When the Ravens released middle linebacker Daryl Smith in early March, they opened up a little more than $2.5 million in salary cap space. That's not all that much money when you consider Smith was the team's leading tackler in two of the past three years and one of the most respected players in the Ravens' locker room.
The Ravens certainly needed some salary cap flexibility ahead of their runs at tight end Benjamin Watson and safety Eric Weddle. But the move also signified an organization-wide effort to get quicker and more athletic on defense and in the middle of the field. Keep that in mind when considering the Ravens' middle linebacker options over the next couple of months.
I've gotten a lot of questions about A.J. Hawk, who is available after recently being let go by the Cincinnati Bengals, but he's 32 years old and would he be that much better in coverage than Smith was? Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr are obviously unproven as defensive regulars, but they both are quick linebackers with coverage skills. The Ravens pass defense was much improved over the second half of the season and that coincided with Orr being on the field more in obvious passing downs.
And if you're hung up by the fact that Orr was an undrafted free agent, remember the Ravens played a significant number of important games with undrafted free agents like Jameel McClain, Albert McClellan, Bart Scott and Dannell Ellerbe starting at inside linebacker. Yes, I know Ray Lewis was often the linebacker next to them, but there aren't too many teams nowadays who are lining up and featuring a power running game anyway.
Draft fallers: Here’s something I didn’t realize until yesterday: Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil were high school teammates for two years at Columbia High in Lake City, Fla. The former teammates both saw their draft status take a hit because of a connection with drugs. Jernigan was considered one of the top defensive tackles in the 2014 draft, but he was available to the Ravens in the middle of the second round, partly because of reports that he had a diluted urine sample at the NFL Scouting Combine. Obviously, Tunsil is a different situation, but both have rather dubious stories to tell about their draft experience.
I think it is fair to question Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome for not being willing to send a third-round pick to the Dallas Cowboys to get in position to take Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey. I can also see the skepticism about the team's unwillingness to take a risk on UCLA linebacker Myles Jack.
However, the criticism for bypassing Tunsil is a little extreme. Between durability questions and the handful of off-the-field issues – the latest one involving the bong video that surfaced about an hour before the Ravens were on the clock – there was just too much evidence pointing to an individual using extremely poor judgment and not being reliable. As good of a tackle prospect as he is, Tunsil was far too risky of a pick for a team that needs, at worst, a solid long-term starter.
As for Eastern Kentucky pass rusher Noah Spence, I don't think his past drug issues were the primary factor in the Ravens not taking him. The Ravens just liked Boise State's Kamalei Correa more as a pass rusher. Correa was higher on the team's board than Spence was. It's as simple as that. Everyone assumed the Ravens coveted Spence because they did some homework on him before the draft and they needed pass rushers, but they do homework on all the draft-eligible players.
QB depth chart: It will be interesting to see if the Ravens sign either Georgetown quarterback Kyle Nolan or Villanova quarterback John Robertson, who are both participating in this week’s rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. With quarterback Joe Flacco likely to be held out until training camp, the Ravens have only two quarterbacks on their roster: Ryan Mallett and Jerrod Johnson. That could become an issue during the various organized team activities and the veteran minicamp.
Thirteen receivers – well probably 12 because Steve Smith Sr. won't be on the field – and two quarterbacks isn't the best ratio. I still think it makes sense for the Ravens to sign Jimmy Clausen. He might not be interested in the prospect of being a third-string quarterback, but there aren't too many teams still looking to add signal-callers at this stage of the offseason. He would probably get plenty of summer repetitions for the Ravens, and an opportunity to stay sharp in case another team has a bigger need.
Cutting loose with tight ends: Maybe this is a stretch here, but the fact that the Ravens have gotten rid of three tight ends – Chase Ford, Harold Spears and Konrad Reuland – over the past three weeks could easily be a sign they feel good about Dennis Pitta’s progress and/or the job Darren Waller is doing in his conversion from wide receiver. The Ravens still have six tight ends on their roster, but Nick Boyle will be suspended for the first 10 games of 2016 and Pitta has yet to be cleared for full contact.
Losing a scout?: The Ravens could be on the verge of losing a widely respected member of their scouting department. If former Ravens national scout Joe Douglas, who now works for the Chicago Bears, gets hired to run the Philadelphia Eagles personnel department, he will bring Ravens scout Andy Weidl with him, according to Philadelphia-based reporter, Geoff Mosher.
Weidl, a Pittsburgh native who played college football at Villanova, has been scouting for the Ravens since 2005. He was named the Ravens east regional scout following the 2013 draft. Mosher wrote that Weidl would get a "prominent" scouting position under Douglas who interviews with Philadelphia on Thursday. Because it's a clear promotion, the Ravens likely wouldn't stand in the way of Weidl leaving.