The Baltimore Ravens have some very serious problems in their defensive secondary. These problems aren’t new; in fact, they’ve been around for some time. The problems, for the most part, are self inflicted and self perpetuated. They appear to be, in part, a result of some poor decisions made in 2013 and a continuing pattern of questionable judgment and poor decision making during the years since.
“In 2013, following the Ravens victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLII, the Ravens decided to “purge” their roster.”
In 2013, following the Ravens victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLII, the Ravens decided to “purge” their roster. Experienced secondary personnel like Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams (among others) left the team. Letting those players go was not a mistake; time has proven that the Ravens made the right decision. However, the failure to acquire adequate replacements (players that could produce at the same or higher level) was, and continues to be, the root of their current problems.
The Baltimore Ravens have two starting Cornerbacks (Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith) that have continually been unavailable when needed. Lardarius Webb has missed 20 percent of the Ravens’ regular season games (primarily because of injury) during his 6 years career.
Webb’s lack of availability has hurt the Ravens and the pattern is likely to continue in the future. Although he is the 107th ranked Corner in the NFL for 2014 (according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com), allowing over 72 percent of the passes targeted at him to be completed, he is due to be paid $8 Million in base salary with a $4 Million bonus in 2015.
Webb’s $12 Million cap number has helped “hamstring” the Ravens in free agency and has led them to ask him to renegotiate his contract and cut his pay. If Webb refuses, he will most likely be released after June 1, 2015 allowing the Ravens to spread his $12 Million cap hit over two seasons. That will result in $8 Million of cap savings for the Ravens this year.
“Webb’s $12 Million cap number has helped “hamstring” the Ravens in free agency”
The Ravens’ other starting Cornerback, Jimmy Smith, a first round draft pick who will become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, has missed almost 27 percent of the team’s games during his 4 years in the NFL. Although Smith’s performance has continually improved, the Ravens should begin to prepare for the upcoming contract decisions and the possibility of life without Jimmy Smith
Neither of the Ravens’ starting Corners can be considered “elite. Neither is considered a “shut down” Corner, so the team’s request to renegotiate Webb’s contract, including a pay cut, should not be met with any real resistance. Assuming that Webb and the Ravens can reach an agreement that will keep him in Baltimore, both Webb and Smith will have to step up their game to avoid a repeat of 2013.
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Currently, the Ravens have no bench at the Cornerback position. Their second and third teams consist of Asa Jackson and a couple of third year practice squad players. The Ravens desperately need to resolve their starting lineup at both Corner and Safety. They also need to restock the roster and make some serious depth chart decisions.
Near the end of the 2014 season, the Ravens signed Antoine Cason, a 28 years old, 6’1”, 195 lbs Cornerback who spent most of his 7 years career with the San Diego Chargers. Cason (a first round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft) was an insurance policy who became an Unrestricted Free Agent when the season ended. He spent his first 5 NFL seasons with the Chargers and never missed a game; then he signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 and again played all 16 games.
Cason assumed his annual free agent status at the end of the 2013 season and was signed by the Carolina Panthers. He played 12 games for them before being released in early December. The Ravens promptly signed Cason on December 9, 2014 but he was only activated for two of the remaining games and was limited to special teams in the only game in which he saw action.
Cason’s career numbers are as good as or better than the Ravens’ starting Corners and he has proven to be extremely durable. He is more physical than Webb at the line of scrimmage and isn’t afraid to knock receivers off of their routes. Cason appears to be a good fit for the Ravens but, for some reason, the Ravens do not appear to be anxious to re-signing him.
Da Windy City
During his 7 years career, Cason has only missed 2 games and that occurred during his transition from Carolina to the Ravens. Although Cason has been in the league longer than either Webb or Smith (7 years versus Webb’s 6 years and Smith’s 4 years), his per game averages are comparable to the Ravens’ starting Corners.
Based on his career numbers, Cason makes more tackles (3.45 per game) than Smith (2.98 pg) and slightly less than Webb (3.76 pg). Cason has a higher interception rate than either of the Ravens’ starters and has forced twice as many fumbles as Smith and Webb combined. He is a solid Corner with 4.45 speed and is equal to Webb and Smith in the first 20 yards of the 40 yards dash.
NFL Spin Zone
Cason, who has excellent ball skills and instincts, could readily replace Webb if the team cannot work out a new agreement and decides to cut him. If Webb remains with the team, Cason could assume the outside position, allowing Webb to kick inside and play the Slot (a position that has been an issue since Corey Graham left the team). This could strengthen the Ravens Defense up the middle.
With the addition of Kendrick Lewis and potential re-signing of Will Hill (a Restricted Free Agent who has received a fairly low tender), the Ravens could have the strongest starting secondary they have had in years.