While the cement has to dry in NFL free agency, most teams are done making significant signings and acquisitions. The initial wave of free agency was an eventful one for the Ravens, as Baltimore saw familiar faces leave for new places, while also bringing in new faces of their own on both sides of the ball.
Based on what has transpired thus far, which members of the Ravens stand to benefit from the team’s decision-making during free agency? And who figures to be negatively impacted? Let’s take a look below.
Winner - Tim Williams & Tyus Bowser, OLB
The Ravens decision to let Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith leave was undoubtedly financially-driven. However, it was also a significant vote of confidence for two younger linebackers who are waiting in the wings: Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser. Baltimore is banking on at least one, but ideally both, of these guys stepping up into larger roles and making a big impact next season.
You can bet the Ravens will likely add at least one, if not multiple pass rushers in the draft, potentially even using their first round pick to address the edge position. However, Matthew Judon is currently the only established pass rusher on the roster, so Williams and/or Bowser will be relied upon to produce regardless. They’ll certainly be given the opportunity to, at the very least.
Harbaugh has challenged both Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. Said both will get opportunity and it’s time for them to step up.— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) March 26, 2019
Loser - Gus Edwards & Kenneth Dixon, RB
Whereas Bowser and Williams will see their roles expand, the same can’t be said for the Ravens top running backs last season. Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon each eclipsed 5.2 yards per carry in 2018 and were particularly effective over the second half of the season, consistently wearing down defenses as a 1-2 punch. However, the Ravens were evidently not content with their running back situation, as they signed veteran Mark Ingram to a three-year deal. Edwards and Dixon may continue to see a steady dose of carries next season, but there’s no doubting their opportunities will be significantly diminished compared to last season. Ingram isn’t coming to Baltimore to be anyone’s backup.
Winner - Tony Jefferson, S
Out of all the returning players on the roster, perhaps none stand to benefit more from the Ravens free agency moves than safety Tony Jefferson. The reason is simple: the acquisition of Earl Thomas. Jefferson’s first two seasons in Baltimore have been full of some highs, but he’s consistently struggled in pass coverage. So too did Eric Weddle, however, and Jefferson often found himself lost in the backend of the defense. Thomas is probably the best free safety in the league and his range, play recognition, and ball-hawking skills are unmatched. His implementation in the defense will allow Jefferson to play his more natural role, which is in the box.
If there’s one thing Jefferson is very good at, it’s defending the run and making plays on the ball closer to the line of scrimmage. With Thomas in the fold, there’s a great chance that Jefferson has his best season yet in Baltimore and perhaps the best year of his career. With Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley no longer on the roster, Jefferson could also find himself in a leadership position on the defense, a role you can expect he’ll embrace.
Loser - Chris Moore, WR
After the first several weeks of free agency, it appeared Chris Moore was set to be one of the bigger winners on the roster. Other than Willie Snead, Moore was the only receiver on the roster who caught a pass last season. Moore seemed primed for a bigger role next year but after the addition of former Raiders wide receiver Seth Roberts, the likelihood of a breakout season from Moore has diminished significantly. Moore could challenge Roberts for a starting spot, but Roberts is the more established receiver. If the Ravens were truly comfortable with Moore penciled in as a starter, they probably wouldn’t have signed Roberts at all. It’s possible they’re just bringing Roberts in for depth and competition, but we’ll have to wait and see. There’s also the upcoming draft, where the Ravens figure to draft a receiver early and possibly add multiple bodies at the position. Add these together, as well as possible improvement from Jordan Lasley or Jaleel Scott, and it doesn’t seem likely that Moore will see a significantly larger role after all.
Winner - Kenny Young, LB
Similar to Za’Darius Smith, the Ravens ultimately let C.J. Mosley leave because of his price tag. However, allowing Mosley to walk was also a vote of confidence in the linebackers currently on the roster, including Kenny Young. Patrick Onwuasor was going to start next season regardless of whether or not Mosley was re-signed, but the same can’t be said for Young. While he went through some growing pains like most rookies, Young flashed some serious upside and potential last year, particularly when he saw extended snaps at the beginning of the season. He possesses good coverage skills and sideline-to-sideline athleticism. Barring the addition of a linebacker in the first round of the draft, like a Devin Bush, Young is projected to start alongside Onwuasor next season. He has a great opportunity to take a significant step forward and become a consistent, impact player in Don Martindale’s scheme.
Loser - Don “Wink” Martindale, DC
Speaking of Martindale, the Ravens defensive coordinator comes out of free agency as a loser as well. While he does have a shiny new toy to play with in Earl Thomas, a relatively significant upgrade over Eric Weddle, “Wink” will have his work cut out for him next season after losing several other defensive starters - Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, and C.J. Mosley. Will the Ravens use the draft to reload on defense? Certainly, but the players they bring in cannot match the talent and pedigree of the players that left in free agency, at least not right away. Smith and Suggs were the Ravens leaders in sacks last season and Mosley, for all his deficiencies in coverage and rushing the passer, was a four-time Pro Bowler.
Much of the Ravens success on defense last season was because of Martindale’s scheme and creativity, but part of that also came from the intangibles and recognition abilities of defensive leaders like Suggs and Mosley. The Ravens have a long history of adequately replacing free agents on defense, so expecting them to suddenly drop off on that side of the ball is premature - especially considering the talent still present on the roster. However, Martindale will be hard-pressed to recapture the dominance of last season’s #1 ranked defense.