After the Baltimore Ravens season ended in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs in Buffalo, the focus for the offseason became to build weapons around Lamar Jackson. One of the top priorities was to find playmakers on an offensive line that faced many woes during the 2020 season.
While many fans and critics of the Ravens wanted the team to bring in top-caliber wide receivers, the issue was not at who was catching the ball. The problem was giving Jackson the time he needed in the pocket to make a play.
Baltimore did bring in some much-needed help at receiver, signing former Kansas City Chiefs player Sammy Watkins and drafting Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace in this year’s NFL Draft. But the team also addressed their concerns with an offensive line that has been criticized over the years.
From the time Pro Bowl left guard Marshal Yanda announced his retirement following the 2019 season, the Ravens knew they would never replace the void that Yanda once guarded so well. During his time in the league, Yanda was considered one of the best guards in football protecting both quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Jackson.
During the 2020 offseason, Tyree Phillips took over Yanda’s old spot. Phillip’s did not produce nearly as good as Yanda, so Baltimore picked up veteran guard Kevin Zeitler from the New York Giants in free agency hoping he could be the spark this team needs. The Ravens also drafted Georgia guard Ben Cleveland in the third round of the draft.
In week eight of the 2020 NFL season against the New England Patriots, Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley went down with a season-ending ankle fracture. The only option for Baltimore was to move right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side and have Phillips and D.J. Fluker share the right tackle spot. During this time Patrick Mekari started at center and Ben Powers stepped in at left guard to fill the void.
The running game started to show strides of the 2019 team with great run protection but did little to help Jackson in the passing game.
When Brown Jr. got moved to left tackle mid-season he considered himself a left tackle and did not want to move back to right. He made it evident in a tweet he posted following the 2020 season.
The tweet caused buzz throughout the NFL. Brown Jr. made it known later that he wanted to be traded and the Ravens granted his wish. Possibly the biggest trade this offseason, Baltimore received the 31st overall pick, the Chiefs third-round pick, a 2022 fourth-round pick, and a 2022 fifth-round pick. The Chiefs received Brown Jr., the 58th overall pick, and a 2022 sixth-round pick. Brown Jr. is another piece of the Ravens offense that will never be duplicated.
After the trade:
After the NFL Draft, Baltimore signed former veteran Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to a two-year contract. The addition of Villaneuva was not a surprising one. He visited Baltimore in April amid rumors of Brown Jr. requesting a trade. With Fluker also leaving in free agency to the Miami Dolphins. After the signing, Villaneuva praised the talent of Jackson to the media and made it known that he wants his quarterback to succeed.
While nothing is written in stone, the potential starting offensive line for the Ravens in 2021 could see Stanley at left tackle, Cleveland plays left guard, Bradley Bozeman at center, Zeitler plays right guard, and Villanueva at right tackle. Despite the losses of many offensive linemen on the Ravens the past two seasons, I think the line for Baltimore improved drastically from where it was a season ago.
The latest changes on the offensive line will have quarterback Lamar Jackson some much-needed protection and allow him time to make passes to his playmaking wide receivers.