A Comprehensive Look
The best mock draft analysts are 28% right. That might be good if you’re a catcher in MLB not playing for the Astros, but it’s not all that great if you are projecting draft picks. Sarah Bullock’s character in Bird Box could connect more regularly.The same could be said of free agents.
Each year there are eye-opening events that take place between the legal tampering date and the start of the new league year. Remember last year? The hot takes centered on the Ravens acquiring Le’Veon Bell then out of the clear blue, in walks Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas through the doors of The Castle, the latter to sign a four-year, $55 million deal.
Free agency is fluid. The seemingly obvious can be anything but.
That said, before the Ravens can entertain free agents currently not on their roster, Eric DeCosta has made it clear that his first priority is to find ways to keep coveted players currently on their roster or under control until the new league year begins. He’s proven that with recent extensions such as that of Marcus Peters.
But what about the rest. What might the Ravens do with the balance of their pending free agents?
There have been many articles posted over the past few weeks focusing upon the Ravens’ fifteen (15) Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) and two (2) Restricted Free Agents (RFA) and the prospects of their return. At Russell Street Report, we opt to brainstorm, to pool our resources and insight, to deliver this unique deep dive into the Ravens’ pending free agents. ~ Tony Lombardi
LB Josh Bynes (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 12 games, 7 starts; 46 total tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 4 PDs, 0 FFs; 40% of Def Snaps.
Dev Panchwagh: DeCosta made a shrewd move when he brought back Bynes before the first Pittsburgh game. Bynes was part of a critical overhaul of the ILB position. His overall savvy to make the right reads and maintain gap integrity was important to restore run defense stability. Of course, Bynes didn’t offer much flexibility in coverage situations and he was still used best in a rotation. One could easily argue though that Bynes is exactly the type of inside backer Wink Martindale prefers – someone he can rotate based on situation and down and distance. He served that role about as well as you can expect for someone coming onto the team after the season started.
Matt Wise: The Ravens only have two ILBs, L.J. Fort and Chris Board, currently under contract for the 2020 season. Even though it’s likely that the Ravens will target an ILB in the draft, Bynes feels like a player that Eric DeCosta would be interested in bringing back. Bynes’ experience and leadership would be valuable to an ILB group that’s in the middle of a full rebuild.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $905K Minimum Salary Benefit (MSB) deal; counted $493K against 2019 Cap (13 weeks on roster).
Cap Implications (Brian McFarland): Signed in early October for the veteran minimum, Bynes filled in admirably and played well at a time that the Ravens desperately needed stability in the middle of their linebacker crop. Bynes, who will turn 31 in August, isn’t going to break the bank in free agency and is likely headed for another minimum salaried contract (or perhaps for just slightly more).
Tony’s Take (Tony Lombardi): Bynes was a street free agent through four weeks of the 2019 season. Credit DeCosta and Martindale for collaborating on a very modest investment that helped to stop the defensive hemorrhaging while paying dividends. But let’s not forget that Bynes was available a quarter into the season. There’s no need to race to sign the player who ended Super Bowl 47, even if it’s for the vet minimum. The Ravens will be better off waiting to see how the draft plays out and what other free agents leak out into the market that are more accomplished than this journeyman. And if nothing materializes, then they can consider bringing back the SB champ.
DT Justin Ellis (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 4 games, 0 starts, 3 games inactive; 6 total tackles; 6% of Def Snaps.
Dev: Ellis was more of a critical add when the team was forced to IR rookie Daylon Mack and Michael Pierce was injured. Otherwise, once Pierce came back and Domata Peko garnered more snaps, Ellis was essentially phased out of the lineup. Ellis helped to keep the front line run D afloat while Pierce was out, but Peko earned more of the snaps and was clearly the more trusted veteran in the rotation. Ellis is still an intriguing prospect for the team to consider keeping around, especially with the distinct possibility of losing Michael Pierce.
Matt: In his short time with the Ravens in 2019, Ellis didn’t do much to stand out in either a positive or a negative way. Ellis, who weighs roughly 330 pounds, is a run stuffer who could help replace Michael Pierce if he leaves the Ravens in free agency. Resigning Ellis should not be a priority and only a veteran minimum deal is appropriate.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $805K deal; counted $332K against 2019 Cap (7 weeks on roster).
