Ravens Free Agency: Woodhead released, Howard’s option declined, Carr’s picked up

OWINGS MILLS, MD — A day before NFL Free Agency officially opens up, the Baltimore Ravens made a number of roster moves all involving veterans with at least eight years of experience in the NFL.

Before noon on Tuesday, the Ravens lost two players on offense; running back Danny Woodhead was released from his three-year, $8.8 million contract, signed last offseason, and tackle Austin Howard‘s 2018 option was declined. However, the Ravens picked up cornerback Brandon Carr‘s option, keeping him in Baltimore. Below is a breakdown of each move along with Jake’s hot take.

1. Danny Woodhead released

Woodhead’s release from his three-year contract saves the Ravens $2.55 million in cap space. Woodhead finished 2017 with 14 rush attempts, a career-low. He totaled just 56 yards on the ground, and caught 33 passes for 200 yards. Woodhead failed to score a touchdown for the third time in his career, and played in just eight games because of a lingering hamstring injury. Woodhead has played in just 10 games over the past two seasons.

Jake’s Hot Take: Not a shocking move at all. I was very skeptical of the Ravens giving a three-year deal to a 32-year-old oft-injured running back (now 33), and I was right. I understand that the Ravens could not have predicted the emergence of Alex Collins, but Woodhead’s role only diminished when Buck Allen became a threat in both the passing attack and the running game. Both Collins and Allen will return next season, along with Kenneth Dixon. John Harbaugh was non-committal about any of these running backs starting next season, so with potentially another young running back coming into the fold, keeping Woodhead around at his cap number did not make sense.

2. Austin Howard’s 2018 option declined

Last offseason the Ravens inked Howard, 30, to a three-year, $16 million contract with team options for each year. Howard started all 16 games for the Ravens last season and Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 18th-best right tackle in the NFL. By not picking up the option, the Ravens saved $3 million in cap space. The move comes a day after the Ravens signed James Hurst to a four-year contract.

Jake’s Take: Howard was rumored to be a cap casualty this offseason, but I’m surprised that the Ravens are letting him walk. Sure, both Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda will return from injury next season, but both of them missed time with injuries in 2016, too. Howard had a shoulder ailment at the beginning of last season, but he battled through it and did a respectable job at right tackle.

Perhaps this means that the Ravens plan on having either Lewis or Hurst shift to right tackle. Maybe it means that the Ravens plan to make a run at Ryan Jensen, set to hit free agency on Wednesday. Even so, Hurst has struggled while playing either tackle position in the past. Lewis, like mentioned, has yet to start more than 10 games in a season because of injuries. The Ravens can address the right tackle position in the draft, but that would take away from several pressing needs on offense.

Last year, the Ravens waited until training camp to fill their right tackle slot, and I could see a similar scenario this summer.

3. Ravens pick up Brandon Carr’s 2018 option

Last year, the Ravens brought in Brandon Carr on a one-year contract with a series of options over four seasons. The Ravens could have saved $4 million by cutting Carr. Now, the 31-year-old cornerback will make $4.5 million in 2018 with a $1.5 million roster bonus. Carr finished the 2017 season with 50 tackles, four interceptions, and 12 passes defensed. He started all 16 games for the Ravens in 2017, and has not missed a start in his 10-year career. Yesterday, the Ravens parted ways with long-time defensive back Lardarius Webb. A day later, they retain a starter who could still have a heavy presence in the Ravens’ 2018 secondary.

Jake’s Hot Take: At those numbers, I think the Ravens are paying Carr too much money, but I understand why they elected to keep him. Jimmy Smith cannot stay on the field, and with Smith coming off a torn Achilles suffered in December, he may not be ready for the start of the season. Not to mention that Tavon Young is coming off a torn ACL, and Maurice Canady has been plagued by knee problems in his first two NFL seasons.

Thin secondaries have costed the Ravens playoff games and trips to the playoffs in recent seasons, and this move shows that the Ravens don’t want to see that happen again.

What to expect next? It will be very interesting to see what happens with Jeremy Maclin. Maclin finished 2017 with career-lows in catches (40), reception yards (440), and yards-per-reception (11). The Ravens can save $5 million by cutting Maclin before the June 1 deadline, but Baltimore is very thin at receiver. Mike Wallace will test free agency, and made it clear that he wants to sign with a contender.

This morning, Allen Robinson agreed to a deal with the Bears, and Sammy Watkins signed with the Chiefs. The Ravens have been linked to names like Donte Moncrief and Tavon Austin, but both receivers finished 2017 with totals lower than Maclin’s. The Ravens are backed into a corner at receiver. Maclin’s year in Baltimore was a dud, but the Ravens may be feeling the pressure to hold onto him.

