Baltimore Ravens: Jacoby Jones

ESPN.com's Mike Sando gave the Baltimore Ravens a B-minus Insider so far in free agency, and that's a fair grade.

"The Ravens re-signed their key free agents and made the right choice at tackle in letting Michael Oher test the market," Sando wrote. "This is looking like a low-key offseason for Baltimore."

The Ravens did what they had to do in terms of retaining their key free agents such as offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta, inside linebacker Daryl Smith and returner Jacoby Jones. They brought in a veteran wide receiver in Steve Smith, who can make an impact in clutch situations.

The one player the Ravens hated to lose was nickelback Corey Graham, but it would have been a mistake for Baltimore to match a contract that averages $4 million per season. The Ravens would've liked to upgrade more at center if there was a better free-agent market for that position. That forced them to trade for Jeremy Zuttah, who is better than Gino Gradkowski and is a good fit in the Ravens' zone-blocking scheme.

The Ravens still have question marks at free safety and right tackle. If the Ravens had to play today, they would go with Darian Stewart at free safety and Rick Wagner at right tackle. Stewart isn't a rangy defensive back, and Wagner doesn't have much experience. Both would fill a void, but they're not necessarily the solutions for those positions.

How did the rest of the AFC North teams grade out? The Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns all got a grade of C.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If you couldn't guess by Jacoby Jones' "I Love Bmore" hat that he wanted to stay with the Ravens, the electric Pro Bowl returner proved it by abruptly ending his visit with the New York Giants on Wednesday and taking less money to remain in Baltimore.

"I'm in the [Giants] facility walking around and I think I came to my senses really that this is probably the only place that will let me be myself," Jones said Thursday.

Jones
Jones was getting in a car to go to downtown New York for a dinner with the Giants before he officially pulled a reverse.

"I told the driver, head toward Newark. Take me to the airport," Jones said. "I told my agent that I knew I was coming home."

Jones signed a four-year, $12 million deal that includes $4.5 million guaranteed. How much less was the Ravens' offer compared the one from the Giants?

"I don't know," Jones said with a smile. "I'm not good at math."

One incentive to stay was the addition of Gary Kubiak as the Ravens' offensive coordinator. Kubiak was Jones' head coach for five seasons (2007-11) when both were with the Houston Texans.

Jones referred to Kubiak as his "biological father" because he never knew his own father. He remembered a conversation during his time in Houston when Kubiak sat him down after he was a self-described "knucklehead."

"He told me when you slow down and mature, you're going to have a chance to make a lot of money," Jones said.

Jones was cut by the Texans in May 2012 after he mishandled a punt that led to Houston's playoff loss at Baltimore. He joined the Ravens and redefined himself as one of the top playmakers in the league.

In two seasons, Jones has scored 10 touchdowns in 28 games. Since 2012, his 29.8-yard kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL and his four returns for touchdowns (three kickoff and one punt) is tied for the most in the league over that span.

Coach John Harbaugh insisted that the Ravens brought back Jones to be more than a returner, even though he has caught 67 passes in two seasons in Baltimore.

"He's also a quality receiver," Harbaugh said. "He's a special-teams player, but he's also a guy that can do the things that you need to do to move the chains when you need to move them. It's something that he's probably grown into over the last three or four years as a football player. Without question, we believe his best football is in front of him."
The Baltimore Ravens re-signed wide receiver Jacoby Jones and lost cornerback Corey Graham to the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday.

With both of these moves happening within hours of each other, it reminded me how Jones and Graham were linked on the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run. Graham, one of the Ravens' top special teams players, was on the field to block on every one of Jones' four return touchdowns that season. That included a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which set a Super Bowl record.

In case you missed it, here is my post on why keeping Jones was so critical and how losing Graham creates another hole in the secondary.

To keep up to date with all of the news and analysis on the Ravens, follow me on Twitter and on Facebook.
The Baltimore Ravens can't bring back the same team and expect to get back to the playoffs. They still need to add a free safety, wide receiver, center and middle linebacker.

But, if the Ravens were going to re-sign another one of their players after tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, it had to be wide receiver-returner Jacoby Jones, who reached a four-year, $12 million deal while visiting the New York Giants on Wednesday.

