“The Blindside” Era ends in Baltimore + Canty news

I remember the day the Ravens drafted Micheal Oher. Everybody was excited that we had amazingly found the next Jonathan Ogden. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t be exactly like Ogden, his style would be a bit different, but he was going to be the franchise LT to protect Joe Flacco’s blindside.

That didn’t really happen. Credit where credit is due. Oher is a tough man, started every game, he never complained, never caused trouble, and from all accounts is a great person. At times he showed you why so much was expected of him, but at other times you would wonder how he could keep making the same mistakes over and over again. If you take away the movie, the hype, being drafted in the first round, the money he got as a first round draft pick, and say he was taken in the 3rd round and the story was, “A raw player with amazing strength, feet faster than you’d expect for a man his size, but needs a lot of technique,” then maybe Oher would be considered a very good player.

But, we can’t take that all away. He very quickly proved he wasn’t capable of playing LT in the NFL and while at first he seemed to adapt to RT very well, his play tailed off and he was constantly plagued by false starts and other untimely penalties that would destroy momentum and kill drives.

Today Micheal Oher signed a four year deal worth $20 million with the Titans. I think he will continue to be a rather solid tackle and I personally think if you move him to Guard he will be an absolute beast. Now the Ravens have to figure out what they will do at the position. The leading in house candidate would be Kelechi Osemele if he’s 100% healthy from back surgery. Otherwise they will need to go free agent, draft, or perhaps see if Jah Reid; who has been extremely underwhelming so far, can make himself useful, or perhaps try one of the other draftees from last year like Ricky Wagner.

In other news, it looks as if DE Chris Canty will remain with the Ravens as they paid him his $500,000 roster bonus. While not a standout, Canty did a respectable job filling in here and there and making some plays. With the loss of Arthur Jones, he could become more valuable to the Ravens D-line while other players like Brandon Williams try to prove they are ready.

The day keeps getting better, Ravens ink WR Steve Smith

Coming off the heels of the Daryl Smith signing, comes the recently completed deal for former Panthers WR Steve Smith.

Smith; who will be 35 by the time the season starts, has admittedly lost a step or two and also is humble enough to realize he’s not a number one receiver anymore. Still, his tough as nails approach, his sure hands, and his ability to make the tough catches is exactly the kind of player the Ravens needed to bring in house. They also did it at a relatively cheap price. Smith gets a 3 year deal worth $11 million on paper. Everyone knows it isn’t what is on the paper though, it is what is guaranteed. At least you should know that much. On that note, Smith gets $3.5 million up front in signing bonus, and a $1 million salary for 2014. If he plays in 2015 and 2016 for the Ravens, he will get $3 million each season in base, and has a chance to earn another $1 million if he plays 60% of the downs. So in essence, this is a 1 year deal for $4.5 million. The Ravens can cut him after 2014 and not owe him a penny as far as the details are concerned so far.

Smith isn’t a typical big, over the middle, jump ball mold of a guy, but that is exactly how he plays. The Ravens wanted that other go-to type guy that they lost with Pitta and Boldin being out. A guy who can catch the ball in traffic, move the chains, and just make those critical catches that you SHOULD catch. That was severely lacking last season with the replacements of Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark, and Brandon Stokely.

This move gives the Ravens a WR set of Torrey Smith (speed, deep ball guy), Jacoby Jones (vertical threat, speed burner), Marlon Brown (big, tough, over the middle guy), Steve Smith (3rd down go to guy), Deonte Thompson and Aaron Mallette. The latter two might be bumped off the roster depending on how the draft goes. Combined with the elusive when healthy Ray Rice, and sure handed Dennis Pitta…the Ravens have plenty of weapons now, and could get even better with another playmaker like TE Eric Ebron or a WR like Mike Evans.

