It’s time to take stock of the Ravens roster again.
I like to split the roster into 5 qualitative categories relative to the ultimate master, the salary cap. Note all snap numbers and percentages are for the regular season.
Young Producers (6): Marlon Humphrey, Matthew Judon, Patrick Onwuasor, Michael Pierce, Tavon Young
These are players on their first contract who are already starting (or should be) and are playing well. A team needs as many of these players as possible to continually outperform the salary cap.
I doubt there has ever been a cornerback to win a team MVP with as few snaps as Humphrey (68.7%), but the rotation at CB would have to be called successful. Marlon also outsnapped the remainder of the Young Producer group, including Judon (64.0% of snaps), Pierce (37.4%), Tavon Young (58.4%), and Onwuasor (41.3%). The team relied more on Pierce, Young, and Peanut down the stretch. All 3 were rotated and played well. Judon also starred following an uneven first half.
Of this group, all but Humphrey will be UFAs after 2019. Since the Ravens figure to have some extra cap room, this may be an ideal time to lock up one of Judon, Pierce, or Young to a team-friendly, long-term deal a year early.
I dropped Chris Wormley from this group due to reduced playing time in the second half. Za’Darius Smith is designated as a veteran playing for market value, because he is now an unrestricted free agent.
Developmental (11): Anthony Averett, Chris Board, Tyus Bowser, Maurice Canady, Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Willie Henry, Cyrus Jones, Zach Sieler, Tim Williams, Chris Wormley, Kenny Young
These players are all still on their rookie deals, but something is holding them back from consistent performance, a starting role, or both. We hope that most, if not all, of these players will emerge to be young producers quickly. In truth, some are running out of time to do so. Since this group is both critical and crowded, let’s take a look individually to see why I have tagged them as I have and what each needs to do to move up:
— Averett: He may be the most important of the developmental players because his ability to start in 2019 can provide cap relief to the Ravens. He played just 65 snaps in 2018, but was effective. I expect to see him practice at both SCB and on the outside in 2019 camp.
— Board: He led the Ravens in both solo (8) and combined (12) special teams tackles in 2018. He had just 12 snaps on defense during the regular season. He was another fine UDFA pickup for the Ravens and has 2 years remaining at the league minimum salary. I expect he’ll see some action in the preseason to see if he is a viable backup Mike LB option.
— Bowser: Tyus played 1 more competitive snap (152) than he did as a rookie. Considering the fact Tim Williams was inactive for most of the season, that’s a disappointing result. He’s generated some pressure when rushing the passer, but he’s often used to drop to coverage as well. Even if the Ravens use a top pick to draft a pass rusher, I don’t think his 2019 roster spot is in jeopardy. However, he needs to figure out what responsibility (coverage, run stopping, or pass rushing) can make him a useful rotational OLB.
— Canady: He did not see action on defense after the opener against the Bills (10 snaps). He’ll be in the final year of his rookie deal in 2019 and his versatility to play inside or outside should make him the #5 corner.
— Clark: He replaced Jefferson for a stretch and otherwise was used as the SCB in big nickel as well as some dime and quarter packages.
— Elliott: It should be a camp priority for the Ravens to determine whether Elliott is suited to play FS. The Ravens have a set of safeties who look like dime/SS hybrids, but are short on back-end skills.
— Henry: Willie will be in the final year of his rookie contract in 2019. He should have a significant interior pass rush role. His injury greatly increased the chance the Ravens will lose him after the coming season.
— Jones: He had 18 punt returns, 2 short of the number required to qualify (only 17 players did), but his 14.4 YPR was higher than any of the qualifiers. He doesn’t return kickoffs and it is unlikely he’ll have a bigger role on defense (3 snaps in 2018) with the team’s CB depth. His 2019 roster spot is not in jeopardy and he’ll be UFA thereafter.
— Sieler: Zach played just 14 snaps on defense in 2018, but could step into a much bigger role in 2019 if Brent Urban cannot be signed. The Ravens need to develop at least 1 more interior pass rush weapon and he and Henry are the 2 best options.