Jones
Keeping Jones was more important than holding onto defensive tackle Arthur Jones or inside linebacker Daryl Smith. Yes, you read that correctly. Just hear me out.

Jacoby Jones is a game-changer. When the ball was in his hands, he impacted more games than any other Raven over the past two years. If it was a big win, Jones usually had a hand in it.

In the 2012 regular season, his 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown helped the Ravens beat the Cowboys and his 63-yard punt return for a touchdown was the Ravens' only touchdown in a win at the Steelers. The Ravens wouldn't have won the Super Bowl that season if not for Jones' Mile High Miracle in the AFC divisional playoff game and his two touchdowns (including the best spin move in Super Bowl history) in New Orleans.

During the Ravens' four-game win streak in 2013, he made an impact each victory: a 66-yard touchdown catch against the Jets; 176 total yards against the Steelers; a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Vikings; and six catches for 80 yards including a third-down conversion on the game-winning drive at the Lions.

Jones isn't consistent, but he's clutch. The Ravens could've signed another returner like Devin Hester and Trindon Holliday. Right now, Jones is better than both of them. Jones' five kickoff returns for touchdowns since 2009 are tied with Percy Harvin for the most in the NFL (regular season and playoffs), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Based on Jones' contract (which is similar to Dexter McCluster's three-year, $12 million deal), the Ravens aren't going to make the same mistake of going into the season thinking Jones is a No. 2 wide receiver. Once free agency and the draft are over, Jones could be the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, which is exactly what he is. Line him outside a dozen times and let him go deep.

There will be times when Jones will frustrate the Ravens, and the team knows that. Jones failed his conditioning test at last year's training camp after spending an offseason on Dancing With The Stars. He was involved in a brawl on a party bus last September and was hurt when he was hit over the head by a stripper wielding a champagne bottle.

The bottom line is the Ravens are a better team with Jones than without him. His highlight reel proves it.
While Jacoby Jones is testing the free-agent market, it will ultimately test how much the Baltimore Ravens value the explosive wide receiver-returner.

On Monday, it was reported that four teams were looking at Jones. On Tuesday, it was revealed that the New York Giants were among those interested teams.

Jones is scheduled to visit the Giants on Wednesday, although the Ravens remain in the mix, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.

Dexter McCluster may have set the market for returners Tuesday, when he agreed to a three-deal with the Tennessee Titans that's worth up to $12 million, including $4.5 million guaranteed. An argument can be made that McCluster is more of an asset on offense than Jones because he can play running back and receiver.

The Ravens have reportedly made an offer to Jones, but it's likely less than the $4 million salary he earned last season with the team. Why do I say that? I don't believe Jones is making visits if that's the offer on the table from the Ravens.

At about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Jones put up an interesting post on his official Twitter account: "And it begins.........????????"

The Ravens can sign another productive returner in free agency like Devin Hester and Trindon Holliday, and they probably will add another wide receiver who will bump Jones down on the depth chart.

But losing Jones would be significant for the Ravens. That's why I had him rated No. 3 on the Ravens' free-agent rankings.

He was one of the top playmakers in the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run and he ranked among the top five returners in the league last season. Jones is inconsistent and one-dimensional as a wide receiver, but he made a lot of clutch plays for the Ravens in two seasons.

Dan Graziano, ESPN's Giants team reporter, thinks the interest from the Giants is legitimate.

"Jones would serve the dual purpose of solidifying the return game while also being able to help as a wide receiver," Graziano wrote. "He wouldn't necessarily be a Hakeem Nicks replacement at receiver, but he could help add depth at a position that didn't offer much last year."

The Ravens haven't lost Jones yet. But I believe it's a 50-50 proposition that he returns. If another team is willing to pay Jones a premium price for his playmaking skills, I don't see the Ravens overspending to keep him.
Alex MackAP Photo/David RichardCleveland Browns center Alex Mack is the top free agent in the AFC North.

It's not a particularly strong free-agent class in the AFC North, although the top ones rank among the best in the NFL.

The free-agent group in the division took a hit when tight end Dennis Pitta, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson all signed before the official start of free agency.

