Heading into the 2019 season, the Ravens secondary was being touted as one of the most talented and deep positions in all the NFL. Fast-forward a few weeks and this same secondary had lost both Jimmy Smith for an extended period and newly extended Tavon Young for the season. This same secondary had allowed three straight 300-plus yard passers and looked to be one of the weak spots on a bottom ranked defense.
As was the same in prior years, the front office looked at in-house candidates to fill in, keeping with the “next man up” mantra which became a staple in the organization. The secondary still struggled. That’s when Eric Decosta made his move and acquired Marcus Peters from the Los Angeles Rams for a fifth-round draft pick and second year linebacker Kenny Young. This move signaled a refreshing, new ideology that the team would not remain complacent in fixing glaring needs on the roster mid-season.
This move also signaled that the Ravens believe they can win. NOW. The trade paid dividends immediately when Peters took a Russell Wilson pass to the house, on the way to a huge road victory. The secondary now appears to be stabilized, if not the strongest unit on the defense which was projected in the off season.
Now all eyes turn towards the pass rush which took a significant hit when John Harbaugh announced Pernell McPhee would miss the remainder of the season with a torn tricep. McPhee was playing admirably as a starter and the team will miss his physicality and leadership he brought every Sunday. The depth at the position is now very thin with starter Matthew Judon and the committee of Tyus Bowser and rookie Jaylon Ferguson holding down the opposite side.
All three of these players have performed well, but the Ravens cannot afford to stand pat as another injury could be detrimental to the defense. Bringing in another talented pass rusher isn’t an indictment on Ferguson’s progress, or a signal that Bowser is not a viable option. It is a necessity for both production and depth in order to develop and maintain a strong rotation into December and January.
Below are several viable candidates who could be added via trade or free agency:
Jets DE Leonard Williams
Although he plays along the defensive line, the Ravens have been receiving minimal pass rush productivity from the 5-technique position. Williams is an established veteran and would bring a much-needed physical presence to the edge. He would not only bolster the pass rush, he would be effective in holding the edge in the run game as well.
The Ravens lack a true “game-wrecker” and Williams would certainly fit that bill in a Wink Martindale defense. This move would make the defense much more versatile in what they are able to do in different packages.
The Jets picked up his fifth-year option for the 2019 season and his salary is fully guaranteed for the year. After investing heavily in free agency and the selection of Quinnen Williams in the draft, the Jets are unlikely to re-sign Williams after the year. With a projected $7.5 million left on his 2019 contract, the Ravens would need the Jets to take on some of the remaining cash as well as execute a few restructures on their end in order to make this work.
Projected trade compensation: 2020 2nd round pick, 2020 4th round pick
Probability of trade- Unlikely (Cap restrictions, Draft compensation, 2020 Free agent)
Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan
Kerrigan has been a staple on the Redskins defense since being drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. As a natural 3-4 linebacker, Kerrigan would fit in perfectly to the Ravens scheme and would immediately pay dividends as a pass rushing presence the team needs. After finishing the last two seasons with 13 sacks, his production has fallen off thus far in 2019, albeit on a very bad team.
He is in the fourth year of a five-year extension signed back in 2015 and the Redskins would be wise to unload his contract in exchange for draft capital. After drafting Montez Sweat in the first round of the 2019 draft, pieces along the Redskins front seven have become expendable. Kerrigan would be under team control through the 2020 season but would need to account for the remaining estimated cap hit of $6 million plus for the 2019 season. With currently just over $2 million in cap space available, this is another move that would require creativity with existing contracts.
Projected trade compensation: 2020 3rd round pick for Kerrigan, 2020 4th round pick
Probability of trade- Possible but unlikely (Cap restrictions, Draft compensation)
Falcons LB Vic Beasley
It has been reported that the Atlanta Falcons are actively looking to trade the former first round pick as his play has steadily declined since his 16-sack campaign in 2016. The Falcons are a dumpster fire and have already shown they will be sellers ahead of the trade deadline. Beasley could be had for the best bargain factoring in all the turmoil in Atlanta and a fresh start elsewhere could do him some good.
Built more for speed and finesse, he could be featured on passing downs and would work well with a revamped secondary by recording more coverage sacks. With Jaylon Ferguson coming into his own as a run-stopper, Beasley wouldn’t need to be an every-down player and would provide fresh legs rushing the passer. He is currently being utilized as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt and would be much better suited at the outside linebacker position in the Ravens defense.
After picking up his 5th year option, he would be another “rental” player who would need to be extended past 2019 if they wanted to keep him for the future. With close to $7 million left on his 2019 contract, it has been reported that the Falcons would be willing to eat some of that remaining cash, making a trade much more viable.
Falcons continue to try to trade Vic Beasley but market - normally hot for a pass rusher - is weak because Beasley has spiraled so much. Several teams were interested in Sanu. @TheAthleticATL— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) October 22, 2019
Projected trade compensation: 2020 4th round
Probability of trade- Very possible (Moderate cap restrictions, Low draft compensation, Motivated seller)
Patriots DE Michael Bennett
The Patriots defense is off to a historical start to the 2019 season while the production from Bennett has been very minimal. His stint in New England is off to a rough start as he was recently suspended for one game due to undisclosed detriment to the team.
While he might not be the complete defender he once was, he would be a nice rotational piece in a situational pass-rush role. With the Patriots using him sporadically and the player clearly disgruntled, the asking price for his services should not be too high.
It has been reported that the Patriots may be waiting to release him outright until after the trade deadline, ensuring he would need to pass through waivers. This would make it harder for him to sign with another AFC contender as he would not have to pass through waivers if released before the deadline. He carries approximately $3 million in remaining cap cost for the remainder of 2019, so while Baltimore would need to make some room, a deal for him would be more viable than the previously mentioned.
Projected trade compensation: 2020 6th round pick
Probability of trade- Possible, more likely to wait for his release (Low cap restrictions, Low draft compensation, Patriots unwilling to trade to AFC contender)
Jaguars Yannick Ngakoue
Ravens fans are pounding the table for a homecoming with the former University of Maryland standout who currently resides in Jacksonville. He is an above-average pass rusher, recording 31.5 sacks over three-plus seasons and has been durable throughout his career.
Over the summer, the Jaguars offered Ngakoue a short-term deal worth over $19 million per year, which the player declined, leading to a summer hold out. Contract disputes have caused some tension between the two parties and a breakup at the end of his contract seems very likely. After trading one disgruntled star, the Jaguars could again settle for high draft compensation with an eye towards the future.
With a projected cap hit of $1.2 million, this could be the right player at the right price deal the Ravens are seeking. Although he would only be a rental for the rest of the season, the Ravens would have the first crack at signing him to a long-term deal when their cap space explodes at the end of the season. Regardless, if the team truly believes they can win now, they will be acquiring one of the best young pass rushers in the league to fill a major position of need.
Projected trade compensation: 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 4th round pick
Probability of trade- Possible if the Jaguars remain sellers (High draft compensation, Low Cap restrictions)