AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
Although no one knows whether Benjamin Watson can come close to repeating last season's career year, one certainty is how much the Baltimore Ravens wanted the veteran tight end. Watson will go down as one of the more unexpected signings, based on how the Ravens typically do business in free agency.
This is the first time the Ravens have reached an agreement with another team's free agent during the four-year history of the negotiating period. The deal can't be made official until the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Watson is only the fifth unrestricted free agent to be signed by Baltimore in the past six offseasons. The Ravens prefer cap cuts because they don't count against compensatory picks. But the Ravens had to be aggressive in order to pry Watson from the New Orleans Saints, who reportedly wanted to keep him and are now thin at that position.
Why did the Ravens want Watson so badly? Baltimore prides itself on being a tight end-friendly offense, and the Ravens needed an experienced and durable one. Watson is known for being a leader after 13 seasons in the NFL, and he has missed only one game the past four seasons. The addition of Watson reveals the Ravens' concern about Crockett Gillmore's availability this season (two shoulder surgeries this offseason), Nick Boyle's suspension (10 games for performance-enhancing drugs) and Dennis Pitta's future (a potential post-June 1 salary cap cut).
This represents the Ravens' second gift to quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed a record three-year extension last week. Flacco has an affinity for throwing to tight ends, from Todd Heap to Pitta to Owen Daniels. Watson had one of those out-of-nowhere seasons last year, with 74 receptions (seventh among tight ends) for 825 yards (eighth) and six touchdowns (seventh).
It's probably unlikely Watson will come close to those numbers this season. He caught more than 50 passes only twice in his career, and he has been held to fewer than 500 yards receiving in eight of his 13 seasons.
However, for Baltimore, Watson will be just as valuable in the locker room as on the field. The Ravens' top three tight ends last season -- Gillmore, Williams and Boyle -- are all under the age of 25. Watson is 35, and he has been part of five playoff teams, including the 2004 Super Bowl champions. This is important for the entire Ravens team, after it parted ways with linebacker Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty.
The Ravens clearly targeted Watson heading into free agency. They wanted him more than Daniels, who was with the team in 2014, and Scott Chandler, who drew interest from Baltimore the previous offseason. Baltimore was able to get Watson by acting swiftly and, quite frankly, in a manner unlike the Ravens in recent years.
That's the question the Ravens will have to ask themselves if Bosa falls to Baltimore at the No. 6 overall pick. Bosa played defensive end in a 4-3 defense in college, and the Ravens play a 3-4 defense, which means he would have to switch to outside linebacker.
He has to prove he can be as effective playing in space as he was playing with his hand in the dirt. Teams with 3-4 defenses will need to project whether he has the change of direction, feet and quickness to play linebacker.
"I guess you could say I'd be more comfortable [with a 4-3 team] because I've never played 3-4," Bosa said. "But I think I'll be comfortable standing up or doing whatever the team needs."
The Ravens, starting with owner Steve Bisciotti, have said the team needs a pass-rusher. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are both over age 30, and the Ravens never filled the void left by Suggs last season when he suffered a season-ending injury.
Bosa recorded 148 tackles, including 51 for loss, and 26 sacks, but those numbers all came in the Buckeyes' 4-3 defense. Baltimore has a history of transitioning college defensive ends to NFL outside linebackers since it did so with Peter Boulware in 1997. Two of the Ravens' current linebackers, Suggs and Za'Darius Smith, were able to make the switch.
"I've been working standing up and dropping on linebacker drops, so I feel like I'm ready to play in a 3-4 or 4-3," Bosa said. "Just being looked at [by teams with] a 3-4 defense, I knew I might have to come in and do linebacker [drills], so I just wanted the full experience."
Another source said talks have been "going well" between the sides, although nothing is imminent.
The Ravens are looking to lower Flacco's $28.55 million cap number, which is the third-highest in the NFL, before the start of free agency on March 9. This is the best move for Baltimore to create cap space.