So who's left? ESPN's four team reporters in the division -- Scott Brown, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon -- compiled a list of the top 15 free agents in the AFC North.

The Baltimore Ravens have the most free agents on this list with eight players. The Cleveland Browns have two of the top three free agents in the division, and the Cincinnati Bengals have two of the top five. The Pittsburgh Steelers placed one free agent in the top 10.

Here are the top 15 free agents in the AFC North:

1. Alex Mack, Browns center: At 28, the two-time Pro Bowler is in the prime of his career. Mack was so coveted by the Browns that they placed a $10 million transition tag on him. It will be interesting whether another team can pry him away from Cleveland.

2. Michael Johnson, Bengals defensive end: He was better in 2012 (11.5 sacks) than he was in 2013 (3.5 sacks). Still, his size, athleticism and age (27) will make him one of the most coveted pass-rushers this offseason.

3. T.J. Ward, Browns safety: Considered one of the top 10 safeties in the NFL, Ward will draw interest from teams looking to get more physical in the secondary. He makes an impact on run defense and has improved in coverage.

4. Eugene Monroe, Ravens offensive tackle: Some believe Monroe is the top offensive tackle in free agency, but ESPN's Bill Polian has five tackles ranked ahead of him. His athleticism and upside will command a big-money contract even though he's never been to a Pro Bowl.

5. Anthony Collins, Bengals offensive tackle: He is an underrated left tackle who didn't allow a sack last season. The question mark with Collins is how he'll play as a full-time starter. He made seven starts last season and has 25 starts in six seasons in Cincinnati.

6. Jacoby Jones, Ravens receiver-returner: He was one of the top playmakers in the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run, and he ranked among the top five returners in the league last season. Jones is inconsistent and one-dimensional as a wide receiver, but he made a lot of clutch plays for the Ravens in two seasons.

7. Art Jones, Ravens defensive end: His impact as a run defender and interior pass-rusher makes him one of the top defensive tackles available. Teams, though, have to wonder whether he'll be the same type of player without Haloti Ngata drawing double-teams next to him.

8. Daryl Smith, Ravens linebacker: He was quietly one of the NFL's top comeback stories. In his first season with the Ravens, Smith led the team with 123 tackles and finished with five sacks, three interceptions, 19 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. His age (32 this month) could be a drawback.

9. Michael Oher, Ravens offensive tackle: His play never reached the expectations placed on a first-round pick. Oher is a throwback type of player whose strengths are durability and toughness. The biggest knocks against him are mental mistakes and pass protection.

10. Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers wide receiver: He is almost 27, brings a lot of quickness and is coming off a season where he dropped just two passes (according to ESPN Stats & Information). What works against Sanders is the fact that he's never had more than 740 yards receiving in a season and averaged a career-low 11 yards per catch last season.

11. Jameel McClain, Ravens inside linebacker: He isn't among the most talented linebackers, but he prides himself on outworking others. Even though he came back from a spinal cord contusion last season, some teams will be wary of a player who had such a serious injury.

12. James Ihedigbo, Ravens safety: Known more for his special-teams play, Ihedigbo finished as the team's second-leading tackler. He'll try to find a team that will give him an opportunity to play defense now that the Ravens moved Matt Elam to his strong safety spot.

13. Ziggy Hood, Steelers defensive lineman: He never became the difference-maker the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him in the first round, but it would be unfair to call him a bust. One of the strongest players on the team, Hood lost his starting job to Cameron Heyward last season.

14. Corey Graham, Ravens cornerback: He was a starter on the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl team and led Baltimore with four interceptions last season. Graham has proved to be a dependable nickelback, but he doesn't have the size or speed to be a full-time starter.

15. Brett Keisel, Steelers defensive lineman: He had four sacks last season and 26 quarterback pressures, third most on the Steelers, despite missing four games and playing sparingly in another because of a nagging foot injury. His age (35) will scare away a lot of teams.

Free-agency primer: Ravens

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

 
Key free agents: OT Eugene Monroe, DT Arthur Jones, WR-KR Jacoby Jones, LB Daryl Smith, OT Michael Oher, SS James Ihedigbo, CB Corey Graham, TE Ed Dickson.

