Ravens OLB Za’Darius Smith has made it clear that he’s playing for his next contract and if he keeps it up, he’ll be paid handsomely. Players who put quarterbacks on their backs are valuable commodities in the National Football League. But chances are, Smith’s future net worth won’t be boosted by the wallet of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
In the era of the salary cap, successful teams effectively employ the credo, “Next Man Up” and for the Ravens as it relates to Smith’s probable departure, that means Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser. Teams can’t keep every free agent and during the next league year the Ravens will be faced with tough, expensive decisions on players like C.J. Mosley, John Brown and Terrell Suggs.
No More Sizzle?
Many believe that 2018 is Suggs’ swansong season in Baltimore. Don’t count on it. Suggs hasn’t really shown any measurable decline in productivity while he knocks on the hallowed doors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another two seasons of double-digit sacks almost assures his induction. He hasn’t lost his competitive edge and his leadership will be needed, particularly if players like Mosley and Eric Weddle depart.
The One That Got Away
Speaking of Weddle, I was a bit surprised that the 12-year vet remained employed by the Ravens when the 2018 league year rolled along. His play fell off markedly in 2017 and letting the safety go would have triggered a cap savings of $4.75M. And when Derwin James’ name lingered on the board when the Ravens were on the clock during the 2018 NFL Draft, I thought for sure he would be the next All Pro safety to wear a Ravens uniform. The picked screamed, “Ozzie Newsome”. Yet the Ravens passed, shuffled their board positioning and eventually selected Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson. It’s a move that the Ravens will one day regret.
James is a stud and he’s proving that in Los Angeles. Hurst showed promise during training camp and may one day draw comparisons to Todd Heap. But the Ravens have had success in the past with mid-round tight ends like Dennis Pitta. The 86th overall pick in the 2018 draft may prove to be very Pitta-like. His name is Mark Andrews. In hindsight, burning a first-round pick on a 25-year old tight end doesn’t look like value for the moment. In the future, I’m sure I’ll be tracking the career arcs of James and Hurst.
As for Lamar Jackson, he just seems like the Ravens answer to Inspector Gadget. I don’t think he’ll ever be their franchise quarterback. He might be the author of many “WOW” plays but just as likely to put his signature on many “WTF” plays.
And then I’ll still think of Derwin James.
They Call Me the Brees
Drew Brees is on fire! Or at least he was. He has an eye-popping completion percentage this season of 77.9, a passer rating of 122.3, 11 TDs and his next interception will be his first in 2018. All from a guy who will turn 40 in the middle of the postseason.
Much has been said about the Saints being well-rested coming into Baltimore after their Week 6 bye and how that could give New Orleans a competitive advantage given the added prep time. I’m not buying that!
When a player or a team is on fire, they want to keep on going. If a player is stroking 3’s in hoops or a pitch looks like a beach ball on the diamond, they want to keep going and maximize the hot hand. Against the Ravens, Brees and the Saints who are riding a 4-game winning streak, won’t get that opportunity given the week off. And let’s not forget the conditions at The Bank will be more than Breesy (pun intended). Winds are expected to be in the 20-30 mile per hour range on Sunday and that bodes well for the master of inclement weather, Mr. Joe Flacco.
Odds & Ends
• Much has been made of the Ravens No. 1 scoring defense going up against the Saints No. 1 scoring offense. But this game will be decided by how the Ravens 9th-ranked offense fares against the Saints 18th-ranked defense.
• Joe Flacco’s career passer rating in 2 games v. the Saints is 117.7 thanks to going 28-of-44 for 415 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. Flacco has enjoyed success against the NFC South winning 7 of 8 games while tossing 19 TDs v. 4 INTs and a passer rating of 117.9.
• The Ravens will wear their purple jerseys on Sunday and the Legend of the Game will be Vonta Leach. Chris Meyer and Daryl Johnston will be on the call for FOX while John Parry’s crew will officiate the game.
• Ravens are still listed as 2 ½ point favorites on Sunday.