Cap Implications: Signed in November after a spat of injuries along the interior of the defensive line, Ellis saw action in his first 3 games on the roster, but in only 1 of 4 games thereafter. Ellis, a former Oakland Raiders’ 4th Round draft pick, was signed to a veteran minimum deal. Wherever Ellis signs this year, it will likely only be for another veteran minimum deal ($820K).
Tony’s Take: The Ravens find run stuffers like the Steelers find receivers. Daylon Mack returns from IR in 2020 and given the scouting staff’s propensity for finding third-day or fourth-day (UDFA’s) playmates for Brandon Williams (let’s not forget Michael Pierce was undrafted), there’s no reason to get twitchy on the trigger finger to re-sign Ellis any earlier than the start of training camp – if then.
OL Parker Ehinger (RFA)
2019 Key Stats: 2 games, 1 start, 3 games inactive; 5% of Off Snaps.
Dev: Ehinger played decently in his one start against the Steelers and provided rotational depth at the guard position. Otherwise, there’s not much to see here when it comes to assessing Ehinger’s value in 2019.
Matt: Ehinger played well in his one 2019 start with the Ravens. Ehinger is not a priority signing for the Ravens, but could be brought back and given the opportunity to battle for a reserve OL spot on the 2020 roster.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $645K deal; counted $493K against 2019 Cap (5 weeks on roster).
Cap Implications: The much traveled Ehinger, a former 4th Round draft pick of the Chiefs, actually started a game for the Ravens this year (week 17 versus Pittsburgh), before being place in IR during the playoffs. As an RFA – and coming off of injury – Ehinger is likely to be non-tendered in March. It’s possible that, once healthy, Ehinger could be re-signed at some point over the summer.
Tony’s Take: Parker is potential camp fodder but nothing more. He’s been injured most of his career and before signing with the Ravens, Ehinger hadn’t dressed in a game since 2017. He’s unlikely to dress again in purple.
OL Hroniss Grasu (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 1 game, 0 starts; 3 games inactive; 0% of Off Snaps.
Dev: Grasu was merely brought on for emergency purposes to play in a pinch in case of injury. It’s hard to imagine the team needing to bring him back.
Matt: Grasu was signed by the Ravens as an emergency OL. At best, he could be a camp body in 2020.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $720K deal; counted $169K against 2019 Cap (4 weeks on roster).
Cap Implications: Another injury replacement signing, Grasu was signed in December and inactive for 3 of his 4 games on the roster. He could be re-signed, perhaps over the summer, to a 1-year, minimum deal, but he’s certainly not a priority.
Tony’s Take: As noted above, Grasu was an emergency signing. If the Ravens re-sign him, call 911!
LB Matthew Judon (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 16 games, 16 starts; 54 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, 4 FFs, 33 QBhits; 81% of Def Snaps; Pro-Bowl.
2018 Key Stats: 16 games, 8 starts; 44 total tackles, 7 sacks, 0 FFs, 20 QBhits; 65% of Def Snaps.
Dev: Judon has improved his play as a starter, with last season being the pinnacle. You must respect his ability to evolve from a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end to one of the more versatile backers in the game. Judon moved around quite a bit in Wink’s scheme, rushing from stand-up and three-point positions, and dropping in coverage. He was the key disguise defender up front to really add complexity to the blitz scheme. Much has been made about Judon not always being the most prolific pass rusher or consistent against the run. These are some key concerns. However, if you just look at Judon’s tape, you can see that he missed on a few more sacks last season. The pressures and QB hits were there all year – he just needs to finish better, which would help him take the next step.
Matt: This is the big one. Judon has steadily improved over the course of his young NFL career and the Ravens certainly don’t want to lose another homegrown pass rusher to free agency. Judon’s sack production isn’t great, but his impact on the game is felt in a wide variety of ways. Unfortunately for the Ravens, pass rushers are far from cheap and the Ravens simply don’t have the cap space to compete with a team that wants to pay Judon over market value. The Ravens undoubtedly want Judon back, but their best option may be the franchise tag.