Where they stand: The biggest hole on the team is offensive tackle. Monroe and Oher, the Ravens' starting tackles from last season, are both unrestricted free agents. The Ravens want to get bigger on the interior of the offensive line, which indicates they want to upgrade from center Gino Gradkowski. The other need on offense is a wide receiver or tight end who can convert third downs and make yards after the catch. In other words, they are looking for someone to complement wide receiver Torrey Smith beyond tight end Dennis Pitta, who was re-signed this week. On defense, the priorities are at middle linebacker and free safety. The Ravens want to bring back Smith, but they will need to replace him if they can't. With the Ravens moving Matt Elam to strong safety, they need to add an athletic safety whose strength is coverage.

What to expect: With $26 million in salary-cap space, the Ravens need to get a left tackle, center, wide receiver, middle linebacker and free safety in free agency. Baltimore is trying hard to keep Monroe and Smith before free agency begins. If the Ravens fail to retain Monroe, left tackle has to be the focus early in free agency. The contingency plan is to either re-sign Oher (which isn't ideal because he's better at right tackle) or move Kelechi Osemele from left guard to left tackle. The options at center aren't as appealing after Cleveland put the transition tag on Alex Mack. The other free-agent centers are 20-something and middle of the road: Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith, New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and New England's Ryan Wendell. At wide receiver, the top targets should be Denver's Eric Decker, New England's Julian Edelman, Seattle's Golden Tate and New York Giants' Hakeem Nicks, who has been linked to the Ravens since the end of the season. When it comes to free safety, the biggest name is Buffalo's Jairus Byrd. But Miami's Chris Clemons and Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea are solid starters as well.
Let's continue the ranking of the Baltimore Ravens' 13 unrestricted free agents:

No. 3: Jacoby Jones

Position: Wide receiver-returner

The good: Jones is a game-changer. He was one of the Ravens' top playmakers in their 2012 championship run, catching the Mile High Miracle in the AFC divisional playoff game in Denver and scoring two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. Jones' five kickoff returns for touchdowns since 2009 are tied with Percy Harvin for the most in the NFL (regular season and playoffs), according to ESPN Stats & Information. During the Ravens' four-game win streak in 2013, he made an impact each victory: New York Jets (a 66-yard touchdown catch), Pittsburgh (176 total yards), Minnesota (77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown) and Detroit (six catches for 80 yards including a third-down conversion on the game-winning drive).

The bad: The biggest problem has been Jones' consistency. In the Ravens' two losses to end the season, which knocked them out of the playoffs, he had one catch each game and didn't have a reception longer than 11 yards. Jones has never developed into a reliable receiver. In seven seasons, he's had one year with more than 40 catches.

The bottom line: The Ravens aren't expected to give him the money he made in 2014 ($4 million) because they see him as a returner. Top returners typically average between $1 million and $2 million. There's a chance that another team will overpay Jones because he's a difference maker. He's a luxury item for a team that has enough cap room to splurge.
Let's take a look at the Baltimore Ravens' Twitter mailbag:

 
Wide receiver Jacoby Jones was scoring touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens in last year's playoffs and Super Bowl because he was cut that offseason by the Houston Texans and then-head coach Gary Kubiak.

Did Jones' chances of returning go down when Kubiak became the Ravens' offensive coordinator? Kubiak says no.

Jones
"I've got a great relationship with Jacoby," Kubiak said. "I don't want to say I was like a father figure to him, but he was like one of my children. We went through Jacoby's early career, where he was growing not only as a player, but as a man. I can tell you this: I'm so proud of him."

Kubiak added, "I called him right after [the Ravens] won the Super Bowl. I'm so proud of the man he's become, as well as the player. I look forward to seeing him."

Even if Kubiak isn't an obstacle, Jones' asking price could be. Jones earned $4 million last season, which may be more than what the Ravens are willing to pay him again. Jones is a dynamic playmaker, and he continually made big plays throughout the Ravens' four-game winning streak that occurred during the second half of the season. But he has more value as a returner than a wide receiver to the Ravens. Jones finished third on the team with 37 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns.

