is something that the Ravens' defense lacked this season. With Matt Elam at free safety and James Ihedigbo at strong safety, they were really playing to strong safeties. This left the Ravens exposed on the backend. With Ihedigbo a free agent and Elam the Ravens first-round pick last year, it is likely that the Ravens will let Ihedigbo walk in free agency and search for a free safety to play next to Elam. By taking Pryor, this would round out the Ravens secondary, as free safety is their biggest need, and would provide the Ravens with a great, complimentary safety combination.

Fourth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for left tackle Eugene Monroe during the season.

Fifth Round
This pick was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Monroe during the season.

Sixth Round: Wesley Johnson, Offensive Tackle, Vanderbilt University
With the Ravens final draft pick in this mock draft, the Ravens take Johnson a redshirt senior offensive tackle from Vanderbilt.

A four-year starter, he has only been called for two holding penalties in his career. He has also allowed just 7.5 sacks. At 6'5" he has the height of a NFL tackle, but weighing 295 pounds, he needs to add some weight. In his time at Vanderbilt, he has started at all positions on the offensive line expect left guard, while spending most of his time at left tackle. Today he will play in his final collegiate game, the BBVA Compass Bowl against the University of Houston (number 67 is his jersey number). This game will be his 51st consecutive start — more than any active player in the SEC.

As a team leader, he is sure to interest the Ravens who have shown that they like to draft players like this. He also looks to be a good fit in a zone-blocking scheme due to his athleticism, another thing that would make him a good fit in Baltimore. Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have also shown a likely towards offensive linemen who can play multiple positions.

The Ravens' offensive line needs help and they likely won't wait until the sixth round to address it. However, with no compensatory picks included in this mock, this is the first lineman they take. With right tackle Michael Oher expected to depart in free agency, Johnson could come in and compete with Ricky Wagner, a fifth-round pick last year, for the starting job. Depth is also a need and a good backup can play multiple positions and Johnson has that ability.

Seventh Round
This pick was traded to the Indianapolis Colts for center A.Q. Shipley before the start of the season.

Previewing The Ravens Free Agents

January 2, 2014 in Free Agency

With the Baltimore Ravens season over without making the playoffs, it is time to look ahead to the offseason. At 4 p.m. ET on March 11, free agency will start up and here are the Ravens impending free agents and their chances of returning to the team next season.

There are three different types of free agents: unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights free agents. For the Ravens, they have 14 unrestricted, two restricted and six exclusive rights free agents.

Unrestricted free agents are the most common in the NFL as any player who has accrued four or more years of playing are unrestricted free agents. This means any player who has just completed his rookie contract is an unrestricted free agent. These players are free to sign with any team once the free agent signing period has started.

Dennis Pitta

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Restricted free agents are players who have three accrued seasons. They are subject to tenders that are given out by their team. If a tender isn't extended to the player, then they become an unrestricted free agent. If a tender is extended to the player, then their old team has the ability to match any offer from another team on the player. If the Ravens don't match that offer, then they would receiver draft pick compensation based on the tender given. The potential tenders are first round ($3.023 million), second round ($2.124 million) and original round ($1.389 million). For the original round tender, if a player was an undrafted free agent, then the players team just gets the right of first refusal — no draft pick compensation.

Exclusive rights free agents are players with two or one year of accrued service in the league. They can be tendered with the league minimum for their time of service ($570,000, $495,000 or $420,000). These players are not free to negotiate with other teams once they are given their tender. The Ravens have a history of usually tendering these players.

Before any cuts or renegotiations of contracts, the Ravens will have limited cap space to work with this offseason. They are projected to have around $10 million available before any of these potential moves.

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs)

TE Dallas Clark
Signed to a one-year deal last offseason after Dennis Pitta suffered an injury, Clark played in 12 games and caught 31 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns. At 34 years old (35 when next season starts), he is a candidate for retirement after 11 seasons in the NFL. Despite all three of the Ravens tight ends being free agents, it is highly unlikely that he returns.
Chance of Return: 5 percent 

DT Terrence Cody
A second-round draft pick in 2010, Cody was supposed to become the starting nose tackle for the Ravens, but that hasn't happened due to his struggles. He improved this season recording 15 tackles and is a decent backup defensive lineman who can be used in a rotation for a dozen snaps each game. With Brandon Williams being drafted in the third round this season, it is less likely that Cody will return.
Chance of Return: 40 percent