2019 Contract: Final year of 4-yr., $2.596M rookie deal; counted $2.025M against 2019 Cap.
Cap Implications: Long-term deal or not? To tag or not to tag? Tag and trade? Judon’s status is probably the major roster and Salary Cap question of the Ravens’ offseason. The amount of the franchise tag will depend on whether Judon played more snaps as a DE (est. $17.95M) or as a LB (est. $15.973M). If the Ravens are able to re-sign Judon, his 2020 Cap number will probably be in the $12-14M range, so certainly a lesser amount than the franchise tag. If Judon is tagged and a long-term deal is not reached, he will be a major drag on the team’s Cap.
Tony’s Take: It’s debatable whether Judon is worth Za’Darius Smith money. He had a career high 9 ½ sacks in 2019 but at least 1 ½ of those sacks can be credited to the Ravens stout secondary, while a few others were the result of various blitzes dialed up by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale which left Judon one-on-one with tight ends.
To his credit, Judon makes nice plays in coverage and in open space when defending bubble screens. But outsiders have to wonder if the Grand Valley State alum is a product of a scheme. Might there be significant risk with a big contract outside of a system that caters to his strengths.
As for the franchise tag, players hate it. Despite the hefty one-year salary, there’s injury risk involved for the player which could his future market value. Plus, there is no upfront bonus money. The $16-18M salary is split evenly amongst 17 paychecks. It would be shocking if DeCosta doesn’t already have a few trade partners in mind for Judon but a successful trade will require fair compensation for the Ravens edge rusher along with a new contract that Judon can be happy with.
In 5 seasons with the Chiefs, Dee Ford had 30 ½ sacks. In 4 seasons with the Ravens, Judon has 28 ½ sacks. In 2019 the Chiefs were able to secure a 2020 second-round pick for Ford from the 49ers. Considering that the Ravens are likely to receive a third-round comp pick for Judon in 2021 should he sign elsewhere as a free agent, a second-round pick is likely to be DeCosta’s minimum asking price. And that’s how I see it playing out with the team’s 2016 5th-round pick.
DB Anthony Levine (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 16 games, 0 starts; 14 tackles, 0 sacks; 0 INTs, 0 PDs; 17% of Def Snaps.
2018 Key Stats: 16 games, 0 starts; 28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 8 PDs; 27% of Def Snaps.
Dev: With the emergence of Chuck Clark in the dime package, and the increased usage of Brandon Carr as a roving safety, Anthony Levine’s snaps went down dramatically from 2018. Levine’s value is at the LB position in dime personnel groups. He remains one of the most versatile defenders on the team, but it seems like the roster is comprised of more players just like him who can also provide back end coverage ability. Levine is still a valued special-teams player. At this point in his career, he’d be better suited for a pure backup and special teams role, but there’s a chance another team might be able to find more snaps for him as a sub-package defender.
Matt: Anthony Levine is the captain of the Ravens special teams and a respected veteran leader in the locker room. The Ravens would undoubtedly like to have him back on a reasonable deal. But, with the emergence of Chuck Clark and Brandon Carr playing some Safety, Anthony Levine saw his defensive snaps reduced in 2019. With DeShon Elliott returning in 2020, Levine may be relegated to exclusively special teams. Levine could be lured away by a team offering him defensive snaps or a generous contract to be their special teams captain.
2019 Contract: Final year of 3-yr., $4.2M deal; counted $1.733M against 2019 Cap.
Cap Implications: Levine has been a valuable soldier for the Ravens over his career, but he saw his playing time decrease pretty substantially in 2019. Levine turns 33 in March, so he may not even be able to command another 3-yr., $4.2M deal again and may be at the point of his career where it’s only 1-year contracts from here on out. He still has value on special teams, so a return could still be in the cards.
Tony’s Take: Levine has been underutilized by the Ravens during his recently expired three-year deal. There may be some pent up frustration on his part but as a relatively unheralded player at the age of 33, the demand for his services will be limited. He’s valued by John Harbaugh as a teams’ player and that is likely to keep him around if the contract is reasonable. But let’s not discount pure emotion when forecasting Levine’s future. He’s very close with Judon and Patrick Onwuasor, both of whom could be leaving. Levine could follow them.
