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Mar 06

Insider Buzz: Titans Planning ‘Aggressive’ Free Agency Push, Eyeing Greg Hardy

The Tennessee Titans have about $46 million in cap space and plan to be aggressive in free agency.

Who are the Titans planning to go after in free agency? What positions should they focus on?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report NFL Insider Jason Cole discuss the Titans’ free-agency plan in the video above.

Read more Tennessee Titans news on BleacherReport.com

Mar 06

Best Draft-Day Contingency Plans for Baltimore Ravens

With the NFL draft now two months away, the Baltimore Ravens are getting closer to finalizing their first-round big board. Like every NFL team, Baltimore is building a board, ranking this year’s prospects based on the team’s current needs and the quality of the players.

The Ravens are also likely zeroing in on the players whom they think have a good shot of being on the board in the first round. However, things can change, and one or more of those guys could end up getting picked before Baltimore gets a shot at them.

As of now, wide receiver and defensive back are Baltimore’s biggest needs heading into the draft. With Torrey Smith possibly leaving, the Ravens will need to replace him with a first- or second-round pick. 

As for defensive back, Baltimore needs to add a corner in this year’s draft, but the team could also address safety in the first two rounds. 

Over the next few slides, I’ll break down some contingency plans with how the Ravens’ strategy might go come draft day based on different scenarios.

In these scenarios, there isn’t a wide receiver or defensive back worthy of drafting in the first round, which leaves Baltimore to go with one of three contingency plans I’ve outlined. 

Begin Slideshow

Mar 06

Friday Ravens links: Cary Williams begins free agent tour, Profiling Kwon Alexander

Read what others are writing about the Baltimore Ravens.

Cary Williams on his own NFL tour

Former Ravens cornerback Cary Williams has scheduled visits with the Seahawks, Titans and Jets, according to The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson. The Ravens also have interest in Williams.

NFL draft prospect: Kwon Alexander

Purple Reign Show’s Ryan Maistre writes about LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander, who could be of interest to the Ravens during this year’s NFL draft.

Projecting the Ravens’ free-agent tenders

ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley predicts which tenders the Ravens’ free agents will draw during the free-agency period, including kicker Justin Tucker.

Retiring as a Raven fitting for Jarret Johnson

CSNBaltimore.com’s Bo Smolka writes that it’s fitting for Jarret Johnson to retire as a Raven since he had nine great seasons with the organization.

Pass rusher is underrated need for the Ravens for this draft

BaltimoreRavens.com’s Garrett Downing writes that the Ravens could actually benefit from drafting a pass-rusher during this year’s upcoming NFL draft.

Mar 05

Would you trade Haloti Ngata to the Eagles?

Former Duck unites with the NFL’s Duck farm system.

As the Washington DC area undergoes a pretty awesome blizzard, thus denying me the ability to get any real work done, I thought I’d churn on an idea that had started out as a fun hypothetical but might actually be a not-so-crazy maneuver upon further reflection.

We all saw that Chip Kelly isn’t afraid to shake things up. Trade the most popular player on your team in Philadelphia? Done, without even a second thought.

With the trade of LeSean McCoy to the Bills and some other cuts, the Eagles have amassed a staggering amount of cap space. They can quite literally sign Ndamakong Suh today for $16 million a year and have money left over  to burn.

So that got me thinking about another former Duck, who plays a little like Suh, who costs a good amount of money right now.  I’m talking of course about Haloti Ngata.

Not as crazy as it seems

Now, do I think such a move is likely? No, I think the Eagles are done with internet-destroying trades for now.  But it begs the question: could it happen and what would it look like?

The answer to the first question is yes:  it could happen and it wouldn’t even be that crazy.  It certainly makes sense for the Ravens.

Would you rather release Ngata to save $8.5 million (which we WILL do if an extension is not reached) or trade him to the NFC where he can’t bother us very often and potentially recoup something of value?  Of course it means we’ve probably given up on extension.

Moving Ngata ensures he doesn’t wind up on the Colts, Bengals, or some other team that could bite us in the ass in the AFC. No one wants to see that.

