Before the Baltimore Ravens embark on another offseason filled with changes and upgrades, it is imperative to look to the past. General manager Ozzie Newsome is one of the best in the business, but how did he fare last year? To find out, we must go back and evaluate every major move of last summer.
These grades only apply to offseason moves, so the midseason trades for Eugene Monroe and of Bryant McKinnie won’t be listed here. The grades attempt to balance the player’s output in 2013 (either with the Ravens or with his new team) and his price tag, since finding “value for money” is imperative in the salary-cap era.
Now that you know how these grades were deduced, let the evaluation begin!
The Ravens parted ways with both of their starting safeties from their Super Bowl year. The decision was controversial because it was even more veteran leadership that was given the boot, but it ended up being a good decision.
Ed Reed signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Houston Texans, but he didn't even finish the year there. He was cut after criticizing the coaching staff, and then he latched on with the New York Jets and former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Reed started to play better toward the end of the year, but he definitely wasn't worth the contract that he got from the Texans.
Compared to Reed, Bernard Pollard had a very good season for a Tennessee Titans secondary that was one of the league's best. Regardless, his mediocre pass coverage wasn't missed, and his departure paved the way for the Ravens to draft their strong safety of the future: Matt Elam.
Baltimore could have benefited from the duo's leadership, experience and intimidation factor, but it wasn't a big loss in terms of on-field production.
This offseason move was one of the Ravens’ worst decisions in black-and-white terms. The Baltimore receiving corps was underwhelming without Anquan Boldin leading the way, and Joe Flacco sorely missed one of the security blankets from his scorching-hot Super Bowl run.
The Ravens missed Boldin’s sure hands, physicality on the outside and his ability to work the middle of the field and the intermediate routes. There were plenty of reasons behind an offense that was stuck in neutral for the entire season, but missing a go-to receiver was one of the biggest factors.
If we are grading this move in a bubble, it should get an F.
But the move wasn’t made in a bubble. Trading away Boldin freed up the cap room to go after players like Daryl Smith and Chris Canty. The indirect benefits of the trade bump the grade up to a D-.
For most of the other roster losses, Baltimore found some kind of replacement. That never happened for Boldin, and head coach John Harbaugh admitted as much according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:
We probably weren’t able to do that quite the same way with Anquan, unfortunately...Of course, I’m thinking the same thing you’re thinking: ‘Man, it’d be great if he was making that play for our team.’ It’s human nature [that] you feel that way about it.
In his end-of-year press conference, GM Ozzie Newsome reflected on last year's offseason and admitted that he wanted to keep guys like Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger.
Unfortunately, they got big offers from other teams in free agency, and the numbers exceeded what Baltimore was willing to pay for them.
The Ravens will likely have to deal with similar scenarios this season, so let's hope Newsome deals with it just like he did last offseason.
He nailed it.
Kruger got even more money from the Cleveland Browns, and he ended the year with 4.5 sacks and 51 total QB pressures. Those numbers are solid, but don't compare to those of his replacement, Elvis Dumervil, who ended the year with 9.5 sacks and 61 total pressures on a cheaper contract.
Likewise, Cary Williams got more money from the Philadelphia Eagles than the Ravens wanted to pay him, but he would have been an unnecessary (and expensive) luxury given the emergence of Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb's return from injury.
All three players could certainly have helped the Ravens this year, but none of them are worth the exorbitant contracts they received.
By all accounts, Elvis Dumervil shouldn’t have even been on the market. But Newsome pounced on a fax fiasco to sign one of the league’s most productive pass-rushers and line him up opposite Terrell Suggs.
Dumervil started the year very well, but an ankle injury limited his explosiveness and the sacks dried up toward the end of the season.
Despite the drop-off in statistical production, Dumervil was the best pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker in the league, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
In addition, Dumervil was actually pretty solid against the run—an area of his game that had been a weakness in the past.
The terms of his five-year, $26 million contract (with $9 million of incentives) will have to be reevaluated in the future, but for 2013 he was cheaper than his predecessor, Kruger.
