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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the Baltimore Ravens’ top priorities is to replace Eric Weddle.

The Ravens, though, may land a free-agent safety who sparks memories of another Pro Bowl safety from their past.

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In the year when Ed Reed will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu are the available safeties who best fit what Baltimore needs in the secondary. Thomas has drawn comparisons to Reed throughout his career because of his great range, and Mathieu has been linked to the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year because of his nose for the ball (they also share the same hometown of New Orleans).

After cutting Weddle on Wednesday, the Ravens are looking for a free safety who can patrol the center of the field, provide leadership and deliver game-changing plays. For that reason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Baltimore reach out to Thomas or Mathieu on Monday, the first day when teams can contact free agents.

Thomas, 30, has intercepted 28 passes and gone to six Pro Bowls in nine seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He always covered lots of ground in a one deep safety defense, which would allow Ravens safety Tony Jefferson to play closer to the line of scrimmage.

The concern with Thomas is durability. His left leg has been broken twice (in 2016 and 2018), and he has missed 19 games over the past three seasons. But this injury history could lead to a reduced price.

Mathieu, 27, is considered one of the top three safeties if he reaches free agency. The Houston Texans are looking to make a push to re-sign him, and Mathieu has expressed a desire to stay.

A healthy Earl Thomas could conjure memories of Ed Reed. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
A versatile defender, Mathieu can play cornerback or slot corner but he primarily lined up at free safety for the Texans. He broke up 49 passes in six seasons (only 13 interceptions) and has started 33 straight games.

While some teams might not place great value on safeties, the Ravens understand the significance of the position. Baltimore’s best defenses included Pro Bowl safeties, from Rod Woodson to Reed to Weddle.

What often gets overlooked is how Weddle stabilized the safety spot for Baltimore. After the Ravens parted ways with Reed following the 2012 Super Bowl season, they went through nine starting safeties over the next three seasons, from failed free-agent signings (Michael Huff, James Ihedigbo, Kendrick Lewis) to draft busts (Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks).

Weddle arrived in 2016 and immediately made the plays that the Ravens had struggled to produce without Reed. Weddle’s 10 interceptions in his first two seasons in Baltimore led all NFL safeties.

“Eric Weddle is just the consummate football player, the consummate leader,” coach John Harbaugh said a day after the Ravens released Weddle. “He will go down in history like that. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.”

But Weddle didn’t make an interception last season and recorded only three passes defensed. The Ravens managed fewer than 13 interceptions for the third time in five seasons.

Now, the Ravens find themselves in the market for a safety again. Baltimore hopes it can hit on another free-agent safety like Weddle, or possibly sign someone with Reed-like qualities.

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst is expected to miss three to four weeks after having a procedure for a stress fracture in his foot, a source confirmed.


Harbaugh: Ravens’ RG III call down to the wire
With Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson already securing spots on the roster, the Ravens have nine days and two preseason games to determine whether they will keep, trade or cut Robert Griffin III.

Hurst, the No. 25 overall pick in this year’s draft, was the first tight end selected. The news of Hurst’s injury, first reported by NFL Network, comes as a surprise, as he finished practice on Thursday.

It’s possible that Hurst could return for Week 3 against the Denver Broncos, meaning he would miss two regular-season games (home vs. Bills, at Bengals).

Hurst is the Ravens’ top pass-catching tight end and is replacing Benjamin Watson, last year’s leader in receptions for Baltimore, who signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency.

With Hurst sidelined, the Ravens’ top two ends are Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, both of whom are known for their blocking. Rookie third-round pick Mark Andrews can impact the passing game, but he has battled a hamstring injury all summer.

This is the most significant injury of the offseason for the Ravens. Before Hurst’s injury, every starter was expected to be healthy enough to start the regular season.

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I’m not here to write a pretty introduction; it’s game time.

Benjamin Watson is gone; the 37-year old tight end signed with the New Orleans Saints. Now, the Ravens are banking on the youth movement, whether it be the brand new roster additions of first-round pick Hayden Hurst or the third-round selection Mark Andrews, or, if not these men, the ‘veterans’ Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller hopefully put this damn game together. Either way, somebody, please, step up.

Most times when I write, I attempt to come off as a ‘professional’, but now, I write as a fan pleading for at least one Baltimore Raven to become the tight end of the future, here in the present.

