Less than 24 hours after teams could begin to contact free agents, the Baltimore Ravens had already lost four defensive starters.
Safety Eric Weddle, pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith and linebacker C.J. Mosley — all starters when the Ravens lined up for their last game, a wild-card round loss to the Los Angeles Chargers — are headed elsewhere. Early Tuesday morning Baltimore was dealt a 1-2 punch. They lost Mosley, who they didn’t franchise tag but were reportedly trying to retain, to a massive contract from the New York Jets. Then NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the Green Bay Packers had agreed to a deal with edge rusher Za’Darius Smith.
That’s a lot to lose, and free agency doesn’t even officially begin until Wednesday.
Ravens lose four key defenders
When the Ravens have lost free agents in the past they have been adept at finding replacements already on the roster, but this will be a challenge.
The losses started when they cut Weddle, a Pro Bowl safety and respected leader who very quickly landed with the Los Angeles Rams. Then Suggs, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year who had been with the Ravens since 2003, left for the Arizona Cardinals. Suggs will turn 37 this season, but he did post seven sacks last season and 11 the year before that.
Losing Mosley, who made four Pro Bowls in five seasons, had to hurt. The Ravens passed on giving Mosley a franchise tag worth about $15.4 million, then watched the Jets sign him to a five-year deal worth $17 million per season.
And the losses continued to pile up a couple hours later.
Za’Darius Smith’s loss hurts, too
Smith was a nice success story with the Ravens and was a player who improved throughout his four seasons. The 2015 fourth-round pick became a key part of the defense thanks to his versatility. He could line up anywhere from defensive tackle to outside linebacker and get after the quarterback. He had 8.5 sacks last season. Now he’s off to Green Bay.
While Lamar Jackson got the attention and did lead an effective run-first offense, the Ravens won the AFC North last season on the strength of the defense. The Ravens led the NFL in allowing just 292.9 yards per game.
But more than a third of that starting defense has left the building. It’ll be a challenge to retool on the fly.
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