At his first press conference as general manager, Eric DeCosta said that the Baltimore Ravens are in the business of keeping their good football players.
Young’s extension marks DeCosta’s second big move of this offseason along with trading Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos. There’s still much to be done before the Ravens start worrying about free agency and the draft. Will C.J. Mosley return to Baltimore? Are guys like Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, Brandon Williams, and Michael Crabtree going to be let go or restructured to help the salary cap situation?
While all of these important decisions come to fruition, the Ravens have a number of talented young players on their roster who could be next in-line for a payday. On Twitter we released a poll asking Ravens fans which player they would like to see get paid next.
The poll results indicate that Ravens fans would most like to see the pass rush attain some stability. There could be more players on this list, but from an outsider’s perspective, these four all have a chance at receiving an extension soon.
Who should be next in-line for a payday? The four names included in the tweet are below, in order from highest priority to lowest priority
1: OLB Matthew Judon
One of the key things DeCosta said during Thursday’s press conference referred to poor secondary play being the fastest way to lose football games. Ravens fans can surely resonate with that after watching Rashaan Melvin in the 2014 divisional playoff game against the Patriots.
Along with the secondary, boasting a formidable pass rush is the most important piece to building a defense in today’s NFL. The Ravens have struggled to find a worthy replacement for Terrell Suggs. Adding to the frustration in the pass rush department is the fact that 2018 team sack leader Za’Darius Smith is about to hit the free agent market and the Ravens likely won’t be able to match the offers Smith will receive from other teams.
Luckily for DeCosta, the Ravens can put a bandaid over potentially losing both Smith and Suggs by giving Judon a contract extension. Judon started 20 games over the last two seasons, notching 15 sacks and 27 tackles-for-loss. He’s been a liability at times with penalties and slow starts, but he’s proven that he’s starting material.
2: DT Michael Pierce
Brandon Williams gets all the attention on the Ravens defensive line because he’s highly paid and just got named to his first Pro Bowl, but Michael Pierce played noticeably better than Williams did in 2018. In fact, Pierce was rated as the top player on the Ravens defense and the top defensive lineman in the AFC North by Pro Football Focus.
It’s important to recognize that Pierce played just 38% of Baltimore’s defensive snaps last year, but Williams isn’t an every down player either. Williams is getting paid $9.25 million per season with a $14 million cap hit in 2019. If the Ravens can find a team willing to take on Williams’ contract, they should pull the trigger immediately and lock up Pierce at a much cheaper figure.
Without Williams, the Ravens defensive line still has plenty of bulk with a returning Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard, Chris Wormley, and Zach Sieler in the fold. Who’s not to say that the Ravens bring on another undrafted defensive lineman just like Pierce? The defensive line is among the deepest positions on Baltimore’s roster, regardless if Williams returns in 2019 or not.
#3: OT Ronnie Stanley
Left tackle is the most important position on an offensive line. Ronnie Stanley was drafted sixth overall in 2015, signifying the highest draft pick by the Ravens since Baltimore took Jamal Lewis fifth overall in 2000.
The biggest knock on Stanley is his durability. He’s never started 16 games in three seasons, dealing ankle, knee, and foot ailments along with a concussion. Despite the injuries, he plays through pain. He has not lived up to his billing as a sixth overall pick. However, he’s considered one of the better left tackles in the NFL. He helped anchor an offensive line that completely changed their scheme midway through the 2018 season with Lamar Jackson taking over at quarterback. For a left tackle protecting the blind side, that should not go unnoticed.
The Ravens don’t need top overpay Stanley if they work out a deal now. With Orlando Brown only one year in, locking up Stanley at left tackle would give the Ravens a few years of wiggle room before deciding to move Brown to left tackle or decide that that he’s not the answer.
#4: ILB Patrick Onwuasor
This is under the assumption that the Ravens choose not to offer Mosley the hefty dollar figure that he’s sure to receive from other teams around the NFL. Obviously, if the Ravens can find a way to pay Mosley and retain him, Onwuasor likely plays out the rest of his contract before departing in free agency.
Onwuasor is a restricted free agent entering the offseason, meaning that the Ravens can match any offer he receives from other teams. With that in mind, if Mosley does not return to the Ravens, DeCosta can save the team from a headache by offering “Peanut” an extension over two or three years.
Onwuasor has started 12 games over the last two seasons, accumulating 157 tackles, 12 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks (5.5 in 2018), four forced fumbles, and one interception. He shined in the week 16 game in against the Chargers, finishing with nine tackles (two-for-loss), two sacks, and a forced fumble (later recovered by Tavon Young and returned for a touchdown).
He’s no Mosley, but Onwuasor has shown improvement by the year since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2016. With pass rushers and secondary players being prioritized around a passing league, the Ravens might be able to extend Onwuasor at a team-friendly price.
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