As the free agency period begins, the Ravens might want to prepare for a makeover of their top-ranked defense.
The Ravens had the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 2018, allowing only 82.9 rushing and 210 passing yards per game, but they’ve already lost safety Eric Weddle and veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals on Monday. They could also lose linebackers C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, which began Monday as teams were allowed to begin contract negotiations with unrestricted fee agents. (Signings won’t become official until the new league year begins Wednesday.)
Mosley’s potential departure would have ripple effects. Not only was he the team leader in tackles last season with 105, including 70 solo, but he was a signal-caller for the front-seven, while Weddle handled the secondary.
The departures of Mosley and Weddle could create a major problem. One of the reasons former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees signed Weddle three years ago was because he wanted a coach who was a player on the field, someone who could improvise and make changes after reading formations.
Mosley did the same thing for the front seven.
Weddle, 34, was waived by the Ravens last week and eventually signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Rams. Now that he’s available on the open market, Mosley could become the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL with another team.
At this point, it’s not clear who would handle the Ravens’ signal-calling responsibilities. The Ravens have yet to respond to an interview request for defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. Third-year player Chuck Clark, veteran Tony Jefferson and second-year performer DeShon Elliott will most likely battle for Weddle’s job, but Jefferson is more of a strong than free safety. A free safety has a better overlook of an offense than a strong one most of the time, and it’s unlikely that Martindale will turn the signal-calling duties over to young players such as Clark and Elliott.
The Ravens still might re-sign Mosley, but he could be weighing options of a new multiyear contract worth about $15 million annually with another team. If that’s the case, then the Ravens should say goodbye.
At age 26, he made his fourth Pro Bowl in five seasons and is the centerpiece of the defense, but he isn’t worth that type of money. He is a good player, but not a great one. To command such a big contract, Mosley should be a complete linebacker, but he still struggles to cover running backs and tight ends out of the backfield in one-on-one situations.
The heir apparent might be second-year linebacker Kenny Young. Even though he is inexperienced, he is extremely smart and has a strong football IQ. Fourth-year inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor will battle Young for playing time. Both players were inconsistent on the field, even though Onwuasor played well late last season. He doesn’t yet have the capability, though, to set defenses.
Smith has been inconsistent throughout his first four years in the NFL, but he might have earned a big contract by leading the team in sacks last season with 8½. Suggs, 36, reportedly received a one-year deal, which probably wasn’t the big contract he was looking for, even at his age.
Basically, Suggs has become a situational player on passing situations. The Ravens have asked him to be an every-down player the past couple of years, but he has often disappeared in the second half of those seasons.
It will be interesting to see how the Ravens make out in free agency. They might just go with current players on the roster and try to find a pass rusher in the draft. Or they could sign a free-agent inside linebacker like Jamie Collins, who was recently released by the Cleveland Browns.
It’s hard to get a read on owner Steve Bisciotti, who declined to have his annual “State of the Ravens” press conference at the end of this season. In recent years, he seems to have joined other owners who want to invest more money into offense than defense, even though defense has been the trademark of this franchise for nearly two decades.
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But times have changed, and maybe the Ravens as well, especially on defense.