AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was shocked by one observation made at Wednesday's pre-draft news conference.
"It was up until you said that that I didn't realize we haven't drafted an offensive player [in the first round] in [six years]," Newsome said. "Since who?"
The last offensive player taken by the Ravens in the first round was offensive tackle Michael Oher in 2009. The Ravens are one of three teams not to take an offensive player in the first round in the past five drafts. The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders are the others. Over that time, 27 of the 32 NFL teams have drafted multiple offensive players in the first round.
This isn't to suggest the Ravens are blatantly ignoring the offensive side of the ball. In most cases, it's just the way the draft has played out. The Ravens might have taken Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant if the wide receivers weren't drafted a couple spots ahead of Baltimore in the 2010 draft. And it might've been a tough decision in the first round last season for the Ravens if guard Zack Martin hadn't been picked by the Cowboys.
"I don't go in with any preference as to what side of the ball [we choose]," Newsome said. "Sometimes there are more needs on defense, and the board is set up that way, so we tend to stay with the board. But I don't go in with any preconceived ideas that I'm not going to draft offensive players -- I'm an offensive player myself -- but I do believe you win with defense."
The Ravens have gone heavy on defense beyond the first round. Since 2010, the Ravens have selected 16 players in the first three rounds and only six have been offensive players: tight end Ed Dickson, wide receiver Torrey Smith, offensive lineman Jah Reid, guard Kelechi Osemele, running back Bernard Pierce and tight end Crockett Gillmore. Only Osemele and Gillmore figure to have a meaningful roles on the Ravens this season.
This trend hasn't been too much of a detriment to the offense. The Ravens won the 2012 Super Bowl on the strength of their offense, and they achieved their highest offensive ranking in 17 years (No. 12) in 2014.
But this draft will be an important one for the Ravens' offense. After losing Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in free agency, the Ravens have to find more targets in the passing game. Joe Flacco, the only current offensive player on the Ravens who was selected in the first round by Baltimore, needs a stronger supporting cast.
Harbaugh remembers Thomas was part of an officiating crew that worked a Ravens preseason game last year. She will be a line judge for the 2015 season, the NFL announced Wednesday.
"She did a good job," Harbaugh said Wednesday. "She might be one of the better ones we've had. So, it's about time. Get these guys straightened out a little bit. Get some gals in there. She's a good ref, so it was a good choice."
Harbaugh said his approach with Thomas will not differ with how he deals with the other officials.
The Ravens weren't going to pay a backup offensive lineman $1.542 million. They needed the cap room. And they had two players who could easily step into Gradkowski's role.
Three weeks later, it makes sense on why the Ravens held onto Gradkowski. General manager Ozzie Newsome got a little something for a player who didn't project to make the team because of his inflated salary.
On Wednesday, the Ravens traded Gradkowski and a 2016 draft pick to the Broncos in exchange for a 2016 selection from Denver. According to ESPN's Ed Werder, the Ravens will receive the Broncos' fourth-round pick in next year's draft and give up a fifth-rounder to Denver. That's a nice bump for a player who was on the field for eight offensive snaps a year ago for the Ravens.
The Ravens' patience certainly paid off. Newsome was willing to wait and see if some team wanted to bolster depth on the interior offensive line even though the Ravens could've used the extra cap room. Perhaps the Ravens knew of the Broncos' need there and the fondness that coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison had for Gradkowski when they were in Baltimore last season.
By trading Gradkowski, the Ravens net about $1 million in salary-cap space. That should give them about $7 million in cap room.
Gradkowski, a fourth-round pick in 2012, proved to be a disappointment. He started one full season (2013), and he was rated as the worst center that season by Pro Football Focus. Gradkowski was undersized and got overpowered at times.
Last offseason, Gradkowski was replaced in the starting lineup by Jeremy Zuttah, who was acquired from Tampa Bay for a 2015 fifth-round pick. Gradkowski was inactive for eight of the Ravens' final nine regular-season games. The Ravens can use either John Urschel or Ryan Jensen to back up Zuttah this season.
