As we inch closer to the start of the 2018 season, where we will see the fruits of the Ravens’ offseason acquisitions, let’s take a look back at Baltimore’s offseason moves in 2017 and how they affected the team, for better or worse.
I will not be counting retirements, such as Steve Smith Sr. and Zachary Orr in the losses category, nor will I include drafted players in acquisitions. This post is about the players signed/re-signed and the ones who got away, either by design or simply lack of cap room.
RT Ricky Wagner, FB Kyle Juszczyk, DT Timmy Jernigan, DE Lawrence Guy, WR Kamar Aiken, OLB Elvis Dumervil.
The biggest loss for the Ravens via free agency was three-year starting right tackle Rick Wagner. Wagner simply priced his way out of Baltimore with a strong 2016 season. Baltimore could have kept him and had their starting tackles for years to come in Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and Wagner at right. However, they chose to spend their money on defensive tackle Brandon Williams instead, and Wagner was made the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL by the Lions.
Though a fan favorite, the loss of fullback Kyle Juszcyk wasn’t really felt. The Ravens replaced his production at the position with rookie Patrick Ricard. Ricard doesn’t present the same threat in the passing game as Juszcyk, but is a potential upgrade in the run-blocking category.
The only other losses which affected Baltimore were defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and defensive end Lawrence Guy. Both Jernigan and Guy were vital pieces to the Raven’s excellent run defense in 2016. Baltimore’s run defense took a major hit in the 2017 season. Injuries played a big part of it’s decline, but the loss of Jernigan and Guy undoubtedly set them back temporarily.
Jernigan was missed most for his ability to create interior pressure from the defensive line, however. The Ravens were unable to consistently generate effective pressure from the interior during the 2017 season, and the loss of Jernigan certainly played a role in that. Jernigan played an important part of the Eagles’ defensive front on their way to winning the Super Bowl, which awarded him a large new contract. So, while the Jernigan trade may not have initially been viewed as much of a loss due to his lack of production down the stretch of the 2016, it ended up hurting Baltimore’s defense, who could have used another pass rusher like Jernigan in many games last year.
DT Brandon Williams, S Tony Jefferson, CB Brandon Carr, RB Danny Woodhead, WR Jeremy Maclin, RT Austin Howard, S Anthony Levine, CB/S Lardarius Webb.
The headliners here are the re-signing of Williams and signing of safety Tony Jefferson and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The Ravens also re-signed versatile safety Anthony Levine Sr., as well as cornerback Lardarius Webb after first cutting him. Austin Howard and Maclin were late-summer acquisitions after being cut by their respective teams, thus not affecting Baltimore’s compensatory picks. So, how did this new group of Ravens perform in 2017? The answer is a mixed bag.
The Ravens biggest acquisition in free agency, Jefferson, had a very up-and-down season in Baltimore after enjoying his best year with the Cardinals in 2016. Jefferson is a traditional box safety, whose duties are defending the run and covering tight ends and running backs. Jefferson was often abused in coverage last season, and while a portion of the blame falls on former defensive coordinator Dean Pees for failing to utilize him correctly, Jefferson still gave up too many plays to tight ends and even fullbacks. The Ravens made a big investment with Jefferson, so hopefully he regains his 2016 form in his second year in Baltimore. New defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is said to be a more aggressive coach, which would suit Jefferson much better.
Maclin was by far the biggest disappointment, however. When the Chiefs released Maclin, Ravens’ fans were clamoring for general manager Ozzie Newsome to sign him. After losing Smith Sr. to retirement and failing to address the wide receiver position in the initial phase of free agency and the draft, Baltimore had an obvious hole at the position. Maclin was coming of off a down year in Kansas City, but it was believed to be in part due to a groin injury he suffered. Maclin started the season strong for the Ravens, but quickly faded into the background, finishing the season with a mere 440 yards and three touchdowns through 12 games. Maclin was nowhere to be found when needed the most late in the season, and had many fans accusing him of mentally quitting on his team. Maclin has yet to be signed by another team after being released by Baltimore.
Austin Howard had a bounce-back year for the Ravens after being released by the Raiders. Howard helped to solidify an offensive line riddled with injuries while performing as a solid stopgap solution to the right tackle position. Brandon Carr was one of the better signings of the offseason, as he was a huge upgrade over previous cornerback Shareece Wright. Carr proved his value when Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles in Week 13 against the Lions. Carr’s durability was a huge selling point for Baltimore, after dealing with multiple injuries to the secondary over the past few years. Carr finished the season with four interceptions.
Danny Woodhead failed to live to expectations after getting injured on the first offensive drive of the season. Woodhead was placed on injured reserve, but returned in Week 11. The hamstring injury he suffered in Week 1 seemed to nag him for the rest of the season.
The best moves were the re-signings of Williams and Anthony Levine. Williams proved integral to the Ravens run defense when he missed several games. Williams is a vital piece to a storied defense prided on defending the run. Levine played a key role on defense as well in 2017. Levine saw several snaps in the dime package, where he was substituted in for a linebacker on passing downs. Levine recorded three sacks as well as an interception.
Overall, I would say the 2017 offseason leans more towards a successful one for Baltimore. They didn’t overspend on Wagner while finding a suitable replacement for him, helped to bolster the secondary and secured their best run-stuffer for several years. If Jefferson is able to improve in 2018, then it will have been a definite success.