It also give us the ability to choose what we get. Picks, players, you name it.  Ngata is probably a tier below Suh at this point just because of age but will cost far, far less. He makes sense for a lot of teams that don’t want to play in the Suh sweepstakes.

Who from the Eagles would you want?

Of course any trade for Ngata makes the most sense if it is for draft picks. It’s what the Ravens would covet more, certainly. So let’s examine the more interesting option, too.

What about players?  Who on the Eagles would be of sufficient value to us BUT ALSO make sense for the Eagles to part with?  It’s not like they’ll part with just anyone. These trades are supposed to be win/win after all.

Jeremy Maclin is a pending FA so they can’t trade him, even though he’s probably the most sensible asset.  He’ll just hit the market.  Jordan Matthews has some nice upside and is cost controlled.  The Eagles have some fantastic offensive lineman but it’s not an area of need for us per se. They already traded their most tradeable asset in McCoy barring Nick Foles (who we also don’t need).

I put it to the community:  in a crazy bizarro world where the Ravens and Eagles trade for Haloti Ngata, what would you want in return?

Think about it closely.  Think about the salary of the players involved, age, upside and all of that.  If you want to do a trade for picks, think about the value of those picks and what year you would want them.

Let’s hear what you got in the comments and make your best case.  Nothing is too crazy and everything is on the table. If you can dream it, Chip Kelly can do it.

(p.s. I’m still hoping for an extension so just roll with the exercise)

Mar 05

#TBT: Jarret Johnson’s most critical play saves Ravens season

A dagger in the hearts of the Volunteer state.

Jarret Johnson is without a doubt one of the most rugged players ever to don a Ravens uniform and certainly among the most popular.

Other players have had more talent. Others have drawn more glory. Johnson laces up his cleats, goes to work, and makes possible the tightly functioning thing we call a football team.

A fourth round pick out of Ozzie Newsome’s alma mater, Alabama, Jarret Johnson can lay claim to being one of the better players to come out of the Roll Tide.

Therefore, it is fitting that Johnson’s most important play in his career would come on a play he never should have been involved in in the first place. And we’ve got the GIFs to remind you.

Let’s go back in time to 2008

I had a working hypothesis of what Jarret Johnson’s most important play might be but I wanted to confirm it with some numbers. I turned to Advanced NFL Analytics, the producer of live win probability charts and Win Probability Added. In short, part of their bread and butter is to measure the impact of a single play on a game’s outcome.

First, I ran a review of the games in the season in question. They are ranked by level of excitement and comeback. Here is the list for 2008. It so happens the game in question is right at the top as the most exciting game of the season. Here is the associated win probability chart for the game.

Setting the Stage

The Ravens 13-10 win over Titans was an iconic win in the franchise’s history. Winless in January since the 2001 season, the Ravens had only made the playoffs in 2003 and 2006 since, exiting in the first round both times. Jack Harbaugh, John’s father, cried on the sideline afterwards. It would also be Rex Ryan’s last victory as a Raven.

The Titans had dominated the regular season, earning the #1 seed. They beat Baltimore at M&T. They destroyed the Steelers in Week 16.  They started 9-0 and they had done it all without their third overall pick from 2006, Vince Young.

This was a game rich in storylines. Kerry Collins’s revenge game? Check. Baltimore and Tennessee settling old scores on the playoff field of battle? Check. Derrick Mason going against his old team? Check.

Through one and a half quarters, the score was tied 7-7. Tennessee had moved the ball far better than the Ravens but had little to show for it after their early touchdown. Chris Johnson’s injury helped but ultimately it was forced turnovers that made the difference.

With less than three minutes left in the half, Tennessee began driving. Collins was hitting Justin Gage for wide open gains all day and this drive was no different. Gage had 95 yards receiving before halftime, putting his team to the 30 yard line with 51 seconds to go.

The Titans would get the drive to 3rd-4, setting up an absolutely vital third down from the 22.  And that’s when Jarret Johnson struck.

The Play

Pre-snap, here is Jarret Johnson’s alignment.  You’ll see he’s lined up on the strongside of the formation.

presnap 2008

Suggs was by this time out of the game with an arm injury.

Facing this 3rd-4, the Titans dial up a smart delayed draw play.