With Gradkowski gone, the Ravens are down to 13 players from their 2012 Super Bowl team (53-man roster): QB Joe Flacco, G Kelechi Osemele, G Marshal Yanda, LB Terrell Suggs, LB Courtney Upshaw, LB Albert McClellan, DT DeAngelo Tyson, P Sam Koch, K Justin Tucker, CB Jimmy Smith, TE Dennis Pitta, LS Morgan Cox and CB Asa Jackson.
A look at how the Baltimore Ravens currently stand with their depth chart nearly three weeks into free agency:
RG: Marshal Yanda, Urschel
RT: Rick Wagner, Hurst
Breaking it down: The Ravens are only set along the offensive line. There is a need to upgrade at wide receiver and tight end through either free agency or the draft. It's unlikely that the Ravens will go with Aiken or Brown as a starting wide receiver. The Ravens have limited options in free agency (Michael Crabtree or Greg Jennings) but have several choices in the first couple of rounds in the draft. It would be beneficial for the Ravens to bring in an experienced tight end (perhaps Zach Miller after he's medically cleared) because Gillmore and Supernaw have a combined one career start. The Ravens might also draft a running back somewhere in the first three rounds.
OLB: Terrell Suggs
Breaking it down: The biggest question marks are depth at cornerback and in the pass rush. The Ravens don't have a proven No. 3 cornerback after Smith and Webb, both of whom have an extensive injury history. There is a drop-off in the pass rush after Suggs and Dumervil. The Ravens are hoping Upshaw can replace Pernell McPhee, who provided pressure up the middle as well as on the edge. This would be the right time to add a young pass-rusher from the draft because Suggs and Dumervil are both over the age of 30 and Upshaw is entering the final year of his contract.
P: Sam Koch
PR-KR: Campanaro or Jackson
Breaking it down: Tucker is one of the top kickers in the game and Koch bounced back last season. The Ravens need to find a replacement for Jacoby Jones, who was the team's returner for the past three seasons. Campanaro appears to be the top candidate to take over as returner, but coach John Harbaugh wouldn't commit to him at the NFL owners meetings last week. Jackson is another option on the current roster.
PHOENIX -- Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month that everyone will probably find out before April whether running back Ray Rice will get a second chance to play in the NFL.
With April quickly approaching, Rice has had no reported talks or visits with any teams. Defensive linemen Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald were signed this month after they faced domestic violence charges, but Rice is still searching for a job after being reinstated four months ago.
At the NFL owners meetings, two coaches with ties to Rice -- the Ravens' John Harbaugh and the Colts' Chuck Pagano -- both said they hope Rice gets a second chance. Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who was Rice's offensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013, said he believes some team will give Rice a second chance.
But no team has stepped up to do it. There have been 16 running backs who have signed deals in the first 15 days of free agency, including the Raiders signing Trent Richardson and his 3.3-yard per carry average.
What works against Rice is there are available free-agent backs such as Pierre Thomas and Stevan Ridley who don't carry the off-the-field baggage, and there are impact runners who can be drafted in the first four rounds. The biggest concerns about Rice as a player are his career-worst 3.1-yards per carry average in 2013, his age (28) and his wear and tear (fourth-most carries in the NFL from 2009 to 2013) at a position where teams are always looking to get younger.
The major hurdle, of course, is his domestic violence incident on Feb. 15, when he struck his then-fiancee unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City elevator.
"I think each team looks at their situation individually and looks at each player individually," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I think that's why you see players get second chances. It's just a comfort level the club, the organization from the top down ends up with that particular player and that situation because as we know when you take these things on, the fire storm that can come with it. Everybody has to be on board. It reaches such a broad place of who it affects. It affects a lot."
One team that would make sense for Rice is the Lions. Detroit released running back Reggie Bush, and Caldwell has familiarity with Rice.
Asked if the Lions would be interested in Rice, Caldwell said Wednesday, "I don't foresee that, to be plain and simple. There has to be a need and a fit in all areas. At this point in time, he's not a fit for us."