According to Spotrac.com, the Ravens have the lowest amount of cap space in the NFL at $6.2 million and that's before the $4.5 million franchise tag on kicker Justin Tucker becomes official. Baltimore likely needs the cap space from a new Flacco deal if it wants a realistic chance of re-signing offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.
Baltimore believes this can be a win-win for both sides. Flacco can receive more guaranteed money than what he is scheduled to earn over the final three years of his current deal ($58.6 million), and the Ravens can gain more cap space by spreading the money over a new five- or six-year deal.
"I'll be really surprised and disappointed if it doesn't get done," coach John Harbaugh said Thursday at the NFL combine. "But then I'm not the guy doing the deal. So, it's easy for me to say."
Flacco acknowledged a month ago he is open to reworking his deal with Baltimore.
"Come on, I want to win, so I want to do everything we can to get something done," Flacco said in late January. "I don't know exactly what that is or exactly what that's going to be because we haven't talked about it yet. But I know that that's a huge number and it's not really realistic."
By Harbaugh's estimation, both sides can come out winners. The Ravens would get much-needed cap room by lowering Flacco's $28.55 million cap number and Flacco can receive a long-term commitment from the team at the age of 31.
"I'll be really surprised and disappointed if it doesn't get done," Harbaugh said Thursday at the NFL combine. "But then I'm not the guy doing the deal. So, it's easy for me to say."
Harbaugh reiterated general manager Ozzie Newsome's statement that the Ravens could make it work with Flacco's current cap number, but he acknowledged it would be better if Baltimore could reduce the NFL's third-highest cap hit.
He believes the sides can come to a mutual agreement, referring to Flacco as a "partner."
"He becomes part of the organization and part of who we are," Harbaugh said. "It's a very unique relationship in sports. To me, that's who Joe is for us. The great thing is Joe recognizes that. He knows that he's in it for the long haul and he wants to put the best team he can on the field."
The Ravens aren't asking Flacco to take a pay cut. In fact, a new deal will likely give him more money than the $58.6 million he's scheduled to make in the final three years of his current contract. But Baltimore would like to spread the money over a long-term contract, which would lower Flacco's cap number. He is still expected to be one of the highest-paid quarterbacks and average over $20 million per season.
"Whatever he signs for, he's going to want to prove that he's worth it, too," Harbaugh said. "That's just how Joe thinks. I'm pretty fired about it."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Baltimore Ravens came to the NFL combine this week with a very short list of whom they're considering at the No. 6 overall pick.
"We feel like we know who the top six guys will be in the draft, at least we feel like we have it narrowed to the two guys that we would probably pick," Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said Thursday.
While the Ravens aren't giving out any names, Baltimore has been linked to a handful of players in mock drafts. The Ravens have a good shot at getting either Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Ohio State defensive end-linebacker Joey Bosa, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner or UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. The chances of landing someone such as Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey seem slim at this point.
This draft is much different than recent ones for Baltimore. The Ravens have only begun one of the last 12 drafts with a top-10 pick, and they traded down from the No. 8 pick in 2008 when they selected quarterback Joe Flacco. The last time the Ravens took a player in the top 10 was 2003, when they drafted linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Still, the Ravens feel like they have a good grasp of how this draft will unfold early.
"It's not really hard figuring out the top 10 players in any draft," DeCosta said. "You do the tape work, you see the guys and follow them around. You can pretty much predict who those guys are going to be. There might be a little bit of volatility, maybe one guy gets picked higher than you think he is or one guy gets picked lower than you think he is. But, in general, it's much easier than when you're picking at No. 30."
What had been billed as one of the least attractive matchups in the history of "Monday Night Football" actually turned into one of its most memorable and thrilling finishes. The Baltimore Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns 33-27 by Brent Urban blocking the potential winning field goal and Hill returning it 66 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
Those across the nation who tuned in to watch two teams with a combined .250 win percentage were rewarded with an unbelievable ending at 11:40 p.m. ET. How unbelievable? This was the second game in NFL history in which a team won with a "walk-off" blocked field goal return for a touchdown and the first time that has happened in three decades, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"One of the greatest football games probably you're ever going to see, in terms of excitement," coach Harbaugh said.
