Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome pointed to the lack of pass rush as being one of the biggest factors for the Ravens doing so poorly. Naturally when asked what positions they want to target this offseason, pass rusher came up immediately. While funds will undoubtedly be tight for the team barring any crazy deals happening or players being cut, there is a name that Ravens fans should get to know early on.
Mike Neal - OLB
Neal checks most of the boxes that the Ravens are going to want here. He's young, he produces, and he won't be terribly expensive.
First off, Neal is only 28 years old. With the Ravens making major strides to get younger across the board, adding in a player below 30 to rotate in immediately and eventually take over for some aging player production is exactly what the team is looking for. You would hope that Neal could blossom into a star, but just getting younger at the outside linebacker position with some proven modest production would be the Ravens way when it comes to offseason signings.
Next up is his production. For an outside linebacker, he has done alright for himself. In the four seasons he has started at least one game, he has averaged 4.5 sacks a season. In the three seasons that he has played in every game, he has averaged 39 tackles. He even has 1 interception and two forced fumbles in those three seasons. 2015's season saw Neal rank third on the team in number of sacks behind Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, not too shabby.
While not perfect production by any means, let's look at what Elvis Dumervil did this season as reference: 48 tackles and six sacks. When you factor his cost to what he produced, Neal still comes out ahead of the curve with the potential to do so much more if used correctly.
Originally drafted in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Neal is looking for the third contract of his career. After completing his rookie deal, the Packers signed him to a two-year $8 million deal that was mostly incentive based with a very low base salary. This deal, he's likely going to get something in the same range, but more on the base salary and less in incentives and bonuses. That makes him a great value, which the Ravens typically love to get in the offseason.
My estimation is that Neal will get a three-year contract for $10 million. It will be very similar to Ravens' unrestricted free agent outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who the Ravens will be likely allowing to test the free agent market. Yet with more sacks and a similar ability to seal the edge in run situations, Neal comes up as the better bet for potentially less money.
Not much would change for Neal in the transition over. He has played a 3-4 defense in Green Bay for his career and would be asked to do the same things he does currently. In a rotational element behind two great pass rushers, there is a good chance that he would actually outperform what he has done in recent years, making him an excellent free agent signing.
It's not a flashy signing, but in an offseason where the team might potentially purge some of it's older veterans to clear up cap space and get the roster younger, the 28 year old Mike Neal is the perfect mix of production and value with the potential to be even better as a pass rusher than he already is. It's exactly what the Ravens do and you better believe he is on their radar.