We’re almost done opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Door #31-The Ravens
2012 finish:10-6; won Super Bowl
TOTAL PICKS: 12
33 (130) (compensatory selection)
35 (168) (compensatory selection)
31 (199) from 49ers
35 (203) (compensatory selection)
41 (247) (compensatory selection)
Let’s start with three numbers:
1: Super Bowl won by Baltimore after backing into the playoffs with a 4-1 finish to the 2012 regular season. Ironically enough, the only team that the Ravens beat during that stretch was the defending champion Giants – who also know a lot about divining momentum from nowhere to make a playoff run.
126 million: the dollar value of QB Joe Flacco’s new 6-year contract, making him the highest paid player in NFL history. Move over, John “Hot Rod” Williams (the highest paid player in the NBA for a good part of Michael Jordan’s career) – there’s a new hilarious king of a pro league’s contract race. I’ve read all sorts of attempts to justify Flacco’s contract. He had a historic four playoff games, throwing eleven touchdowns and no interceptions. The front end of the contract isn’t as expensive as the overall number(s) make it look. My opinion: Who gives a fuck? This is a guy who hasn’t thrown for 4,000 yards. Over the last two seasons, he has had 15 regular season games with a passer rating below 80. In 2012 Flacco’s played like a seesaw – he had six games with a rating above 100, and five below 70. He finished with just 22 TD passes, in no small part because he had TEN games with one touchdown or less. I don’t see how it matters how important it is these days to secure a franchise quarterback, because Flacco hasn’t even proven that he is a franchise quarterback yet. It’s impossible to prove how many players have to be let go directly because of Flacco’s deal, but one has to wonder….
297: The total amount of tackles made last season by Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger – all of whom are no longer with the team. The Hall Of Fame-bound Lewis has retired, and GM Ozzie Newsome had to watch all of the rest join other teams as free agents for more money. The trade of disgruntled WR Anquan Boldin to San Francisco didn’t exactly impress Ravens fans either.
According to Elias Sports, the Ravens are the first Super Bowl champions to lose more than five starting players from the roster the following season. In fact, when Reed left for Houston, he became the eighth such player. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie still hasn’t re-signed with the team yet either. If I were a Ravens fan, I’d feel like Jimmy McNulty of HBO’s The Wire – a disgruntled detective who grows tired of watching the city of Baltimore misallocate its resources.
“Who the fuck else has to leave the unit because the cash flows up?”
But this is Newsome who’s calling the shots, and he has had a steady career in the Ravens front office, defined by going against the grain and unearthing great rosters with a number of players no one saw coming. Obviously this offseason represents his biggest challenge yet, but he’s earned the benefit of the doubt until hindsight proves otherwise.
Newsome’s response to the player exodus has been typically Ozzie: Sensible moves that don’t overextend the franchise, especially against the salary cap (which is what makes Flacco’s contract all the more frustrating, but whatever). DT Chris Canty for $8 million over three years, CB Michael Huff for $6 million over three aren’t sexy signings, but they are two players that could contribute well beyond the price of their contracts. Newsome also brought in troubled LB Rolando McClain. If McClain can realize his potential, he’ll be the best bargain of the offseason, at 1 year for $1.1 million. If he implodes – this is, after all, the guy that fired off a handgun around cops not too long ago – then the cost is minimal. (UPDATE: Citizen McClain is at it again, this time he’s cursed out some more cops.) The most impressive move the Ravens made was inking DE Elvis Dumervil to a five-year deal that is reportedly worth up to $35 million. That’s less money than the three-time Pro Bowler was offered from Denver before his agent fell asleep at the wheel and failed to fax the agreement in on time. Dumervil has 37.5 sacks over the last three seasons, and could team with LB/DE Terrell Suggs to create a formidable duo for offenses to have to worry about.
By my estimation, these moves leave a few glaring needs that could be part of Baltimore’s draft strategy. On offense, their need on the line will depend upon what ends up happening with McKinnie (that, or we’ll know how much they want to retain their tackle, should they draft another later this week). Boldin’s departure puts a lot of responsibility on TE Dennis Pitta to become Flacco’s primary possession receiver. Wideouts Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are both field-stretchers, not disciplined route runners that can work the whole route tree. This need feels more like a second-to-fourth round priority, and could en up being either a wide receiver or another tight end since Pitta and Ed Dickson could both hit the free agent market next year. Stanford’s Zach Ertz comes from a college program that featured his position – something Newsome prizes – but the Ravens would likely have to trade up in Round 2 to get him.
The McKinnie situation notwithstanding, defense is where this team will spend their 32nd overall selection. There are two huge holes left in the middle of the defense by the departure of Reed and Lewis. Most scouts have the higher-ranked safeties slated for the bottom of Round 1, so Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien could work. He can cover huge amounts of space in the passing game, but also plays the physical style that Baltimore covets. But in my eyes, Cyprien is the second-highest-ranked safety in the draft (after Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro) and I’ll be shocked if two teams don’t opt for that position before Baltimore can. As far as linebacker goes, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown is someone I can really see Newsome going for if he’s there at 32. No one can replace Lewis – and Brown’s style isn’t exactly like Sugar’s – but he could be the hard-nosed and strong leader that could lead the next generation of the Baltimore defense. Kevin Minter (LSU) and Matt Elam (Florida) are also possibilities.
There’s also the good possibility that Newsome could use his dozen picks in this year’s draft to trade up at numerous spots. Whatever he does, the pressure is officially on to avoid becoming one of the many recent champs to miss the playoffs the following season. Lord knows this team’s started off in a roster hole.
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