Will this propel the Ravens (4-7) into the playoffs? Highly unlikely. Can this help them avoid their first losing season under Harbaugh? Probably not.
But this victory, especially in this fashion, shows how this team has refused to give up on Harbaugh. Back in 2007, the season spiraled out of control for Baltimore, and it cost Brian Billick his job. This season, the Ravens have lost key starters to injuries (quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith, linebacker Terrell Suggs and running back Justin Forsett) and they've lost a game on an official's error.
Still, Baltimore has found a way to stay in every game this season, which is a testament to the effort Harbaugh demands from his players. All 11 of the Ravens' games have been decided by eight points or fewer, which extends their NFL record.
"My favorite shirt that Harbs brought out was [one that read], 'Faith and Guts,'" Hill said. "That’s all we have right now -- faith and guts -- and to continue and go out and fight and try and be the best Ravens team we can be."
This had all the makings of another gut-wrenching loss for the Ravens. Hill was beaten on third-string quarterback Austin Davis' game-tying 42-yard touchdown pass, and Matt Schaub gave the Browns a chance to win the game with an interception with 50 seconds remaining.
But Urban got his left arm on the field goal attempt in his first NFL game, and Hill scored his third career touchdown. Even on a Ravens team that had blocked a punt or kick in five straight games, many players were floored by this reversal of fortune.
"I think it would be hard-pressed to find anyone in that stadium who was not shocked at that moment," kicker Justin Tucker said. "I am kind of speechless."
This was far from a classic game. There was plenty of sloppy football, which is to be expected from two teams with the third-worst combined record (5-15) for a MNF game. There were thousands of empty seats for the journeyman quarterback battle between Schaub and Josh McCown.
But this matchup certainly delivered a classic ending. It was the sixth blocked field goal return for a touchdown in the NFL in the past five seasons and the first this season.
There was also some controversy. Replays showed Anthony Levine lining up in the neutral zone, and some believe Hill stepped out of bounds.
The lasting image for the Ravens, however, was safety Kendrick Lewis going crazy right in Harbaugh's face and yelling, "We never quit! We never quit! We're never going to quit!"
"It reminded me of Winston Churchill. Didn’t he say something along those lines?" Harbaugh said. "Just an incredible game. I’m so proud of the guys."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Joe Flacco's decision-making Sunday was just as baffling as a perennial playoff team falling to 1-5.
Flacco threw two of the most unsightly interceptions of his career against the NFL's second-worst defense, and the Baltimore Ravens paid for what he aptly described as "stupid mistakes." Both turnovers were converted into field goals, and those six points proved to be the difference in a 25-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
"It all starts with me not making those mistakes," Flacco said. "We can’t afford to do that right now. We have to go out there and play fundamental football, take care of the football, and when the plays present themselves, we’ve got to make them. We weren’t able to do that. I didn’t play smart, and we didn’t make the plays here and there to get us going.”
How smart Flacco plays is often the biggest barometer of the Ravens' success:
- Baltimore is 46-9 (.836) when Flacco doesn't throw an interception.
- The Ravens are 4-22, including playoffs, (.153) when Flacco is picked off multiple times.
- Since 2013, Flacco has thrown 29 interceptions in losses (19 games) and 12 interceptions in wins (19 games).
It doesn't take a mathematical wizard such as backup guard John Urschel to see how the Ravens' fortunes are tied to Flacco's turnovers.
Asked how much Flacco's interceptions hurt the Ravens on Sunday, coach John Harbaugh said, "What do you want me to say? What’s the answer to that question? They hurt us a lot. OK, I mean, I can’t put a percentage on it. They hurt us a lot. Turnovers are bad.”