LenDale White bounces it outside and picks up the first down. Right at the moment White crosses the first down line, he fumbles:

JJ-2008

You’ll note Johnson initially rushes the passer checking for any run keys. He sees the delayed handoff and begins fighting towards the backside. White is able to pick up the first down.

That’s when Johnson gets him. He punches the ball out with one hand and tackles with the other. White never sees it coming and has no chance. No one else on Tennessee is trying to block him as they are busy blocking players at the second level.  But Johnson gets there all the same.

The ball flies right into Jim Leonard’s hands (who himself would have perhaps the most critical play of this game later). Here is a GIF of the end zone camera angle:

JJ-2008-EZangle

Impact of the fumble

Brian Burke’s charts suggest the play increased the Ravens’ win chances by 15%.

Instead of expecting at least 3 if not 7 points, the Titans ended with zero. That would prove to be a critical stop in a low scoring game where even a field goal would have made the difference.

Tennessee was also moving the ball comfortably on Baltimore. Here are the Titans’ stats through halftime:

halftime-stats-2008

As you can see, the Ravens were getting killed in production by the Titans. However, and this is a big however, the Titans played sloppy and made horrendous turnovers.  Playoff games are decided on less. The Ravens were going to need to win this one on hitting a few deep shots, sound execution, and limiting mistakes.

Without this play it is easy to imagine Tennessee pulling away. The Ravens had one of their best defenses in team history but had lost Suggs early in the game to an arm injury. That was one reason Johnson had to rush the passer on third down.

Johnson made plays like this all the time, albeit usually on smaller stages. It’s only right that his most impactful play would be no different than what he’s always done.

Closing the book on a great Raven

Nothing I can write can do proper justice to Jarret Johnson. He is a quintessential Raven, beloved by all those who adorn themselves with the Purple and Black on Sundays, respected by the men he lined up alongside. Certainly no stat anyone can come up with can ever hope to capture his contribution.

Football is a game played by individuals who work the entire year, nay, their entire lives, for thousands of hours towards these small moments in time we call a game-day. Perhaps some mystique is best left unsullied about the game and players like Jarret Johnson who just played some subtle but integral part in working towards the ultimate team goal in all of sports.

Farewell, Jarret Johnson.

Mar 05

2015 All-Blogger Mock draft

I was invited to participate in Draft Season’s All-Blogger mock draft this year. Draft Season has asked a representative from every 32 teams to pick as though they are the team they represent. Every person asked currently writes about the team they were to choose for, allowing Draft Season to create a really interesting experience that should actually mimic the real thing.

I was invited to participate in Draft Season’s All-Blogger mock draft this year. Draft Season has asked a representative from every 32 teams to pick as though they are the team they represent. Every person asked currently writes about the team they were to choose for, allowing Draft Season to create a really interesting experience that should actually mimic the real thing.

There were the expected selections as well as the few head scratching picks that we come to expect every year from the NFL. Then it became my turn…

Selection: Melvin Gordon RB, Wisconsin

The sad slide of Maxx Williams continues with every team in the AFC North passing on the top rated tight end prospect in the first round of this draft. The Ravens would certainly be interested in Williams in this spot as a possible replacement for Dennis Pitta if his injury proves to be the end of his career as many people feel it will. If reports come out before the draft that Pitta is done, Williams will be the go-to pick for the Ravens at this spot, but if there is a possibility that Pitta could come back and continue his career, the Ravens would likely feel confident in their ability to bring back Owen Daniels for another year and continue working on project tight end Crockett Gillmore while even mixing in a little bit of Kyle Juszczyk as a motion fullback/tight end in packages until Pitta is ready to see the field again.

Since the NFL has turned into a pass first league, running backs have become less of a priority for NFL offenses, which is why we don’t see the mad rush on them in the first round despite this being one of the more talented classes in the past few years. However, the Ravens are one of the few teams in the league that still aims to run the ball in order to grind teams down. In that case, Melvin Gordon becomes the easy pick here for the Ravens given the way this mock draft has shaken down. With the top 4 receivers and the top 3 corners off the board already, the Ravens would want to add an immediate impact player to the team. Journeyman Justin Forsett is no lock to return to the team, with his inconsistent overall career to think of and the little starting caliber depth at the position; the Ravens would be fools to not nab the best pure rusher in this draft. With the right mix of speed, instincts, vision and massive frame, Gordon could truly be a game changing type of player behind the Ravens offensive line with Joe Flacco forcing defenses to stay honest.