TE Ed Dickson
Another member of the Ravens' 2010 draft class (a third-round pick), Dickson was set to break out this year with Pitta out due to injury, but that never happened. He had 25 catches for 273 yards and one touchdown. With inconsistent hands and one good season in four years (2011 with 54 catches), it doesn't seem likely that he will return. Also, he is not a good blocking tight end which is important for backups.
Chance of Return: 30 percent

CB Corey Graham
A key free agent signing two years ago, Graham has contributed in a major way as the Ravens' number three cornerback over the last two seasons. This year he had four interceptions and 12 passes defensed after two and eight last year respectively. He has the ability to play on the outside or in the slot and plays special teams as well. His two interceptions of Peyton Manning in the Divisional Playoffs last season helped key the Ravens upset over the Denver Broncos. Expect the Ravens to try and re-sign him, but the salary cap could be a deterrent.
Chance of Return: 60 percent

DE Arthur Jones
A full-time starter for the first time in his career this season, Jones responded with his best season to date with 53 tackles and four sacks. He was the most consistent defensive lineman for the Ravens this season playing good as a run defender and pass rusher. This performance likely pushes him out of the running for the Ravens in free agency as a team is going to give him an offer he can't pass up. The Ravens have the depth to replace him and have other players that are a higher priority to re-sign.
Chance of Return: 15 percent

WR Jacoby Jones
Like Graham, Jones was signed two years ago and has been a key contributor over the last two seasons as a returner and a receiver. This season he caught 37 passes for 455 yards and two touchdowns and returned one kickoff for a touchdown. He is always a threat to score when he touches the ball and that is perfect for the Ravens offense. However, he is likely to command too much money for the Ravens on the open market, especially with the Ravens looking to upgrade their receiving corps.
Chance of Return: 35 percent

S James Ihedigbo
Thrust into a starting role at strong safety this season after the Ravens revamped their defense in the offseason, Ihedigbo was expected to give way to first-round pick Matt Elam, but Ihedigbo's performance forced Elam over to free safety. The biggest surprise performance of the season for the Ravens was Ihedigbo's as he had 101 tackles, two forced fumbles and three interceptions. He was a key special teams player two years ago. I'm 50-50 on his return as Elam is a better fit as a strong safety so the Ravens would be better offer acquiring a free safety. With that being said, Ihedigbo would be a good player to bring back and is likely the backup plan if a free safety can't be found.
Chance of Return: 50 percent

S Jeromy Miles
Claimed off waivers during the season, Miles played special teams and saw a few snaps on defense when Ihedigbo or Elam left with a minor injury. The 26-year old had 10 tackles on the season and likely won't be very expensive to keep around and would be good depth in the secondary.
Chance of Return: 65 percent

OT Eugene Monroe
Priority number one for the Ravens this offseason is signing Monroe to a long term extension. He was acquired mid-season for a fourth and fifth-round pick in the upcoming draft in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his 11 games with the Ravens, he stabilized the Ravens' left tackle position and gives them their best left tackle since the retirement of Hall-of-Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden. Seeing what the Ravens have already invested into Monroe, it is highly unlikely that they will let him walk in free agency and he was the best player on the offensive line this season.
Chance of Return: 90 percent

OT Michael Oher
At the other tackle is Oher who was a first round pick in 2009. He was expected to be the Ravens replacement for Ogden, but je never played well enough and was moved to the right side of the line. He has been plagued by penalties in his five years in Baltimore. It is likely that the Ravens move on from him as they need to invest in Monroe, who is a better player and plays a more important position. Also, it just seems like it is time for him and the Ravens to part ways. Even if the Ravens wanted re-sign him, another team would probably pay him more than the Ravens would want to pay.
Chance of Return: 10 percent

TE Dennis Pitta
Priority number two for the Ravens this offseason should be Pitta. He is quarterback Joe Flacco's favorite target on the field and best friend off the field. This season, he dislocated and fractured his hip in training camp, but was able to return for the last four games of the season where he caught 20 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown. A reliable chain-mover who works the underneath very well. He has become Flacco's security blanket and with the Ravens giving Flacco a massive contract last offseason, the Ravens need to prioritize helping him out, which means signing Monroe and Pitta to long term deals.
Chance of Return: 80 percent

RB Bernard Scott
Signed to a contract during the season, Scott only saw action in two games — the last two of the season — and one of those games was in garbage time when the Ravens had already lost. In these two games, he had four rushes for 14 yards and two catches for 10 yards. The former Cincinnati Bengal could return, but my guess is the Ravens bring in a younger option than the soon to be 30-year old Scott and one who can contribute on specials teams.
Chance of Return: 35 percent