Flacco's first interception came with the Ravens trailing 13-3 in the second quarter. He tried to force a pass between two defenders just 3 yards down the field on a third-and-4 play.
“I saw [the defenders]," Flacco said. "I thought we could sneak the ball in for the first down, but obviously, I couldn’t.”
His second turnover was perhaps the worst throw of Flacco's eight-year NFL career. He threw a 50-yard pass up for grabs, and Kenneth Acker caught it with no Ravens player close to him.
"I was looking to hit the shot over the top," Flacco said. "I was hoping to buy time on the play, and it got to the point where I didn’t see anyone open, so I was just trying to throw it away. I didn’t see anyone down the field, but it ended up being a really dumb play.”
Flacco was picked off twice against a 49ers defense that ranked 30th against the pass and had three interceptions in the first five games.
Although Flacco likely wouldn't acknowledge this, his mistakes could be the result of pressing to make plays. His defense is giving up 27 points per game (seventh-most in the NFL), and he only has one receiver (Steve Smith) who consistently gets open.
Of the 10 quarterbacks who have thrown more than five interceptions this season, just two of them (Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick) have winning records.
"It’s not good when you don’t win football games. It doesn’t feel good," Flacco said. "The thing is we’re out there and going through it, and we haven’t been good enough to win these games. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we know we just need to get better. That’s all we can do is put our head down and continue to try and get better. Just go out there and win a football game. We just haven’t found a way to do that yet.”
Monroe suffered a concussion in the first drive of the season opener and hasn't played since. He has missed nine games in the last two seasons for the Ravens after only sitting out three games in four-plus seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"You can't really control being injured," Monroe said. "I had some things happen that are just unfortunate, both last year and this year. I'm healthy now and preparing for this game on Sunday. That's all that matters."
Monroe dealt with a concussion while in Jacksonville and missed one game. He said he felt great at Wednesday's practice, where he wore a darkened visor to help with the sensitivity to sunlight.
James Hurst, who was the lowest-rated left tackle by Pro Football Focus, had filled in for Monroe this season.
"[I'm] anxious, but I'm just going to take care of business as usual," Monroe said.
Ravens injury report
Limited participation: G Marshal Yanda (ankle)
Full participation: OT Eugene Monroe (concussion)
The Ravens dropped four spots to No. 12, which is familiar territory for them. Last season, Baltimore ranked 12th or 13th in 11 of the 18 weeks of voting.
This wasn't even close to being the biggest fall in the Week 2 rankings. The Indianapolis Colts plummeted seven spots to No. 11. The Ravens and Colts were among the four teams that fell out of the top 10. The Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 13) and Philadelphia Eagles (No. 15) are the others.
The Ravens remain the second-highest ranked team in the AFC North. While the Cincinnati Bengals moved past Baltimore to No. 8, and the Steelers dropped below the Ravens at No. 13.
Williams, the first tight end selected in the draft, very likely will be the top rookie at his position, and he'll help fill the void left by Owen Daniels going to the Denver Broncos in free agency and Dennis Pitta remaining on the physically unable to perform list. He has great hands and has a knack for making plays (see the fourth down-and-20 conversion in the preseason opener).
History, though, says expectations should be tempered. This isn't just for Williams, but for all of the rookie tight ends, including Clive Walford (Raiders), Tyler Kroft (Bengals), Blake Bell (49ers) and MyCole Pruitt (Vikings).
In the last 10 seasons, there were just three rookie tight ends who caught more than 50 passes in their first season: John Carlson (2008), Jermaine Gresham (2010) and Tim Wright (2013). There were seven with over 500 yards receiving and eight with over four touchdown catches.
So, what should be the realistic goals for Williams? Based on the track record of rookie tight ends, 40 catches and 400 yards would be a very solid season.
While rookie wide receivers have been making more of an immediate impact recently, tight ends have been slower to develop in the NFL. They're being asked to block like an offensive lineman and run routes like a wide receiver.
