BALTIMORE RAVENS: DOES ANYTHING NEED TO CHANGE?
The Baltimore Ravens 2019 season will be a bittersweet one for their fans. After storming to a 14-2 record, the Ravens crashed out in the Divisional Round of the playoffs at the hands of the Tennessee Titans. In the 2019 they broke the record for the most rushing yards by any team ever with 3296, they became the first team ever to average at least 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards per game, and on top of all that they outscored teams by 249 points, the highest differential of any team this year. Quite a season for the purple of Baltimore, so does anything need to change?
In the AFC North the real battle for the division has for the most part has been between Pittsburgh and Baltimore in recent history. Cincinnati have occasionally threatened but generally it the Steelers and the Ravens that people are picking between. For the past two years the Steelers haven’t been playing at their usual standard and the Ravens have been able to capitalise. with two division wins in a row and playoff appearances. The Ravens arguaby have built one of the best rosters in the league, and were many people’s tips for the Super Bowl at the start of the playoffs, but how will they maintain this in the 2020 season?
General Manager: Eric DeCosta
Head Coach: John Harbaugh
DeCosta was once named as one of the most powerful people under 35 in sports, and he has certainly been powerful in turning the Ravens into one of the most explosive teams we have ever seen. Despite his team’s recent focus being on the playoffs recently, DeCosta has already been aggressive, locking up seven key players before they hit free agency. He has the strongest team in football and will want to keep them together for as long as possible. Knowing that, he has already secured Tavon Young, Justin Tucker, Marshal Yanda, Willie Snead, L.J. Fort, Patrick Ricard and, arguably most importantly, Marcus Peters to new deals. DeCosta is influential and extremely knowledgeable in both the NFL and business, and has given John Harbaugh a slightly easier task by building a great team.
Harbaugh has utilised all the tools that DeCosta has given him, and has guided the Ravens to their best season ever. In doing this he has put himself well and truly in the mix for Coach of the Year, with the Ravens went on a 12 game winning streak to finish the season after starting 2-2. One of the most impressive things that Harbaugh has done is change opinions on fourth down. The Ravens attempted to go for it on fourth down 24 times this season and had a completion percentage of 70.8. No team in the league had a higher completion percentage on fourth down and the only other team in the playoffs who attempted as many as Baltimore were the Houston Texans, and their completion rate pales into insignificance compared to Baltimore. The Ravens aggressiveness stems all the way from their general manager down to the players on the pitch and this is why they were the favourites for the title. That aggressiveness is a trait that Harbaugh and co will want to maintain in the offseason.
Cap Space: $33.8 million
With over 36 million to play with and seven players already signed to new contracts the Ravens are in a pretty comfortable position when it comes to cap space. A massive added bonus is the fact that the Ravens have one of the league’s best players in Lamar Jackson under a rookie contract for another two years, with an option for three. This is how dynasties are built. They have a truly great, potentially era defining, quarterback and they are paying him next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. They already have plenty of weapons around him, a strong offensive line and one of the best defenses in the league, so keeping this team together is vital but they have the cap space to do it, at least until Lamar gets paid at the end of his rookie deal.
Another big factor that the Ravens have a lot of cap space to work with is that all eight of the players they drafted in 2019 have signed contracts and the majority of them have performed well. Marquise Brown has been incredible and has shown he is very capable of the big play and is a valuable deep ball for Jackson, who he has developed a relationship with. Their second round pick Jaylon Ferguson played over 50% of the snaps as outside linebacker and got 9 quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks. Their third round draft pick Miles Boykin played over 30% on offense and special teams, finishing with three touchdowns on 13 receptions. In the 2020 draft the Ravens have seven picks before compensatory picks are decided, and if they continue to get production from their rookies they will utilise very little of their cap space freeing it up for a marquee signing.
In terms of potential cuts Brandon Carr may be the only player deemed surplus to requirements with a significant salary cap hit. Releasing Carr would free up another $6 million in cap space, for a cost of just $1 million in dead money.
Impending Free Agents
Baltimore have 22 players that could hit free agency at the end of the season and 16 of them will be unrestricted free agents. However, only two of them played more than 50% of the snaps on their respective side of the ball meaning there are not many major issues.
Matt Judon played over 80% of the snaps on the defensive side of the ball and only cost the Ravens $2,088,934. Judon finished with 9.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and 33 quarterback hits in the regular season. An impressive season that helped get the Ravens to the playoffs and at only 27 years of age will have a few more years left scaring the other quarterbacks in the AFC North. The Ravens should secure a deal for Judon as they have the money to work out a long term deal, but it would not be a massive shock if they let him walk either.
The only other player, heading towards free agency, who played over 50% of snaps is Matt Skura, who played 65.2% of snaps. He played 11 games during the season and was out injured for five. Before being injured against the LA Rams, he played every snap on offense and was a key contributor to helping this line give Jackson plenty of time to make the magic happen. As long as his knee injury is not career ending then expect the Ravens to bring Skura back and being a center he is not going to break the bank. His knee injury should also reduce the demand for a player who is a restricted free agent this season. Unless he can prove fitness in time he is unlikely to be given a massive offer sheet by any franchises
Major Need: Edge/Pass Rusher
Being a Baltimore fan and watching their division rivals Pittsburgh Steelers miss the playoffs for a second year in a row must be amusing, but watching what they have done on the defensive side of the ball must still give them slight cause for concern. TJ Watt and Bud Dupree both having career years when it comes to rushing the quarterback will make the Ravens want to get in on this action as well, especially with Baker Mayfield and probably Joe Burrow making up a strong group of quarterbacks in this division. The Ravens finished with 37 sacks this year, and when you compare that to the Steelers with 54 they will want to get closer to that figure. Potential free agent Matt Judon led the Ravens with 9.5 sacks but compared to TJ Watt and Bud Dupree who had 26 combined it is a relatively small number. The Steelers demonstrated that with a strong pass rush it doesn’t make as much of a difference if your offense is having an off day. Imagine a combination of this Ravens offense with an even scarier pass rush on the defensive side of the ball next season.
Major/Minor Need: Cornerback
I know I said they had just signed Marcus Peters to a new contract, but who is there to play alongside him. Tavon Young needs to stay healthy, Jimmy Smith likely will not get a new contract, and the rest of the cornerbacks on the roster appear to be a weakness this season, if they saw the field at all. Despite not being a typical cornerback, Marlon Humphrey has done well when called upon, but they need to add depth at this position and in this draft where the cornerback position is stacked there are viable options in pretty much every round. Takeaways are key to a teams success and a strong secondary to go with their new pass rush could turn the Ravens into a takeaway machine.
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