Caldwell said he believes some team will sign Rice, and Harbaugh hopes that will be the case.
"I still support the Rice family, and Ray Rice as a friend and want to see what's best for him," he said. "Like anybody you've been close to, you want things to work out well for them. That's the way we feel about Janay and Ray."
Pagano, who knew Rice from his four seasons as a Ravens' assistant, said Rice deserves a second chance. The Colts, however, chose to running back Frank Gore, 31, instead of Rice this offseason.
"I hope and pray that Ray gets an opportunity, because I know there's still gas left in the tank, so to speak," Pagano told CBS Sports. "And if somebody gives him that opportunity, I know he'll make them proud, and I know he'll make good on that opportunity."
There are plenty of coaches saying Rice should get a second chance, but it's still unknown whether a team will actually give it to him.
The Baltimore Ravens' rule proposal was one of five that passed at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday. All five are designed to increase player safety.
The Ravens' rule prohibits players from pushing teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation when a team presents a punt formation.
"We thought it should be in there to begin with just because, if you're going to do it with the field goals, why not do it with the punts?" coach John Harbaugh said. "It's more of a clean-up type of a proposal."
PHOENIX -- All of the AFC coaches met with reporters Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings, and here are the highlights of the hour-long breakfast with Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh:
- Harbaugh expressed confidence that young defensive linemen Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams will fill the void left by Haloti Ngata. "There’s no reason we can’t be a great defense and a great defensive front next year," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens are still looking to add an experienced backup quarterback. Their top two quarterbacks right now are Joe Flacco and Keith Wenning, a sixth-round pick who spent his entire rookie season on the practice squad. "Keith Wenning has a good future. I like Keith," Harbaugh said. "But we’re looking to upgrade everywhere at all times."
- The target date for Rick Wagner's return is training camp, according to Harbaugh. Wagner, the starting right tackle, suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 16.
- Harbaugh said safety Matt Elam, a 2013 first-round pick, has to become a good player. "That’s his burden to bear, along with us as coaches to do everything we can to help him get there," Harbaugh said. "We’re going to do our best to make that happen."
- Harbaugh expressed disappointment for backup running back Bernard Pierce, who was released after getting arrested for drunken driving. "Bernard is a guy that I would say we both have grown close over the years through just personal conversations and what he’s been through with his life," Harbaugh said. "I consider him a friend, and I want to see what’s best for him. He’s made some choices that have hurt him. Hopefully, he can rebound from that."
- Harbaugh is hoping another team gives running back Ray Rice a second chance. "I still support the Rice family, and Ray Rice as a friend, and want to see what’s best for him," Harbaugh said. "Like anybody you’ve been close to, you want things to work out well for them. That’s the way we feel about Janay and Ray."
- There was no update on tight end Dennis Pitta, who has had hip surgeries in consecutive seasons. "I think we’ll know more in the summer, hopefully," Harbaugh said. "In the end, it’s going to be up to Dennis."
- Harbaugh was noncommittal on who would replace Jacoby Jones as the team's primary returner, although he did say Michael Campanaro will be in the mix. "I look at like it’s March, and we need a returner by September," Harbaugh said.
- The Ravens have talked with a couple of teams about holding a joint practice similar to what the team did with the 49ers last summer. "It’s not an easy thing to make work," Harbaugh said. "I know a lot of different coaches are talking to a lot of different coaches about doing that right now. We’ll see."
- Harbaugh was extremely complimentary of safety Kendrick Lewis, the team's only free-agent addition from another team. "I think his best football is ahead of him," Harbaugh said.
- Harbaugh supports a proposal from John Madden that would make it illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation. "That was why they created ineligible and eligible jersey numbers, so you could look at him and say he’s eligible and he’s not," Harbaugh said. "Now we go through kind of a circus act where we’ve got to identify who’s eligible and who’s not with signals. That’s what got the referees in trouble."
The Baltimore Ravens were awarded three compensatory picks on Monday, increasing their total to 10 picks for the 2015 NFL draft. The draft will be held April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.
