The Baltimore Ravens made their second bold move involving a prominent starting player on their team this week by agreeing to trade veteran strong safety Chuck Clark to the New York Jets according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Thursday, March 9, 2023.
Per the report, in exchange for Clark, the Ravens are receiving a seventh-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. While the trade has already been agreed to according to sources, it can not be officially processed until the new league year begins on Wednesday, March 15 at 4 p.m. eastern standard time.
The stalwart veteran defensive back had just one year left on his steal of a deal that he signed in 2020 as a three-year extension worth $15.3 million on top of his previous contract. With the move, the Ravens free up $4.14 million in cap space and will be $4.98 million over the cap, per overthecap.com.
Clark was originally drafted by the Ravens at No. 186 overall in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech. In his first six years in the league, he went from being a core special teams player to a key rotational subpackage player before becoming a full-time starter a quarter of the way through the 2019 season after an injury to Tony Jefferson opened the door for him to see the field more often.
He seized the moment and transform one of the league’s most inconsistent secondaries into one the most steady and stout. Clark had been a rock and stalwart leader for the Ravens on and off the field ever since and was the team’s 2022 Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award Nominee.
All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey went as far as to say that he “kept the defense together for two years” in a quote tweet after the news broke.
During his time in Baltimore, Clark has appeared in 101 games including the playoffs and made 67 career starts. In the regular season has recorded 384 total tackles including 8 for loss, 32 pass deflections, 5 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, 5 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, and scored 2 touchdowns according to Pro Football Reference.
Clark Finally Got His Wish Granted
Last offseason after the Ravens signed free safety Marcus Williams to a massive five-year contract worth $70 million in free agency. A month later, they selected former Notre Dame standout and dynamic defensive back, Kyle Hamilton, Hamilton in the first round of the draft.
The writing on the wall was clear. Clark’s days in Charm City were numbered.
After initially requesting a trade and not having his request obliged, instead of holding out or being a distraction, he beat out the highly touted rookie to keep his starting spot for another year.
The Ravens and first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald eventually found a way to incorporate multiple safety packages to maximize the effectiveness of all three players when they were healthy and the unit ended the year as one of the best secondaries in the league.
Even though it came nearly a whole year later, Clark is finally getting his wish granted. He will be joining one of the league’s best defenses in 2022 where he will be reunited with five-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker CJ Mosely and play alongside 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year, Sauce Gardner.
Ravens Confident in Hamilton Stepping Into Larger Role
Filling the void left by such an intelligent, durable, and consistent player in the backend like Clark is easier said than done. The most likely candidate to wear the green dot and take over as the defensive signal caller is inside linebacker Roquan Smith who will enter his second season after having a full offseason to even further familiarize himself with the playbook and his teammates.
Replacing Clark as the starting strong safety will be Hamilton who played fantastic in a hybrid nickel defender role in the second half of the season. However, he is better suited playing in the box and near the line of scrimmage most of the time while also being used as a matchup piece to cover tight ends.
According to Pro Football Reference, he appeared in 17 games including the playoffs, made 5 starts, and recorded 71 total tackles including 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 5 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
During his media session at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine on March 1, 2023, head coach John Harbaugh expressed his confidence and excitement when asked about Hamilton taking on a larger and potentially starting role on the Ravens’ defense in his second year in the league.
“We have moving parts. We’re not going to be a defense that’s static,” Harbaugh said on March 1, 2023. “Our guys are going to be playing different positions. We’re going to disguise, we’re going to blitz. [Hamilton is] capable of doing pretty much everything. He covers tight ends really well, he even covered slot receivers well this year in man coverage. That’s pretty unique for a ‘safety.’ I just think it gives us great flexibility, it leaves room for a third and even a fourth safety in the mix.”
Assuming they tender pending restricted free, Geno Stone, the Ravens will return a strong core at safety but will likely need to address the position in the draft and possibly free agency if they can find a useful veteran to sign for around the minimum in the second or third wave.
Who’s Next on the Chopping or Trade Block?
The Ravens don’t have much further to go to get under the salary cap before the new league year opens up. However, in order to both fit quarterback Lamar Jackson and his cap hit of $32.4 million under the cap and make room to potentially sign a veteran wide receiver and get their incoming rookie class under contract, DeCosta has some more shuffling with the books and possibly more tough decisions to make.
One of the next avenues that the team could explore to free up more cap room would be either terminating or extending the contracts of veteran defensive end Calais Campbell and running back Gus Edwards. Both players are entering the final year of their respective deals with cap hits of $9.4 million for Campbell and $5.6 million for Edwards according to spotrac.com.
Releasing both as salary cap casualties would free up $11.3 million which would get the team under the cap with room to spare and spend elsewhere. But it would also leave the team needing to find a new second and third-string running back since both Justice Hill and Kenyan Drake are slated to become unrestricted free agents and leave them without one of another stalwart leader and one of their most impactful players on defense.
Another option they could consider is extending or releasing one of the two and restructuring the contracts of one or more of their other cornerstone pieces on either side of the ball such as Humphrey, Williams, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley, or three-time Pro Bowl tight end, Mark Andrews.