As you can see, the mock draft lead me towards selecting a rusher in the first round. With the more important positions (CB and WR) already down to the second round level talent, I didn’t feel comfortable grabbing a player just due to need. It isn’t how the Ravens draft and Melvin Gordon truly is a top 20 talent if it weren’t for the NFL’s desire to throw on every down.

Realistically, I would have wanted to trade down. Either in the last few picks of the first round or early into the second round. I could have probably still gotten Gordon in the early second round and if not, I could have still grabbed one of the top three rushers in the draft. However, we weren’t able to trade for good reason. If we were, the 26th overall pick is worth roughly 700 points on the draft value cheat sheet. That would have allowed me to nab an early second round pick, a fourth rounder, and a 7th rounder fairly easily.

What do you think of the selection and the reasoning? What about the other picks in this mock draft?

Mar 04

Titans Owner Tommy Smith Needs a Reality Check on Contending Hopes, Roster Plans

There’s an intrinsic belief necessary to get involved in professional sports. If you’re a player, you need to believe you are the best. (Even if you aren’t.) And, if you’re a general manager or head coach, you need to believe your plan is the best. (Even if it isn’t.) The Magic of Thinking Big is an important psychological aspect necessary to compete at that level. 

And so, from that standpoint, it’s not entirely surprising that Titans owner Tommy Smith has strong beliefs about the likelihood of his team turning things around. Smith told local talk shows, as reported by Jim Wyatt of The Tennesseean, that he believes Tennessee can make the playoffs in 2015 and contend for a Super Bowl in 2016. He think this is a “realistic expectation.”

It’s not.

When the Titans finished tied for the worst record in the NFL last season, it wasn’t the result of a few bad breaks steering an otherwise decent team down. The Titans finished second-to-last in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, 0.2 percent ahead of No. 32 Jacksonville. They finished with 3.3 Pythagorean wins, again second-to-last, 0.2 ahead of the Raiders. (Of course, the Raiders played the hardest schedule in the league. The Titans’ ranked 23rd.)

This is a rudderless team with one of the weakest rosters in the league and, well, I’ll just let Smith tell you. Smith told a radio station of his team’s identity: “That’s one of my pet peeves. I don’t think we have one. I’ll be candid with you.”

What struck me most about that line isn’t that Smith knocked his team’s lack of identity. It’s that he knocked it in the present tense. Smith has said he wants to build a “smash-mouth” football team, when that concept is just as outdated as, well, the band Smashmouth. Every NFL team wants to win at the line of scrimmage, just like every car company wants to put a safe car out. This isn’t a plan—it’s marketing jargon. 

And that’s the real issue the Titans have. Smith has been in control of the team for 1.5 years, and there is no real plan. Just a bunch of proclamations about wanting to build through the draft or winning at the lines—statements that sound nice but are already known quantities about owning a football team. “We are going to build through the draft” is a statement akin to “I believe ice cream tastes good.” 

But general manager Ruston Webster has had time to make this plan work. We have had three drafts of “building through the draft.” The Titans have one of the weakest young cores of any team. 

I did a more detailed look back at Webster’s drafts in-season, too, and came to much the same conclusion as that table above did. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt wore out his welcome in Arizona and was an abysmal game manager last season. In fact, ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky raised a great point: Isn’t the smashmouth plan running counter to Whisenhunt’s downfield passing attack plan? 

I’m not going to say that either man deserves to lose his job, but they’re both emblematic of the problem in Tennessee: There’s a lot of talk about progress and the plan, but no discernible progress or plan. 

Talent can overcome bland management. But the Titans have done such a poor job of importing it that there’s little hope of that happening in the near future. At the positions that matter most in the modern game (quarterback, receiver, pass-rusher, shutdown corner, three-down linebacker), the Titans have no long-term solutions.