LB Pernell McPhee (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 7 games, 7 starts; 19 tackles, 3 sacks; 27% of Def Snaps.
Dev: Boy, what could have been if McPhee were able to stay healthy. He provided exactly the type of rush production the front office was looking for from a player only playing about a third of the snaps. McPhee still has the uncanny ability to rush from inside and outside spots. But where he really separates himself is his ability to run stunts to free up the other pass rushers. This is especially an important element for Wink’s pass-rush scheme. Moreover, it can’t be overlooked how much the team missed McPhee’s ability to set the edge against the run. He’s someone you’d like to see return but the coaches will always struggle to make sure he’s logging the right amount of snaps to keep him from breaking down.
Matt: Pernell McPhee played very well for the Ravens before tearing his triceps halfway through the 2019 season. In Baltimore, McPhee is a veteran presence who provides value as a pass rusher from any spot along the defensive front. Bringing McPhee back on a one or two year deal to serve as a rotational player makes sense for both sides.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $1.03M deal, which included playing time and statistical incentives.
Cap Implications: Signed to provide depth as a pass rusher, McPhee played very well in his 7 games (roughly 70% of the snaps) before tearing his triceps in week 7. Given his effectiveness prior to the injury, McPhee would seem like a guy the Ravens would consider re-signing to fill the veteran, situational pass rusher role. McPhee is likely looking at a deal similar to his 2019 deal.
Tony’s Take: Prior to his triceps injury, McPhee did EXACTLY what the Ravens had hoped prior to signing him for a second tour of duty in Baltimore. If he signed for $1.03M a year ago, he’s probably open to a similar deal in 2020. If so, the Ravens should be all over that.
WR Chris Moore (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 16 games, 0 starts; 3 receptions, 21 yards, 0 TDs; 39% of Off Snaps.
2018 Key Stats: 14 games, 1 start; 19 receptions, 196 yards, 1 TD; 16% of Off Snaps.
Dev: Moore barely made a dent as a viable pass-catching option for Lamar Jackson. His true value remains on special teams, and as a special-teams ace on the coverage teams, he continued to make an impact. However, it looks like his time is up as someone who could move up the depth chart and earn playing time as a third or fourth receiver. Moreover, he didn’t help himself by getting in John Harbaugh’s doghouse.
Matt: Chris Moore never really caught on as a receiving option for the Ravens. His value in Baltimore through four years has come primarily as a special teams ace. The Ravens would love to have Moore back as a special teamer, but there are a limited number of spots and Moore is likely to get a better offer from another team.
2019 Contract: Final year of 4-yr., $2.936M rookie deal; counted $869K against 2019 Cap.
Cap Implications: Moore, who looked like he might break through after 2018, saw his playing time and stats decrease in 2019. Coming off the final year of his rookie deal, Moore will likely catch on somewhere next year, but his time in Baltimore is likely over.
Tony’s Take: On March 15, 2019 the Ravens signed special teams ace Justin Bethel to a two-year, $4M deal. Somewhere, a team needing to boost their special teams play will offer something similar to Moore who has been an excellent teams player in Baltimore. Wait, don’t the Ravens need to get better there? They do, but something tells me there’s a bit of bad blood between Moore and Harbaugh given their spat last season. That bad blood will spill over and chase Moore.
LB Patrick Onwuasor (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 14 games, 6 starts; 64 total tackles, 3 sacks, 1 FF; 42% of Def Snaps.
2018 Key Stats: 16 games, 12 starts; 59 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FFs; 42% of Def Snaps.
Dev: “Peanut” Onwuasor was truly one of the team’s most head-scratching enigmas in 2019. He looked like an ascending star who made so many timely splash plays in 2018. With C.J. Mosley out of the picture, Peanut was supposed to step up as the new MIKE. However, it just didn’t work out for him. The young backer struggled to make the right reads at times and he also struggled with his run fills early in the season. He lost his starting job to Bynes and L.J. Fort and slipped into more of a rotational role, which seemed to suit his skills better. Peanut still brings several dimensions to the table. He’s terrific on coordinated blitzes, he can pursue in the open field, and he’ll find the ball. But how much value will the team place on a rotational player who was clearly unhappy with his role at the end of the season?
