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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 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.

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.

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.

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 Hire Gary Kubiak As Offensive Coordinator

January 27, 2014 in Coaching Staff, News

After about two weeks of deliberating, the Baltimore Ravens have filled their offensive coordinator vacancy by hiring former Houston Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak.

Over the last few days, it seemed like the Ravens had narrowed their candidates down to two people: current wide receivers coach Jim Hostler and former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

However, last night the Ravens interviewed a "mystery candidate" and this morning it was revealed that this candidate was Kubiak––who was listed as a potential candidate by me along with Hostler (not Shanahan though) when previous coordinator Jim Caldwell left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.

Gary Kubiak

Courtesy of ICON SMI

While Caldwell left the Ravens for a head coaching gig, Kubiak joins the Ravens after being the head coach of the Texans for the last eight seasons. As the second coach of the Texans, he led them to their first playoff appearance in team history in the 2011 season. He also led the team to two berths in the Divisional Round of the playoffs including a loss against the Ravens in the 2011 season.

This season was a disaster for him and the team. After barely winning their first two games, the team reeled off 14-straight losses to end the season. Once their record reached 2-11, he was fired. During the Texans week nine loss against the Indianapolis Colts, he suffered a transient ischemic attack (basically a mini-stroke) while walking off the field at halftime. He was able to return later in the season, but missed a few games. In his eight seasons in Houston, he finished with a record of 61-64.

During his time in Houston, his offense ranked in the top five of the league on three separate occasions and in the top half of the league seven times.

Prior to being the head coach in Houston, he was the long-time offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos under head coach Mike Shanahan. With the Broncos, his offense totaled the most total yards during the span that he coached them. They also averaged NFL highs in yards and points per game. He helped coach them to two Super Bowl victories and coached running back Terrell Davis during his MVP season in 1998.

Before that, Kubiak played nine seasons as a quarterback for the Broncos backing up the legendary John Elway. After this, he started his coaching career right away as the running backs coach for Texas A&M––his alma mater. Moving to the NFL after two seasons with the Aggies, he joined the San Francisco 49ers as their quarterbacks coach. In his single season with the 49ers, they won Super Bowl XXIX with Steve Young at the helm. With the 49ers offensive coordinator, Mike Shanahan becoming the Broncos head coach in the offseason, Kubiak left to join Shanahan's staff as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Last week, Kubiak emerged as a candidate for the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator, but a deal wasn't able to be worked out. So not only do the Ravens have a new offensive coordinator, they stole someone that one of their rivals wanted.

Know for his zone-blocking scheme on the offensive line, he is a good fit with the Ravens current offense as they have ran this scheme for the past few years. This––along with his excellent resume––are the two main reasons for this hire.

Suffering a horrific season on the offensive side of the ball, he has some work to do. The Ravens' offense ranked 29th in total yards, 18th in passing, 30th in rushing, 25th in points per game and were last in yards per rushing attempt with a meager 3.1.

While the stats look bad, there are good pieces to work with including the reigning Super Bowl MVP––less than a week left to say this––quarterback Joe Flacco. With the players the Ravens had on the offensive side of the ball, they severely underwhelmed and it will be up to Kubiak to fix that.

Coming to Baltimore along with Kubiak is Rick Dennison who will join the staff as quarterbacks coach. When Kubiak was the head coach in Houston, Dennison was his offensive coordinator. He has never been a quarterbacks coach though as his coaching roots are in the offensive line. Current offensive line coach Juan Castillo isn't going anywhere though, so quarterbacks coach is a good spot for Dennison. He brings good experience to the coaching staff and has plenty of experience with Kubiak.

Another move that the Ravens have made on the offensive staff was announcing that tight ends coach Wade Harman won't return for next season. He is expected to be replaced by former Texans' tight end coach Brian Pariani.

More changes to the staff could be coming, but that is all that is known right now. One name to keep an eye on is Hostler as he was a candidate for the coordinator job, but lost out.

