May 22, 2022

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Ravens free-agency preview: Who’s returning, who’s leaving and the place the roster wants assist

The Ravens’ 2021 season ended Jan. 9 with a sixth straight loss and a litany of questions on what comes subsequent. At midday on Monday, when the NFL’s authorized tampering interval unofficially kicks off free company, common supervisor Eric DeCosta will attempt to reply them.

After making a handful of strikes final week to release wage cap area, staff officers have extra work to do to reposition the Ravens as Tremendous Bowl contenders. This week may dictate the form of some of the vital offseasons in franchise historical past.

“We now have some work to do in a whole lot of completely different areas,” DeCosta mentioned in February. “I believe every little thing is fixable, and it may be improved and constructed and strengthened, for positive. … I believe we’ll have sufficient wage cap room to do every little thing we have to do, to do accountable, good offers that work for the membership but additionally work for the participant.”

The Ravens have apparent wants throughout their roster, each huge (line of defense) and small (huge receiver). Right here’s a have a look at who’s set to return, who’s seemingly leaving, and who may make sense in free company and the draft this offseason.

Quarterback

Returners: Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley

Free brokers: Josh Johnson

What they want: A wholesome offseason for Jackson, and perhaps a number of extra contract discussions in Owings Mills. The price of franchise quarterbacks goes up each offseason, and Jackson is coming off probably the most disappointing season of his profession. If he and DeCosta can discover widespread floor earlier than the season, they might hammer out a win-win deal and finish the hypothesis round Jackson’s future in Baltimore.

Operating again

Returners: J.Okay. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Ty’Son Williams, Nate McCrary

Free brokers: Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman

What they want: Wholesome knees. Dobbins and Edwards are recovering from season-ending ACL accidents, and their restoration, together with Justice Hill’s from a torn Achilles tendon, could lead on the Ravens to spend money on the place within the draft. There must be good worth within the fourth or fifth spherical with a speedster like Cincinnati’s Jerome Ford or a chain-mover like Arizona State’s Rachaad White. Don’t count on any vital free-agent expenditures.

Extensive receiver

Returners: Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin, Jaylon Moore, Binjimen Victor

Free brokers: Sammy Watkins

What they want: One other outdoors receiver, ideally a giant one. Accidents slowed Watkins over the season’s last three months and certain slammed the door on a possible return. Boykin’s $2.5 million wage has made him a possible wage cap casualty; after one other disappointing season, the previous third-round decide may very well be launched or traded. Their departures would go away the Ravens with a talented however smaller receiving corps.

Contemplating coordinator Greg Roman’s run-first tendencies, and the run-blocking tasks Ravens receivers tackle within the offense’s condensed formations, the unit may want one other imposing presence. Clemson’s Justyn Ross and Purdue’s David Bell have their weaknesses as potential Day 2 or Day 3 prospects — a scary harm historical past for Ross, a restricted ceiling for Bell — however with their dimension, they undertaking as robust blockers.

Tight finish/fullback

Returners: Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Josh Oliver, Tony Poljan, Ben Mason

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Free brokers: Patrick Ricard, Eric Tomlinson

What they want: A working mate for Andrews. There’s little monetary profit to releasing Boyle, who can have one other offseason to strengthen his knee and attempt to regain the shape that made him one of many offense’s most vital items. Oliver, in the meantime, was stable and stayed wholesome in his first 12 months in Baltimore, ending with 9 catches in 14 video games.

But when the Ravens need one other versatile tight finish to drive defenses into heavier packages and off-balance, as they so typically did in 2019, they may search for outdoors assist. Former Raven Hayden Hurst and O.J. Howard, one other former first-round decide headed to free company, are low-cost choices who may thrive in a decent end-centric system. Within the draft, Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert and Virginia’s Jelani Woods provide nice dimension for mid-round prospects, whereas Maryland’s Chigoziem Okonkwo has the athleticism to emphasize defenses as an H-back.

If the Ravens can’t afford to re-sign Ricard, who’s indicated he desires to be compensated extra like a decent finish than a fullback, Mason’s improvement could be attention-grabbing. However the extra the offense’s passing recreation expands, the much less vital a fullback turns into.