Fans are out of patience; no more are the excuses. Fans are done with the Joe Flacco excuses, done with the injury excuses, done with the coaching excuses. We’re exhausted with the word, ‘potential’, and are craving the word ‘production.’ But this article is tight end oriented, and I’m going to stick with the message.

The stat-line of Benjamin Watson last season:

16 games | 12 starts | 79 targets | 61 catches | 522 yards | four touchdowns

Due to the dump-off offense of Joe Flacco and Marty Mornhinweg, Watson led the team in receptions. I know many of you shuddered from this, and I’m only going to evoke more frustration cause teams are strategizing explicitly for this. I can no longer watch a 3rd & 8 without throwing money at my television and shouting into the void, “Bet it’s going to a tight end on a drag route!”

The previous seasons cannot simply be replicated, they must be more. For once, somebody, step up.

“Absolutely. You got it right, I promise you.”
As my grandfather taught me for years now, a man’s word is bond, and until proven wrong, I put my faith in Hayden Hurst. His absolute loyalty in the phone call with Ozzie screams determination:
(This begins at 0:15)

Ozzie Newsome: “Hey, you’ve worked hard to get to this point and I got about ten guys and a couple of young ladies in this room just excited that we’re bringing you to Baltimore to be a part of what we’re going to do.”

Hayden Hurst: “I couldn’t be happier, it’s a perfect fit. You got your guy. You got the best tight end and I’m going to come in and prove it.”

Oz: “I got the best tight end and you’re going to come in and prove it?”

HH: “Absolutely.”

Ravens fans know passion and they also know the lack thereof; from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to players cashing a paycheck and leaning back on the bench to not catch their coaches eye. But Hayden, within a moment of speaking to the Hall of Fame tight end and General Manager, resigns complete loyalty to the Ravens:

Oz: “From the first time I saw you on tape, I go, ‘this is a guy that can come go on our football team.’”

HH: “Absolutely. You got it right, I promise you.”

Oz: “You promise me?”

HH: “Yessir.”

At this point, I’m resigned to Williams, Boyle and Waller not becoming a number one option. They’re capable number two’s, but they cannot lead this unit in receptions. I appreciate Ozzie, John Harbaugh and Eric DeCosta re-vamping this unit with Hurst and Andrews. Now, it’s for the delivery.

As I mentioned, simply replicating Watson’s numbers is not enough, though. At least one of these five must over-achieve. I’m certain zero fans would be upset if it was Waller, Boyle or Andrews. They’d also love Hurst or Williams becoming a threat. It’s only the frustration of witnessing nobody step up and deliver, which clenches the fists of upset fans as they raise fists to the sky in confusion.

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It’s far too early to get a definitive read on the 2018 draft, which doesn’t start until April 26. But I’m already sensing an obvious storyline for the Ravens who have the 16th overall pick in the first round.

Will they be able to fill their primary need — a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco — if they stand pat in the first round?

A look at various mock drafts will show a good many quarterbacks and offensive linemen going in the first half of the first round, but only one or two wide receivers and no tight ends. ESPN draft guru and Baltimore native Mel Kiper Jr. projected the Ravens last week to select Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O’Neill with the 16th pick.

On a conference call after his first mock draft was published, Kiper acknowledged that, after projecting Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley to go eighth overall to the Chicago Bears, he didn’t see another offensive playmaker worthy of going 16th to the Ravens. So he went with O’Neill, who is a converted tight end.

“That was the problem I ran into. Nobody,” Kiper said according to BaltimoreRavens.com. “I just didn’t see anybody worthy of being the 16th pick at wide receiver to give them, or at tight end.”

Highly respected NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former Ravens scout, ranked the top-50 prospects in the 2018 draft class. His top 30 included four quarterbacks, four running backs and four offensive linemen, but just two receivers (Ridley and Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk) and no tight ends. His highest-ranked tight end is South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst, who he has as the 34th best prospect in the draft.

Again, it’s very early in the draft process. The Senior Bowl is going on now. The NFL scouting combine is over a month away. Then, there will be pro days and pre-draft visits. Receivers such as Kirk, Southern Methodist’s Courtland Sutton and Oklahoma State’s James Washington could have dynamic workouts to put them into the conversation to be picked in the upper half of the first round. There is seemingly always a freakish tight end who garners a lot of pre-draft hype and becomes a first-round candidate.