The Ravens would be ecstatic if Williams made a bigger impact from the start. Baltimore traded second- and fifth-round picks to Arizona to move up in the second round to take Williams.
Still, the physicality of the NFL is going to be the biggest hurdle for Williams. He just turned 21 in April -- he's the youngest player on the Ravens by seven months -- and he'll likely need a full year in the Ravens' offseason conditioning program to get his body ready for the rigors of the league.
Williams has missed time this offseason because of a tweaked hamstring, an eye injury and a heat-related issue. He's currently been wearing a red, non-contact red jersey in practice, but coach John Harbaugh said it's precautionary and he expects Williams to be ready for the regular-season opener in Denver.
The Ravens haven't relied much on rookie tight ends throughout their history. Since 2001, only six rookie tight ends have even caught a pass for Baltimore.
Todd Heap, who caught the most passes by a tight end in franchise history, had a modest 16 receptions for 206 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. He was the understudy to Shannon Sharpe in 2001.
This will probably be a similar role for Williams. Even though Williams is the most natural pass-catcher among the Ravens' tight ends, Crockett Gillmore will be the starter because he's the most complete tight end.
But, given Pitta's uncertain future, Williams should develop into one of Joe Flacco's top targets for many years to come.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have reached the playoffs in two of the last three seasons by simply winning 10 games, but quarterback Joe Flacco believes the bar has been raised for this year's Ravens team.
“You might have some level of comfort as a fan if we’re on the verge of 10 wins, but I have a really tough time feeling good about that,” Flacco said in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. “I think it’s [gotten us in the playoffs] most of the years for us, but we want a handful more. I think we have the team to do it too. So I’d be a little bit disappointed if that’s all we came away with.”
Teams used to only need to focus on getting to double-digit wins in order to make the postseason. The Ravens, who have reached the playoffs in six of the last seven years, won't be satisfied with simply qualifying for the postseason this year.
In February, owner Steve Bisciotti noted that the only blemish for the team recently is not winning the AFC North on a more regular basis. In coach John Harbaugh's seven seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens have won the AFC North title twice (2011 and 2012).
"There’s a reason why Joe Flacco has more away-game wins in the playoffs than any other quarterback in history, because we keep sending his butt out there on the road," Bisciotti said.
Since Flacco became the starting quarterback in 2008, the Ravens have played 12 of their 14 playoff games on the road. That's the result of clinching more wild-card berths than division titles.
What's the magic number of victories to win the division? In Harbaugh's seven seasons in Baltimore, the AFC North champion has captured 11 wins five times.
“I don’t think we can rely on only winning 10 games and getting in. I think you want to at least get to that 11 number,” Flacco said. “When you talk about winning the division, you really want to at least get to 12-4 in order to have that happen. And even at that, it usually comes down to the last two games. It always manages to come down to that regular-season game with playoff implications on the line.”
More wins means more division titles, and more division titles means an easier path to another Super Bowl title.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Nose tackle Brandon Williams first showed off his freakish athleticism on video when he filmed himself walking on his hands at the Senior Bowl a couple of years ago. The 335-pound starting lineman from the Baltimore Ravens took it another level this week, when a 15-second clip of Williams dancing to Steve Aoki's "Boneless" went viral on social media.
Williams busted out some moves in an impromptu dance party inside the Ravens' locker room before a training camp practice. While the video included linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive end Lawrence Guy, Williams was the one who stole the show with a performance that seemed to blend hip hop with a weird form of exercise. The fact he was able to do so in full pads made it even more impressive.
"It was the dog days of training camp, some music came on and you start getting hyped," Williams said. "You got to make it fun and you got to love what you do."
Williams said he knew it was being filmed by teammate Chris Canty, and it was going to get posted on social media. He didn't expect this type of response.
The video has been shared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram more than 50,000 times. The Rockettes' official Twitter account retweeted Williams:
— Rockettes (@Rockettes) August 10, 2015
"I was watching the Rockettes since was I little kid on Christmas," Williams said. "So, I was like 'wow' when they tweeted me."
