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What Chuck Clark’s extension means for the Ravens moving forward

What Chuck Clark’s extension means for the Ravens moving forward

The Ravens took another step to solidifying their secondary long-term Monday as the team re-signed safety Chuck Clark to a three-year extension. 

The deal is reportedly worth up to $19 million with $10 million guaranteed. But Clark’s signing, while it won’t break the bank, is an important step into locking down the future of the secondary. 

Clark, 24, entered the 2019 season as a backup safety behind Tony Jefferson and Earl Thomas. But a knee injury to Jefferson launched Clark into the starting lineup in Week 6, where he missed just two snaps from the Bengals game on Oct. 13 to the Steelers game in Week 17.

He was also incredibly versatile and played in the box as a dime linebacker in sub-packages for Baltimore’s defense. As a do-it-all secondary player, he also was the lead communicator for a Ravens’ secondary that struggled early in the season with coverage breakdowns and miscommunication.

Now signed through the 2023 season, Clark joins a few other members of the secondary as having a firm spot for the foreseeable future.

“Chuck is a great story about hard work, patience, preparation, and passion,” Ravens executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement. “He waited for his chance and seized the opportunity. Chuck’s a good football player, a fine teammate and respected leader. He’s the type of player we want on our defense for a long time. Congrats to Chuck and his family.”

While the Ravens have Clark signed for the next four seasons, they’ve also locked up cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Tavon Young as well as safety Earl Thomas through the 2022 season. Marlon Humphrey is still on his rookie deal, which runs through 2021 with a team option, but is in line for a significant contract extension on the horizon. 

Humphrey and Peters were both All-Pro cornerbacks while Thomas was a Pro Bowler in his first season as a Raven. No player in that group, besides Thomas, is older than 27 years old.

With the starting secondary under contract, the team can now turn its attention to re-signing Jimmy Smith and extending Brandon Carr’s team option — should they wish. But with 2019 fourth-round pick Iman Marshall on the roster, and a few other younger players, there’s potential for a rebuilding of the secondary unit starting with those five. 

One player whose future in the secondary looks all but confirmed is Tony Jefferson, who is still under contract for next season. It’s looking increasingly likely, though, that Jefferson’s time as a Raven is numbered. He’s due a base salary of $7 million with a cap number just under $12 million. With Clark’s role on the defense, there’s just no room for him. 

Clark registered 68 total tackles and an interception in 15 games where he registered a defensive snap. According to Pro Football Reference, he allowed a passer rating of 75.1 when targeted.

He entered the season as the team’s third-string safety and didn’t register a defensive snap in Week 2 against the Cardinals. Clark, who will be 25 for training camp in July, has climbed the ladder and earned a well-deserved contract extension.

“As far as the communicator, as far as the checks, as far as just the football smarts, he has become that (Eric) Weddle, that Magic Johnson of the defense of getting people lined up and setting them up to make plays, as well,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said during the season. “He's had a tremendous year, and I'm really happy for him.” 

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Ravens GM Eric DeCosta gives scouting reports on two of NFL Draft's 'very best" inside linebackers

Ravens GM Eric DeCosta gives scouting reports on two of NFL Draft's 'very best" inside linebackers

Perhaps the Ravens’ biggest need is an off-ball linebacker. Fortunately for them, there are two standouts that are projected to go in the back half of the first round of this year’s draft. 

The biggest question mark, though, is whether Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma or Patrick Queen of LSU will be on the board when the Ravens pick at 28th. 

During a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, Ravens’ general manager Eric DeCosta discussed both linebackers in detail.

"It really just depends what flavor you like, Murray or Queen," DeCosta said. "I think they're looked at side by side as probably two of the very best inside linebackers."

Queen and Murray, both of whom have been linked to the Ravens in the first round, are two different college linebackers. 

Queen was just a one-year starter in the SEC at LSU, but stood out from the pack and registered 85 tackles and three sacks in 15 games played. It was his only season as a starter. 

At the NFL Combine, the 6-foot, 229-pound linebacker ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225-pounds 18 times. 

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"Not as big as Murray, (but he’s) very explosive," DeCosta said. "LSU has put a number of really good defensive players in the league over the last four or five years. He's a guy that's sideline to sideline, he can play downhill, he's a very good cover linebacker. He kind of came on the scene this year, was not a household name before this year.”

Murray, on the other hand, was a three-year starter and has tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed. The 6-foot-2, 241-pound linebacker ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and bench pressed 21 times at the combine.

"Tremendous athlete, a cerebral guy, he's got really good length," DeCosta said. "He's been a really good defensive player on a team that really hasn't had a lot of really good defensive players lately. He’s a good prospect, he's a great student of the game, he's got great intangibles.”

Both linebackers represent the new era, of sorts, for linebackers in the NFL, as the traditional big and powerful linebackers of decades past are no more. Now, speed is at a premium to get on the field. 

While the Ravens’ front office added they could centralize their needs at linebacker and find a player with a specific skill of defending the run well, or defending the pass well, to play two downs, both Murray and Queen represent linebackers that can stay on the field for three downs.

“In a perfect world you'd like to have a bigger guy, but you're also looking for a bigger guy who can run,” DeCosta said. “Linebacker is a position where every single play is usually a contact play. The physical aspect, the durability aspect, of that position, guys that are consistently able to play, I think that’s a factor.” 

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Joe Flacco shows brotherly love, shares 'Virtual Pro Day' footage of younger brother Tom

Joe Flacco shows brotherly love, shares 'Virtual Pro Day' footage of younger brother Tom

Former Towson quarterback Tom Flacco is trying to get on the radar of NFL teams as the 2020 draft approaches.

Flacco's older brother, Joe, who is trying to get back to the league himself, after being waived by the Broncos, shared the younger Flacco's "Virtual Pro Day" on Twitter.

Tom threw for 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 2019. While he would have preferred to invite teams to come to watch him workout ahead of the draft, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has limited the NFL's ability to scout to strictly virtual interviews. Small school standouts are likely to get limited attention.

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Ravens GM Eric DeCosta stated that the 25-year-old was on their radar Thursday during a conference call with reporters.

"He thrived this year," DeCosta said. "From a size standpoint, probably a little bit below the line, but he’s got a really good arm, he’s been an accurate passer — I think he completed about 60% of his passes this year. He can make most of the throws. He’s a guy that, in the late rounds, would it surprise me if he gets picked? Not at all."

DeCosta showed optimism that the younger Flacco would get his chance to play at the highest level.

"I think he’s smart, it won’t be too big for him. He’s mature, he’s 25-years-old, he’s been around the league because of his brother, he’s got experience. He’s got an advantage other guys maybe don’t have because he’s at least had a glimmer of what it’s like to be in the NFL. He’s going to prepare well and I think he’s got a shot.”

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