Ravens Defensive Free Agents, Potential Cap Casualties
The Ravens are faced with some tough decisions on the defensive side of the ball when it comes to retaining personnel from one of the top units in the NFL. There are two veteran free agents and team leaders. There is one young player who broke out in 2018 and is able to test the market for the first time in his career. There is another who faced many obstacles over the years to finally have a full 2018 campaign. Then you have three veteran players in the secondary who could be salary cap casualties. They have contracts for 2019, but are they worth their cap figures at this stage in their game? Or do you take the cap savings and replenish?
Gabe Ferguson and I discuss our thoughts on the tough decisions, and what we would do in Eric DeCosta’s position. DIscuss your thoughts on our message board.
Mike Randall: Despite being 36 years of age, I don’t think Terrell Suggs has become a liability. He also should come pretty cheap if the Ravens want to retain him. The closest comparison I can find is perhaps Julius Peppers (38) who played on a one year deal for $5 million. I’m ok with offering Suggs something similar. I think he still sets the edge in the run game well. Next Gen stats tell us that the average distance a pass rusher is from the QB when the rush is 4.49 yards. In this department Suggs was not great, averaging 4.87 yards, and only bettering league average in four of 17 games. His days of being a threatening pass rusher may be behind him. But as an average player, making average money, and being the veteran presence on a strong unit, I’m ok with a deal worth $5M or less.
Gabe Ferguson: Terrell Suggs is still a very good player, and I think like most Ravens fans I would love to see him finish his career in Baltimore. He is still able to generate pressure at a decent rate, but he doesn’t have the closing speed to convert pressures into sacks as he once did. I think if the Ravens were to bring him back, it needs to be as a part-time player. Keep him rested and have him used primarily as a pass-rusher in 3rd and long kind of situations. I think $5M is a reasonable price for a rotational type player, and maybe he brings added value to the Ravens as a leader as well.
MR: Spotrac projects C.J. Mosley’s market value to be in the neighborhood of 5/$48.8M. As it stands today that would be the around top four, top five inside linebacker money. Mosley, isn’t that. He’s a worker, he’s reliable. But he’s not a game changers. His tackle numbers are pretty pedestrian (105, 29th). He is zero threat as a pass rusher notching just a half a sack this year. He is zero threat to lay the wood and force a fumble, failing to do so this season. Five passes defensed (Suggs had nine and he’s not in the QB’s field of vision often at all). One INT, albeit a clutch one. If you aren’t getting pressue and turnovers, you aren’t changing the game. It would be a poor idea to retain C.J. Mosley at top of the market money. Peanut Onwuasor came on strong in the latter half of the season. Plus you have Kenny Young, fourth round pick last year. I wouldn’t mind seeing that be the starting duo right off the bat, address the position again in the draft, or add depth from another teams cuts on the cheap. There will always be a Daryl Smith type to grab for a year. Someone is going to overpay for Mosley’s services.
GF: Mosley has the pedigree of a player the Ravens like to retain. First round draft pick, day 1 starter, multiple Pro Bowls, etc. He has been a good player with the Ravens, but he is not, at least in my opinion, an elite player. The numbers you bring up are hard to ignore. The elite players at LB just make more plays. The player that Mosley most likely wants to get paid like, Luke Keuchly, notched 20 tackles for loss in 2018. Mosley had 6. I think Mosley also suffers from the position he plays; inside linebacker is just not a premium position in the NFL. The impact they have on the field is not nearly as significant as pass-rushers or elite CBs. It’s basically the RB of the defense. You can put athletic players in a good system and have them do the job. If you have a strong defensive line like the Ravens, it makes the job pretty easy for the LBs. Maybe there are some elite stand-out talents that will make a few extra plays for you, but as the numbers suggest, Mosley isn’t that player. The one argument I will make for Mosley is that he is a leader on the field. He communicates well and gets players in position, but that to me is hard to quantitate and also hard to put a price tag on. I would pass on giving him a contract in excess of $10M/year and it hard to imagine he would sign for that amount.
MR: Za’Darius Smith had a breakout season at the perfect time. Contract season! Among his fellow edge rushing free agents to be, his nine sacks and 24 QB hits both rank second to Kansas City’s, Dee Ford. Also almost identical to Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney. Spotrac projects Clowney to be worth 6/$100.1M. That seems like and egregious over-estimation. Smith did nothing of note under the Dean Pees style of defense. But as a standup rusher, milling about in creatively disguised Don Martindale defensive fronts in 2018, he exceled, and was the best Raven at getting close to the QB according to Next Gen. I think Smith will continue to excel in this style of hyper aggressive defense. But at a realistic price given that until this year, he did nothing. Sounds similar to a Pernell McPhee, or Paul Kruger situation. Both men got five year deals worth $38M-$40M, and never lived up to it. Their next deals were 1/$1.8M-$3M. I’d like to see him back, but at maybe 4/$32M or so.
