The most immediate consequences of maybe the Ravens’ most important midseason acquisition in franchise history were evident Friday afternoon, as team members packed their bags for a weekend trip to Seattle, home of the high-flying Seahawks.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith had a new locker room neighbor. Cornerback Brandon Carr had a new number. And there was a new, not-quite-yet-finalized locker nameplate. Marcus Peters stood in front of it for over five minutes Friday, crowded by reporters, answering questions about the trade that had sent him from Los Angeles to Baltimore, about old teammates and new playbooks, about what it meant to join a secondary that, only six weeks ago, hadn’t needed him.
“I’m going to be Marcus Peters, 24-7,” he said. “He’s not going anywhere until I’m gone. That’s how my mom and my dad raised me to be. I stand tall, and I get ahead of my business. Can’t faze me.”
For a two-time All-Pro selection to make a mid-October arrival in any locker room is rare. For it to happen in Owings Mills is unprecedented. Former general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely indulged in midseason trades. Before Tuesday’s move, the October 2013 deal to acquire then-Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe was as bold as the front office got.
That Ravens team tried (and failed) to stabilize an offense that would finish among the NFL’s worst. This Ravens team (4-2) needs to repair a secondary depleted by injuries and marred by inconsistency.
The shakeup has already started. It could continue for weeks on end. Maybe most significantly, Marlon Humphrey will have another bona fide playmaker beside him at cornerback. “I think we have two top-five corners playing on the same team,” safety Earl Thomas said. Peters, rated No. 13 at the position by Pro Football Focus, has an NFL-high 24 interceptions since entering the league in 2015, four of which he’s returned for a touchdown.
“Definitely excited anytime you can get a Pro Bowl corner,” said Humphrey, who has a game-changing forced fumble and red-zone interception himself over the past two weeks. “Another thing I thought about was, ‘What can I learn from him?’ Twenty-four interceptions in four, five years, however many years — whatever he’s doing, it’s working pretty well."
With injuries sidelining cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett in practice Thursday and Friday, coach John Harbaugh said Friday that the Ravens will need Peters to play “a lot” Sunday. But maybe the most intriguing upshot of Peters’ acquisition is how it affects how much other Ravens play, where they play and what defense they play. For the NFL’s No. 25 pass defense, change is needed.
Carr, who switched his jersey from No. 24 to No. 39 on Friday for Peters — “I know I can’t get 22 because of Jimmy,” Peters said, “but I was looking for something different” — has played nearly 92 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps this season. Last season, he led the team’s cornerbacks with a more reasonable 84.6% share.
With Smith returning to practice Wednesday and likely making his debut in Week 9, relief was always on the way. But Carr’s age (33) and versatility make him a wild card. If Peters meshes with Humphrey and a healthy Smith to form a formidable top three at cornerback, could Carr play some at safety? He has limited experience at the position, but the Ravens have lost starter Tony Jefferson and reserve DeShon Elliott the past two weeks to likely season-ending injuries.
“It helps us, flexibility-wise, on what we want to do,” defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said of adding Peters. Grinning, he declined to elaborate on what exactly that meant. “You see the smile.”
The Ravens and general manager Eric DeCosta ought to know what they’re getting in Peters. He recalled Friday that the team “liked me a lot” coming out of Washington, where he started for two-plus seasons before being dismissed for disciplinary reasons. A few picks before the Kansas City Chiefs selected Peters No. 18 overall, he took a call from Harbaugh, who wanted to check in on him.
Success found Peters early, and so did the ball. He was named second-team All-Pro as a rookie in 2015, when he had an NFL-best eight interceptions. He played like an in-your-face cornerback: In 2016, when Peters had sick picks and was named first-team All-Pro, and in 2017, his last year in Kansas City, the Chiefs ran man-to-man coverage on 48.9% and 46.3% of their defensive snaps, respectively, among the highest rates in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
With the Rams, who traded a second-round and fourth-round pick to acquire Peters in March 2018, Peters was in man coverage closer to 40% of the time last season, according to Sports Info Solutions. The 2018 Ravens relied on more man-to-man looks, but not as many as the Chiefs once had.
“He plays the way we play,” Harbaugh said of Peters, who has developed a boom-or-bust reputation in coverage recently. “When I say that, you know the coverages we play. … So he fits in really well that way and gives us another weapon back there, so we can do the things we want to do defensively. That’s what I’m excited about. We don’t want to be hamstrung. We want to be able to play the way we want to play. He’s going to help us do that.”
As for how long? Peters couldn’t say, or didn’t want to. He has barely had enough time to learn the Ravens playbook and study the 5-1 Seahawks’ play-action tendencies, much less look at Baltimore County real estate. The 26-year-old is in the final year of his rookie contract. And the secondary he was called in to help may be entering a transformative offseason.
Smith is a free agent after this season. So is Canady. Carr has a $7 million team option. Jefferson’s knee injury and price tag ($11.2 million salary cap hit in 2020) might be prohibitive. And Humphrey will be due either a pricey fifth-year option or a big-money extension after next season.
Now, though, the team needs Peters. Smith wondered aloud whether the Ravens would have traded for him had Smith not sprained his knee in Week 1. “Maybe we win the Super Bowl because of all this,” he said, grinning.
The Ravens, even their newest one, know it’s too early to predict what comes next.
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“My biggest thing is for me to just keep doing what I can do and control what I can control, and just being grateful for the opportunity to be able to play football,” Peters said. “Who knows what 26-year-old Marcus Peters would be doing in [his hometown of] Oakland, California, right now? So I’m doing something that I love to do right now. I’m passionate about it, and I’m able to take care of my family doing it. I’m just going to keep doing what I need to do.”