However, if the first half of the first round plays out like some of the mock drafts and rankings suggest it might, the Ravens could be facing a difficult choice come late April. Do they trade up at the cost of multiple picks to make sure they’re in a position to grab Ridley or do they opt instead to fill one of their secondary needs, such as right tackle or inside linebacker?

In on Landry?

The Ravens spoke to the Miami Dolphins last offseason about a potential trade for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, but they found the asking price to be prohibitive. Landry is now a pending free agent, so he could be available to all bidders when the market opens in mid-March. The price, though, still figures to be extremely high.

If Landry is not the best potential free agent receiver available in what’s expected to be a weak class, he’s certainly in the top three along with Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson. Landry, 25, has averaged 100 catches for 1,010 yards over the past four seasons. He also has 23 touchdowns over that span. He’s not a deep threat, averaging 10.1 yards per reception over his career, but it’s hard to quibble with much else.

His agent made it clear in an interview last week with The Palm Beach Post that Landry won’t come cheap. He brought up previous contracts for wide receivers T.Y. Hilton ($13 million per season) and Doug Baldwin ($11.5 million), but also remarked that those deals were two or three years old. Frankly, I cannot imagine the cash-strapped Ravens paying north of $13 million per year for Landry, but they do like the player and they seem to understand that they need to do something significant to get more offensive talent on the field.

Ten quick thoughts

1) Given the success of Nick Foles and Case Keenum this year, along with the perennial injuries at the quarterback position, you’d have to think the price of bringing in quality backup QBs will be pretty high this offseason. That doesn’t bode well for the Ravens who will need a veteran backup if they don’t draft a quarterback early. I’d be a bit surprised if pending free agent Ryan Mallett is back, even on the cheap.

2) The latest statistic that shows just how difficult of a time the Ravens had getting big plays in 2017: According to the statistical site Inside Edge NFL, the Ravens got a first down when they needed 10 yards or more on just nine of 110 opportunities. That’s just over 8 percent. Only the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Denver Broncos were worse.

3) It sure would be a cool story if the Ravens used a middle-round pick on Texas Christian defensive back Nick Orr, the younger brother of their former linebacker, Zachary Orr. It wouldn’t just be a sentimental move either. Nick Orr was an All-Big 12 first-team selection who had 66 tackles and three interceptions this past season. He can play both cornerback and safety.

4) I’m skeptical that the Ravens would win a bidding war for prized free-agent tight end Jimmy Graham. I know that Tyler Eifert has missed a lot of time in recent seasons, but he might be worth taking a flier on in free agency given the Ravens’ glaring need for a pass-catching tight end.

5) It’s interesting to see Ravens wide receivers coach Bobby Engram getting an opportunity to call some plays at the recent East-West Shrine Game. Engram’s name is coming up quite a bit for the wide receivers coach opening at his alma mater, Penn State.

6) Fans are already asking about whether the Ravens could be interested in veteran wide receivers such as Emmanuel Sanders or Michael Crabtree, who reportedly could be cut in salary cap-related moves by the Broncos and Oakland Raiders, respectively. The Ravens will explore every option at wide receiver. They have no choice. However, at some point, they need to break from this habit of signing and then relying heavily on veteran receivers who have been let go elsewhere. They don’t need Band-Aids. They need long-term solutions.

7) The more playoff games I watched, the more I became convinced that either a middle linebacker or safety who can cover or work in the middle of the field is the Ravens’ third-biggest need behind a wide receiver and tight end. There are too many good tight ends around the league not to have that piece. Plus, it’s clearly the area the Pittsburgh Steelers have most exploited in games against the Ravens in recent meetings.

8) I can’t imagine any Ravens fan not being happy for Philadelphia Eagles receiver Torrey Smith, who gets another shot a Super Bowl ring. Remember, Smith didn’t want to leave the Ravens after the 2014 season. He was devastated that the Ravens never tried to get him to stay. Also remember that Smith still does a ton of charity work in the area.