Here is a quick look at how those picks break down:
First round (one pick, No. 26 overall)
Second round (one pick)
Third round (one pick)
Sixth round (one, traded their original sixth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a 2014 seventh-rounder which they used to select wide receiver Michael Campanaro, and acquired the Cowboys' sixth-rounder in Rolando McClain trade)
Seventh round (none, traded their seventh-round pick to Cowboys as part of the McClain deal, acquired the Dolphins' seventh-rounder in the Bryant McKinnie trade and gave that Dolphins' seventh-rounder to Lions as part of Ngata trade)
The NFL is expected to hand out 32 compensatory picks at the owners meetings Monday evening, and the Baltimore Ravens will learn if they're going to get an additional three or four picks for the 2015 draft.
It's been long projected that the Ravens will receive at least three compensatory picks for losing defensive lineman Arthur Jones (Indianapolis), offensive tackle Michael Oher (Tennessee) and cornerback Corey Graham (Buffalo) in free agency last offseason. The Ravens will likely get a fourth-round pick for Jones, a fifth-rounder for Oher and a sixth-rounder for Graham, according to overthecap.com.
Whether the Ravens are awarded a maximum fourth compensatory pick for the third straight year depends on tight end Ed Dickson qualifying as one. Compensatory picks are weighted based on salary and playing time. Dickson signed a one-year veteran minimum contract ($795,000) with Carolina Panthers in 2014 and played 47.3 percent of the snaps. As I wrote earlier this month, Dickson is considered to be "on the bubble" and could give the Ravens one of the last seventh-round picks in the draft.
The number of compensatory picks comes from the Ravens' net loss in free agency last offseason. The Ravens lost five significant unrestricted free agents -- Jones, Oher, Graham, safety James Ihedigbo (Detroit) and Dickson -- and they signed only one in safety Darian Stewart from St. Louis. It just depends on whether all of those free agents qualify in the compensatory-pick formula.
Last year, the Ravens used compensatory picks to draft tight end Crockett Gillmore (third round), defensive end Brent Urban (fourth round), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth round) and guard John Urschel (fifth round). Gilmore, Taliaferro and Urschel all made an impact for the Ravens in 2014, and Urban is expected to compete for a starting job this season.
Compiling compensatory picks has been a strength of the Ravens over the years. They have received 41 compensatory picks since they were first awarded in 1994. That is eight more than any other team in the NFL, and the Ravens didn't exist until 1996.
Here is the complete list of the Ravens' 41 compensatory picks:
- 1997: LB Cornell Brown (sixth round), QB Wally Richardson (seventh), S Ralph Staten (seventh) and DT Leland Taylor (seventh)
- 1998: TE Cam Quayle (seventh)
- 1999: G Edwin Mulitalo (fourth)
- 2002: WR Javin Hunter (sixth), RB Chester Taylor (sixth) and S Chad Williams (sixth)
- 2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth), OT Tony Pashos (fifth), C Mike Mabry (seventh) and S Antwoine Sanders (seventh)
- 2004: WR Clarence Moore (sixth), WR Derek Abney (seventh) and G Brian Rimpf (seventh)
- 2005: QB Derek Anderson (sixth)
- 2006: RB P.J. Daniels (fourth), TE Quinn Sypniewski (fifth), P Sam Koch (sixth) and DB Derrick Martin (sixth)
- 2007: LB Antwan Barnes (fourth), FB Le'Ron McClain (fourth), QB Troy Smith (fifth) and LB Prescott Burgess (sixth)
- 2008: OT Oniel Cousins (third), OL David Hale (fourth), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth) and RB Allen Patrick (seventh)
- 2011: CB Chykie Brown (fifth) and DE-LB Pernell McPhee (fifth)
- 2012: S Christian Thompson (fourth) and CB Asa Jackson (fifth)
- 2013: FB Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), OT Rick Wagner (fifth), C Ryan Jensen (sixth) and CB Marc Anthony (seventh)
- 2014: TE Crockett Gillmore (third), DE Brent Urban (fourth) RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth) and G John Urschel (fifth)
Wenning, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, likely won't be handed the No. 2 spot behind Joe Flacco because of his limited experience. He threw 17 passes in the preseason.