Matt: After C.J. Mosley’s departure, Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor was supposed to be the next in line at ILB of the Ravens. He’d had his time to develop, showed a ton of promise during the 2018 season and was going to be the next great undrafted Ravens LB. Instead, Onwuasor struggled and lost his starting job to two veteran free agent signings. Peanut made some flashy plays in limited action, but failed to take his job back. The Ravens’ linebacker room is almost empty and they’d like Onwuasor back to be part of the rotation, but it’s very possible that Peanut would prefer a change of scenery after last season’s disappointments.
2019 Contract: Played 2019 under 1-yr., $2.025M RFA tender.
Cap Implications: Coming into 2019, Onwuasor looked ready to become the next UDFA LB to strike it rich with a sizeable long-term deal (be it here or elsewhere). In fact, there were reports last offseason that the Ravens and Onwuasor were discussing a contract extension. And then, the 2019 season happened. While Onwuasor may still be able to resurrect his career, he’s likely going to have to do it on a 1-year deal and very likely somewhere other than Baltimore.
Tony’s Take: It’s been said that there were talks between the Ravens and Peanut prior to the 2019 season on a contract extension. Word is the explosive linebacker wanted to play out the season to improve his bargaining power when free agency arrived. The plan backfired. Onwuasor looked lost at times in 2019 and then fell out of favor with the coaching staff. He couldn’t adequately embrace the role of defensive captain. The hope was that he could upgrade his role from Robin to Batman after C.J. Mosley left, but instead he proved to be more like the Riddler, a player that Wink Martindale couldn’t figure out. Peanut will be some other team’s mystery in 2020.
DT Domata Peko (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 7 games, 3 starts; 13 total tackles; 14% of Def Snaps.
Dev: Peko had to be convinced to play last season, as he was leaning towards retirement. He decided to give the Ravens a chance and the two sides had a fruitful partnership. Peko was a rock-solid rotational player for the front line. He can still play in a two-gap scheme and understands how to get off blocks. That being said, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll want to keep playing, and even if he does, the team should have younger reinforcements available.
Matt: The Ravens brought Peko out of retirement in the middle of the 2019 season to help reinforce their defensive line. Peko can still hold his own against the run, but the Ravens should prioritize getting younger on the defensive line over re-signing a player who was already retired.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $1.7M deal; counted $700K against 2019 Cap (7 weeks on roster).
Cap Implications: Arriving at mid-season, Peko was immediately inserted into the defensive line rotation and played surprisingly well. Turning 36 during next season, it’s fair to wonder how much Peko has left, but if he wants to continue playing, a reunion on a similar 1-year deal could be appealing to both sides.
Tony’s Take: Peko is a Ravens kind of player. He really seemed to enjoy his limited time in Baltimore. But was it enough to bring him back? He seemed comfortable in retirement last season but was lured out of his convalescent state to join a team that featured Lamar Jackson. Does he want to embrace the grind one more time to take one last shot at a ring? The guess here is that Peko took his shot, it didn’t work out and he’ll be happy going back to coaching his son’s team. It’s time for the Ravens to look elsewhere and to go younger for rotational reinforcements to their defensive interior.
DT Michael Pierce (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 14 games, 14 starts; 35 total tackles, 0.5 sacks; 49% of Def Snaps.
2018 Key Stats: 14 games, 2 starts; 20 total tackles, 0 sacks; 38% of Def Snaps.
Dev: Pierce’s play fell off just a bit from 2018, when he had a more of an impact in the run game at least. But I’m splitting hairs. Pierce remains one of the game’s best nose guards and he’s responded well to the coaches who have demanded more from him. As a player, it’s a no-brainer to bring him back. At this point, he’s more valuable to the run defense than Brandon Williams. However, the issue with Pierce comes down to cost. He’s simply the odd man out of a group of high-profile free agents and impending free agents (Ronnie Stanley, Marlon Humphrey).
