Eric Weddle was a Pro Bowler in 2018. However, Weddle’s play has not been up to par with his previous seasons. Weddle’s football mind and IQ is as sharp as any mind to have graced football in the past 10 years, yet his playmaking might be compromised. Despite this cerebral advantage, Weddle cannot keep up at points of the game from an athletic standpoint.
Heading into 2019, there are a variety of reasons why Weddle should not be on the Ravens roster. The Ravens might look to keep Weddle around as the Tom Brady of the defense. With his elite football mind, Weddle can identify plays and formations that the offense runs. However, he lacks the physical capability of making the plays at times like he used to make when he was a Charger. Weddle could be cut or could look to retire, but there is still a chance that he ends up on the Ravens’ roster in September. Weddle still possesses value in 2019, but his value is soon to deteriorate beyond the point of being a starter-level player in the NFL.
The Ravens, realistically speaking, have four options entering the 2019 season:
Option One: Retire
If he were to retire, the Ravens could immediately hire him as a member of the defensive staff. In terms of football IQ, there are very few that match Weddle. He has made plans to play in 2019, but if he has a change of heart, he will be readily accepted on the Ravens coaching staff, potentially being groomed for a higher position in the NFL such as a position coach or defensive coordinator.
Option Two: Leaves the team but remains as an active NFL player
With this option, the Ravens would look to replace the safety position opposite Tony Jefferson with either the likes of Anthony Levine, who is currently on the roster or someone through draft or free agency.
Another option is to move one of the cornerbacks, preferably Brandon Carr or Jimmy Smith, to the safety position. For the Ravens, a similar case study lies in Lardarius Webb’s career. He seamlessly made the transition from starting corner to starting safety in the NFL. While Carr is on the older side of 30 (turning 33 in May), and Jimmy Smith has had a history of injuries, either player could perform admirably as a Weddle’s replacement. In the case of Webb, he made the transition between the 2014 and 2015 season to become more of a versatile defensive back or free safety more so than a cornerback. By 2016, the 31-year-old Webb had a very good season in the Ravens defense, recording one of his best seasons according to Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value Measurement. While AV must be taken in regard to the entirety of the NFL, Webb was effective in his role as free safety alongside Eric Weddle. Webb played a crucial role in the Ravens top 10 defense in 2016, contributing in some part to the Ravens finishing eight and eight, a three-win improvement over 2015. While the defense was subpar in terms of the history of the Ravens, Webb played a critical role in maintaining some semblance of defense.
Option Three: Return as a starter
If Weddle returns as the starter, no real changes could occur on the defense. While some personnel may shift through free agency, the general layout of the team would be almost identical to one of the best units in football last season. The pairing of Weddle and strong safety Tony Jefferson seems to be very effective especially in cover zero looks. While cover zero can lead to the deep ball being very effective against the Ravens, the ability of the Ravens defensive line and other personnel to get to the quarterback is as effective as any unit in football.
Leaning heavily on the coverage abilities of cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young as well as the aforementioned Weddle and Jefferson, the Ravens will look to repeat the chaotic style of blitzing with defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. With Weddle as a key contributor to the Ravens defense still, the IQ present on the field, especially when Terrell Suggs is on the field, will be nearly unmatched across the NFL. Similar to how the likes of Tom Brady or the Denver version of Peyton Manning had pre-snap advantages over the defense, the Ravens will look to have pre-snap advantages over the offense in 2019. As with any elite defense, the depth could be an issue if Weddle is unable to play the high number of snaps required in the defense, but the Ravens do have some personnel in the form of Levine or the potential draft picks to bolster the secondary.
Option Four: Play on a snap count
Playing as an extension of Coach Harbaugh or coordinator Martindale, Weddle playing limited snaps could be incredibly effective for the Ravens. While Weddle won’t be on the field to make every play like he used to, selectively putting Weddle in a position to succeed might be the best decision for the Ravens defense. Weddle’s athletic discrepancies would be covered up with the intensity of one or two snaps, similar to the effect former Steeler, Bengal, and Patriot James Harrison had later in his career or the effect Terrell Suggs can have now.
While on a snap count, the defensive staff can insert Weddle to change the game on critical downs. Weddle would be a great asset to have to plug-in in key situations such as third-down plays, fourth-down plays, or in the red zone. Weddle being on the roster in 2019 would be a great transition for the Ravens to groom his eventual replacement, whether it be the aforementioned Levine or a defensive back in the draft. In an ideal world, Weddle maintains the ability to play at a high-level on specific snaps while Levine or another young player develops as the future of the Raven secondary. A preferred scenario could see the likes of Anthony Averett, Maurice Canady, Tavon Young, or Cyrus Jones taking up the role of free safety full-time. While Anthony Levine might be the best served to play safety, at age 31, he could become a net negative for the Ravens in the course of two or three seasons.
As a whole, the Ravens have options with Weddle. Some of the options depend solely on Weddle himself, but if the Ravens were to retain Weddle, it would be up to coordinator Martindale on whether he’ll use Weddle as a primary safety or as the equivalent to a relief pitcher in baseball. With Weddle‘s versatility, he probably would be effective in either role. But his excellent football mind, considering his deteriorating athleticism could end in Weddle playing a limited, yet important, role in the heart of the Ravens’ defense.