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Ravens News 3/15: Defining the offseason, best free agents remaining and more

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Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saint Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Eight Teams That Have Defined the 2019 NFL Offseason - Robert Mays

Baltimore Ravens

In the early stages of the tampering period, the Ravens defense seemed to be on the verge of collapse. Baltimore released Eric Weddle, then allowed Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, and C.J. Mosley to all hit free agency. That’s a hell of a lot of talent to lose in a single offseason, but when it comes to the Ravens’ ability to maintain their excellent defense, we should know better by now. Out of nowhere, Baltimore swooped in and signed former Seahawks safety Earl Thomas to a four-year, $55 million deal that includes $32 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Similar to the Chiefs, the Ravens decided to offset the loss of their two best pass rushers by adding an elite safety. The difference, though, is that while Kansas City still has to remake most of its secondary, Thomas is the final piece of the Ravens’ loaded defensive back group. It’s not easy to cut Eric Weddle and then upgrade at safety, but the Ravens managed to do it. Baltimore’s secondary now features the best free safety in the NFL (when healthy), strong safety Tony Jefferson, an outside cornerback duo of Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith, and slot man Tavon Young (who signed a sizable extension earlier this offseason). The Ravens also have veteran Brandon Carr, who can step in if either of their outside corners goes down with an injury. That’s the most complete defensive back group in the league. Baltimore will likely be looking for some pass-rushing help in the draft, but with so many talented edge players coming out, this is the year to find it.

Thomas is the crown jewel of the Ravens’ offseason haul, but they also signed former Saints running back Mark Ingram on Wednesday. Baltimore proved last season that its unconventional offense could get production out of unheralded backs—and Ingram is a known commodity who has been one of the most effective downhill runners in the NFL for some time. Considering some of the recent running back deals that have been handed out in free agency, the three-year, $15 million contract Baltimore gave Ingram is more than reasonable for a team that’s going to rely more on their running game than any team in football next season.

New general manager Eric DeCosta has built on the existing strengths of rushing offense and pass defense with the two Pro Bowl acquisitions, the re-signing of Nick Boyle and Tavon Young’s contract extension.

The Baltimore Ravens get stronger on the back end, sign S Earl Thomas to a four-year deal - Mark Chichester

In an article that was written by Senior Analyst Sam Monson back in September 2018, he explained the effect that an elite, single-high safety can have on a team’s defensive scheme – and that ability will now be heading to Baltimore. Monson wrote:

We’ve spent time in the past quantifying how well Thomas plays in that role, but now it’s time to explore why exactly he is that good and why it’s so critical to that defensive scheme.

Thomas has more than enough range to get to the sideline from a single-high look, something most safeties from that alignment struggle with. In fact, he has so much range that he can get to either sideline without being aligned in the middle of the field. The Seahawks can cheat their coverage looks by leaning Thomas in one direction or the other, knowing that he can still make it back to the far side deep ball. This allows them to help specific cornerbacks, react to offensive formations and personnel wrinkles from an alignment standpoint and still be able to be a factor on the deep pass down the sideline.

Clocked at 4.43 seconds at the combine, Thomas has as fast a 40 time as you’re likely to find from a safety, but like all great players, the first yard is in his head. He sets off earlier to the play than any other safety because of how quickly he can read, diagnose and react to the play.

What is often labeled as ‘instincts’ is actually the product of relentless tape study and the understanding of opposing offenses and passing concepts, allowing him to appear in places other safeties never get close to. This speed, quickness, diagnostic ability and reaction time all fold together to create the term ‘range’ that gets applies to Thomas, and it simply means that from any given alignment on the field pre-snap, he can cover a greater area of the field than anyone else. Because of that, he can impact more plays than most safeties, or any safety that is tasked with lining up as a single-high free safety.

Similar to Ravens icon Ed Reed, Earl Thomas is regarded as a film ‘junkie’. He also plays with a competitive edge that sets the tone of the defense.

Mark Ingram should see a huge workload in Baltimore, helping fantasy stock - Scott Barrett

Of course, New Orleans doesn’t deserve all of the credit, because Ingram has also played incredibly well. Despite the underwhelming fantasy production last year, Ingram still graded eighth-best among all running backs on the ground, and 14th-best overall. Since 2015, he ranks fifth among all running backs in fantasy points and yards from scrimmage. Since 2014, among all 37 running backs with at least 550 touches, Ingram ranks first in yards per carry (4.71) and fourth in yards after contact per attempt (2.90). As a receiver, he’s dropped just seven passes over the past five seasons (229 targets), giving him the third-best drop rate of 38 qualifying running backs.

Ingram is another DeCosta signing with ideal intangibles. In New Orleans, the tailback was a vocal leader on the practice field and invaluable part of their team’s culture.

The 50 Best NFL Free Agents Still Available - Andy Benoit

16. Brent Urban (27), DL, Baltimore

He’s an overachieving plug-and-play guy who will handle your scheme’s dirty work.

30. Shaq Barrett (26), EDGE, Denver

He’s not quite stout enough to be a base starter and not quite explosive enough to be a bona fide pass-rushing specialist, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a worthy rotational piece.

42. Shane Ray (25), EDGE, Denver

He’s at his best as a standup interior pass rusher—which, unfortunately, spells a limited role.

Could Shane Ray handle Za’Darius Smith’s former pass rushing duties?