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Beatdown Roundtable: Grading the Ravens after the first wave of free agency

Treading Water

NFL: New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Beatdown staff’s evaluation of the Ravens roster building results after the first wave of free agency:

The good: Re-signing Tyus Bowser and Derek Wolfe and signing Kevin Zeitler. All three were extremely good value pickups and retentions. Bowser and Wolfe will help offset the losses of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngaouke on the defensive line. Zeitler is a huge upgrade on the offensive line. Signing all three to multi-year deals, too, gives the Ravens flexibility and insurance. The front office didn’t overspend on anyone, which is good fiscal responsibility.

The bad: I don’t agree with the decision to release L.J. Fort. I think Fort is a far superior player to Chris Board, who was re-signed at his expense. I would have liked the Ravens to make a harder push to re-sign Judon, too. Judon was a three-down player and will be difficult to replace, even though I’m confident in Bowser. They’ve yet to add another edge rusher and still have not signed a wide receiver. I think they should have made a play for a Corey Davis or Marvin Jones, who wound up having reasonable price tags. Instead, the Ravens sat on their hands before striking out on JuJu Smith-Schuster. Now, the biggest position of weakness on the roster is still in limbo.

Grade: C+

- Frank J. Platko

The Ravens have pretty much remained in limbo relative to where they were heading into free agency, and arguably gotten worse.

The loss of Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue haven’t been offset yet, but things might feel a bit better if a move to juice up their passing game had already been made (Kevin Zeitler notwithstanding, even though thats certainly a nice pickup). That’s ultimately the elephant in the room, though; Baltimore’s inability to get it right at the wide receiver position up to this point. For those who talk about them “having a plan” to do so, it becomes increasingly hard to believe that’s the case as they’ve now struck out on two different players at that position.

It’s not the end of the world that JuJu Smith-Schuster or T.Y. Hilton aren’t walking through the door, and Sammy Watkins might well wind up being a nice pickup if he’s the guy they decide on. But in the last offseason of Lamar Jackson’s contract not being an immediate pressing issue, it would be nice to see them surround him with some legit veteran talent. Lord knows the receiver market isn’t going to get any cheaper in the near future, and it’s going to be tough to find a day one difference maker from their position in the draft.

Grade: C

- Jake Louque

The Ravens solidified their offensive line with a competent veteran. That’s about it. The good news, they haven’t overspent, which is much better than overspending and being tied to constricting, bloated free agent contracts that rarely create winners.

At the same time, they haven’t added another playmaker to take pressure off of Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson. Their young, cheap offense has remained both young and cheap.

Watching Matt Judon go hurts. They still need to round out their OLB room. Luckily, there are still options like Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, Ryan Kerrigan and Carlos Dunlap. The Ravens would be wise to snag the cheapest of the lot, then add to the offensive side of the ball with their first few draft selections.

Grade: C (conservative)

- Spencer Schultz

The Ravens have been predictably and strategically conservative with their limited amount of cap space. I wasn’t expecting them to bring back either Matt Judon or Yannick Ngakoue after the salary cap was officially announced. I am glad that they brought back Tyus Boswer, Derek Wolfe and Pernell McPhee but mad that they didn’t pick up the contract option of L.J. Fort.

The signing of Kevin Zeitler was a classic Ravens move that falls into the “right player right price category. While it has been their only notable move to improve the offense to date, it has not been for a lack of trying. They came into free agency needing to add a veteran presence at receiver that was an upgrade over Willie Snead and Dez Bryant. They tried to do so by showing interest in Kenny Golladay before he signed with the Giants, bringing in Sammy Watkins for a visit before he left without signing a deal and making hard pushes to sign JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton before they ultimately decided to return to their former teams.

With very limited options left on the open market at WR the Ravens best bet at improving the position is the draft or taking the decision out a veteran player’s hands via a trade.

Grade: C+ (the plus is for at least trying to sign a WR)

- Joshua Reed

Free agency has not gone the way the Ravens probably hoped so far. Adding G Kevin Zeitler was a huge boost to an offensive line in need of help on the interior, and the fact that he is making much less than other premium guards signed after him makes Zeitler a tremendous value signing that will not affect the compensatory formula. Re-signing OLB Tyus Bowser and DE Derek Wolfe were also value signings to keep some familiarity upfront for Baltimore’s defense.

The defense has only gotten worse on paper, however, as both Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue departed for other teams. Cutting ILB L.J. Fort was a head-scratcher as well considering he was the team’s best inside linebacker for the past two seasons, though it is possible that Fort will return on a cheaper contract.