In the past, the Ravens added veteran quarterbacks such as Curtis Painter (2012) and Caleb Hanie (2013) in the middle of April. They waited until the end of June to sign Marc Bulger in 2010.
A bad free-agent class for quarterbacks has become even thinner 10 days into free agency. Mark Sanchez (Eagles), Brian Hoyer (Texans), Jake Locker (retired), Josh McCown (Browns) and Christian Ponder (Raiders) have all signed.
There are two quarterbacks who have connections with the Ravens' coaching staff. Michael Vick worked under Ravens quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg with the Eagles and Jets, and Jordan Palmer spent parts of the previous two years with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman in Chicago. Palmer was considered the No. 2 quarterback for the Bears entering last year's training camp before he was beaten out by Jimmy Clausen.
Here are the top five quarterbacks left in the free-agent market:
1. Matt Moore, Dolphins: Moore can get the ball downfield and is capable of winning games in a pinch. He's 11-12 as a starter but has only thrown 10 passes the past two seasons as Ryan Tannehill's backup in Miami. Moore, 30, is too expensive for the Ravens (he made $4 million last year), and he likely doesn't want to go from sitting behind Tannehill to doing the same behind Flacco.
2. Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks: He's only 31 and he's thrown over 1,000 career passes. Jackson has only attempted 14 throws the last two seasons, but he has looked strong the past two preseasons. He's four years removed from being a starter for Seattle, and he's thrown 39 career touchdowns and 35 interceptions. Jackson has expressed an interest in returning to the Seahawks, and he talked about going back to the Vikings to back up Teddy Bridgewater. He just visited the Dolphins.
3. Jason Campbell, Bengals: He's an underrated backup who has spent the past two seasons in the AFC North (Browns and Bengals). Campbell, 33, still has good arm strength, but he gets himself in trouble with a long release and questionable decision-making. It was only two years ago when he started for the Browns and beat the Ravens.
4. Matt Schaub, Raiders: He flamed out in his seventh season in Houston (five interceptions were returned for touchdowns), and he was easily beaten out by rookie Derek Carr in Oakland last year. The state of Schaub's confidence has to be a concern. But Schaub, 33, has the best track record of the remaining quarterbacks. He won 40 games in a five-year stretch (2008-12) with the Texans, throwing for over 4,000 yards three times.
5. Michael Vick, Jets: The biggest name left among the available quarterbacks, Vick remains a freakish athlete at 34. But he looked ragged in his three starts for the Jets last season (going 1-2), and some observers suggested he was unprepared and mentally checked out. Vick's playing style doesn't appear to be a good fit for Trestman's offense, and Vick might not want to spend one of his last NFL seasons holding a clipboard for 16 games.
The Ravens cut Pierce hours after he was arrested for drunken driving, which, strangely enough, might have put him in a better position to make a team.
With the Ravens, Pierce was going to be on the roster bubble all training camp because he was no better than the No. 3 running back behind Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro. He would've become a long shot to survive the final cuts if the Ravens decide to draft a running back.
Now, he joins a Jaguars team that finished No. 21 in the NFL in rushing. Jacksonville's top running backs are Toby Gerhart -- a disappointing free-agent pickup from a year ago -- and Denard Robinson, a converted college quarterback.
You can make an argument that the Ravens did Pierce a favor by releasing him and allowing him to get picked up by a team with a more unsettled running back situation.
Hours before it was announced that he had been picked up by the Jaguars, Pierce posted this on his Twitter account:
God works in mysterious ways =O
— Bernard Pierce (@BPierce_30) March 19, 2015
With everything the Baltimore Ravens have said and done this offseason, their only real option was to cut running back Bernard Pierce after he was arrested and charged with driving under the influence.
The Ravens made it clear they have a lower threshold of tolerance for off-the-field behavior. They backed it up when they swiftly parted ways with nose tackle Terrence Cody and cornerback Victor Hampton over the past two months.