GF: To me Za’Darius Smith is hands down the biggest priority for the Ravens this offseason. He has done a tremendous job developing in the Ravens system to be a high quality pass-rusher. He may not be in the elite category, but he has shown continued improvement and had a true break out season in 2018. He showed flashes in 2017 as a player who was starting to emerge as he notched 3.5 sacks and 16 QB hits in a limited role. In 2018 those numbers ballooned to 8.5 sacks and 25 QB hits. He was easily the Ravens best pass-rusher, and he did it in a manner that the Ravens haven’t had since Pernell McPhee. A significant number of his pass-rush snaps came lined up as the 3 technique defensive tackle, but he was also able to rush off the edge or as a stand up blitzer. That kind of versatility is highly valuable, and Wink Martindale recognized this fact as ZDS led all Ravens OLBs in pass-rush snaps and according to PFF graded as the 15th best pass-rusher among qualified edge defenders. The one thing going against Za’Darius is he plays a position that is fairly deep on the Ravens roster, especially if the team brings back Terrell Suggs. That said, his ability to play inside and out makes him a unique talent in my opinion, and he should be paid. I think the value for a player of his caliber is closer to the $10-12M/year range and I would be comfortable paying him that amount.
MR: Injuries hampered some of Brent Urban’s development. He was resigned as a free agent by Baltimore last year at 1/$1M with $100k signing bonus. I’d do that again and then some. He doesn’t light up the stat sheet but his 6’7” frame and long arms have gotten a finger on a kick or two here and there. You don’t need someone lighting up the stat sheet as a 3-4 DE. They need to take on double teams so linebackers can shoot the gaps, and so the opposing lineman don’t take their blocks to the next level. I’ll gladly take Urban back, doing the thankless job known as role player.
GF: Urban played a significant role for the Ravens defense in 2018, only Brandon Williams out-snapped him along the defensive line. He has elite size and he is stout against the run and a fairly good pass-rusher as well. I don’t think the Ravens will be able to re-sign him for the same kind of contract after his play in 2018. I’d offer him a contract similar to what Lawrence Guy got when he left the Ravens in free agency ~ $4M/year.
Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr
MR (on Smith): Every year it’s something else with Jimmy Smith. Getting suspended. Getting injured. Recovering from an injury. Entering age 31 and facing a $15.8M cap hit but $9.5M in cap savings, it’s time to say goodbye. At times he hasn’t even looked like the shutdown corner he once was, when he played healthy. Marlon Humphrey looks like the real deal and I can’t see the need in tying up so much money in maybe the second best CB on the team.
MR (on Carr): With the money saved if you release/trade Jimmy Smith ($9.5M) You can pick up the $7M club option on Brandon Carr. The guy hasn’t missed a game in 11 years I believe? He may not have the ceiling of Jimmy Smith, but at a lower price point you can feel confident in what you are getting. I’d exercise that option on Carr if they release Jimmy Smith. Continue to develop young player depth behind he and Humphrey like Anthony Averrett, Jaylen Hill, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, and Maurice Canady. With Tavon Young in the slot, the have some young depth there. I don’t see the need to retain both Jimmy Smith AND Brandon Carr.
GF: I am going to group both of these veteran CBs together because I think it doesn’t make sense for the Ravens to retain both of them. Marlon Humphrey has emerged as an elite cover corner, and Tavon Young is good playing in the slot. You don’t need two veteran and highly paid corners to effectively man one spot on the field. I think the way the Ravens rotated their CBs was interesting, but is it worth the cost of paying both Carr and Smith? I don’t think so. I also agree that Carr would be the CB that I would keep, considering he is more reliable and also costs less. Jimmy may be the better player, but I don’t think that is a slam-dunk statement either. I’d like to see what Anthony Averett can do as well. He showed some flashes this past season and I think a bigger role for him in 2019 will serve the Ravens defense well.
MR: Eric Weddle is a tough decision for me. He would count $8.25M against the cap next year. His average salary and his cap number as it stands today are 11th among safeties. That’s not bad. PFF grades ranks him 12th among all safeties and 11th among them in run defense. So he won’t be getting over paid. I think the $6.5M in savings is also enticing. Like ZDS, Weddle also looked better out there this year in a freelancing type role than he did under the Dean Pees scheme. I think I’m going to be ok if they retain Weddle, given that I would let Mosley and Jimmy Smith go. I don’t think I want to break up too much of the band.
GF: I think Weddle, like Mosley, has more value on the field then his numbers would suggest. He took over as the defensive signal-caller when Mosley was hurt and there was no drop-off. He has definitely lost a step and he doesn’t have ideal range for a safety, but he is a leader and still a very intelligent player on the field. He understands and executes the complex coverages that the Ravens defense employs, and for that alone he might be worth keeping. If Mosley leaves in free agency, I think he should absolutely stay. If the Ravens pay up for Mosley, it probably has to come at the expense of Weddle. Given my position on Mosley, I think it would be wise to let Weddle play out his contract, but perhaps start looking for his replacement as early as this upcoming draft.
Love to hear what you would do. Tell us on our message board.