When listing potential candidates for this job, I said Kubiak would be "an excellent addition" to the Ravens coaching staff. This believe holds true almost two weeks later. Of all of the candidates that the Ravens interviewed––less than 15 according to head coach John Harbaugh––Kubiak was the best choice by far. He bring loads of experience to the team as a play caller and is respected around the league.

While the Ravens took their time in selecting a new coordinator, they made the right decision.

Potential Ravens Offensive Coordinator Candidates

January 14, 2014 in Coaching Staff

With offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell being hired today as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions, the Baltimore Ravens need a new offensive coordinator.

This new offensive coordinator will be the third in as many years for the Ravens. Cam Cameron was fired late in the 2012 season with Caldwell taking over. Caldwell then was the offensive coordinator for all of this season.

Here are some candidates to look out for as the Ravens decide who to hire. (Note that the candidates here are listed in alphabetical order, not the order of how likely I think they are to be hired.)

Juan Castillo
The most unlikely on this list is Castillo, in fact, I'm almost certain that he won't get the job, but I want to just quickly discuss him. Spending this season as the run game coordinator, he was recently promoted to offensive line coach for the upcoming season. Due to this title, many people have blamed him for the reason why the Ravens' run game struggled this season. With that being said, it is highly unlikely that he gets the offensive coordinator title as there is talk that some of the players aren't fans of Castillo and that this move would be unpopular in the locker room. Put that all together—plus the fact that he has never been an offensive coordinator before—and it is very doubtful that he gets the job.

Rob Chudzinski

Rob Chudzinski

Courtesy of ICON SMI

As the head coach of the Cleveland Browns this season, the Ravens faced Chudzinski twice this season going 1-1. Soon after week 17 though, the Browns fired him after just one season at the helm (4-12 record).

An offensive coach his entire career, he has spent time as the offensive coordinator for the University of Miami (FL), the Cleveland Browns and the Carolina Panthers. Most recently he was with the Panthers and his offense ranked 12th overall including 16th in passing yards, ninth in rushing yards and tied for 18th in points per game.

Now out of a job, he would be a good fit for the Ravens as he has had success before as a coordinator at an NFL level and has experience within the AFC North. While he has no major ties to the Ravens coaching staff, it wouldn't be unlikely to see him come to Baltimore.

Jim Hostler
Currently, Hostler is the Ravens' wide receivers coach and is the only in-house candidate that has a real shot at the job.

The wide receivers coach for the past six seasons, the Ravens wide receivers have had a mixed bag of results in terms of development. Number one receiver Torrey Smith stands out the most in terms of success, but other than that, no receivers have really honed their game with the Ravens recently.

Hostler does have experience as an offensive coordinator, though it wasn't a good one. In 2007, he became the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and their offense that year was a complete failure. They ranked last in total offense, passing yards and points per game while 27th in rushing yards. Publicly criticized by some players, he was quickly fired after the season was over and soon joined the Ravens.

If the Ravens decide to promote from within, then Hostler is the man. However, based on his prior experience as an offensive coordinator, it seems unlikely that the Ravens will hire him.

Gary Kubiak
Like Chudzinski, Kubiak was a head coach this season (for the Houston Texans) before getting fired. After eight successful seasons with the Texans and a 2-11 record (he was fired with three games left in the season), the team decided to part ways with the coach that brought them to the playoffs for the first time.

Also like Chudzinski, Kubiak has been an offensive coach his entire career. He has 10 seasons of being the offensive coordinator in Denver for Mike Shanahan, he was hired by the Texans to be their head coach. During his time in Denver, his offensive helped lead the way to two Super Bowl victories. He also coached running back Terrell Davis during his MVP season in 1998.

Know for his zone-blocking scheme on the offensive line, Kubiak would fit in with the Ravens current offense as they have ran this scheme for the past few years now. With 10 years of prior experience as an offensive coordinator, he would be an excellent addition to the Ravens staff if they were able to hire him.