If the Ravens see Jones as a returner, they shouldn't pay him more than $2 million per season. Ted Ginn signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Carolina Panthers last season and Devin Hester made $1.8 million last season for the Chicago Bears. Other teams, ones with more cap room, may go higher than that.
For the next two weeks, let's a take a position-by-position review of the Baltimore Ravens' 2013 season and give a sneak peek of what lies ahead:

WIDE RECEIVERS

Under contract (2014 salary-cap number): Torrey Smith ($1.078 million), Marlon Brown ($496,666), Deonte Thompson ($571,334), Aaron Mellette ($506,474), Gerrard Shepard (future-reserve contract), Kamar Aiken (future-reserve).

2014 free agents: Jacoby Jones, Brandon Stokley (expected to retire), Tandon Doss (restricted).

The good: Smith emerged as Joe Flacco's top target with 1,128 yards receiving, which fell 73 yards short of the single-season franchise mark. His 17.4 yards per catch ranked fifth in the NFL. An undrafted rookie, Brown was the most pleasant surprise on offense this year. His seven touchdown catches -- all in the red zone -- tied Smith's rookie record. Jones was a factor in the Ravens' four-game winning streak in the second half of the season, averaging 68.2 yards receiving during that stretch.

The bad: The wide receivers disappeared in the second half of the season, which increases the urgency to upgrade his position. In the final eight games, Smith was targeted 69 times but only 42 percent of those passes were completed. Jones' inconsistency showed up in the final two games. He had one catch each game and didn't have a reception longer than 11 yards. And, while Brown made an impact in the red zone, his 10.7-yard average is pedestrian. Stokley was banged up for most of the season, and Thompson needs to fight for the ball in order to be active on game days.

The money: The tough decision is Jones, who is an unrestricted free agent. He's a dangerous returner, but the Ravens can't pay him a $4 million salary again for being a third-down receiver. The Ravens may approach Smith about a contract extension at some point this offseason. He's entering the final year of his rookie deal.

Draft priority: High. At the "State of the Ravens" press conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome said it was a priority to get a wide receiver who can pick up third downs and run after the catch. First-round prospects such as Texas A&M's Mike Evans, USC's Marqise Lee and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin have been linked to the Ravens.
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There can be no complaints from the Baltimore Ravens after placing seven players on the All-AFC North team. This tied the Cleveland Browns for the most representation on the team. Not bad for the defending Super Bowl champions who failed to make the playoffs and finished a disappointing third in the division.

Not surprisingly, five of the Ravens players on the All-AFC North team are on defense. A big reason why the Ravens ranked in the top 10 in defense for most of the year was the contribution from two new veteran starters. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who replaced Ray Lewis, filled up the stat sheet with 123 tackles, 5 sacks, 19 passes defensed, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. Safety James Ihedigbo, a special-teams player for most of his career, stepped up in a starting role to finish second in tackles (101) and interceptions (three).

The Ravens' defense also got a boost from two former draft picks who elevated their games. Art Jones emerged as the Ravens' best defensive lineman, leading that group in tackles (53) and sacks (four). Jimmy Smith made a case for not only being the Ravens' top cornerback but the second best in the division. He held his own this year in matching up with four of the top five receivers in the NFL: Cleveland’s Josh Gordon (first), Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown (second), Detroit's Calvin Johnson (third) and Cincinnati's A.J. Green (fifth). Besides Smith, the only Ravens selection on defense who wasn't a unanimous pick was linebacker Terrell Suggs, who led the division with 10 sacks.

The Ravens' other two players on the All-AFC North team were on special teams. A first-time Pro Bowl player, kicker Justin Tucker made 33 straight field goals this season, the longest streak of the year, and hit three game-winning field goals this season, including a 61-yarder in Detroit. Jacoby Jones was the most dangerous returner in the division, averaging 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in NFL) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the NFL).

The Ravens didn't have any players on the all-division offense, and rightfully so. Baltimore ranked 29th in total yards (307.4), and the rest of the division's offenses finished in the top 20.
The Baltimore Ravens' soon-to-be free agents -- it's 13 by my count -- all cleaned out their lockers on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after their disappointing season came to a close in a 34-17 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals. And the ones who spoke, talked about their desire to return.

