It’s time to take stock of the Ravens roster again.
I like to split the roster into 5 qualitative categories relative to the ultimate master, the salary cap. Note all snap numbers and percentages are for the regular season.
Young Producers (4): Chuck Clark, Marlon Humphrey, Matthew Judon, Michael Pierce
These are players on their first contract who are already starting (or should be) and are playing well. A team needs as many of these players as possible to continually outperform the salary cap.
Humphrey, the team’s 2018 MVP, has been the best defender in 2019 with a hand in 4 turnovers as he has often trailed the opponent’s best receiver.
Chuck Clark stepped in as the signal caller at strong safety when Tony Jefferson was injured. In addition to his own fine play and versatility, the fact he’s wearing the green dot allows for substitution for both ILB spots. That helped fill a gaping hole in the Ravens pass defense.
Judon and Pierce will both be UFAs at the end of the season. The Ravens will some cap space due to an inexpensive offense, but they also have big contract extensions expected for Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey over the next 2 seasons. IMO, they can only afford to resign 1 of Judon, Pierce, and Marcus Peters.
Since January, Patrick Onwuasor dropped to the transitional category, Tavon Young moved to market value, and Chuck Clark was added from developmental.
Developmental (10): Anthony Averett, Tyus Bowser, Maurice Canady, Deshon Elliott, Jaylon Ferguson, Cyrus Jones, Daylon Mack, Iman Marshall, Jihad Ward, Chris Wormley
These players are all still on their rookie deals, but something is holding them back from consistent performance, a starting role, or both. We hope that most, if not all, of these players will emerge to be young producers quickly. In truth, some are running out of time to do so. Since this group is both critical and crowded, let’s look individually to see why I have tagged them as I have and what each needs to do to move up:
· Averett: He has taken a step back with early struggles, but has continued to see action in DB-heavy packages due to injuries. Still 2 and a half years of team control.
· Bowser: Tyus has played 119 snaps and is on pace to nearly double his career total for snaps, but more was needed and Harbaugh has been critical (but nonspecific) of him. He’s generated some pressure the last few weeks and will be asked to do more down the stretch with the Ravens injuries. I do not believe his 2020 spot is in jeopardy, particularly if Judon leaves in free agency.
· Canady: He played well until he was beaten by Erickson and Tate of the Bengals. Once Smith returns, he’ll probably be on the bench until there is another injury. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal in 2019 and his versatility makes him a valuable backup.
· Elliott: We saw another flash of what he could do on all 3 levels this season. He will be in the Ravens plans for 2020 and beyond.
· Ferguson: Jaylon is getting a trial by fire as a rookie with the shortage of talent at OLB. He has lined up inside in the racecar package and should continue to do so with Ward. The Ravens leaned on him for 44 snaps against Seattle and need to find a way to moderate his snaps. He’s played 127 snaps in 5 games. Barring injury, he should finish close to 400 for the season.
· Jones: The Ravens are 4th in the NFL in punt return average at 10.6. He doesn’t return kickoffs and has played just 12 snaps defensively. While the Ravens are getting value from his rookie deal, he can’t move up without a bigger role.
· Mack: Daylon was active for the Cleveland game in place of Brandon Williams, but played just 8 snaps and has since been inactive in favor of Zach Sieler. The Raves may need him to take Pierce’s spot in 2020
· Marshall: He was placed on IR immediately after initial rosters were formed and is eligible to begin practicing. The Ravens may be trying to time his return when it will have the most impact.
· Ward: He was a fine mid-season street pickup by DeCosta who has now played 57 snaps the last 2 weeks and generated a QH plus 5 other pressures as I scored it.
· Wormley: He’s 3rd in snaps among the defensive lineman at 165 (Pierce 237, Williams 191) , but needs to make a bigger impact as a pass rusher to move up.
The names that left this group since January: Chris Board (transitional), Chuck Clark (young producer), Willie Henry (released), Tim Williams (released), and Kenny Young (traded).
Veterans Playing for Market Value (9): Josh Bynes, Brandon Carr, LJ Fort, Anthony Levine, Pernell McPhee, Marcus Peters, Earl Thomas, Brandon Williams, Tavon Young
A large chunk of the cap is (or will be) spent here and these players are the ones (generally) who are worth it. This group includes 4 players currently under contract for 2020 and 5 others who will be UFAs.
Bynes, Fort, and McPhee have all played well at a bargain price thus far in 2019. Any of the 3 should be available for 2020 at a reasonable price. I think Fort may be most likely to resign for a 2-year contract to provide depth and special teams value. Levine will also be UFA after the season. His high-leverage role as the dime and the role he plays on special teams may have more value to the Ravens than other teams.
Brandon Williams is not going anywhere for 2020, particularly if Michael Pierce is lost to free agency. Similarly, Earl Thomas and Tavon Young are each in the first year of multi-year deals and will still be in Baltimore next season.
Brandon Carr’s durability has continued to be the North Star for the Ravens defense. He’s played 93% of the Ravens defensive snaps and done so playing wherever the team needed him. He’s held opposing receivers to a catch rate under 60% and a QBR well under the league average. The team has an option for 2020 which remains valuable.
Marcus Peters will be a free agent as well. The Ravens may choose to franchise him (I don’t think they are as likely to for either Pierce or Judon).
Veteran Cap/Value Concerns (2): Tony Jefferson, Jimmy Smith
Smith will be UFA at the end of this season. It’s difficult to construct circumstances where he’ll be back given the investment the Ravens already have in the secondary. His injury was costly to the Ravens both in terms of his 2019 play and the potential loss of a compensatory pick.
Tony Jefferson has been a fine player for 3 seasons with the Ravens, but enters the final year of his deal with a potential cap savings of $7 million. Given Clark’s play, the timing of his injury was not optimal.
Transitional (9): Otaro Alaka, Chris Board, Bennett Jackson, Ufombo Kamalu, Patrick Onwuaor, Jordan Richards, Zach Sieler, Fish Smithson, Brynden Trawick
I see no obvious future as a contributor for any of these players. Many are on IR and some will be UFAs at the end of this season.
Alaka, Smithson, and Trawick are all on IR. Trawick is the most likely to be back in a special teams role, particularly since he has the versatility to play dime or quarter. Board, Jackson, Kamalu, and Sieler are all either on their rookie deals or ERFAs. Any one of them might emerge to be developmental or even a young producer, but the window is closing on each. Richards and Onwuasor will be UFAs at the end of the season.
Special thanks to Brian McFarland, to whose contract details I referred frequently while writing these pieces.