But, now that the weapons have been addressed, Ozzie Newsome may now turn to the other areas that need some special attention. The D-Line lost a very valuable Arthur Jones. Is Brandon Williams ready to step up? Ngata hasn’t been the same guy for the past couple of seasons, and Cody has been a bust considering where he was drafted.  The O-line is likely to lose Micheal Oher, Gradkowski was ineffective at C, and Osemele’s back may not be 100%. The secondary also lost James Ihedigbo and Corey Graham. Not superstars by any stretch, but they were very useful players that at times made impacts. There are still some good players left on the FA market. Will Ozzie set back now and let the market come to him, will be be able to draft for our needs, or will he do that cut day and UDFA magic like he has so many times before?

UPDATE: Ravens sign MLB Daryl Smith to 4 year deal!

Only minutes after my post about the Ravens off season gains and losses and wondering what the Ravens would do at MLB, comes the breaking news that the Ravens have indeed signed the veteran MLB to a 4 year deal.

Smith was dumped by the Jaguars last off season and as Ozzie Newsome has proven time and time again, he made the shrewd move to pick up the team leader on a 1 year deal for almost $1 million. For a team that saw the loss of the legendary #52, Smith came in and didn’t skip a beat. He led the team in tackles, proved to be an asset in pass coverage, and gave the middle of the linebacking crew a stable presence.

His four year deal is worth $16.1 million and though Smith is 32 he should still have a few good years left in him. I think this is a fantastic signing and the Ravens seem to be systematically bringing back the most important players (LT Eugene Monroe, WR Jacoby Jones, and TE Dennis Pitta) on the field in and effort to regain the title of AFC North Champion and to get back to the playoffs.

On a side note, could this be the best birthday present ever? Smith turned 32 today and gets to unwrap a multi-million dollar contract. Happy birthday to him!

Ravens off season has gains and losses.

Free Agency started only a few days ago and some of the most important decisions for the Ravens have already been made. Seeking to retain some very important core players, the Ravens made their decisions and managed to keep some of the most important players on the roster.

The first move was a restructuring of Terrell Suggs’ contract which I discussed earlier here. The 4 year extension allows Suggs to remain a Raven for life and also helped the Ravens free up around $5 million in salary cap space. It also helped that the NFL decided to raise the cap number this year by another $10 million.

Next came the cuts of veteran FB Vonta Leach and MLB Jameel McClain. Those moves saved the Ravens just about another $5 million in salary cap space. Though Leach is regarded as the best blocking full back in the game, he was getting to be a pricey one dimensional player whom the Ravens were starting to phase out of the offense. With about five games left in the season, Leach found himself on the bench while the Ravens attempted going more and more with a single back set. They already have a more versatile FB who also plays special teams in Kyle Jusczyk. McClain was known to be a stout player against the run, but he was a liability in pass coverage and is also coming off of a spinal chord injury. Would it have been nice to keep him? Certainly, he has some experience and if the Ravens can’t bring back Daryl Smith, the inside linebacker spot has a slew of younger players with not a lot of experience.

Corey Graham; who played nickel back and as the slot corner, has moved on and signed a 4 year $16 million deal with the Buffalo Bills. Up and coming DE Arthur Jones was signed by the Colts to a 5 year, $33 million deal. SS James Ihedigbo also seems to be on the way out as Elam is more of a SS and Ihedigbo doesn’t fit the scheme as a FS.

So much for the losses, now to the players the Ravens retained.

The first player to be signed to a new deal was playmaking and go to TE Dennis Pitta. After suffering from a dislocated hip, it was amazing to see him come back and play at the high level he did last season. The offense sorely missed him and was compounded by the loss of Anquan Boldin. Having Pitta back gives Flacco a level of comfort and a guy he trusts in crucial situations. Hopefully Pitta can remain healthy. Five years and $32 million is riding on his durability.

The next player to be kept in house was newcomer LT Eugene Monroe. After Bryant McKinnie proved to have lost just about the last bit of useful football, the Ravens traded to acquire Monroe from the Jaguars. Monroe showed to be one of the more dependable offensive linemen in the league and the Ravens were very keen to keep him going forward. The 26 year old gets a 5 year deal worth $37.5 million to help keep Flacco upright for a few more years.

