Thursday, May 5, 2022

Ravens Make Justin Houston’s Decision: Report

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Pass rush was an unusual weak spot for the Baltimore Ravens in 2021. A defense depleted by Matthew Judon, who signed in free agency for the New England Patriots, fired opposing quarterbacks just 34 times.

General manager Eric DeCosta didn’t ignore the issue during the 2022 NFL draft. Instead, he used a second-round pick to take David Ojabo off the board, despite the player tearing his Achilles tendon at Michigan’s Pro-Tag in March.

There are also some injury concerns regarding last season’s sack leader Tyus Bowser as well as Ojabo’s high school teammate Odafe Oweh. The Ravens need insurance around the edges, so DeCosta took a smart, risk-free approach on Monday, May 2.

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He used UFA’s tender for veteran pass rusher Justin Houston on the same day the Kansas City Chiefs did the same to Melvin Ingram, per ESPN’s Field Yates:

The move gives the Ravens options with a 33-year-old who recorded 4.5 sacks for the team a year ago and could at least be a stopgap until the younger full-backs are in full swing.

Using the unrestricted free agent bidding is a rare move, but it can be a win-win for the player and team. That’s what Houston and the Ravens is like, with Fields collapse what the tender conditions mean for each party:

Racking up compensatory draft picks has become a happy habit for Ravens. DeCosta collected three for this year’s draft, one third-round and two fourth-round picks, according to Clifton Brown on the team’s official website.

Brown also noted that “the Ravens have received more compensatory picks (55) than any other NFL team since the compensatory formula began in 1994.”

DeCosta used the first of those picks, 100th overall, when part of the trade with the Arizona Cardinals sending wide receiver Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown to the NFC West. The deal also earned the Ravens an additional first-round pick.

There won’t be many complaints from DeCosta if Houston helps land another of those valuable comp picks this year. That’s not to say the Ravens couldn’t use Houston’s expertise on their own front seven.

The rushing could return, and Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus detailed what Houston would earn under this tender during a second season in Baltimore:

The $2.2825 million figure mentioned by Spielberger is well within the Ravens’ capabilities under the salary cap. Current predictions put the team’s room at $7,083,329, according to Spotrac.com.

There’s every chance Houston will return to the Ravens. Still on the market, he’s coming off the second-leanest season of his career.

Applicants could be scarce for a 30-year-old with declining production. As Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith put it when discussing Ingram’s situation, a player under this tender who does not find a new home by July 22 must remain with the team he championed last season Has.

That could be a silver lining for the Ravens, who should get more from Houston with a few slight changes to the system.

Houston’s struggles last season could be partially explained by some struggles with the scheme. The lightning-fast, hybrid 3-4, favored by former defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, didn’t quite suit Houston, though the latter played eight successful seasons as an outside linebacker for the Chiefs.

Houston left KC in 2019 and spent two years as a 4-3 defensive end with the Indianapolis Colts. Schematic semantics aside, his responsibilities were generally streamlined at Indy, where he could just put his hand away and rush.

That might be all Houston is asked for this year for the Ravens, with Mike MacDonald taking over play-calling duties from Martindale. MacDonald oversaw defense for Michigan last year, where Aidan Hutchinson and Ojabo caused chaos.

MacDonald’s presence undoubtedly encouraged the Ravens to give Ojabo a chance. The latter is recovering despite a serious injury NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport offers a potentially encouraging timeline for a possible return:

According to DeCosta, they are also “optimistic” about Ojabo’s chances of seeing the field as a rookie ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. No matter how long the Ravens have to wait, their pass rush will remain suspect without Ojabo.

Especially when Bowser, who had seven sacks last season, had surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in January. Oweh also underwent surgery, in his case foot surgery, although head coach John Harbaugh believes last season’s first-round pick will be ready for training camp.

Having Houston back in the group would at least give MacDonald a perfectly healthy edge rusher to work with while he begins to implement his version of the defense. Houston is past his best, but he’s still a veteran player with 102 sacks on his resume.

That could be a silver lining for the Ravens, who should get more from Houston with a few slight changes to the system.



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