Inside offensive line

Returners: Kevin Zeitler, Ben Powers, Ben Cleveland, Tyre Phillips, Trystan Colon, Jimmy Murray

Free brokers: Bradley Bozeman

What they want: A beginning heart. It most likely gained’t be Bozeman, whose emotional season-ending information convention steered that, even in January, he knew a breakup was seemingly. The Ravens have in-house choices out there — Colon hasn’t seemed overmatched in his 274 offensive snaps over the previous two seasons — however returning to Patrick Mekari, who ended final season at proper deal with, would seemingly depart one other place on shaky floor.

If the Ravens aren’t aggressive early in free company, they may very well be left with a handful of undesirable heart choices. Together with Bozeman, the dependable Ben Jones can also be headed to free company. Professional Bowl choice Ryan Jensen, a former Raven, was additionally set to hit the open market earlier than signing a reported three-year, $39 million deal to return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brian Allen, who broke out final season with the Los Angeles Rams after an injury-marred 2019 and 2020, may very well be within the Ravens’ vary. In the event that they need to anticipate assist, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum stays a first-round risk within the draft.

Offensive deal with

Returners: Ronnie Stanley, Patrick Mekari, Ja’Wuan James, Jaryd Jones-Smith

Free brokers: David Sharpe

What they want: Not less than one potential beginning deal with. DeCosta mentioned on the scouting mix earlier this month that Stanley’s offseason progress from a second straight season-ending ankle harm was encouraging, however there are not any positive issues with this group. Stanley has had three operations over the previous 12 months and a half. Mekari may be most helpful as a swing deal with or as an inside starter. James has performed in three video games since 2019 and is coming off an Achilles tendon tear.

At such a premium place, free-agent signings gained’t come low cost. The Dallas Cowboys’ La’el Collins, a possible commerce goal, has a $10 million wage every of the subsequent three seasons. Trent Brown, who wouldn’t price the Ravens a compensatory decide, may fetch the same price ticket on the open market. Morgan Moses and Joseph Noteboom are coming off robust seasons. Eric Fisher and Riley Reiff have stable monitor data (and up to date harm worries).

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Within the draft, the Ravens have been linked to Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning at No. 14 total. Mississippi State’s Charles Cross, if he falls outdoors the highest 10, could be one other enticing possibility. Tulsa’s Tyler Smith and Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele are highly effective Day 2 prospects who may begin prior to later.

Line of defense

Returners: Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington, Isaiah Mack, Aaron Crawford, Xavier Kelly, Kahlil McKenzie

Free brokers: Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Justin Ellis

What they want: Loads. Madubuike has proven dominant flashes, and Washington developed right into a stable rotational piece final 12 months. However Campbell, Williams and Ellis mixed for 1,447 defensive snaps final season, with all three getting between 35% and 57% of the Ravens’ taking part in time. They had been the primary line of protection for a run-stopping unit that completed fourth within the NFL in effectivity, in line with Soccer Outsiders.

DeCosta mentioned staff officers had pegged this offseason as one once they would “have to search out some extra younger guys.” That doesn’t imply the Ravens gained’t attempt to re-sign the 35-year-old Campbell — he was one of many NFL’s higher-rated inside linemen, in line with Professional Soccer Focus, and repeatedly drew double groups — however Williams’ seemingly exit after 9 years in Baltimore would go away a giant gap at nostril deal with.

D.J. Jones, Linval Joseph and Sebastian Joseph-Day, all stable run stoppers, profile as viable free-agent replacements. After his breakout scouting mix efficiency, Georgia’s Jordan Davis has additionally emerged as a well-liked first-round decide in mock drafts.

Exterior linebacker

Returners: Tyus Bowser, Odafe Oweh, Jaylon Ferguson, Daelin Hayes

Free brokers: Justin Houston, Pernell McPhee

What they want: One other affect move rusher. The Ravens completed within the backside 10 in stress price final season, in line with Professional Soccer Reference. Now they’ll seemingly have to enhance with out Houston, who was unfortunate to complete with solely 4 ½ sacks in 2021, and with each Bowser (Achilles tendon) and Oweh (shoulder) coming back from offseason operations.

