Baltimore Ravens show trust in its defensive veterans for 2021

CINCINNATI, OHIO - JANUARY 03: Anthony Levine #41 of the Baltimore Ravens against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - JANUARY 03: Anthony Levine #41 of the Baltimore Ravens against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

While the Baltimore Ravens did retain either of its Pro Bowl defenders this offseason, it did put an emphasis on leadership by holding on to some vets.

It’s very difficult to watch two former Pro Bowl players leave in the same offseason, but that’s exactly what happened to the Baltimore Ravens last month when it watched Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue move on to new teams after failing to reach a new contract to stay. It’s an unfortunate part of the business, but it nonetheless hurts the team moving forward.

What made the loss of those two hurt worse is that both players were the key cogs to the defense’s pass rush. With them now gone, nine of the team’s 39 team sacks a year ago have to be replaced.

Many were hoping the team would splurge on some guys like Justin Houston or Melvin Ingram or Ryan Kerrigan this offseason to fill the void at edge rusher, and while they are all still available it seems highly unlikely that we’ll see the team go after either of them. Instead, it makes a lot of sense to see Baltimore attack this weakness through the 2021 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, this year’s edge-rushing class is a bit thin on day-one impact guys. The class is almost entirely made up of developmental prospects.

The rest of the defensive front could also use some upgrades. The entire starting defensive line is over the age of 30 and the inside linebacker spot, short of Patrick Queen, is somewhat replaceable. Some upgrades could definitely be used throughout the front seven of the defense.

More from Ebony Bird

Here’s the thing: there’s a chance that the Ravens don’t feel the same way.

While the team lost two great players in Judon and Ngakoue, Baltimore was successful in bringing back three important players from 2020 in the forms of Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, and L.J. Fort. All three of these guys played major roles for the defense last season and it was clearly a top priority for the team to retain these guys. Additionally, Baltimore also brought back long-time contributor Anthony Levine, Sr. Levine was sparingly used in 2020, but he’s long been a part of this defense and has been nicknamed “Co-Cap” for his leadership and importance to the team.

These may not be the flashiest of moves, nor are they moves that will put this defense over the top, but they are nonetheless important and very telling acts for the Ravens.

Retaining McPhee and Bowser was very important because of the losses the team experienced in the pass-rushing department this offseason. The two may have only combined for only five sacks in 2020, but their returns bring continuity to this pass rush and make it so that said pass rush isn’t entirely new and unfamiliar/inexperienced in how the Ravens like to get after the quarterback.

Looking at Fort, his return will continue helping the development of youngsters Queen and Malik Harrison. These two could very well be the future of this defense, but Fort’s return will help to continue helping them learn the ropes of the NFL. Fort may just be the best teacher on this defense heading into 2021.

Finally, we have the return of Levine. Levine saw a massively reduced role in 2020 because of the development of safeties Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott. He also didn’t see much time in his typically sub-linebacker role because of Queen and Fort. There is one aspect where Levine did continue his brilliance: special teams. Levine has long been a special teams expert; enough to where he’s been slighted for the Pro Bowl on more than one occasion. His return is very evident that he will continue to be an important player on special teams, good depth on defense, and a strong leader in the locker room. His return is a very underrated move for Baltimore.

So with all this in mind we can come to one conclusion: the Baltimore Ravens have a lot of trust and have placed a lot of value in its defensive veterans for the 2021 season. It’s a very pleasing sight, as it means that we can rest easy knowing there is some continuity headed into 2021. Are these moves ones that will blow the doors off opposing offenses? Certainly not, but they are incredibly smart decisions by Baltimore.

Next. 2021 NFL Draft: 5 receivers Ravens can target after the first round. dark

While we should anticipate that the Baltimore Ravens will want to get younger on the defensive side of the ball, we must acknowledge how much the team clearly believes in its veterans. Bringing back these four guys for presumably large roles is very telling of what we can expect from the team in 2021. I’d be willing to bet on these guys to be huge contributors this year.