4 Key Defensive Free Agents Ravens Must Prioritize Signing
Although former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald was hired as the new head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, the organization will have to figure out which key free agents they need to prioritize. The Ravens had one of the top defensive units in the NFL as they were a huge reason why they were one victory away from a Super Bowl berth. The Ravens defense held opposing quarterbacks to the 5th lowest completion percentage, were tied for 1st in yards per attempt by opposing quarterbacks and ranked 2nd in the NFL in touchdown passes allowed. What was most impressive about the Ravens vaunted defense was that they allowed the fewest points per game at 16.5 and they also led the NFL in sacks with 60 total. With Macdonald taking the Seahawks job, there exists a strong possibility that some of the Ravens free agents could follow him to Seattle. But there also exists the possibility that some of these players will remain in Baltimore as inside linebackers coach Zach Orr was promoted as the Ravens new defensive coordinator. Since the hiring was done in house, there isn’t expected to be much change to the defensive scheme and Orr’s familiarity with the players strengths should help keep at least some of them in a Ravens jersey. As we approach the NFL’s free agency period in the coming weeks, let’s take a look at some of the players the Ravens should bring back.
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta must do everything in his power to keep the duo of Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith together. This was one of the best linebacker pairings in the league and both played huge roles as leaders. Smith led the team in total tackles with 158 and Queen was second on the team with 133. As the saying goes, iron sharpens iron and these 2 dynamic linebackers just made each other better. Queen brings an element of speed from his linebacker position and he also packs a punch for the Ravens pass rush. Being able to provide a frequent pass rush from the 2nd level of the defense is what made the Ravens unique and Queen was a major reason why. He has always shown flashes of potential since arriving in Baltimore but he played at another level last season as he developed consistency. His sideline to sideline pursuit of ball carriers was on an elite level and it appeared that Queen had a 6th sense about where a play was going. Signing Queen long term would solidify their linebacker corps for the next couple of seasons.
It’s been one heck of a breakout season for Justin Madubuike. He led all NFL defensive linemen with 13 sacks, made his 1st Pro Bowl and was named to the NFL’s All-Pro 2nd Team. Madibuke also made history as he tied the NFL record with at least a half sack in 11 consecutive games. The interior pass rush is so important in the NFL as it gives defenses schematical advantages if they can constantly bring pressure from the inside. Madibuke has drawn comparisons to future Hall of famer Aaron Donald and the Ravens have to prioritize getting him signed long term as he should be considered a foundational piece on the Ravens interior defensive line because pass rushing defensive tackles who can collapse the pocket are often difficult to find. He has been a menace for opposing offensive linemen and doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. Madibuke is fast, strong and plays with violent intentions and embodies what it means to be a Raven. He is so strong that he tosses offensive linemen like toys and if he adds more pass rush moves to his arsenal, he will be even more effective. Madibuke has a high motor and never gives up on plays. Explosiveness is a huge part of his game and that combined with added push moves could lead to another terrific season but hopefully it will be as a member of the Ravens.
If any player on the Ravens defense earned and deserves a new contract it’s free safety Geno Stone. When the Ravens drafted Stone in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the knock on him coming out of the University of Iowa was that he lacked ideal height for the position and that he also lacked top end speed. His positives was his high football IQ, being a strong downhill tackler and having a nose for the football. Stone is the perfect example of a player taking full advantage of an opportunity. He didn’t become a starter until Week 6 in his 3rd season when fellow teammate Marcus Williams went on injured reserve and hasn’t looked back since. Stone finished with 7 interceptions which was good for 2nd in the NFL. The main thing that makes this Ravens defense special are that their defensive back ups at every position are used to playing as they have developed a true “next man up” mentality. They are not players who sit at the end of the bench and never expect to play. Stone benefitted from this as he just continued to develop and improve. A lot of defensive backs have instincts but can’t catch. Stone can do both as he seems to be a magnet to the football always being in the right position to make the big play. He understands that the Ravens can get to the quarterback quickly and keep him under duress and Stone realized that equals interception opportunities and just capitalized on what was an outstanding season. Stone is also adept at coming downhill and helping out with stopping the rushing attack. He is nimble for a safety but can be just as violent as a linebacker. He may be the odd man out since the Ravens already have a starter with Williams. Other teams may pursue Stone with lucrative deals that could lure him away. But there still exists a glimmer of hope that Stone could return depending on the volatility of the market. If all else fails, Stone could return to the Ravens on a one year, team friendly deal as a backup safety or nickel back role.
Jadeveon Clowney has always been known as a force and opposing coaches are forced to diversify their game plan just to keep him under wraps. That’s the kind of effect Clowney has and the Ravens must decide whether bringing him back for another season is a priority or will they decide to go in another direction? Clowney normally doesn’t get a lot of sacks but this past season he tied his career high sack total with 9 and a half. Even though he is constantly double teamed, he can still get pressure on the quarterback and running backs have no chance if the play is run on the side of the field he is occupying. With the amount of talented players playing alongside Clowney in Baltimore, it only makes him better because opposing teams have to account for the other talent surrounding him and can’t just focus on solely stopping him. Playing on a team friendly, one year $2.5 million contract, it’s a real possibility Clowney returns for another run with this defense. By Clowney not trying to break the bank by commanding an absurd amount of money, it helps the Ravens front office by allowing them to focus on other key free agents.