When the Ravens struggled in September and collapsed in January, they could blame a poor run defense. In less than a day and a half, they’ve remade a unit in shambles into a brick wall.
After agreeing Sunday afternoon in principle to a trade for Jacksonville Jaguars Pro Bowl defensive end and run-stopping extraordinaire Calais Campbell, the Ravens on Monday night reportedly agreed to a contract with Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers. The three-year deal for one of the NFL’s top interior defenders is worth $30 million, according to ESPN, including a guaranteed $21 million.
Brockers, a pending free agent, is set to sign with the Ravens on Wednesday, when free agency opens. Teams started negotiations with agents on Monday during the NFL’s legal tampering period.
Over eight seasons with the Rams, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Brockers proved as versatile and durable as Campbell did in Jackonsville. The former No. 14 overall pick hasn’t missed a game since 2016, and over the past three seasons, when he mainly lined up as a defensive end in the Rams’ 3-4 system, Brockers had 8½ sacks, 21 quarterback hits and 172 tackles overall.
“He’s had one of his best years in the last few because he’s playing as a complete player,” coach Sean McVay said in December. “He’s rushing better, he’s violent in the run, he’s able to really do a great job of winning his individual matchups.”
Brockers’ greatest value is against the run, where he’s able to anchor against double teams, freeing linebackers to track down ball-carriers. In three of the past four seasons, Brockers has finished as one of the 15 highest-graded interior defensive linemen against the run, according to Pro Football Focus, with two seasons in the top five.
“I think he’s one of the best run stoppers in the National Football League,” former Rams teammate and star defensive tackle Aaron Donald said at the end of last season. “He’s been that way since I’ve been in the league watching him and playing with him. He don’t got the sack numbers, but as far as production, when it comes to stopping the run and doing his job, he’s been great at it. He’s one of the main reasons why we’re able to do what we can in the run game and do a lot of things just with where we move him and put him in positions to help us.”
After costarring in a front seven in Los Angeles with edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr., inside linebacker Cory Littleton and Donald, Brockers will join a much-improved defensive line in Baltimore. While pending free agent Michael Pierce is not expected to return at defensive tackle, the Ravens are poised to enter 2020 with a fearsome front three of Campbell, Brockers and fellow wide-body Brandon Williams. Midseason acquisition Justin Ellis, a solid backup, could also return in free agency this week.
Questions remain about the team’s future at inside linebacker and salary cap picture, but the Ravens’ acquisitions should put to rest some lingering concerns about their defensive line. The defense struggled at times to stop runs up the gut and on the edge last season, allowing a combined 333 yards to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns in consecutive early-season losses and 217 yards to the Tennessee Titans in an AFC divisional-round upset.
While pass rush remains a focus for the Ravens, who designated Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon with the franchise tag Friday, they couldn’t resist adding another piece.
“I think on defense, if you look at great defenses, historically, [they have] three things: can rush the passer, can cover and can stop the run,” general manager Eric DeCosta said at the NFL scouting combine last month. “We really do believe all three of those things are really important. We’re trying to build a defense that can do all three of those things.”