Matt: While Michael Pierce’s 2019 play was inconsistent, he still provided huge value as a run stuffer. Pierce is one of the game’s best young defensive tackles and is sure to be highly valued in free agency. With another high priced DT (Brandon Williams) already on the roster and long term deals for Humphrey and Stanley looming large, it feels highly unlikely that Michael Pierce will be a Raven in 2020.
2019 Contract: Played 2019 under 1-yr., $2.025M RFA tender.
Cap Implications: Pierce’s played declined a bit in 2019, but he’s still likely to receive a decent sized deal as a free agent. While it’s likely that the Ravens would like to have Pierce back, Pierce is likely to command a deal that’s going to be too rich for the Ravens to match.
Tony’s Take: We’ve seen this movie before. After a productive four seasons as a Raven, former undrafted free agent Ma’ake Kemoeatu left Baltimore for a lucrative deal with the Carolina Panthers. The Ravens found a way to replace Kemoeatu and they’ll do the same when Pierce leaves for greener pastures. It’s difficult to invest too much money in run-stuffing defensive tackles who present no threat to opposing teams’ quarterbacks. The Ravens already have that in Brandon Williams. No need to double down with another expensive one-dimensional free agent. And let’s not forget how out of shape Pierce was heading into his play-for-a-new-contract season…
WR Seth Roberts (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 16 games, 0 starts; 21 receptions, 271 yards, 2 TDs; 50% of Off Snaps.
Dev: In Oakland, Roberts was entrenched in the slot role. However, in Baltimore, Roberts played more on the outside and he showed he can operate from the boundary as well. Roberts added route-running professionalism to the position. He was able to make plays on contested balls. As a run blocker, Roberts was willing to do the dirty work. The team should consider bringing Roberts back on a cheap deal, but not if that means he’d be taking away snaps from Miles Boykin and any other receivers (veterans or draft picks) that are brought on.
Matt: Seth Roberts never materialized as a major receiving threat for the Ravens in 2020. However, his 50% snap percentage on offense is an insight into how much the Ravens appreciate his efforts as a blocker in their run heavy scheme. WRs who are willing and able to block are rare and the Ravens should make an offer to bring Roberts back. Roberts, though, may be lured away from Baltimore by an offer to be more involved as a pass catcher.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $2M deal, which included playing time and statistical incentives.
Cap Implications: Roberts played reasonably well in 2019, although there were a couple of key drops, and seemed to be a good fit for the offense. Whether he returns will likely depend on whether the Ravens sign or draft another FA WR. Whether it’s in Baltimore or elsewhere, Roberts is likely to have to wait until after the draft before getting serious offers.
Tony’s Take: Roberts’ drop against the Titans during the Divisional Playoff was a game changer. If he catches it, the momentum shifts dramatically. Instead, the drop left the Ravens even more listless. Catch it, and Roberts probably returns in 2020. Drop it? I’m not so sure that he’s back. I like his willingness to support the run game. As mentioned, such receivers are hard to come by, but pass catchers generally aren’t paid to block. Roberts had just 21 catches in 2019, 24 fewer than the year before in Oakland. At 29 years old, Roberts is probably seeking another 3-4 years in the league and such paltry stats won’t aid his cause. This may be a situation where Roberts wants the Ravens less than the Ravens want Roberts.
C Matt Skura (RFA)
2019 Key Stats: 11 games, 11 starts; 65% of Off Snaps (100% of Snaps prior to injury).
2018 Key Stats: 16 games, 16 starts; 100% of Off Snaps.
Dev: Skura’s loss towards the end of the season was a tough pill to swallow, as the emerging center was having a banner season. In two seasons as a starter, Skura has seemingly improved his play with each game. He’s a natural fit for Roman’s hybrid run-blocking scheme. When Skura’s healthy, he can pull, trap, and maneuver to the second level. However, health is by far the most pressing issue facing his return to the lineup. His recovery time from three knee ligaments tears and dislocated kneecap is a mystery. I could envision a scenario in which Skura is placed on IR to start the season but is eligible to return.