LB Daryl Smith
Due to his great performance this season, I gave Smith the Ravens' Defensive Player of the Year award. Replacing Ray Lewis at middle linebacker, Smith had a career year with 123 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions, 19 passes defended and one touchdown. All of these expect the forced fumbles were career-highs. He was at his best in pass coverage and rushing the passer while struggling in run defense. His age (32 at the start of next season) will likely keep him form getting a big contract.
Chance of Return: 60 percent

WR Brandon Stokley
After suffering a season-ending concussion against the Minnesota Vikings in week 15, Stokley announced his retirement. This puts an end to his 15 year career that saw him play for five different teams — including five with the Ravens (first four seasons and this season, his last). The Ravens drafted him in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft and he scored the first touchdown of Super Bowl XXXV on a 38-yard pass.
Chance of Return: none (retirement)

Restricted Free Agents (RFAs)

WR Tandon Doss
Cut by the Ravens after training camp, he was re-signed after Jones suffered a knee injury in week one. With Jones injured, Doss took over the punt returning duties and rewarded the Ravens with 23 returns for 359 yards (league-leading 15.6 yards per return) and one touchdown (a gain of 82 in week three against Houston). On offense, he had 19 catches for 305 yards and was active in all 15 games that he was on the team for. Assuming that Jones leaves in free agency, Doss is likely to take over the job of returning punts. He has also shown flashes of being a good receiver. Expect the Ravens to give him an original round tender (fourth round). Another possibility would be to sign him to a long-term contract that would be cheaper than the tender.
Chance of Return: 85 percent

LB Albert McClellan
A versatile linebacker — he can play both inside and outside linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 scheme — and a key special teams player, McClellan is an underrated player for the Ravens. He recorded 12 tackles this season and has shown decent ability as a linebacker. Expect the Ravens to place an original round tender on him. Being an undrafted free agent, the Ravens wouldn't receive draft pick compensation for him, but it is highly unlikely that he leaves. Another possibility is signing him to a long-term contract.
Chance of Return: 90 percent

Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs)

S Omar Brown
After spending part of the season on the practice squad, he was signed to the active roster before week nine. Despite being on the active roster from week nine to the end of the season, he never really saw playing time and was only active for one game. It would cost the Ravens $570,000 to sign him and because of the Rule of 51 (only the top 51 contracts count during the offseason), his contract likely won't impact the Ravens' cap room. The Ravens have a history of retaining their ERFAs so expect him and the other RFAs back.
Chance of Return: 100 percent

LB D.J. Bryant
The least likely ERFA to return is Bryant. He suffered a left leg/knee injury during the Ravens final preseason game that caused him to be placed on injured reserve and miss the entire season. Despite this injury though, expect the Ravens to extend the $420,000 tender that it would take to sign him so they can see what he can do in training camp where he will fight for a spot on the roster like most of the ERFAs.
Chance of Return: 90 percent

LB Josh Bynes
As a part-time starter this season (six starts), Bynes recorded 45 tackles from his middle linebacker position. He was part of a three-man rotation at the Ravens' middle linebacker position next to Smith. This is the second-straight season that saw him spend some time as a starter. He struggled in pass coverage this season, but he is a good special teams player (he made the final tackle in Super Bowl XLVII) and a decent linebacker. He is a lock to be back with the Ravens on his $570,000 tender.
Chance of Return: 100 percent

LB Adrian Hamilton
Like Bryant, Hamilton suffered a injury (wrist) in preseason that saw him be placed on injured reserve. The outside linebacker has shown potential as a pass rusher and showed improvements as a run defender this season in the preseason. His tender is worth $495,000 and is likely to be back this season and make a push at the crowded outside linebacker position.
Chance of Return: 95 percent

S Anthony Levine
Playing special teams all season, Levine recorded 11 tackles this season while being active in all 16 games due to his skills on special teams. He was at his best against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions where he had three tackles in each game. Special teams players are some of the most undervalued players in the league. He will be back on a $495,000 tender.
Chance of Return: 100 percent

Brynden Trawick
Similar to Brown, Trawick was signed to the active roster before week nine. Prior to that though, he was on the roster for the first three games of the season before being cut and signed to the practice squad. In week one he accidentally ran into Jones, causing his knee injury that forced him to miss four weeks. In his eight games that he played, he recorded eight tackles. Having contributed this season, he will be back next season on a $495,000 tender.
Chance of Return: 100 percent