This year’s magical playoff run will be remembered by many transcendent performances from Ravens that might not have originally been in the spot light. The standouts are Jacoby Jones’ lightning speed and game breaking ability, a makeshift O-line giving Joe the time he needed, and of course, Paul Kruger. Paul ended the playoff run with a team high 4.5 sacks in 4 games. He also had maybe the biggest turnover of the season when he dove on the Peyton Manning fumble to set up the game tying drive in Denver. With all this being said, Kruger’s high profile playoff productivity will command a huge cap number on the open market and with our current cap situation, he is someone we should let go.
The Ravens front office should not let a few productive playoff games cloud their normally flawless decision making. Kruger was seen as having a breakout season, but if you take a deeper dive, what exactly does it mean? His playoff sacks came against the Colts and the 49ers, which are both teams giving up around 2.5 sacks per game, putting them in the bottom half of the league. Overall, just 3.5 of Kruger’s 13.5 sacks (includes playoffs: 9.0 regular season, 4.5 playoffs) came against teams in the top half of sacks allowed per game. Furthermore, one of these 3.5 sacks came against the Raiders when the Ravens were winning 48-20. Kruger really struggled with offensive lines that ranked high in the league such as the New York Giants (0 tackles/no sacks), Broncos (3 tackles/no sacks) and Texans (2 tackles/no sacks). In my mind, these statistics do not point to a dominant pass rusher. Don’t get me wrong, Kruger stepped up on the biggest of stages and the Lombardi trophy would not be safe and sound at The Castle without his efforts.
In the last ten years, the current duration of the Terrell Suggs era, Sizzle is the only pass rushing mainstay that the Ravens have had. The team’s defensive coaches have done a revolutionary job of turning relative unknowns into viable pass rushing options. For instance, they turned Adalius Thomas from late round pick to special team’s gunner/freight train to an outstanding edge rusher. We later dialed up the defensive pressure with the likes of Bart Scott and Jarrett Johnson, who were able to accrue a decent number of sacks from their linebacker positions (Kruger ended up being JJ’s heir). All players we did not hang onto when their market value became too high. The Ravens have also filled their needs through veteran free agents such as Cory Redding and Trevor Price, who needed changes of scenery and ended up being productive members of playoff teams. Yet again, these are players that were signed to small contracts and let go when their market value rose. Paul Kruger should be no different than the above examples. The Ravens have made the playoffs 5 years in a row and seven of ten since Terrell Suggs became Baltimore’s sack master. Charm City’s team has done this with almost no consistency at “number two” pass rusher and the Ravens should continue with this model.
Finally, let’s look through the Ravens options to replace Kruger. The obvious and maybe most promising options would be Courtney Upshaw. After sliding into the second round of the NFL Draft and starting the season a little slow, Upshaw began to progress and made important plays in the playoffs, most importantly, a strip of LaMichael James in the first half of the Super Bowl that swung the momentum back in our favor. The Ravens can also look to free agency for another edge rusher as there is normally a solid crop of veterans to come available every year.
Over the years, the Robin to Sizzle’s Batman is always changing and that is okay. Edge rushing starts from the inside out. As long as Ngata, Cody, Jones, McPhee and others can eat up blocks, Terrell Suggs’ counterpart will be able to make a meaningful impact towards another playoff run. These funds could be used to solidify a position that lacks depth, such as Middle Linebacker. The Ravens’ brass indicated that it would not “mortgage the future” for one more title. I think that letting Paul test the market would fit nicely into this paradigm.