Glenn Clark’s Quagmire Of Qualifications For The Ravens Signing Justin Houston

You can really talk yourself into Justin Houston, can’t you?

As first reported by “The NFL Chick” Syreeta Hubbard, the Ravens are set to host the veteran edge rusher for a visit this week as we continue to try to determine how they might replace Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon, each of whom departed via free agency last month.

While he’s never come even remotely close to matching his ridiculous 22-sack season in 2014, Houston has remained productive even as he’s entered his 30s. He’s averaged just under 9.5 sacks per season during his last four (and had he not missed five games in the span might be even closer to double digits). He’s played in all 16 games the last two seasons and has apparently accepted a role that involves fewer snaps in order to keep him fresher.

Sure, his 32 pressures last season were a drop-off from some of his highly productive seasons. But the Ravens wouldn’t be looking for him to be “the solution” as a rusher as much as they’d want him to be “part of an equation” to solve the problem while hopefully drafting someone who could become a more long-term answer at the position along with the recently re-signed Tyus Bowser.

So yeah, knowing the price is likely quite reasonable at this stage of free agency, you can really talk yourself into it being a good idea for the Ravens. That’s at least if you can twist yourself through the quagmire of qualifications that stands in the way.

(And no, “Quagmire of Qualifications was NOT the name of my high school screamo band but looking back on it, it was a big miss.)

Let’s work through this.

1.) Is Justin Houston the right player? Probably not. The Ravens could have used a younger, still ascending EDGE. Perhaps Bowser is that player, but it’s hard to assume too much about a player who had (checks notes) TWO sacks last season. But Houston is almost certainly in the “right price” category, which could make him their “right player” by default.

The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec reported that the Ravens will be doing their due diligence on not only Houston but basically all of the significant remaining edge rushers on the market. Jadaveon Clowney appears to be leaning toward joining the Browns (according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson). But Melvin Ingram, Ryan Kerrigan and Olivier Vernon were also mentioned by Zrebiec. They’re similar to Houston in age, but Houston has been the most productive of the group for the last four years. (To be fair, Vernon is coming off a nine-sack season in 2020.)

This isn’t so much “right player, right price” as it is “right player among the guys who are left at the right price.”

2.) Which brings us to the whole May 3 thing.

This one is a doozy. On the Monday after the NFL Draft, teams can start signing unrestricted free agents without those players impacting the compensatory-pick formula. And this is probably going to be news to you, but the Ravens are to “collecting compensatory picks” what Shane McMahon is to “being a horrendous and totally unwatchable on camera performer right up until the moment he dives off something 1,000 feet in the air at WrestleMania and damn it, we can’t hate the guy for a few months again.”

It’s easy to assume that the Ravens are bringing in these veterans to do their homework ahead of THEIR “first day of free agency” May 3. But there are some logical questions that follow.

“Won’t more teams be interested in these players come May 3?”
“If they really like Houston, shouldn’t they just sign him now and get ahead of the line?”
“Sure, the Ravens have had the most compensatory picks, but are they always better off with the pick than they would have been with the player they signed?”
“If they don’t think it’s worth giving up a mid- to late-round pick to sign a player, why should we expect that player to make much of a difference if they’re signed after May 3?”
“But seriously, what the hell happened on that ball Franchy Cordero hit to second base?”

The answers:

“Not always.”
“That’s fair but not scientific.”

My gut tells me that even though I’m typically the type to argue that the Ravens shouldn’t always be slaves to compensatory picks, Houston is probably not the player they should be giving up any potential draft pick capital to sign. The Ravens have an EDGE problem. But Houston isn’t such a slam dunk that he’s worth even a small risk.

3.) But Glenn, isn’t there someone who always says he doesn’t want the Ravens going into the NFL Draft with such a glaring hole at a position that they HAVE to address it early with someone who can play immediately?

Yeah. Yeah. That’s me.

The Ravens NEEDED a tight end to come in and play immediately in 2018. The two tight ends on their roster after Benjamin Watson’s departure (Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams) combined for less than 300 receiving yards. Was that need what drove them to trade back in the first round and take Hayden Hurst instead of taking any of the five future Pro Bowlers who went off the board consecutively starting with their original 16th pick? They’ll never tell us with total honesty.

But true need at a position is a terrible thing to go into a draft with. And as constructed, the Ravens go into the 2021 Draft with a serious need at EDGE. Perhaps the acquisition of a player like Houston could at least minimize such a need.

So … yeah. All of that. Should the Ravens sign Justin Houston? Maybe. Probably. But not now. Except right now. At least I think so. Kinda.

And if you’re forcing me to be pinned down on an answer, I’ll say, “Yeah. If he’s available on May 3.”

Glenn Clark

See all posts by Glenn Clark. Follow Glenn Clark on Twitter at @glennclarkradio