The last big signing so far was a player the Ravens considered to be a luxury and were not sure if they could keep given the reality of free agency. Just yeseterday however; in a rather bizarre turn of events while he was speaking with the New York Giants, WR and return specialist Jacoby Jones decided to take less money to come back to the Ravens. The 4 year deal for $14 million means the Ravens get to keep one of the most explosive players on their roster not only on the returns, but also provides that deep threat in Gary Kubiak’s new offense.

The Ravens are still in contact with Daryl Smith, and have also been in contact with Julian Edelman and Steve Smith. Which players they are able to obtain leading up to the draft should give us a much better idea of where they are going with their fist pick. I was leaning towards a playmaking WR or TE, but if the Ravens manage to ink another free agent WR, I could see them going after TE Eric Ebron if he’s still waiting at pick 17. They could also still go WR with their top pick, or look to bolster the defense with the best player available.

 

 

What positions are the Ravens looking for in the Draft; TE edition

Here is a list of players the Ravens have met with at the combine. It is no secret that the Ravens are looking to add to the WR group and that the Offensive Line needs some help. But some other positions they are looking at might be a bit more telling. I will provide the list of names, positions, post a link to their combine numbers, and potential round of the draft they might go. We will now look at the small number of Tight Ends the Ravens met with.

TE: Eric Ebron : 6’4” 250lbs; he has that protoypical TE build. Freakish athleticism and an amazing receiver who makes special catches. The knock…is a complete ghost in anything resembling blocking. Could be a play maker but not so much a redzone threat.

TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz : 6’5” 265lbs; not the same athlete as Ebron, but is more of a dual threat with soft, reliable hands and also a blocker. Work ethic is questioned and has been known just to rely on his size which obviously won’t work as well in the NFL.

TE: Troy Niklas : 6’6” 270lbs; is a converted DE who only played two years as a TE, still learning. Decent athlete with good hands, a decent blocker, but doesn’t have great speed. Has a lot of upside.

The Ravens thought they had something special when they drafted Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta right after each other a few years ago. They thought Dickson had the potential to be the next Shannon Sharpe, and Pitta would be the next Todd Heap. While Dickson is a gifted athlete, his blocking skills and receiving skills leave a lot to be desired. You may be able to excuse his poor blocking if his hands were a lot better.

Pitta on the other hand emerged as an extremely reliable playmaker and go to guy on third downs. Unfortunately just like Todd Heap, he’s been banged up. If he can stay healthy he can put up some monster receiving numbers. He also isn’t known to be a great blocker.

The Ravens want to get a play making receiver, whether that is at WR or TE, they don’t seem to care. They definitely could use a TE that can block if they want to go to a one back set, but they could also use some insurance in case Pitta just can’t beat that injury bug. Whether or not they can get a deal done with Pitta will factor in heavily on whom they pick.

What positions are the Ravens looking for in the Draft; WR Edition

Here is a list of players the Ravens have met with at the combine. It is no secret that the Ravens are looking to add to the WR group and that the Offensive Line needs some help. But some other positions they are looking at might be a bit more telling. I will provide the list of names, positions, post a link to their combine numbers, and potential round of the draft they might go. This is the group of Wide Receivers the Ravens met with at the combine.

WR: Brandin Cooks : 5’10” 189lbs, is one of those pesky agile route-runner types with a bit of speed. Who isn’t trying to find the next Wes Welker these days? Wasn’t known to be a speed burner but a 4.33 40 yard dash might say otherwise. Did see time as a Punt Returner but wasn’t a playmaker.

WR: Mike Davis : 6’0” 197lbs is supposed to have the makeup of an NFL WR, but something is missing. Inconsistent hands, poor work ethic, and questionable attitude. Capable of making great catches, but also drops passes he shouldn’t. Might be a late rounder that is a guy that Ozzie hopes can instill the “Play like a Raven” attitude.

WR: Kelvin Benjamin : 6’5” 240lbs. No, he’s not a linebacker, he’s a WR. Huge guy that is a mismatch. Doesn’t have elite speed and doesn’t seem to have the strength to go with his obvious size. Has upside with work on technique. Is he the next Calvin Johnson?

