Coming off of their most successful regular season of all time, the Baltimore Ravens 2019 season was a full-team effort. From top to bottom, the Ravens had key contributions everywhere on both sides of the football. The Ravens averaged a franchise-best 407.6 yards per game and set the all-time single-season rushing record as a team. On defense, they finished as the fourth-best yardage defense, the third-best scoring defense, and had the sixth most forced turnovers. This was despite only registering 37.0 sacks all year. The one thing the Baltimore Ravens need to do is hone in on some free agent edge defender targets.
Baltimore lost multiple big-name pass rushers in free agency in 2019 and never fully recovered with a remade pass rush to start the season. Replacing franchise cornerstone Terrell Suggs and breakout star Za’Darius Smith, the Ravens had little success getting to the quarterback. Matt Judon had one of his best seasons as a Raven but was the only player on the defense to record over 5.0 sacks, 10 quarterback hits and the only member of the front-seven to force multiple fumbles.
Now entering 2020, general manager Eric DeCosta is tasked with the large task of improving an edge unit that has struggled mightily over the past two seasons to get to the quarterback. This year’s free-agent class has a number of stars on the edge, including the Ravens own Judon, which will make an instant impact on whichever team they join. DeCosta likely needs to make more than one addition to improve the group. These are five free agent players off the edge the Ravens should target in free agency.
Baltimore Ravens Free Agent Targets: Edge
Going into free agency in 2019, there was buzz that the Ravens could’ve made a push to trade for Clowney after he demanded to be traded outside of the Houston Texans organization. He eventually landed in Seattle in late August for a very modest package. The reduced price was due to Clowney being unable to negotiate a long-term deal due to previously signing the franchise tag with the Texans.
Now in 2020, Clowney is looking for a reported annual average value of around $22 million. He was one of the most saught-after defensive prospects coming out of college over the last decade but has failed to live up to the hype as a pro. Over his first five seasons in the league, Clowney has accumulated just 32.0 sacks, 80 quarterback hits, and eight forced fumbles in 75 career games. He still remains one of the league’s best run defending edges but does not have the production to back up his sky-high contract demands.
The Ravens could very much use a player like Clowney that can play every down off the edge but do not have the cap space to make someone the top-paid player at their position — especially one of premium value. As good as the fit between Clowney and the Ravens would be, he’s simply priced himself out of Baltimore.
Fowler is one of the most intriguing edge rushers on the market this year. He has already played on two teams since being picked third overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015 but is coming off of his most productive season as a pro in 2019. Last season, Fowler finished the year with career-highs in each tackles (58), tackles for loss (16), sacks (11.5), quarterback hits (16), and starts (14). Playing 80% of defensive snaps on the year was by far the most of his career as well.
Fowler ran with the new responsibilities he was given by the Rams in 2019 and should be awarded accordingly. Based on the deal of four-year(s)/$66 million that Za’Darius Smith received just a year ago (who was also a year older at the time than Fowler is right now), Fowler should expect a salary with an AAV around $15 million. If the price tag was reduced, going after a standup pass rusher like Fowler could make sense for the Ravens. DeCosta letting Smith walk should be a sign that he likely won’t take the gamble on Fowler.
The Ravens will be looking to find a cornerstone or two for the pass rush this off-season but if they’re looking for a quality stopgap to both produce and mentor the youth, Quinn could be a great option. He’s been around the league for almost a decade now and is coming off one of his best seasons. The longtime St. Louis Ram had 11.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles with the Cowboys in 2019. Quinn was playing as a 4-3 defensive end in Dallas, but with some shifting around, he could be utilized in the same way on the Ravens.
Sportac projects Quinn’s market value to be just over $11.5 million. While a hit that large would put a dent in the Ravens cap space, it’s significantly less than the price tags of the top-tier free agent pass rushers. There is a lot of value at the pass rusher position and DeCosta is likely going to have to spend a large portion of money on at least one player in free agency. Quinn will be 30 years old to begin the 2020 season — keeping his price more in the ravens ballpark.
If there is one player that the Ravens should break the bank for in free agency this season, it’s Ngakoue. The former-Maryland Terp has been a force since coming into the NFL and grew up just hours away from M&T Bank Stadium in Washington, DC. Ngakoue entered the league in 2016 and is ranked 12th in sacks, eighth in quarterback hits, and fourth in forced fumbles over that span. He has also missed just two games in four years. A player that can consistently win one-on-one off the edge is exactly what the Ravens need to add this off-season. He’s also still just 24 years old and could be a consistent contributor for many years to come.
The biggest hurdle for the Ravens acquiring Ngakoue is that he isn’t technically an unrestricted free agent. The Jaguars have placed the franchise tag on Ngakoue and are looking for a ‘sign and trade’ exchange for the pass rusher. However, the Ravens could have a very intriguing asset to offer Jacksonville — Hayden Hurst. Jacksonville has reportedly inquired about trading for the former first-round pick and would be projected to bring back close to the same value as Ngakoue. A swap could allow the Jaguars to add a needed pass catcher over the middle and for the Ravens to get the anchor off the edge they’ve been missing since Suggs began to decline. DeCosta likely doesn’t want to lose draft capital.
While landing Ngakoue might seem unlikely for the Ravens given the fact that they will likely only have around $35 million in cap space to work with, the match would be great for both parties and he may be worth the dollar amount.
The best fit for the Ravens, if they plan on adding a pass rusher in free agency, is Van Noy. He is known as a ‘swiss army knife’ of sorts and could fill the strong-side linebacker role that Judon will likely vacate this off-season. Van Noy has played the majority of his NFL career as an off-ball linebacker but showed a new ability to successfully rush the passer and play the edge in 2019. He finished the year with career-highs in each sacks (6.5), forced fumbles (three), and quarterback hits (15). Last season was his highest-graded season by PFF, in which he recorded a career-high grade of 83.6 with 58 total pressures.
Van Noy started his NFL career with the Detroit Lions before being shipped in his third year to the Patriots for very little. The Lions gave him very few opportunities to make an impact but Van Noy made good on the expanded role given to him by Bill Belichick. In his first full season as a Patriot in 2017, Van Noy started 12 of the 13 games he played in and recorded 73 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and nine quarterback hits.
There is a buyer-beware factor about Van Noy, seeing as Patriots defenders often have far less success in different systems, but the fit between him and the Ravens looks to be a perfect match. He can be deployed in different sets, drop in coverage, and rush the passer from multiple positions. His projected value by Sportac of $8.3 million per year is also likely right in the ballpark of how much the Ravens want to spend on an impact player in free agency. Van Noy could breakout even further in Don Martindale‘s defense if used properly.
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