The Ravens’ decision to release special teams ace Justin Bethel underscores the value they place on draft picks.
That’s why fans should not expect a blockbuster trade for a pass rusher before the Oct. 29 deadline.
The Ravens released Bethel to recoup a potential fourth-round compensatory pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Bethel led the team with six tackles on special teams, but coach John Harbaugh understood the decision.
“Justin Bethel, unfortunately, had to be released because of a funky rule that the NFL has with these compensatory picks, and a judgment has to be made, in terms of for the future as well,” Harbaugh said. “You guys [media] can research that and figure all that stuff out, but that’s tough for us because he’s playing [so well]. I told him I think he’s the best special teams player in the NFL, and he’s playing that way. So, that’s going to be a blow, and we’re going to have to find a way to overcome that.”
This week’s bye came at a good time to come up with some of those answers.
The Ravens (5-2) have a 2.5-game lead in the AFC North and are expected to be healthier when they next take the field Nov. 3 against the undefeated and Super-Bowl favorite New England Patriots.
Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle), inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) all should be available for that huge Sunday night showdown at M&T Bank Stadium. Brown and Onwuasor have been inactive the last two games, while Smith has not played since the regular-season-opener in Miami.
“We feel very confident we should have all those guys back barring a setback, so to speak, and I can’t even imagine what that would be right now,” Harbaugh said. “So, [I’m] very optimistic that we’ll be full strength coming out of the bye.”
In addition to Bethel, there was some more troublesome news.
Linebacker Pernell McPhee is expected to miss the rest of the season with a triceps injury. He has been one of the Ravens’ most consistent players on the defense and was second on the team with three sacks behind Matthew Judon, who has four.
The Ravens’ pass rush has been one of their weak spots. They have 12 sacks on the season, which ranks 25th in the NFL. This could be problematic against Tom Brady, who has gone 6-1 with nine touchdowns and four interceptions all-time in the regular season against Baltimore.
It’s still possible the Ravens could make a deal for a pass rusher. Two players potentially on the trade block are Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
New England Patriots 33-year-old defensive end Michael Bennett is also reportedly available. However, that would be a longshot with the teams about to play one another, especially when Bill Belichick is pulling the strings.
Of course, the Patriots quickly snatched up Bethel.
DB Justin Bethel, cut yesterday by the Ravens to preserve a compensatory pick in 2020, visited the Patriots today. He's regarded as one of the best special teams players in the league.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 22, 2019
The Ravens have about $2 million to spend with their current salary-cap situation, so they’d have to do some maneuvering to make a deal.
Ideally, rookie Jaylon Ferguson is beginning to turn the corner. He played a season-high 46 snaps in the 30-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7.
“Jaylon [Ferguson] played very well. He played his best game – a very physical game and against a couple of really big, grabby tackles, to say the least,” Harbaugh said. “He was strong at the point of attack and applied pressure, ran to the ball. He played really well.”
While the external focus might be on Brady, a bigger challenge awaits for Lamar Jackson and the rest of the Ravens’ offense.
The Patriots have a +175 scoring margin and have held the opposing offense without a touchdown five times in their last eight games, dating back to the 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
The Ravens won’t lack confidence despite those gaudy stats. Baltimore currently sits behind the Dallas Cowboys as the NFL’s most prolific offense and Jackson has emerged as a viable MVP candidate.
“For those who are paying attention, there’s something pretty cool going on, and it’s right here in Baltimore,” Harbaugh said. “So, call it whatever you want. It’s pretty neat.”
Buy Todd’s new book, No Limits, on Mark Amatucci’s storied coaching career at Calvert Hall and Loyola College, at Amazon.