Matt: In the midst of what looked to be his breakout season, Skura suffered a devastating injury. Skura is an intelligent Center who knows the offense and fits the scheme. As a RFA, Skura will almost certainly be a Raven in 2020. Whether or not he’s able to play, however, is entirely dependent on how his knee heals.
2019 Contract: Played 2019 under 1-yr., $645K ERFA tender.
Cap Implications: Prior to his injury, Skura was likely to receive the 2nd round RFA tender (est. $3.29M). Now, given the serious nature of his injury and the troubling time frame for his return, Skura is likely to receive the low RFA tender (est. $2.15M). It is also possible that the Ravens and Skura could agree to a 2-year deal that would provide Skura with some security while he fully recovers (while on PUP or IR) and then gives him a chance to prove himself in late 2020 and 2021 before becoming a UFA in 2022.
Tony’s Take: The coaching staff loves Skura and they are likely to influence his contract handling this offseason. He’s unlikely to contribute much in 2020. Should the Ravens name Pat Mekari the starter, draft a player or sign another, that player, if all goes well, is unlikely to be shoved aside mid-season for a partially recovered and rusty Skura. Brian’s suggestion on a two-year deal seems fair and in injury situations like this, fairness prevails.
CB Jimmy Smith (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 9 games, 5 starts; 30 total tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT; 41% of Def Snaps.
2018 Key Stats: 12 games, 10 starts; 45 total tackles, 2 INTs; 59% of Def Snaps.
Dev: Smith is one of the few remaining members of the 2012 Super Bowl team. Organizationally, Smith remains one of the most valued and respected players on the team. When he’s at his best, he’s still one of the tougher press-man corners to deal with. He really responded well to Wink’s rotation, which preserved his snap count and freed up Marlon Humphrey to move around and play the slot when needed. However, at this stage in his career, Smith is more of a luxury than a necessity. The secondary is deep at the CB position. With the return of Tavon Young, and Brandon Carr offering more durability and versatility, Smith seems like the odd man out.
Matt: Jimmy Smith is a long tenured Raven who has had an up and down career in Baltimore. Smith’s 2019 play was overshadowed by the All-Pro seasons of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. The Ravens would certainly love to have Smith back, but he may prove to be too expensive for his role. If he was a Raven in 2020, Smith would be the third or fourth CB on the roster. It’s likely that Smith will receive a larger offer to be a starting corner from another team.
2019 Contract: Final year of 5-yr., $48M rookie deal; counted $16.175M against 2019 Cap.
Cap Implications: Smith earned $9.5M in cash in 2019. Both Smith and the Ravens have expressed interest in his return, but it remains to be seen whether the sides can reach an agreement on his value. GM Eric DeCosta seemed to indicate this week that Smith would likely test the market. Given the Ravens’ substantial investment in their secondary, it seems likely that Smith will find a better offer elsewhere.
Tony’s Take: Remember all that talk about Smith being open-minded to a hometown discount given how the Ravens have stuck by his side through his injuries and suspensions? Seems as if Jimmy’s definition of a hometown discount differs greatly from the Eric DeCosta’s. The Ravens GM’s response (“I suspect that Jimmy is going to want to hit the market and assess what his value is, and he probably should.”) sounds eerily similar to the Ravens stance on an aging Ed Reed when the Hall of Famer was a free agent following the 2012 season. Remember how that ended? Say goodbye to Jimmy.
PK De’Anthony Thomas (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 8 games, 7.2 yards per punt return, 16.6 year per KO return.
Dev: Thomas joined the team midway through the season to boost a return unit that was dreadful beforehand. Thomas actually played pretty well to solidify the position for most of the season – although his playoff performance was forgettable. However, while he provided more surety as a dual returner who can handle kickoffs and punts, he was hardly dynamic. There is that potential for him to add more juice to the return game, though. Given the tremendous depth at wide receiver in the 2020 draft class, it’s hard to image that the team doesn’t address returner in some way. But Thomas is a nice fallback option in the summer or close to training camp, assuming he hasn’t landed elsewhere.