But, as everyone knows, roster change is part of the NFL landscape and many won't be back. Let's cut through the pleasantries and examine the future of the seven Ravens starters who are set to hit free agency at 4 p.m. ET on March 11:

Ihedigbo
SS JAMES IHEDIGBO

What he did in 2013: A special teams player for most of his career, Ihedigbo was one of the bigger surprises on defense, making 101 tackles and providing much-needed leadership. He is a high-effort, hard-hitting player who started a career-high 16 games.

What Ravens should do with Ihedigbo: Under normal circumstances, it would be a no-brainer to bring him back. He exceeded expectations and could be had a relatively good price. But he's a strong safety just like first-round pick Matt Elam, who played out of position as a rookie. Based on how the secondary played, it's in the Ravens' best interest to add a free safety with better ball skills and move Elam to strong safety. Ihedigbo would be an excellent backup plan.

Jones
Jones
DL ARTHUR JONES

What he did in 2013: A fifth-round pick in 2010, Jones got better each season and established himself as the Ravens' top lineman this year. With Haloti Ngata drawing double teams, Jones made the plays up front with 53 tackles and four sacks.

What Ravens should do with Jones: They won't be able to match the offers from other teams. File this under the same category as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams. This is another situation where the development of the player will draw too much interest from other teams in free agency. The Ravens would undoubtedly want Jones back, but his play will price him out of what the Ravens can pay him.

Jones
WR JACOBY JONES

What he did in 2013: It took time for Jones to get healthy after teammate Brynden Trawick ran into him in the season opener and injured his knee. Jones showed flashes, although not consistency, as a wide receiver and finished fourth on the team with 37 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest impact came on returns, where he averaged 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in NFL) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the NFL).

What the Ravens should do with Jones: It's tough to say, but the value isn't there to bring him back. The Ravens need to upgrade at the No. 2 wide receiver position, so that would reduce Jones' role on offense. There's no questioning Jones is a playmaker on special teams. It's just difficult to justify his $4 million price tag. If he doesn't command much in free agency and comes back for less, then it makes more sense to re-sign Jones.

Monroe
OT EUGENE MONROE

What he did in 2013: After being traded from Jacksonville, Monroe was a significant improvement over Bryant McKinnie. He did enough to show he can protect Joe Flacco's blind side for years to come.

What the Ravens should do with Monroe: The team has to make it a priority to keep him. Monroe isn't a Pro Bowl blocker, but he's better than what the Ravens can get and he would fit into the team's price range. And, unlike McKinnie, the Ravens won't have to worry about Monroe's attitude and physical conditioning.

Oher
OT MICHAEL OHER

What he did in 2013: It was a tough year that began with an ankle sprain in the season opener. Oher was an average right tackle who once again had problems with penalties and pass protection.

What the Ravens should do with Oher: It's time to part ways. Oher played with passion, but he never reached the expectations of a first-round pick. The Ravens need to invest in a left tackle, and they probably wouldn't have the cap room to keep Oher if they wanted to do so. Oher will get paid this offseason. It's just going to be another team that does it.

Pitta
TE DENNIS PITTA

What he did in 2013: Pitta wasn't the same play-making target from a year ago. Still, it was a major accomplishment that he was even on the field. A dislocated hip, which was originally thought to be a season-ending injury, sidelined him for 12 games. Pitta finished with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.

What the Ravens should do with Pitta: The Ravens have to do everything they can to keep Pitta. When completely healthy, he's the Ravens' best weapon on third down and in the red zone. Losing Pitta would be more devastating to Flacco and the passing game than parting ways with Anquan Boldin this year.

Smith
LB DARYL SMITH

What he did in 2013: Signed in June after Rolando McClain retired, Smith was the reason why no one talked about the Ravens missing Ray Lewis this year. He finished with 123 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, 19 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

What the Ravens should do with Smith: A short-term deal would make sense for Smith, who will turn 32 in March. A big part of the decision with Smith hinges on whether the Ravens believe rookie second-round pick Arthur Brown can step up into a starting role next season and whether the team wants Jameel McClain at his current price tag ($3.2 million salary in 2014).

The Ravens' other unrestricted free agents are: TE Dallas Clark; DL Terrence Cody; TE Ed Dickson, CB Corey Graham; S Jeromy Miles; RB Bernard Scott.