Image Credits: Russell Street Report, Baltimore Ravens, Ravens Wire

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Facing depth concerns on offensive line, Ravens bring back Jeremy Zuttah

OWINGS MILLS, MD — Since the beginning of training camp, three Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman got lost for the season either due to injury (Alex Lewis, Nico Siragusa) or retirement (John Urschel). On Friday, the team made up for some of those losses by signing free agent center Jeremy Zuttah.

The deal, according to NFL.com‘s Ian Rapoport, spans over two years for $6 million.

Zuttah, 31, played the last three seasons with the Ravens, starting at center when healthy. Following a disappointing season, the Ravens traded Zuttah to the San Francisco 49ers in March for a sixth-round pick. That draft pick got used on Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark. On Aug. 9, two days before their first preseason game, the 49ers released Zuttah. He reportedly drew interest from both the Ravens and Colts. Ultimately, the Ravens won the bid and helped an offensive line that faces serious depth concerns.

Zuttah made his first Pro Bowl in nine seasons in 2016, but that transpired after several offensive lineman elected not to play in the game. 2016 was not a solid season for Zuttah. He committed multiple holding penalties in critical spots against the Raiders and Cowboys last season. He also allowed three sacks.

The Ravens traded Zuttah before the draft, and waited until the fourth round to address the offensive line. Baltimore feels good about 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen to take over the starting job at center. If the coaching staff sticks to that plan, Zuttah will either back up Jensen or play left guard. The coaches could also elect for Zuttah and Jensen to play their natural positions; Jensen at left guard and Zuttah at center.

This move needed to occur. 2016 first round pick Ronnie Stanley missed practice this week with an undisclosed injury. Marshal Yanda has yet to play in a preseason game after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason. Austin Howard got some playing time on Thursday night against the Dolphins, but he still needs time to get acclimated with the offense after getting signed two weeks ago.

In the second preseason game against the Dolphins, the Ravens’ starting offensive line featured three undrafted players – James Hurst, Matt Skura and Jarrod Pughsley. Starting running backs Terrance West and Danny Woodhead combined for zero yards from scrimmage on seven carries. Not good.

Hearing Zuttah’s name may cause some Ravens fans to sigh, but his addition brings an upgrade to what the team currently possesses along the offensive line. Head Coach John Harbaugh provided no timetable for Stanley’s return to practice. The coaching staff is bringing Yanda along slowly. Not to mention that quarterback Joe Flacco has yet to practice in training camp due to a back injury. No one knows when Flacco will return.

The Ravens need to protect their franchise quarterback now more than ever. Losing three offensive lineman in training camp so far makes for a scary situation. Zuttah may not provide a long-term answer, but he owns 117 career starts. Zuttah knows the Ravens’ offense. The addition of senior offensive assistant Greg Roman brings a learning curve for Zuttah, but the regular season does not start for another three weeks.

The Ravens cannot afford any more injuries on the offensive line. However, if more injuries occur, the depth at the position upgraded with the addition of Zuttah.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 

Ravens Agree To Terms With Running Back Danny Woodhead

OWINGS MILLS, MD – The Ravens are upgrading their backfield.

On Monday evening, it was reported that the Ravens had agreed to terms with ex-Chargers and Patriots running back Danny Woodhead. On Thursday afternoon, it was announced that the deal in principle between Woodhead and the Ravens is a three-year deal.

Woodhead, 32, played in only two games last season before undergoing an ACL surgery. An undrafted rookie out of Chadron State, he spent the first three seasons of his career with the New York Jets before having a featured role with the Patriots, whom he also spent three seasons with. Following his time with New England, he spent four seasons with the Chargers.

Woodhead presents a threat as both a runner and a receiver. He has 900 or more yards from scrimmage in four seasons. He has about as many rushing touchdowns (15), as he has receiving scores (17). He may not be the lead blocker that Kyle Juszczyk (who is leaving to sign with the 49ers) is, but his abilities as both a runner and receiver present matchup problems for defenses.

The acquisition of Woodhead could become pivotal for Baltimore, as it was announced that running back Kenneth Dixon is suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Earlier this week, the Ravens extended first round tenders to their restricted free agents, which includes running back Terrance West. Unless another team reaches out to West with an offer sheet, than he will play for Baltimore under a $1.797 salary in ’17.

Bringing in running backs over the age of 30 is always a risky move, but in 2015 Woodhead put up 1,091 yards from scrimmage, which is a career high. By the time the season rolls around, he will be fully recovered from his ACL surgery looking to contribute. He will split reps with Dixon and West, but with Dixon’s suspension, Woodhead’s role at the beginning of the season will be big.

At the State of the Ravens press conference, the Ravens’ brass talked a lot about adding more weapons for Joe Flacco. Woodhead is a weapon in more ways than one, and can also be a leader for Baltimore’s otherwise young backfield.

The Ravens may not be done with adding running backs, and if they plan on using a fullback in 2017 they will need to find one of those as well. No one expected the Ravens to go after Woodhead, but he is a nice addition to this offense that is looking for play-makers.