That’s a win for Baltimore.
The only reason it's stuck at an A- is because of his decline in production toward the end of the year. If it continues, this grade will go down, but for now we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the injury.
Smith was, without question, the best free-agent signing of last offseason. Considering what he meant to the Ravens, he was one of the best bargains in the league.
Smith stepped into Ray Lewis’ shoes and filled them admirably. He brought tremendous leadership, high football IQ, terrific all-around play and stuffed the stat sheet in a manner that reminded us of “The General.”
Additionally, Smith missed only five snaps all season, and his durability was vitally important for a Ravens defense that was better than the Super Bowl-winning unit.
He did all that and cost only $1.1 million for 2013. That's a bargain.
Outside of Flacco (and maybe Justin Tucker), Smith was the most indispensable Raven of 2013.
This was a misfire of tremendous proportions. Fortunately, Michael Huff wasn’t signed to a particularly lucrative contract.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter and doesn’t prevent the move from “earning” a failing grade.
Huff brought a great reputation as a hard worker and scholar of the game to Baltimore, but it never worked out for reasons that still remain unclear.
He was signed as a walk-in replacement for Reed, and he was expected to be the anchor holding the back line together with James Ihedigbo and rookie Matt Elam battling for snaps at strong safety.
Instead, he was terrible in coverage in a Week 1 shellacking at the hands of Peyton Manning and lost his starting spot to the aforementioned rookie.
By that point, the move was already pretty bad. Then, it got even worse.
Huff was awful on special teams, including poor coverage on a kickoff return that contributed to a loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before Baltimore's next game, Huff was off the roster in favor of better special teams players.
Canty and Marcus Spears were supposed to significantly upgrade the defensive line, but it never really happened.
Spears never seemed fully healthy after suffering a knee injury early in the year, and he was cut along with Huff to create roster space for special teamers.
Regardless, his release was more to do with adding special teams players than it was getting rid of Spears. He actually played pretty well in his limited role as a run-stuffer.
On the contrary, Canty was a starter for the whole season, but he didn't bring the impact that was expected of him.
He was frequently exploited in the running game and was unable to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Even though one player was cut and the other started the whole year, both signings deserve the same grade. Just average.
As was mentioned in the introduction, these grades only reflect the offseason moves. The fact that the Ravens somehow managed to get a draft pick for the services of McKinnie is pretty remarkable, but that midseason trade doesn't matter here.
What matters is how McKinnie performed for the Ravens. In a word, he was awful.
He struggled in pass protection, frequently blowing assignments and getting beaten by opposing pass-rushers. In the ground game, he was also unimpressive as a blocker. He was so terrible that the Ravens made the first midseason trade in franchise history to acquire Monroe.
That's not a ringing endorsement for McKinnie's last days in Baltimore.
McKinnie Grade: F
Vonta Leach might have been useful, but we'll never really know. He never had the chance to fully exploit his talents because the rushing attack never got started in 2013. As a result, his usage plummeted.
He certainly wasn't worth bringing back, but that isn't really his fault. Given how little he played, the move should earn an F, but it gets bumped up to a D- based on his leadership and ability to mentor rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
Leach Grade: D-
Both of these players were brought in at the last minute to provide some help as pass-catchers, but neither of them played a particularly big role.
They both made big plays on third downs but were in and out of the receiver rotation. By the end of the year, neither player was on the field, but they provided useful production when the Ravens were in serious trouble with no proven receivers on the roster.
The Ravens gave up a seventh-round pick for A.Q. Shipley, and it ended up being a pretty solid move.
He was brought in to challenge Gino Gradkowski for the starting center spot, but he lost the preseason battle. Then he had to replace Kelechi Osemele at left guard for most of the season.
Shipley didn't play excellent football at guard, but he was put in a tough spot and stepped up when the Ravens needed him.
Shipley is a nice depth piece on the offensive line, and that's not too shabby in exchange for a seventh-round pick.