How much is a solid No. 2/3 cornerback worth?
If you’re the Ravens and you went through a couple of years of having to rely on Shareece Wright, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson and Kyle Arrington after the inevitable injuries hit at the position, it should be worth a little more.
Jimmy Smith’s Achilles’ tendon tear in December and subsequent suspension again left the Ravens vulnerable down the stretch and reaffirmed a truth in the NFL: You can never have enough cornerbacks.
It’s why moving on from Carr would be a mistake. Yes, it would open up $4 million in salary cap space, which the cash-strapped Ravens could repurpose to help the offense. However, it would also further thin a secondary that will have several question marks heading into the season.
If Smith is indeed is ready to play in Week 1, and that’s far from a sure thing, will he be 100 percent healthy? And how confident are you that he’ll play 16 games, which he’s done just twice in seven seasons? Will Jaylen Hill be ready to go after he tore up his knee in late December? Can you depend on Tavon Young picking up right where he left off as a rookie when he missed his entire second season because of knee surgery? And do the Ravens really know enough about what they have in Maurice Canady after he’s played just 12 games over parts of two seasons?
Sure, there’s nothing stopping the Ravens from moving on from Carr and signing a cheaper veteran cornerback or taking one in the draft. But you can’t expect to get a corner who is immediately ready to play unless you invest an early- to mid-round pick and the Ravens have far too many offensive needs to use another Day 1 or Day 2 pick on the position. As far as free agency, it’s not a strong cornerback class and the solid cover guys will be paid handsomely. The Ravens can’t afford to be in that market.
Carr seems to have gotten an inordinate amount of the fan blame for the Ravens’ defensive struggles down the stretch. He had a few difficult moments and you’re asking for too much if you think he’s going to consistently hold up one-on-one against standout wide receivers such as Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins. However, by and large, he had a solid first season in Baltimore. He is durable and competitive, and he became a mentor to several young players in a short time with the team.
He’s due to make $7 million in 2018. Twenty-three corners are set to make more than that in 2018, and that list figures to be quite a bit longer when the top free-agent corners find homes in mid-March. Carr is not making an unreasonable amount of money for what he brings. Given the volatility at the position, the Ravens should tread with caution.
Seven teams look like locks to be in the starting quarterback market: the Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and New York Jets. Another two, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, could give strong consideration to investing in a quarterback.
With A.J. McCarron, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater all headed to free agency and a few other Band-Aid options such as Josh McCown and Tyrod Taylor potentially being available, a handful of teams will settle on their quarterback before the draft.
There are always teams that surprise. I’m not sure anybody expected the Kansas City Chiefs to be as aggressive as they were in moving up to snag Patrick Mahomes last year when they still had Alex Smith on their roster. You never know when a team with an aging starting quarterback, like the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers and even the Ravens for that matter, will decide the time is right to grab an heir apparent.
But there is certainly no guarantee that the top four quarterbacks — Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen — will go within the top 15 picks. The Ravens hope they do because that would increase the likelihood that Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley or a top offensive tackle is there for them at 16. But the number of starting-caliber veteran signal callers available might not work in their favor.
Ten quick thoughts
1) USC running back Ronald Jones has become a pretty polarizing prospect, but count me among those who think he would be a nice addition to the Ravens backfield. He might not be an every-down back, but the Ravens don’t need that. They need a home run hitter as a complement to Alex Collins, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon.
2) It seems the same people annually complaining that the Ravens don’t have enough salary cap flexibility are the ones calling for them to restructure every veteran’s contract. It should absolutely be the last resort for teams in creating cap space.
3) Given what happened with Breshad Perriman, I’d expect the Ravens to put a premium on route-running, hands and physicality rather than just pure speed as they evaluate this year’s receiver class. They fell in love with Perriman’s speed and ignored his shortcomings.
4) Maryland’s DJ Moore, by the way, would be one of those receivers who doesn’t figure to put up eye-popping numbers at the NFL scouting combine but passes the eye test. I’m not sure, though, he’ll still be there when the Ravens are on the clock in the second round.
5) All the talk about finding a true No. 1 receiver leaves out the fact that it isn’t clear whether the Ravens have a good No. 2 or No. 3 receiver. There might not be a legitimate No. 1 available, so the focus needs to be on building as strong and diverse of a receiving corps as possible. Ultimately, they have to develop their own No. 1 because those guys rarely hit the open market anymore.
6) If the Ravens can’t get one of the other few top free-agent receivers, and I’m skeptical they will, re-signing Mike Wallace, taking a flier on a receiver coming off an injury-filled year — Jordan Matthews, John Brown, Terrelle Pryor and Donte Moncrief apply — and then drafting one or two receivers on Day 2 is probably their best play.
7) It’s probably not a good endorsement of last offseason’s body of work that four of the Ravens’ top five outside signings — Carr, Austin Howard, Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead — are all mentioned as potential salary-cap casualties this year.
8) As with Carr, I’d have a hard time moving on from Howard until you have a serviceable replacement on the roster, and I don’t think the Ravens do as of now. The Ravens don’t have enough space to be in the starting tackle free-agent market, so if you drop Howard, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to draft an offensive tackle early.
9) Pro Football Focus grades certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all, but it’s surprising to see Ronnie Stanley finish as the 31st-ranked offensive tackle. The 2018 season is a big one for Stanley. He’s been mostly good. Ravens need him to graduate to being great.
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10) There are 10 centers who make $8 million or more annually. I don’t know what pending Ravens free agent Ryan Jensen’s asking price is, but you’d expect he’d want to join that group. Whether the Ravens pay it will all depend on their evaluation of Jensen. If they think he’s an upper-echelon center, you pay it. If they think he’s a solid player who can be adequately replaced at far less than $8 million annually, you move on to Matt Skura, Nico Siragusa or someone else.
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