Williams said he doesn't have a name for the dance and is open for suggestions.
"I never knew me dancing and having fun around the locker room with Suggs and Lawrence Guy would be so crazy," Williams said.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 9, 2015
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- During Sunday's training camp practice, Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley rushed to the line of scrimmage where he collided with rookie running back Buck Allen and wrapped him up before bringing him to the ground.
It's a play that Mosley made about 100 times last season. The only difference now is all eyes are on his surgically repaired left wrist.
The good news for the Ravens is Mosley showed no hesitation in the first full-contact practices of camp over the weekend.
"So far, everything is going smooth," Mosley said. "The timing of the injury -- everything is healing at the right time. I'm protecting it, but still going all out. So, everything is going well."
A first-round pick from a year ago, Mosley led all NFL first-year players in tackles and finished second to Rams tackle Aaron Donald for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He became the first Ravens player to reach the Pro Bowl in his rookie season.
His performance is more remarkable considering he played six games with a broken wrist last season. For the record, he played the most snaps of any Ravens player last season, sitting out just 15 defensive plays in the regular season.
"I feel 100 percent," Mosley said. "I have all the confidence I can have with it. It's healed now, so I don't have any excuses."
The challenge for Mosley has been maintaining his upper-body strength. He hasn't been able to lift as much weight as he has been able to in the past because his wrist was in a cast for three months.
Mosley, though, isn't known for engaging linemen and shedding blocks. He has a good knack for slipping past blockers to make the tackle, so his game isn't totally reliant on power.
"The good thing [is] I maintained my weight, if anything," Mosley said. "But like I said, [I was] just working back into it with my wrist and everything as far as staying on the field and lifting weights. I'm going to be smart about it, but I'm definitely trying to maintain weight."
There are high expectations for Mosley after a stellar rookie season. Known for his intelligence and instincts, Mosley was a force all over the field. He was the only NFL player last season with at least 125 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.
"We're looking for C.J. to improve," coach John Harbaugh said. "Wherever you set the bar the year before, it's important to maintain a level head and improve and get better. If you're getting better every day, you certainly should get better between Year 1 and Year 2. I know sometimes guys who have [a] great Year 1 don't have [a] great Year Two -- don't follow it up -- but that should never be the case. If your head is screwed on the right way, you should have a better Year 2, and I believe C.J.'s head is screwed on the right way."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The largest and fiercest competition on the Baltimore Ravens' roster is at wide receiver. The Ravens are carrying 12 wide receivers right now, and only half are expected to make it when rosters are cut down to 53 players Sept. 5.
It's a battle among some of the youngest players on the team. Outside of Steve Smith, none of the other receivers are older than 26.
Kamar Aiken and Jeremy Butler separated themselves from the others during Saturday's practice. Both took advantage of increased reps due to the absences of Breshad Perriman (knee) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed).
Aiken made difficult grabs on two Matt Schaub passes that sailed behind him while running across the middle. Butler made another one-handed reception (the second straight day he's done so), and he pulled in a nice sideline catch from Schaub.
"There have been some tremendous plays out there each and every day," Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. "There’s really some tremendous competition outside of Steve [Smith], and everybody will be given a position -- for most of these guys -- to have a chance to work with Joe [Flacco]. We’re moving people around, and those guys continue to move forward and have good days, and they get another opportunity, and we just see how it all unfolds as we move through camp and the preseason games.”
The Ravens' receiving group is composed of one Pro Bowl player (Smith), two rookie draft picks (Perriman and Darren Waller), two returning backups (Brown and Michael Campanaro), two veterans who previously played elsewhere in the league (Aiken and Aldrick Robinson), two undrafted rookies (DeAndre Carter and Daniel Brown), one first-year player coming off injured reserve (Butler) and two converted receivers (Tom Nelson was a safety and Trent Steelman was a college quarterback).