And rather than take a chance on whichever of two legitimate first-round quarterbacks (Florida State’s Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota) falls to their No. 2 pick, all indications are that they’re sticking with Zach Mettenberger as the main guy. Sticking with Mettenberger, who has exactly zero things going for him as an NFL quarterback beyond 10 great deep balls a season, is like sticking with a pager because your friends sometimes have problems with their smart phones.

I’m not saying Smith shouldn’t bring a positive message to the fans who had to suffer through this debacle of a team last season, but I’d like to see some humility in the face of such total and overwhelming defeat. Tell us why things will be different. Tell your fans why it’s smart to stick with Mettenberger, Whisenhunt and Webster. Why should we expect them to deliver what they didn’t last season? 

Will the Titans improve next season? Sure, probably. It’s hard not to improve from 2-14. But they are lightyears away from being a contender, and no one player in free agency can jump-start that process. It’s going to be a long climb back to respectability. 

Smith needs to know where this team is on the rung. Ross Perot has the same Vegas odds of making the playoffs as the Titans do. To speak otherwise in such an unabashed manner smacks not of belief, but of delusion. 

All DYAR and DVOA numbers cited are courtesy of Football Outsiders. Learn more about DVOA here.
 
Rivers McCown is the AFC South Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Three-Cone Drill podcast. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.

Read more Tennessee Titans news on BleacherReport.com

Mar 04

Top Impact Defender Leonard Williams Ideal Scheme Fit for Titans with No. 2 Pick

USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams is one of the top prospects in the 2015 NFL draft.

How good will Williams be at the next level? Which scheme would be the best fit for Williams?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Bleacher Report NFL Draft Analyst Matt Miller discuss Williams in the video above.

Read more Tennessee Titans news on BleacherReport.com

Mar 04

Cary Williams would be a welcomed addition to the Ravens

The Ravens could use Williams back on their roster after what they endured at the cornerback position in 2014.

Going back a couple of years, there were some moments Ravens fans showed frustration toward cornerback Cary Williams. He drew a ton of criticism in a 31-30 win over the Patriots in 2012, as Tom Brady picked on him all night in the passing game. But in hindsight, when you look back at Williams’ time in Baltimore, there was a lot more good than bad.

Now, he’s a free agent again. It would be in the Ravens’ interest to bring him back, especially now that he won’t command the kind of salary he did the last time he was on the market.

Baltimore’s corner situation was dismal depth-wise a season ago. Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Asa Jackson all dealt with injuries that forced them to miss games. So why not add someone who has plenty of familiarity with what the Ravens do on defense?

Williams is an outside corner with the size at 6-foot-2 to press and get physical with bigger receivers. I can remember one instance during the 2011 preseason when former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano gushed over the idea of having Williams and Smith as his outside corners of the future. (Of course, he went on to be the head coach of the Colts so that never materialized.)

If Williams were to be brought back to Baltimore, you’re looking at a lineup of Smith and Williams on the outside with Webb inside at nickel. That’s a significant upgrade for Baltimore’s top three corners.

If the Ravens bring back Williams, they should still look at a young corner in the draft. But Williams would be an easy move to make and one that could have a considerable impact on this defense in 2015.


Mar 04

Wednesday Ravens links: The case for Todd Gurley, large WR free agent market

Read what others are writing about the Baltimore Ravens.

Jacoby Jones’ free agent tour continues

Next up on the list for former Ravens receiver/return specialist Jacoby Jones is a visit with the San Diego Chargers, reports The Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson.

Gauging the chances of the Ravens landing Andre Johnson

ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley writes about the possibility of the Ravens going after receiver Andre Johnson, who will be traded or released from the Texans in the near future.

Todd Gurley was born to be a Raven

Purple Reign Show’s Phil Gentile writes that Georgia running back Todd Gurley has the makings of the ideal player that the Ravens like to employ.

Wide receiver market remains highly volatile

CSNBaltimore.com’s Bo Smolka writes that there are likely to be a lot of high-caliber free agents at receiver this offseason and that the Ravens could be a player at trying to acquire one.

Stars may align for Ravens at running back

BaltimoreRavens.com’s John Eisenberg offers his prediction on what will happen for the Ravens at the running back position this offseason.

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