Matt: While he has never been the superstar return specialist that he was in college at Oregon, Thomas performed admirably after signing with the Ravens late in the 2019 season. The Ravens haven’t had a go to return man since Jacoby Jones and it’s likely that they’d like to have Thomas back on a cheap deal to compete for their returner spot in 2020. Thomas’ speed and experience at both WR and RB would be a nice bonus to the Ravens creative offense.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $805K Minimum Salary Cap Benefit deal; counted $304K against 2019 Cap (8 weeks on roster).
Cap Implications: Thomas is likely another guy who is not a priority, but can be signed sometime in the late Spring or over the Summer if the Ravens feel they haven’t addressed the kick returning spot sufficiently. Any deal for Thomas would again likely be a minimum salary deal.
Tony’s Take: Thomas’ stint in 2019 was no more memorable than that of Devin Hester in 2016. Chris Moore might be more threatening as a returner. I’d invite Thomas to camp if he isn’t signed before AND the Ravens haven’t addressed the position in free agency or the draft. The team needs to be better at returner. Re-signing Thomas is just more of the same.
DB Brynden Trawick (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 6 games, 6 ST tackles.
Dev: Trawick is the quintessential special teams ace who the team values every season. The team released Justin Bethel to make room for Trawick, although they are practically the same exact player. Trawick is at his best on the coverage units and has earned Pro Bowl honors. The team can certainly bring him back in a similar role for next season, but I don’t anticipate they will prioritize this type of move early in the free agency period.
Matt: In Baltimore, Trawick is exclusively a special teams player. If he’s looking for a bigger opportunity, Trawick will have to go elsewhere. Having recently signed another special teams Safety (Jordan Richards) to a one year deal, re-signing Trawick is not a priority.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $805K Minimum Salary Benefit deal; counted $520K against 2019 Cap.
Cap Implications: Trawick was signed early in Training Camp to provide depth on special teams. The Ravens certainly value special teams, so a return for Trawick could be in order. Trawick, who will turn 31 during the 2020 season, is likely at the point of his career where he’s only going to be receiving 1-yr., minimum salary deals.
Tony’s Take: Several special teams players are on the bubble: Moore, Levine, Thomas and Trawick. As a team that is skippered by a former special teams coordinator and one that has been among the league leaders for several seasons under the guidance of the retired Jerry Rosburg, the Ravens can’t afford to lose them all. Trawick sticks around.
LB Jihad Ward (UFA)
2019 Key Stats: 11 games, 0 starts; 7 total tackles, 1 sack; 38% of Def Snaps.
Dev: Ward was brought on as part of DeCosta’s grand refurbishing project at ILB and OLB after the Cleveland game. At the time of the move, there was no guarantee how many snaps he’d log. However, the former second-round pick really showed some pass-rushing chops. Wink moved him around to rush from different spots along the line and from a stand-up position. Ward essentially took on the role that McPhee vacated when he went down. Similar to McPhee, Ward’s unique combination of size (6’5” 287 pounds) and athleticism enabled him to be an effective rush influencer from multiple positions. Give DeCosta credit for identifying Ward’s fit for Wink’s multi-faceted rush scheme. He should be brought back on a short-term, low-cost deal.
Matt: With a relatively empty stat sheet, Jihad Ward was an underrated contributor in 2019. Brought in midseason, Ward showed versatility by playing multiple positions along the defensive line and became one of the team’s better edge setters against the run. Ward is a player that the Ravens would love to have back as a rotational piece on modest deal.
2019 Contract: 1-yr., $720K deal; counted $508K against 2019 Cap (12 weeks on roster).
Cap Implications: Recently The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec reported that the Ravens and Ward have had contract discussions aimed at getting Ward re-signed before free agency begins on March 18. Ward played well last year, so he is likely seeking a raise over his minimum salary deal from 2019. Ward is probably in line for a 2- or 3- year deal averaging between $1.5-2.5M per year.
Tony’s Take: The Steely Dan song “Dirty Work” comes to mind when I think about Ward’s 2019 season. He did a lot of it and his stats fail to recognize his contributions. But the coaching staff knows. I’m on the low side of Brian’s contract projection but admittedly, my mind hasn’t adjusted to a market that is flush with cap space. Ward will be 26 when the season starts. Put me down for a bargain 2-year, $3.5M deal. Does anyone know if Ward shops at Kmart?