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Ravens mailbag: Which pass-rusher steps up to replace Pernell McPhee?

5/23/2015

It's time to click open our weekend Baltimore Ravens mailbag ...

@jamisonhensley: My money is on Za'Darius Smith to fill Pernell McPhee's role. It's funny because Upshaw came in with better sack numbers in college (15.5 in last two years), and he developed into more of a run-stopping force. Smith didn't put up impressive sack totals at Kentucky (10.5 in two seasons), but the Ravens are high on his skill level as a pass-rusher. A team official told me that Smith is farther along coming out of college than McPhee, who had six sacks as a rookie. Upshaw only has three sacks in three seasons, although his hit on Ben Roethlisberger ranked among the most memorable highlights of 2014. Smith, a former basketball player, has the athleticism to make an impact right away as a situational pass-rusher.

@jamisonhensley: Carl Davis, the Ravens' third-round pick, is a wild card on the defensive line. He has the length, agility and strength to play any three spots up front. Scouts differ on what Davis' best spot will be. I've heard rumblings that the Ravens will put Davis at defensive end (five technique), so it's possible that you will see Davis, Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan on the field at the same time. That could be Baltimore's future starting defensive line.

@jamisonhensley: The Ravens certainly have the cap room to add another veteran if general manager Ozzie Newsome chooses to do so. I'm thinking the game plan is to watch how the young players fare in the offseason workouts before making another move. Injuries or disappointing play might force the Ravens to sign or trade for a veteran. That's what happened in 2011, when the Ravens traded for Lee Evans when Torrey Smith struggled. The top available free agents include wide receiver James Jones, running back Pierre Thomas, tight end Jermaine Gresham, pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora and defensive tackle Kevin Williams.

@jamisonhensley: This is the last year that Ray Rice remains on the books for the Ravens. Rice counts $9.5 million against the Ravens' cap. In fact, he has the second-largest cap number for Baltimore (behind quarterback Joe Flacco's $14.55 million cap figure) and he isn't on the team. In case there is any confusion, the Ravens aren't paying Rice this season. This dead money is the remaining pro-rated portion of all of the bonuses that were already paid to him. The reason why Rice's cap hit was spread over 2014 and 2015 was the timing of his release. If the Ravens had cut him prior to June 1, his entire cap hit would have been absorbed last season. Because it came in September, the dead money was split into two seasons.