Ben McAdoo
*UPDATE*  The New York Giants have hired McAdoo to be their new offensive coordinator. Before this happened, the Ravens did request permission to speak with him, but it seems that was too late.

Having already interviewed for the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator spot and the Cleveland Browns head coaching spot, McAdoo has already made some rounds in a job search.

He spent this season on the staff of the Green Bay Packers as their quarterbacks coach after being their tight ends coach since 2006. The 36-year old is considered to be a rising star on the offensive side of the ball and is likely to become a coordinator at some point this offseason. Being with the Packers since 2006 (when they hired current head coach Mike McCarthy), is a positive as they have developed into one of the better offenses in the league since then. Most of this is due to having one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Aaron Rodgers, but the offensive staff in Green Bay is also top-notch.

Due to connections in Miami (head coach Joe Philbin is the old Packers offensive coordinator), I expect McAdoo to become the Dolphins' offensive coordinator. However, there is a chance this doesn't happen. If that is the case, then the Ravens could interview him for their job.

Al Saunders
A long time football coach, Saunders has been coaching since 1970 and has spent time as a head coach, offensive coordinator and various other coaching positions on the offensive side of the ball.

One of these positions was as an offensive consultant for the Ravens from 2009-2010. In the time with the Ravens, he spent time with quarterback Joe Flacco and Flacco is reported to have really like Saunders during his time in Baltimore. Since Flacco is the Ravens' franchise quarterback, it would make sense that the Ravens would hire someone that would have a good relationship with Flacco as the offense revolves around him now.

Due to this prior connection with the Ravens, expect Saunders to be talked about as a candidate for the job in the coming weeks. The last time that he called plays was in 2011 with the Oakland Raiders where they ranked ninth in total yards, 11th in passing yards, seventh in rushing yards and 16th in points per game. If he does get the job, it is likely that he would keep the same system that the Ravens already have in place.

Norv Turner
An experienced play caller, Turner is likely one of the favorites to get the job with the Ravens. He spent the last season as the offensive coordinator under Chudzinski for the Browns.

This past season, the Browns ranked 18th in total yards, 11th in passing yards, tied for 27th in rushing yards and 27th in points per game. However, the Browns' offense lacked a starting-caliber quarterback this season and had holes at wide receiver and running back. Considering the players that they had, he did a good job with the offense.

Ever since 1991, he has been a head coach or an offensive coordinator in the NFL, so he brings a lot of experience to the table. He also runs a variant of the offense that the Ravens currently run so the transition to his offense shouldn't be too hard. One of the main components of his offense is the deep pass and the Ravens have a perfect quarterback for that system in Flacco who has one of the strongest arms in the entire league.

Overall, I would say that Turner is one of the leading candidates for the Ravens job in this very early stage of the process. He has been linked to the job in the past and would be a good scheme fit for the Ravens.

Jim Zorn
Up last is Zorn who has spent some time on the Ravens staff before and has been involved involved with football at a professional or collegiate level since his playing career started in 1975. He then started coaching in 1988 after he retired.

With the Ravens, he spent one season (2010) as the team's quarterbacks coach. In this season, Flacco had probably his best season to date has he threw for 3,622 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, completed 62.6 percent of his passes and nada quarterback rating of 93.6. He set career-bests in yards, touchdowns, interceptions and quarterback rating. While the yards record has been broken and interceptions tied, his touchdowns and quarterback rating have never reached the same level again.

Flacco and Zorn had a good relationship and it is reported that Cameron had Zorn fired because he didn't like how close Flacco and Zorn had become. Because of the success that Flacco and Zorn had together in 2010, Zorn could be a top candidate for the offensive coordinator job. He has never been an offensive coordinator at an NFL level, but he has been a head coach for two seasons and a quarterbacks coach for numerous years. He has been around the NFL for long time and was able to get Flacco to produce arguably his best season as his quarterbacks coach.

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.