In effect, the Ravens are giving up their best interior pass-rusher and a compensatory pick in 2019 (which is what they’ve would’ve received when Jernigan signed elsewhere at the end of the season) to jump nearly one round higher in this year’s draft.
The gamble is letting go of a talented yet inconsistent lineman like Jernigan, who was primed to have his best season. He had all the motivation knowing he needed an outstanding performance week after week heading into the final year of his contract.
That’s why this trade works for the Ravens only if their young defensive linemen step up. Michael Pierce, Carl Davis and Willie Henry have to stuff the run and collapse the pocket like Jernigan was going to do.
“This will allow our young group of defensive linemen an opportunity to compete and play,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said.
The safer play would’ve been to hold onto Jernigan for another year to get the most out of him, let him sign elsewhere in free agency after the season and receive what might have been a fourth-round compensatory pick for him in the 2019 draft.
That’s how the Ravens typically do business. Why the change? Jernigan wasn’t a Pro Bowl player. He faded down the stretch with five tackles and no sacks in his final seven games. He’s known for making boneheaded plays like roughing the passer on the winning drive in Oakland in 2015, and losing a fumble against the New York Jets last season.
And, perhaps more importantly, keeping Jernigan takes away snaps from the Ravens’ next generation of defensive tackles. Baltimore believes Pierce, an undrafted rookie from last season, can stop the run better than Jernigan. What if Henry, who didn’t play last season, can rush the passer like Jernigan?
The Ravens are now going to find out this season. Jernigan never truly fulfilled expectations after being the 48th player taken in the 2014 draft. By moving on from him, Baltimore can find out if its younger linemen can reach theirs.