Baltimore Ravens NFL free agent target: Gabe Jackson

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 08: Gabe Jackson #66 of the Oakland Raiders in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 8, 2015 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 08: Gabe Jackson #66 of the Oakland Raiders in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 8, 2015 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens have a need at right guard, and with the Las Vegas Raiders set to release Gabe Jackson, a perfect match may have just presented itself.

The Baltimore Ravens love their comp picks. It’s what causes free agency to often be a relatively boring affair for fans of the purple and black. But in a unique year like this one, where an unprecedented number of quality veterans are being cut so teams can create extra cap space, the Ravens stand to be “in” on more players than ever before. And since Baltimore stands to lose a good number of their own talented players from a season ago, and have additional needs that went unmet in 2020, it couldn’t come at a better time.

One such need is the hole that was left at right guard when Marshall Yanda retired after the 2019 season. The likely future Hall of Famer was replaced by some mishmash of Tyre Phillips, D.J. Fluker, Patrick Mekari, and Ben Powers, largely to no avail, and the issue reared its head most prominently in the Ravens’ loss to the Bills in the AFC Divisional Round. Lamar Jackson was under pressure all night, and receiving little help from anyone not named Orlando Brown Jr.

Eric DeCosta has committed to fixing the line this offseason, saying that fixing the passing game “starts up front.” And there are plenty of routes he could take to make that happen. Free agents like Brandon Scherff or Joe Thuney would be dramatic improvements over the group that was deployed last year, and the draft also offers appealing prospects like Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis, Tennessee’s Trey Smith, and Alabama’s Deonte Brown.

The problem with each of these players is that the free agents would each cost enough to cancel out a comp pick gained from the likely departure of Matt Judon or Yannick Ngakoue, and the latter put the Ravens in a position to draft for need rather than selecting the highest player on their board. That’s not the Ravens Way.

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That means the best solution will be finding a quality guard who has been cut by his previous team and would therefore not factor into the comp pick formula. And it just so happens that such a player is set to hit the market.

Josina Anderson has reported that the Las Vegas Raiders have informed veteran guard Gabe Jackson that he will be released. The team will save an estimated $9.6 million (according to OverTheCap ), and Jackson is on the hunt for a new club after spending his first seven seasons with the Raiders franchise.

Jackson may not be in the same echelon as Scherff or Thuney, but should subsequently come at a lower cost, and would still give the Ravens another reliable veteran on what stands to be a young offensive line next year. Perhaps he no longer has the long-term ceiling of top draft prospects like Davis or Smith, but adding a veteran at Yanda’s old spot will also ensure Lamar Jackson is not being protected by rookies along the entire right side of the line.

If Orlando Brown Jr. is indeed traded, Baltimore would be left without answers at center, right guard, and right tackle, and would be facing the real possibility of having to fill at least two of those spots through the draft. That possibility still presents itself with Jackson, but a veteran guard at least ensures a rookie center or tackle would have veteran experience lining up next to them. While this might seem inconsequential, stability can’t be overemphasized on a team that was defined by injuries, roster turnover, and inconsistent play in 2020.

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The Ravens are about as good as any team at sticking to the “right player, right price” mantra, and for that reason (and others) shouldn’t box themselves into a Jackson-or-bust strategy at right guard. But moving quickly on the veteran would take care of a major need in short order, and give the front office margin to begin putting themselves in a position to enter the draft with a much shorter list of true needs.