— Williams: Tim was not active after the bye and his play dropped to 11.1% of snaps for the 2018 regular season. The Ravens sacked opposing QBs on 13.9% of pass plays where he was on the field, the highest for any player with at least 75 pass snaps. He needs not only to regain the physical form he had during camp, but also earn back Harbaugh’s trust after his time as a healthy scratch.
— Wormley: Despite being 1 of just 4 active DL for most of the season, Chris had his snaps decline in the second half and finished with 38.0% for the season. Like the other DL, after Henry’s injury he was used for more pass snaps.
— Kenny Young: His rookie year was a qualified success. He, Onwuasor, and Levine combined for an astonishingly productive WLB platoon, but all 3 are specialists. Young will need to improve in coverage and learn to diagnose the play behind him. Until he does that, he’s not a candidate to take over the Mike LB role.
Veterans Playing for Market Value (8): Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine, C.J. Mosley*, Za’Darius Smith*, Terrell Suggs*, Brent Urban*, Brandon Williams
A large chunk of the cap is (or will be) spent here and these players are the ones (generally) who are worth it. This group includes 4 UFAs (*) and of the 4 players currently under contract for 2019, only Levine and Williams are sure be Ravens.
The fates of Tony Jefferson, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle are tied. Those 3 are the most natural choices to be the defensive signal caller in 2019, so one of them will stay unless the team is willing to entrust the green dot to a rookie or young player such as Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, or Kenny Young. No one else makes sense as an every-down player.
Brandon Williams is not going anywhere for 2019, but the fact that he had 1 less snap than Brent Urban is a demonstration of both the overlap between Brandon and Michael Pierce and Williams’ limited contribution to the pass rush.
Brandon Carr not only played well in 2018, but he was 2nd on the team in snaps (85.3%) behind only Weddle, despite the rotation at CB. His durability and versatility (he played both SCB and outside) may keep him around in 2019. With the youth the Ravens have at CB, I think the team is likely to cut either Carr or Jimmy Smith, but they may not be comfortable with the depth risk if they part ways with both.
Suggs will be a free agent. I’d love to see him finish his career in Baltimore at the right price, but he took a step back in the second half.
Veteran Cap/Value Concerns (2): Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle
Both players are contributing, but each carries a big base salary and cap savings if cut.
Smith played well down the stretch and there are teams in the league that would be happy to pay his $9 million base salary for 2019. As such, he may have some small trade value akin to that the Ravens harvested when they decided to part ways with Anquan Boldin.
Weddle’s signal calling helped solidify the defense while Mosley was out and for some time thereafter. However, after 10 INTs in his first 2 seasons in Baltimore, he had 0 in 2018 and the lack of takeaways kept a fine defense from towering over the league. The Ravens have Elliott and Clark on the roster, either of whom could be the FS going forward, but a playmaking safety remains among the biggest needs entering 2019 and is one spot where the team may use their first-round selection.
Transitional (4): Bam Bradley, Jaylen Hill, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Patrick Ricard
I see no obvious future as a contributor for any of these players. Bradley has not played since he was injured early in 2017. He has the size and shape to play ILB and provide value as a core player on special teams for 2 more seasons of control. Hill and SJB have been preseason stars the last 2 seasons, but are entering their 3rd and 4th seasons respectively. That’s a point where teams often move on from project players without imminent opportunity for responsibility. Said otherwise, SJB needs to drastically outplay a rookie CB in order to beat him in a camp competition, since neither is likely to see much action in 2019.
Ricard is an exclusive rights free agent in 2019, which effectively means he must play for the Ravens for the league minimum. However, he was not activated after the Raiders game in Week 12. Part of that was the Ravens switching to a flexible use of TEs as in-line blockers, FBs, and receivers. The Ravens have gone away from traditional use of the FB with Lamar Jackson at QB, although a TE in motion often picks up responsibility for a block at the point of attack. On defense, Ricard played just 43 snaps with the last coming at Carolina in Week 8. For a team looking to run frequently from the I formation (particularly one that is also thin on the DL), he could be one of the cheapest and best options, but he comes with other baggage. If forced to guess, I think a trade is the most likely outcome.
Special thanks to Brian McFarland, to whose contract details I referred frequently while writing these pieces.