Cutting Pierce was the move the Ravens had to make if they wanted to maintain this strong stance on players who get arrested.
Releasing Pierce doesn't send a strong message. Let's be honest: Pierce plummeted to the bottom of the depth chart by the end of the season and is just a notch above Cody and Hampton in terms of importance.
This is about salvaging reputation. Nine members of the Ravens' organization, including eight players, have been arrested in the past 13 months, from Valentine's Day 2014 to St. Patrick's Day 2015.
Three weeks ago, Ravens officials said the five arrests the past offseason were "an aberration." Since that time, two players have been arrested and charged with drunk driving.
It's an embarrassment for a franchise that had very little off-the-field trouble in coach John Harbaugh's first six seasons. A team should be held accountable for the character of the players it signs or drafts. A team should be held even more accountable when those players get arrested and do so at a disturbing rate.
The Ravens established a precedent of holding players to higher standards when they cut Cody and Hampton this offseason. The team announced the release of Cody when an animal abuse investigation had just begun and parted ways with Hampton a day after team officials learned of his drunken driving arrest.
Continuing this hard-line stance is going to be popular among a fan base that is tiring of these incidents. But it sets the Ravens up for a difficult situation if a star player gets in trouble. That's when the decision might not be as black and white.
Pierce made the decision easier with how he mishandled the situation. According to charging documents, Pierce asked the arresting officer if "the incident could be kept off the books."
He also told the arresting officer, "Do you know what happened the last time a Ravens player got a DUI? I'm getting cut tomorrow -- not like you care."
Pierce knew what was going to happen. Let's see if the players currently on the Ravens' roster will learn from their former teammates' mistakes.
The Ravens and Green Bay Packers are the only teams in the NFL who have not signed a free agent from another team. This information comes from ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky, who did all of the legwork for a blog post (which I am blatantly stealing from).
Followers of both franchises shouldn't be surprised by this. They share a philosophy of building through the draft, which has been a proven formula.
Since 2008, the Ravens and Packers are among the three winningest teams in the NFL (the Patriots are first). It should also be noted that the Ravens and Packers have both made the postseason six times in the last seven seasons.
Comparatively, the most active teams in free agency have been the Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders, both of whom signed a league-high seven players from other teams. During the last two seasons, the Falcons and Raiders have combined for a 17-47 (.265) record.
The Ravens will eventually sign a free agent, and let's hope it's going to be a wide receiver and tight end for quarterback Joe Flacco's sake. On the team's current roster, there is only one wide receiver or tight end who caught more than 25 passes last season (wide receiver Steve Smith).
The bigger debate is figuring out where Ngata ranks among the Ravens' all-time great players. Any such list has to start with linebacker Ray Lewis at the top of it and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and safety Ed Reed right behind. I put Ogden at No. 2, although many argue Reed is the second-best player in team history.
When looking at No. 4, it's between running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Terrell Suggs. Both were named the NFL's top player on their side of the ball during their careers (Lewis won Offensive Player of the Year in 2003 and Suggs received Defensive Player of the Year in 2011), and Ray Lewis and Reed are the only Ravens who achieved this. The nod goes to Jamal Lewis, who carried the Ravens' offense for years when it had no quarterback or wide receivers. The Ravens don't win their first Super Bowl without Lewis and that record-setting defense.
Ngata comes in at No. 6. He was considered the best defensive lineman in the game before Ndamukong Suh entered the league in 2010. His combination of brute strength and rare athleticism for his size allowed him to dominate up front, where he proved to be the foundation of the team's run defense for nearly a decade. Since his first season in 2006, the Ravens allowed six fewer rushing touchdowns than anyone else in the NFL and limited teams to 92.5 yards rushing per game (second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers).
Other players who could be considered for No. 6 are kicker Matt Stover, cornerback Chris McAlister, tight end Todd Heap and guard Marshal Yanda. But none could beat Ngata's body of work, which includes five Pro Bowls, five All-Pro honors and one Super Bowl title.