The Ravens' restricted free agents are: WR Tandon Doss and LB Albert McClellan.

ChatRewind: Jacoby Jones' future

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
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This week's Baltimore Ravens chat was one of the best of the year. Lots of talk about playoffs and free agency. For a full transcript, you can click here. Here are the highlights:

Bryan (Los Angeles): Do you think with the emergence of Marlon Brown and the need to sign Dennis Pitta, Eugene Monroe, Art Jones, and possibly Torrey Smith in the offseason, the Ravens will let Jacoby Jones walk. I don't see us getting a hometown discount.

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Whether they can bring back Jacoby Jones is going to be a big question in the offseason. I believe the Ravens are going to be aggressive in re-signing Pitta and Monroe. Right behind them is getting Smith signed to an extension. I don't see them having any money for Art Jones, who will command a big contract after the season he's had. That leads us to Jacoby Jones, whose price tag goes up because he's a dual threat. In a perfect world, they would keep him. I'm not sure if that's practical considering they have a young receiver in Marlon Brown and other options in the return game.

Rich (New Jersey): Hi, With Justin Tucker kicking Baltimore to victory, now with the Patriots at home and the Bengals on the road, who'll have to step up the next two weeks to keep the Ravens at the No. 6 playoff spot?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): The key players have to be Dennis Pitta and Torrey Smith, both of whom have to step up in the red zone. That's the area of the field where Pitta excels. And Smith had a string of games with a TD, so he can get into the end zone. FGs aren't going to win most games. And if the Ravens win the next two, they win the division, not a wild-card spot.

Adam (DC): The Ravens have played the Pats eight times since the 2009 season (three in the playoffs). Has this become a rivalry game?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): It almost feels like the Patriots and Ravens are in the same division, doesn't it? I would rank the Patriots right behind the Steelers in terms of rivals for the Ravens. A rivalry is based on frequency and the importance of the games. Playing the Pats in the past two AFC Championship Games qualifies.

Mickey (Boston): While it seems like it would be great to win the division and get the No. 4 seed, doing so would likely put us up against the Chiefs or Broncos. If we have the luxury of choice, do you see John Harbaugh angling for the 6th seed instead?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Have you seen the Ravens play on the road this season? Clearly, the Ravens want to win the division and play at home in the first round.

Wake-up caw: Not Mr. Cerebral?

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
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The Baltimore Ravens rank 29th in the NFL in red-zone offense after failing to score a touchdown on three trips inside the 20-yard line in Detroit.

Why do the Ravens have so many problems getting the ball in the end zone? The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston points out that quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't have the accuracy to be consistently good when the throwing windows get smaller. The other theory isn't based on physical tools.

"He isn't Mr. Cerebral either," Preston wrote. "The entire team continues to suffer communication breakdowns inside the red zone, from knowing whom to block to checking out of a running play to a passing play."

One thing is certain: The Ravens' inability to run the ball in the red zone means their success in that area of the field rests on Flacco.

Here's the rest of your wake-up caw ...
  • Justin Tucker's 61-yard game-winning field goal was set up by Jacoby Jones' heroics. Jones jump-started that drive with a 36-yard kickoff return and caught a 27-yard pass on third down. "Do the math," wrote John Eisenberg, of the team's official website. "Between the kickoff return and long reception, Jones moved the ball 63 yards to set up Tucker’s kick. Add those plays to his growing collection of game-changers, the kickoff returns against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, the long catch against the Jets. His impact is huge every week." If not for Tucker, you could start building a case for Jones being the team's MVP.
  • A federal appeals court ruled that the NFL and the Ravens can use their old logo (often called "the flying B") in historical videos and exhibits. The logo, which features a winged gold shield with the letter B on it, is the subject of numerous lawsuits filed by Frederick E. Bouchat, who has been credited in court as its original designer. Here's the full story in The Baltimore Sun.
  • A must-see video from ESPN's Rick Reilly, who tells the story of Josephine Gay, a young Ravens fan with autism, who was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A year after her loss, the Sandy Ground Project dedicates a new playground in her honor, on her birthday.

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