WR: Jordan Matthews : 6’3” 212lbs: Considered to be a possession, west coast style receiver. Not much of a shock considering he is related to Jerry Rice. Good hands, smart, but doesn’t have elite speed and suffers dropsies from time to time.

WR: Robert Herron : 5’9” 193lbs: Speedy straight line guy with questionable route running skills and hands. Probably has better speed than he showed at the combine. Might just be a return man in the NFL unless he improves his skills.

WR: Jarvis Landry : 5’11″ 205lbs: Jump ball guy who will fight for the ball because he doesn’t have the break away speed to beat a defender deep. Tough-nosed and willing to go over the middle. Will block and plays special teams. Sound like a shorter AnQuan Boldin?

WR: Marquise Lee : 6’0” 192lbs: All around receiver, good route-runner, has speed to get by defenders, has good hands. Has suffered numerous injuries in college and NFL durability is a concern.

The Ravens offense last year looked completely out of sync with the disappearance of the running game and the combined losses of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta really were apparent in the sporadic passing offense. The Ravens already have a decent deep threat in Torrey Smith and they think they have a tough over the middle guy in Marlon Brown. What they don’t have is that other go-to guy that you can count on to make some tough catches and that’s probably the type of receiver they are going to look for in the draft. They might also look for another speed burner/return man type just in case they lose Jacoby Jones to free agency

What positions are the Ravens looking for in the Draft; RB edition

Here is a list of players the Ravens have met with at the combine. It is no secret that the Ravens are looking to add to the WR group and that the Offensive Line needs some help. But some other positions they are looking at might be a bit more telling. I will provide the list of names, positions, post a link to their combine numbers, and potential round of the draft they might go. This first group is a list of Running Backs. With the off field issues of Ray Rice and his complete wash out of a season last year due to a combination of injuries and being in less than ideal shape and Bernard Pierce trying to come back from shoulder surgery, this may be more of a need than most fans think.

RB: Ka’Deem Carey : Supposedly a first round talent despite lack of ideal size and off field issues.

RB: Carlos Hyde : 6’0” 230lbs of tackle breaking, between the tackles running. Conditioning is questionable and misses games with nagging injuries.

RB: Terrance West : Small, compact, but thickly built local guy who burst on the scene at Towson. Knee injury history, lots of miles on the odometer in college could mean early exit from NFL.

RB: Andre Williams : Prototypical size, decent speed, and runs with power. Is also considered smart and a good blocker. Seems to have all-around skills.

Running backs don’t typically go in the first round anymore unless they have some extremely impressive talent. The Ravens don’t really have a hammering type bruiser back so it wouldn’t shock me to see them go for one of the bigger guys like Hyde or Williams if they manage to drop to the second draft day.

 

 

 

Ravens cut FB Leach, LB McClain

The Baltimore Raves cut veteran FB Vonta Leach and MLB Jameel McClain in a move to free up a bit more space under the salary cap. These moves will free up $1.75million and $3.2million under the cap respectively.

The moves do not come as a shock to me. Leach; who is 32, had to wait quite a long time last season to get a deal done with the Ravens. Meanwhile the Ravens have seemingly been trying to prepare for life after Leach as they shifted to more of a one back set, preferring to get another playmaker on the field in the way of a third wideout, or in a dual TE package. Leach was very good at what he did, leading the way for a ground attack, but outside of that box he was limited. He didn’t really get the call in short yardage or goal line situations and he didn’t really catch a lot of passes out of the backfield. He also wasn’t on special teams. Meanwhile the Ravens have another option they just drafted in Kyle Jusczyk who may not be a dominant lead blocker, but does play on special teams and coming out of college was a pass catcher.

McClain is 28 and while he has made a reputation for being stout against the run, he isn’t much of a factor at all in pass coverage and he’s not a pass rushing threat from the LB position. He is very one dimensional and the Ravens defense had gotten exposed quite a bit over the middle in the passing game. It doesn’t help that he was coming back from a serious spinal cord injury and for him to even be back and playing in the NFL is an accomplishment. He isn’t a terrible player, but with the way Ozzie Newsome has been able to find talent around the league I am sure he can find a similar player or better in the free agent market or in the draft. Generally speaking when the Ravens have to cut a guy they like, they manage to bring him back on more cap friendly contracts.

