The 2018-19 NFL season officially concluded on Sunday, and it is officially time for every team to look ahead to next season. For the Baltimore Ravens, this means addressing some of the many glaring needs that plagued them before their eventual dismissal in their AFC wild-card matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers.
2018 was a mixed bag for the Ravens. They were able to win six out of seven games to conclude the season but their offense was embarrassed in their biggest game of the year. Head coach John Harbaugh rebranded the offense midseason and it led to the Ravens having virtually no passing game after week nine. Lamar Jackson averaged a measly 159.1 passing yards a game as a starter, dropping the Ravens passing attack to third worst in the NFL over his seven starts. However, the run game became electric under this system as Jackson helped the Ravens have the most productive rushing attack in the NFL. It wasn’t close either. Between week 11 and 17, Baltimore led all teams in rushing by nearly 400 yards.
The only constant through it all was the play of the defense. Baltimore finished the year allowing the least yards against in the NFL while giving up second fewest points.
The defense was king for the Ravens in 2018 but that doesn’t mean new general manager Eric DeCosta is going to rest on what Ozzie Newsome left for him. Like all teams, Baltimore has holes and DeCosta must at least attempt to fill them when free agency opens March 13th. Projected at having around $34 million in cap space post-Joe Flacco cut/trade, Baltimore has a lot more money to work with than in recent years. These are five players the Ravens could potentially target in free agency.
Five Baltimore Ravens Free Agent Targets for 2019
5. Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) – Edge/Outside Linebacker
Clowney had another solid year in 2018 playing as part of one of the best linebacking cores in the NFL. He racked up nine sacks for his second year in a row and was one of the best run defending edge defenders in the entire NFL. There’s a good chance that Clowney is either resigned long-term or franchised tagged by the Texans before free agency opens in March. That, along with the hefty contract he will command, should also keep the Ravens out of the race to sign the former first-overall draft pick. However, Clowney is exactly what the Ravens are looking for in an outside linebacker. He is an athletic freak, a great run stopper, a good pass rusher and can be moved around the line of scrimmage presnap like the Ravens typically do with their players.
Clowney fits exactly the needs the Ravens have on defense despite already being one of the best units in the NFL. He would replace the inevitable hole Za’Darius Smith is about to vacate so that Matt Judon could take a larger role behind Terrell Suggs as a pure pass rusher. Clowney would then play a hybrid role closer to what Judon played in 2018. The Ravens largest defensive area of concern in 2018 was the pass rush and the ageing of Suggs and departure Smith won’t help. Baltimore finished 11th in sacks in 2018 (43.0) but 11 came in one game. After the onslaught week six against the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens totalled more sacks than only the Oakland Raiders.
Clowney could become the perfect Raven but it’s hard to imagine DeCosta making a splash like this in his first year as a general manager.
4. Tyrell Williams (Los Angeles Chargers) – Wide Receiver
The Ravens wide receiver position has been a revolving door the past couple and was taken to a new level in 2018. Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead and two rookie tight ends (Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst) were brought in to give, then Flacco, a new look offense with each unique player bringing something else to the table. This mishmash could’ve been uprooted like the ones in previous years but as of now, the only one set to leave Baltimore is Brown. Brown had a solid year when Flacco was starting, posting 601 yards and four TDs in nine games, but has likely made good on his prove-it deal and priced himself out of Baltimore.
To fill that need for big play ability, the Ravens could look be looking at the Chargers Williams. Though he is not really a deep threat at 6’4″ 205 lbs, Williams consistently finds himself open downfield. Only nine other receivers had more plays of 40+ yards. Williams play has dipped since his breakout 1059 yard sophomore season in 2016, but that was to be expected with the return of Keenan Allen. In his two seasons since, he’s registered back-to-back 40 catch, 650+ yard seasons. That kind of production and skill set is exactly what Jackson needs in a third receiver.
Williams price should be relatively affordable for the Ravens as well. The free agent wide receiver class is incredibly shallow but very few players look like they will command to be overpaid. The Ravens and Williams just look like a solid match if the money is right.
