Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed his loyalty for his players and his trust in them with a simple expression that became one of the catchphrases from his time in Baltimore: “I like our guys.”
After one year of Eric DeCosta’s tenure as general manager of the Ravens, it’s clear that he has the same sentiment.
In the past three days, DeCosta has re-signed five Ravens who had hit free agency, increasing to 16 the number of Ravens who in the past year who have either been signed to contract extensions or re-signed once they became free agents.
The most recent group includes cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive back Anthony Levine, wide receiver Chris Moore, and defensive linemen Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis, all of whom were brought back on one-year deals this week.
This comes after a year in which the Ravens worked out extensions with cornerback Tavon Young, kicker Justin Tucker, tight end Nick Boyle, guard Marshal Yanda (who retired earlier this month), wide receiver Willie Snead, linebacker L.J. Fort, fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, cornerback Marcus Peters, special teamer Jordan Richards, offensive tackle Andre Smith and receiver/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas.
That’s not to say there aren’t roster changes, which occur every year.
The Ravens brought in Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and shipped out tight end Hayden Hurst and defensive lineman Chris Wormley in trades, and they did not exercise the option on veteran cornerback Brandon Carr, who became a free agent after three durable seasons in Baltimore. They signed defensive tackle Michael Brockers while letting Michael Pierce depart as a free agent. Wide receiver Seth Roberts signed with the Carolina Panthers.
But DeCosta’s moves suggest that, like Showalter, he likes his guys, and for the most part likes his roster just the way it is. That makes sense, too; when a team goes 14-2 and runs away with the AFC North title, the formula seems to be working. Of course, having the reigning league Most Valuable Player in quarterback Lamar Jackson has a lot do with that.
The re-signing of Smith — which came a week after Carr’s contract was not renewed — provides clarity to one of the Ravens’ major questions of the offseason. The Ravens had to make a calculated decision whether to let both veterans go, which would leave them little depth behind Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Slot corner Tavon Young is expected to return to that role, but his health has to be a concern given that he’s missed 33 of 64 games during four NFL seasons.
Smith had expressed a desire to return to Baltimore but also had a chance to explore free agency for the first time, but the market proved to be soft for a player who will be 32 in July and has played all 16 games just twice in nine NFL seasons.
According to reports, Smith’s deal has a base salary and cap charge of $3.5 million, with $2.5 million in incentives related to playing time. It turns out to be a relatively cheap deal for the Ravens, though Smith is basically a backup corner at this stage of his career with Humphrey and Peters on the roster.
As for Levine, Moore, Ward and Ellis, they all return on one-year deals, though that doesn’t guarantee they will be on the 53-man roster come September.
Levine has been the de facto captain of the Ravens’ special teams unit for the past several years, but so was linebacker Albert McClellan before he was let go at the end of training camp in 2018. Moore, too, is highly valued for his special teams play, but his role on offense essentially vanished last year. He totaled nine offensive snaps over the final seven games and finished the season with three catches for 21 yards. Still, he and Levine bring a steadying presence on a special teams unit that always includes younger, back-end roster players.
Ward and Ellis will be competing for spots on the remade defensive line. Ward, who played in all 14 games for the Ravens after they signed him as a free agent in October, appears to be a good scheme fit for the Ravens and will probably have a rotational role once again. He averaged about 26 snaps a game.
DeCosta’s work isn’t done, and linebacker is one of the Ravens’ most pressing areas of need. There was some thought that the Ravens might re-sign linebacker Josh Bynes, but he reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. The same is true for Patrick Onwausor, but he’s reportedly headed to the New York Jets.
Another former Raven to watch is veteran edge rusher Pernell McPhee, 31, whose promising 2019 season was cut short after seven games by a torn triceps.
Other Ravens that remain on the free agent market include defensive lineman Domata Peko, defensive backs Brynden Trawick and Fish Smithson and offensive linemen Parker Ehinger, Hroniss Grasu and Randin Crecelius.
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