With the cap number growing this season to $133 million (nearly a $10 million increase from last year), Suggs restructuring his contract, the cutting of these two veterans, and with some other possible restructuring down the road the Ravens could very well manage to keep all of the pending free agents on their list. I know they want to keep LT Eugene Monroe, TE Dennis Pitta, and if they can swing it, WR and return man Jacoby Jones. Just from some calculations in my head the Ravens saved about $7.5 million in cap space with the Suggs deal and almost $5 million in the cutting of Leach and McClain, and now the increased cap makes the Ravens about $22 million richer under the cap.

Another Raven in trouble

After the disturbing news that surfaced about Ray Rice and his fiance Janay Palmer, comes a report that WR Deonte Thompson was arrested for “suspicion of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.”

Thompson is a speedy wide receiver that is also a bit undersized and has not yet been able to turn his natural ability into production on the field. He was hampered last season by a foot injury that had him missing time in training camp and during the beginning of the season.

Thompson doesn’t have a track record of off the field problems while he’s been here in Baltimore, but if he’s convicted I am sure the NFL will be handing him a suspension. He can probably expect to sit about 4 games out at the beginning of the year.

I like to believe my team has high character players on it. I like to cheer for my team and think that they are relatively good people. I know not everyone is an angel. It took awhile for the Ravens to shed off their reputation as a team that would hire anybody regardless of their past (such as Bam Morris) if they thought they could improve the team. Ray Lewis may get a pass from a lot of Baltimore fans, but outside of Maryland the view isn’t quite the same. Jamal Lewis was involved in helping to broker a drug deal and spend time in prison. Chris McAlister was also routinely getting into trouble.

Deonte probably was never going to be an elite contributor on the NFL level, but that is kind of beside the point. I want to be able to be proud of the guys that suit up and represent my city to the world and it is hard to do that when players are constantly getting noticed for all the wrong reasons.

O’s sign OF Nelson Cruz

After an off-season that initially started off with lackluster deals and fan disappointment, the Orioles have shifted into high gear within the last couple of weeks. They have already inked Korean pitcher Suk-Min Yoon, added former Rockies sensation pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, and now they added the slugging bat they had been seeking all off season in Nelson Cruz.

Cruz gets a 1 year deal that could be worth up to $8,750,000 with incentives ($8 million base, $750k incentives). This move is not without potential issues though. After surrendering their 17th pick in the draft for Jimenez, the Orioles also lose their 2nd round pick to sign Cruz. For a team with a long history of having a fairly weak farm system, this move could set them back a few years. Cruz has also been linked to the Biogenesis scandal and was suspended for 50 games for an apparent PED violation. He has had a recent track record of injuries. He is also not known to be a very gifted defensive player when he does go out into the field. On the plus side Cruz has produced 20+HR and 75+RBI every season since 2009. He doesn’t offer much outside of power as he doesn’t bring speed to the table, and he also strikes out frequently while not walking. We’re not talking Mark Reynolds level strike outs, but he’s not too far behind him.

The alternative was Kendrys Morales who would also be tied to draft pick compensation, is two years younger, is a switch hitter, but also comes with some injury history and a shaky reputation as a 1B. At least with Cruz you could hide him in LF and it would make sense to play him there in NL games with no DH rule. The Orioles already have Chris Davis at 1B and I can’t envision a scenario where you sit Davis for Morales. So Cruz does offer a bit of flexibility.

It was a gamble that the Orioles felt they had to take given the window of opportunity this current core of players has to win a championship. Lots of key players are due to end their rookie contracts or are due to become free agents and their price tags are all going to go up. They can’t keep everyone, so they’ve done an “all in” type move. I would have been happier if Cruz was not tied to draft pick compensation because for me, the risks were too much to invest so much. On the other hand, how many draft picks pan out and even make it to the majors?

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