The biggest whiff so far for the Ravens has been failing to upgrade the wide receiver position. Regardless of many quality receivers hitting the market, Baltimore has been unable to secure any of them thus far. Sammy Watkins is still in play, but the offense desperately needed another legitimate weapon for QB Lamar Jackson. The Ravens reportedly offered JuJu Smith-Schuster more money than any other team, but he declined it, instead returning to the Steelers. T.Y. Hilton also turned down Baltimore’s reported offer in favor of returning to the Colts.

Grade - C+

- Dustin Cox

First, let’s talk about the good. Kevin Zeitler is a major upgrade at guard. The Ravens signed him a three-year contract worth $22 million, which is a very team-friendly deal. I expect him to bring some much needed stability to the interior offensive line next season. Derek Wolfe was re-signed, and he should continue to be a valuable run defender. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Geno Stone get another opportunity.

Now, let’s talk about the bad. My biggest probems with the Ravens’ offseason were the moves they didn’t make, and I am not exclusively talking about the wide receiver position, either. Edge rusher is still a need for the team, and they could’ve gotten a major upgrade at a great price in free agency. They were rumored to be interested in Haason Reddick, but he ultimately signed with the Panthers for $8 million. Why not pay a young player coming off a 12.5-sack season $8 million? In addition, Kyle Van Noy signed a two-year deal with the Patriots for only $11.88 million total.

Yes, there were options at wide receiver too. Marvin Jones signed a two-year contract with the Jaguars worth up to $14.5 million. Those are all low-risk, high-reward moves. Finally, I am skeptical of the front office’s decisions at linebacker. They declined L.J. Fort’s option and re-signed Chris Board, which does not make a lot of sense on paper. Free agency is not over. The Ravens can still make another move, but so far, it’s been underwhelming.

Grade: C

- Jakob Ashlin

Signing Kevin Zeitler was unanimously celebrated among fans and media, as the Ravens really nailed that one in terms of “right player, right price.” The more under the radar retention signings of Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser and Derek Wolfe will surely help in softening the blow of losing Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, while keeping the “Monstars” D-line together for at least another season.

Beyond that, I don’t have much positive to say about this free agent cycle. The good moves were fairly obvious ones to make. Despite the edge re-signs, that group is still quite weak with little to no depth, this will have to be addressed. Zeitler will be a boost to the line, but the team’s problems last season were mostly at center, which has not been addressed so far.

The Ravens were linked to at least a couple of FA edge players, but chose not to go after any, which I was okay with. However, the reason I WAS okay with it is that I was sure the Ravens would do something, anything at all to address what likely is the weakest WR group in the NFL by a solid margin. To let guys like Corey Davis go to a career graveyard like the New York Jets on a very reasonable deal only to throw your hands up when a division rival WR chooses not to switch sides is just simply infuriating. Fans were not demanding a trade for Allen Robinson or spending nearly $20 million a year on Kenny Golladay, they simply want a respectable veteran who can be a leader to the younger WRs while contributing on the field and demanding attention from the defense.

Nearly all of those players are gone now and suddenly Willie Snead IV and Dez Bryant are upgrades again. Even if they were to draft someone like Rashod Bateman in the 1st round, I don’t think that will be enough to elevate the group this season. The team has only two picks in the top 100 for the draft, and with needs along both lines and on the defensive edge, combined with their track record, I expect neither to be spent on a WR.

Trading for a tight end with 15 career yards and a bolt in his foot is a pathetic attempt to surround your MVP-caliber QB with weapons and the Ravens seem to literally be the only NFL team that does not understand this. Maybe Zeitler will have some sort of Yanda effect on the offense and we’ll see 2019 again, but I doubt it. I guess you can hope for that and one of these tight ends working out.

Grade: D+

- Cassidy Higdon

Baltimore’s eternal quest to build a championship caliber pass rush and receiving corps marches on to the second wave of free agency and upcoming draft. While acquiring Zeitler should create a top-5 blocking unit, a top-5 blocking unit was not enough to propel the 2019 Ravens past the divisional round when Lamar Jackson had a better supporting cast. Thus far, the depth chart has essentially lost more talent than has been added.

True to form, the front office has prioritized depth over difference makers, the least important phase of run defense over the most important pass offense phase and long term sustainability over aggressiveness. Unfortunately, the “Ravens Way” has produced league average at best postseason results since franchise-defining legend Ray Lewis retired. The various strategies that comprise the “Ravens Way” are designed to raise the floor of the team but the unintended consequence is often a lower ceiling.

There is still plenty of time and opportunity for Eric DeCosta to add the four missing ingredients to the championship recipe - a capable split end receiver, situational sack artist, dime safety and swing offensive tackle. However, the Ravens have taken a step backwards in the first wave of free agency while several of the contenders they are competing against have been aggressive in manipulating the salary cap and strengthened their rosters in pursuit of Super Bowl glory.

Grade: C-

- Vasilis Lericos

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