Signing a top-tier outdoors linebacker would go away the Ravens pressed for cap area. Need to make the contract math work for an affect edge defender like Haason Reddick (23 ½ sacks since 2020)? Construction a multiyear deal that back-loads his wage. Within the draft, nonetheless, the Ravens ought to have a handful of first-round candidates to think about, together with Michigan’s David Ojabo, Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II, Purdue’s George Karlaftis and Georgia’s Travon Walker, who can even kick inside.

Inside linebacker

Returners: Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Kristian Welch

Free brokers: Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, Chris Board, Otaro Alaka

What they want: A working mate for Queen. Bynes and Fort emerged as reliable veterans over the previous two years, however they’re each 32 and shouldn’t price a lot. Queen fared higher at weak-side linebacker after transferring over from the center final season, suggesting that the previous first-round decide would fare higher with a cerebral thumper subsequent to him. Harrison took a step again in a making an attempt 2021, and Board, a particular groups standout, has been used solely situationally.

The Ravens may very well be tempted to focus on the place early within the draft — Georgia’s Nakobe Dean and Utah’s Devin Lloyd are first-round skills — however all eyes this week will likely be on Bobby Wagner, an eight-time Professional Bowl choice with the Seattle Seahawks and up to date wage cap casualty. Like De’Vondre Campbell and Foyesade Oluokun, two different high free-agent linebackers, Wagner won’t price greater than $10 million yearly. However the Ravens should weigh their worth relative to extra urgent wants.

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Cornerback

Returners: Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Kevon Seymour, Iman Marshall, Robert Jackson, Kevin Toliver II

Free brokers: Anthony Averett, Tavon Younger, Jimmy Smith, Chris Westry, Khalil Dorsey

What they want: A nickelback and renewed depth. Younger’s launch means the Ravens should work out who’s entering into the slot subsequent season: Humphrey? Brandon Stephens? A rookie or free-agent signing? A mix of choices? They’ll want good solutions. In accordance with Sports activities Data Options, the Ravens allowed 9.2 yards per goal to fit receivers final season, the NFL’s second-worst price.

Averett’s market may very well be attention-grabbing. After a robust 2021, he appeared headed for a large second contract elsewhere. However he’s been largely excluded from media lists of the highest cornerbacks out there, behind even potential Ravens targets like Rasul Douglas and Kyle Fuller. If Averett’s snug taking part in behind Humphrey and Peters on a reasonable multiyear deal, he may very well be a dark-horse re-signing candidate.

Underneath coordinator Mike Macdonald, the Ravens will seemingly play extra zone coverages, which may develop their pool of potential cornerback targets. But when Averett, Younger and Smith all depart, the staff will want appreciable assist at a place the place even the often sturdy Peters and Humphrey are minor query marks. Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. have lockdown potential, although Gardner will seemingly be a top-10 decide, and Stingley’s harm historical past raises some purple flags.

Security

Returners: Chuck Clark, Brandon Stephens, Tony Jefferson, Geno Stone, Ar’Darius Washington

Free brokers: DeShon Elliott

What they want: A middle-field playmaker. Clark and Elliott, when wholesome, fashioned a stable security pairing. Stephens ended his rookie season on a excessive observe, stringing collectively a handful of spectacular performances, although his position in Macdonald’s protection is unclear. Jefferson, Stone and Washington ought to provide stable depth.

But when the Ravens need to play with the schematic flexibility that Michigan did beneath Macdonald, they’ll want a ball hawk with the vary to deal with single-high-safety alignments. Tyrann Mathieu could be a pure match, however his price ticket will seemingly exceed the Ravens’ price range. Marcus Maye’s Achilles tendon harm and off-field habits may push the Ravens away. Quandre Diggs (10 interceptions since 2020) may very well be a pleasant various.

Elliott’s harm historical past will scare off some groups, however he was a beloved teammate in Baltimore who may discover his means again to the Ravens if he’s not snatched up within the first wave of free company.

Specialists

Returners: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Nick Moore

Free brokers: None

What they want: Not a lot, actually. The Ravens completed final season with the NFL’s finest particular groups unit, in line with Soccer Outsiders, and Tucker, Koch and Moore had been a giant purpose why. If San Diego State’s Matt Araiza continues to be on the board within the sixth spherical, although, the Ravens may be tempted to take the prospect generally known as the “Punt God.”

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