This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens looked to improve their secondary by signing veteran safety Eric Weddle to a four-year, $26 million contract, with hopes that he can provide a spark to the unit.
As a collective unit, Baltimore graded out as the 23rd-best team in coverage last season. The Ravens were also just one of two teams—Jacksonville being the other—that had just a single defensive player (who played at least 100 snaps) earn an above-average coverage grade. That player, Will Hill, was suspended and then released this offseason.
Can Weddle step in and help revitalize this struggling unit in 2016?
Let’s look at the former Charger in a vacuum.
Weddle, a nine-year veteran, has posted a positive coverage grade in every season of his career. His coverage grade last season ranked second among all safeties, consistent with his finish for the 2014 season. For his career, opposing quarterbacks have a 74.3 passer rating when targeting him, and the sustained success he’s had makes him one of the better safeties over the last decade.
At 31 years old, though, is his best football behind him?
Weddle had a four-year peak that lasted from 2011 to 2014; during that time period, he ranked fourth, first, fifth, and first in overall grade among safeties, respectively, along with fourth, second, fourth, and second in coverage grades. Over that four-year span, Weddle allowed just a 62.9 completion percentage and three total touchdowns to go with 13 interceptions and an additional 13 pass defenses; in addition to those stats, QBs had just a 50.32 passer rating when targeting him.
Last season, Weddle allowed a 77.8 completion percentage and two touchdowns, he had zero interceptions (although he did have four passes defended), and a passer rating of 119.8 to opposing QBs. Weddle was nowhere close to being a liability in coverage, (his 8.8 average yards per catch was the 10th-best among safeties, and he didn’t allow a single catch go for 30 yards or more) but the amazing play-making ability he so often demonstrated during that four-year stretch wasn’t there in 2015.
Whether or not Eric Weddle can revive the Ravens' secondary largely revolves around which Eric Weddle the Ravens end up getting. If 2015 was just an anomaly and Weddle reverts back to the dominant level of performance we saw from 2011 to 2014, then he should go a long ways towards revitalizing the Ravens' pass defense. If he’s simply the above-average safety who’s on the downward arc of a once-dominant career, though, than he’s just going to be a smaller—albeit still very useful—piece of the puzzle.