9) Yahoo’s Charles Robinson reported Tuesday night that the Ravens have spent quite a bit of time at the Senior Bowl with Alabama defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. Hand didn’t have big sack numbers at ‘Bama, but I do think one of the Ravens’ underrated needs is an interior pass rusher.

10) If I’m the Ravens and I can get a middle-round 2018 pick for outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, I’d pull the trigger. Smith is a quality player, but the Ravens really needed to get Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams more snaps, and that’s going to be tough to do with Terrell Suggs returning and team officials believing Matthew Judon will develop into a star. Plus, the Ravens need more picks, even if it’s just to have additional inventory to move up in earlier rounds.

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After capping the Baltimore Ravens’ 44-20 victory Sunday with a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown, safety Eric Weddle channeled his inner Kobe Bryant and used the football to shoot a jumper through linebacker Patrick Onwuasor’s arms, formed into a hoop.

That didn’t even come close to Weddle’s grandest celebration of the day.

Hours after his best performance of the season — one which earned him his first-ever AFC defensive player of the week award — he continued his tradition of crushing an unbelievable amount of ice cream with a concoction that included cinnamon-swirl ice cream, crumbled cinnamon-bun Oreos, pieces of mini crumb cake, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and caramel.

Weddle, who ranks second in the NFL with five interceptions, estimates that he eats about a gallon of ice cream throughout the evening following a victory. It’s a sugar-filled tradition that began when he joined the Ravens last season.

“I always used to eat ice cream throughout the week, in season, out of season, any season,” Weddle said. “So, I thought maybe I should start sacrificing something for my team and my play. I decided I wouldn’t eat ice cream throughout the week. If we win, I go to town. If I lose, I don’t get it. It’s extra incentive to play great.”

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Eric Weddle

Got a bigger bowl tonight. Cinnamon swirl ice cream, cruched up cinnabun oreos, pieces of mini crumb cake, cinnamon toast crunch cereal and caramel to top it off. Can u say amazing.
10:05 AM – Dec 4, 2017
141 141 Replies 406 406 Retweets 3,010 3,010 likes
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Weddle justifies receiving his just desserts by pointing out that he just played an entire NFL game and this is his entire dinner. He starts off by eating some ice cream when he gets home. He goes for Round 2 after the kids go to bed. Rounds 3 and 4 will come when he’s sitting with his wife, Chanel, while watching television.

How many calories does Weddle devour after a win?

“That’s a good question,” Weddle said, while putting another spoonful of ice cream in his mouth. “I would think for sure over 3,000 or 4,000.”

For those counting at home, the Ravens have won seven games this season. That’s close to 30,000 calories of ice cream.

His ice-cream celebrations have taken off with fans because he posts pics of his victory desserts on Twitter. His last snapshot drew more than 3,000 likes.

“The fans look forward to his ice cream,” Chanel Weddle said. “When we’re in the stands and he scores a touchdown, all the fans yell out ‘Ice cream!’ They don’t even say, ‘Eric’s doing a great job.’ They’re asking what kind of ice cream are we going to have.”

Apparently not everyone is as ecstatic about Weddle’s ice-cream euphoria. Steve Saunders, the Ravens’ director of performance, tweeted Weddle to stop earlier this season.

Weddle’s response: “Neverrrrrrrr”

Eating an unreal amount of ice cream hasn’t affected Weddle’s play. The 32-year-old appears to be on his way to a fifth Pro Bowl, leading the way for a defense that tops the NFL in takeaways.
Eric Weddle (32) gets his hoop on to celebrate his interception-return touchdown in the Ravens’ victory over Detroit. Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Weddle has totaled 52 tackles, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack for Baltimore (7-5). He’s the only player in the league with at least five interceptions and a sack.

Last Sunday, Weddle’s game-changing forced fumble was the result of an audible. He checked into a blitz and came off the edge untouched before hitting Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and dislodging the ball.

On Sunday night, he’ll try to be just as disruptive to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (10-2). If he’s successful, he will tear into some ice cream no matter what time of night (or morning) he gets back from Pittsburgh.

“You really have to know where he is all the time,” Roethlisberger said. “I have played against another safety there in Baltimore for many years in Ed Reed that was a lot the same way, all over the football field. If the ball touched his [Reed’s] hands, it was going to be intercepted, and every once in a while, he is going to blitz and try and get you down.”