3. Tevin Coleman (Atlanta Falcons) – Running Back
Whether Harbaugh can turn Jackson into a better passer in his second season remains to be seen but the Ravens are still going to continue to pound the ball in 2019 regardless. They used a large committee of back in 2018 but their two best passing-down backs are leaving via free agency. This leaves Baltimore with three backs that do not catch the ball particularly well in an NFL that is moving heavily towards receiving backs as the standard. Tevin Coleman is certain to hit the open market with Devonta Freeman still having four years remaining on his $41.25 million contract and the Ravens should likely be one of the teams in on the former Indiana back.
In 2018, Coleman had a successful but under the radar season as part of an up-and-down Falcons offence. Freeman’s week one injury paved the way for Coleman to grab starter duties but Atlanta frequently found themselves down in games. This meant they were only able to rush the ball the third least in the NFL. Despite that lack of consistency, Coleman ran for a career-high in rushing yards, and yards per attempt as well as a career-high five receiving touchdowns. That versatility as a runner and ability to also line up as a receiver could give the Ravens one of the most unique running attacks in the NFL. His price tag probably won’t be as pricey as Freeman’s either.
Though general running back is not a concern for the Ravens, they need someone who can catch screens and shift around in the backfield.
2. Rodger Saffold (Los Angeles Rams) – Guard
Three years ago, Kelechi Osemele left Baltimore in free agency for the Raiders and since, have been trying to fill that void. Alex Lewis has essentially been the Ravens’ answer to losing Osemele but missed all of 2017 and six games in 2018 with multiple different injuries. Lewis is entering the final year of his rookie contract and if the Ravens don’t think they can rely on him in 2019, they need another answer to shore up the left guard position. No other player on the Ravens roster looks like a better fit than Lewis and considering the lack of depth in the draft at the guard position, free agency looks like the most obvious solution.
What might makes Saffold a harder buy for the Ravens is that he is coming off another great season as part of perhaps the best offensive line in football. To Baltimore’s taste, he is a very strong run blocker and still a solid pass blocker. At 31 years old, Saffold is still the most attractive name of a very shallow class of guards. If he doesn’t command a ridiculous amount of money, it is very plausible that the Ravens try to make a move for him. Signing a starting left guard in free agency could make the Ravens offensive line one of the better units in the NFL and only leaves the centre position as a one of uncertainty. Saffold has only missed two games over the past three seasons.
1. C.J. Mosley (Baltimore Ravens) – Middle Linebacker
Even if Mosley is still currently a Raven, he needs to be the biggest signing priority of the Ravens offseason. Since being drafted out of Alabama in 2014, Mosley has been the best player on an often impressive Ravens defence. He is a tackling machine, surprisingly athletic, and could become the next big Ravens defensive leader after the retirements of Suggs and Eric Weddle. There is also no one waiting in the wings to replace Mosley. Patrick Onwuasor is the closest thing and he only has one year left remaining on his contract after three straight years of nowhere close to his partner’s production. Mosley has led the Ravens in tackles in three of the five years he’s been on the team.
Signing interior linebackers is a tricky thing. They are some of the most important players on defence but do not demand as much money as corners and pass rushers. Judging by how the Ravens paid Brandon Williams two seasons ago, Mosley should most likely get a contract in the ballpark of five year(s)/$52.5 million. It would be the exact same money and terms of Williams and would be slightly more than the identical five year(s)/$50 million contracts Eric Kendricks and Benardrick McKinney received in 2018. This would make Mosley the fourth highest paid interior linebacker in the NFL with an average annual value of $10.5 million a season.
Mosley means more to Baltimore than a lot of people assume and deserves every bit of what he’s paid by the Ravens or another team. There’s a reason his partners have been able to be undrafted players. Ravens fans would be up in arms if DeCosta’s first official move as Ravens general manager was to let Mosley walk.
Though this crop of free agents is particularly more attractive than in years past to the Ravens, they are most likely going to be concerned with keeping and extending the players they already have. Not to mention, waiting to pounce on the players cut in the following months.
Newsome was never one to make huge moves in free agency but maybe DeCosta has a different plan in mind. 2019 has the potential to be one of the most impactful free agent classes of the decade and the Ravens are a true wild card.
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