Breaking down the Ravens’ offseason checklist

Ravens. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Ravens. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens enter this offseason with a lot on their plate, so we’ve compiled a complete checklist to make sure the Ravens address every one of their concerns.

Figure out the Lamar Jackson quarterback situation

Let us just get this one out of the way first. The Ravens were in the positions that they were due to a lack of their starting quarterback. Now, this has nothing to do with backup Tyler Huntley. Huntley kept the Ravens in it until the last second.

But the Ravens still need Lamar Jackson. Ever since Jackson went down due to injury in Week 13, the Ravens were 2-4 this season. Given their elite defense, it’s hard not to believe that the Ravens would have been a legitimate contender if they had their starting QB.

So what’s next? Heading into the Wild Card game, everyone had their own opinion on Lamar Jackson’s injury situation. Sammy Watkins had a lot to say. Michael Vick had a lot to say. The media had a lot to say.

The only thing we do not know is what is actually occurring. Is Lamar taking recovery seriously? Is this a contract thing or an injury thing?

After successfully re-signing Roquan Smith, the Ravens can use the franchise tag on Jackson if no agreement is reached by March. Whether or not he will play on it is yet to be seen.

With a rock-solid defense, an experienced offensive line, and two-thirds of the offensive skill positions accounted for, the Ravens would be doing themselves a disservice if they don’t figure this predicament out.

Yes, it takes two to tango, but maybe a big move for a new target might motivate Lamar to sign more quickly.

The return on a potential Jackson trade would be massive but would put the Ravens back at square one searching for their future franchise quarterback.

Address the future of the wide receiver position

The wide receiver position has been on this list since the franchise’s founding in 1996. There has never been a season when the Ravens do not have moving pieces and looming question marks at receiver.

Last offseason, Marquise Brown was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. The loss left last year’s top pick Rashod Bateman as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. Bateman lasted until Week 8 when he went down with an injury and did not play again.

Behind Bateman was a former third-round pick Devin Duvernay. The star kick returner started the year off hot with two receiving touchdowns in Week 1, a stupendous kick return in Week 2, and another receiving touchdown in Week 3. For a few precious weeks, it seemed like the Ravens had their duo. That was, until Week 15 when Duvernay suffered a season-ending injury.

Behind them was a scrappy combination of little-used veterans. Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins both had rare productive moments. DeSean Jackson got a short-lived opportunity. Third-round flop of the Cardinals, Andy Isabella, was given a chance as well.

Youngsters Tylan Wallace, James Proche, and Binjimen Victor all saw the 53-man roster. None made a memorable impact.

Entering the draft, the Ravens have limited draft capital and do not hold an early draft pick, so getting an top-tier young receiver may be difficult. Even if one is obtainable, the Ravens have repeatedly shown a failure to develop their own.

Will they choose to sift through the draft in 2023? A rookie contract would be great for the salary cap, but after this past season’s late collapse, a bigger move may be necessary.

Last season, the Ravens were in on DeAndre Hopkins, and the veteran receiver may become available as the Cardinals make changes to their organization’s structure.

Hypothetically, the Ravens could return next season with a receiver core of Hopkins (or another established veteran), Bateman, Duvernay, Robinson, Wallace, and Proche. This group of six would certainly be ideal.

Even if Hopkins is not a realistic addition, Allan Lazard, JuJu Smith-Schuster, D.J. Chark, and others serve as intriguing receiver options in free agency. Other teams may place wideouts on the chopping block, and the Ravens would be smart to lock up a target quickly.

Adding another target could help convince Jackson to return and could be the integral missing piece of the offense.

Restock the veteran edge rush platoon

This season is most likely Calais Campbells’ final season. Jason Pierre-Paul may search for a lucrative payday elsewhere. Justin Houston led the team with 9.5 sacks and said he wants to play another season.

These three made up a large portion of the Ravens’ pass rush while youngsters Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser, and David Ojabo dealt with injuries and periods of struggle this past season.

Baltimore typically holds at least five edge-rushers and could go down multiple avenues to mold the 2023 edition of the group. One would suggest first bringing back your veteran leader: Houston. Houston proved that he still has plenty in the tank, especially in a limited role.

Pierre-Paul is another option, but he is more of a 4-man front player with his hand in the dirt. The Ravens typically like to drop their linebackers in coverage to hide their coverages, making him not the most seamless fit.

Houston and a rookie would make for a dominant tag team on the edge. The Ravens also have lots of positional flexibility with players like Malik Harrison being able to double as pass rushers.

This might not be the Ravens’ most important need right now, but the pass-rushing unit showed up to play and totally disrupted Burrow and Bengals in the Wild Card game. Despite the loss, Baltimore will want to keep that energy going into next season.

Decide the immediate future at nose tackle

Last offseason, the Ravens brought Michael Pierce back home. Pierce spent the first four seasons of his career in Baltimore in tandem with Brandon Williams to form a mammoth front.

Following a stint on the Minnesota Vikings, he returned to the Ravens on a one-year contract and had a great start to the 2022 season. Pierce was a dominant force and a pleasant surprise in his return but got injured in Week 3 and did not play again.

Once Pierce went down with an injury, the Ravens used a rotation of guys to replace his talents. Veteran Brent Urban played a big role and stable force for a tandem of young contributors.

The primary replacement for Pierce was a rotational tandem of rookie Travis Jones and former draft pick Broderick Washington Jr. This duo is ages 23 and 26 respectfully and holds a world of potential.

Each player balanced the other’s skillsets well and it showed throughout the season: Jones’ greatest strength was generating pressure on the QB while Washington’s greatest strength was staying stout against the run.,

Next season, having a duo with nose tackle experience is a great start but the Ravens will not be complacent with that. They want another anchor to add to the rotation.

Does Pierce come back in a more rotational role? Do they bring in a new rotation member? It’s worth noting that well-established players like Javon Hargrave and Sheldon Rankins are available on the free agency market, not to mention the draft holds options as well.

What the Ravens do next will be interesting, but another rotation piece in the interior defensive line is essential.

Find a #2 cornerback

Marcus Peters is a free agent in 2023 and that might be the best thing for the Ravens’ secondary. Peters, a multiple-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, has had an illustrious career but could have played his last game as a Raven.

The 29-year-old Peters returned in 2022 after missing last season and recorded his first interception of the year. Unfortunately, it would also be the last interception he had this season.

Looking at the evidence alone, Peters had a rough season. There were multiple times in games when you could tell his emotions were not in check; at other times, he played lazy and succumbed to mental mistakes.

To drive this point home, re-watch the last two drives vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. As the Jags drove down the field during their fourth quarter comeback, Trevor Lawerence targeted Peters early and often.

Peter’s resiliency is definitely valued, but his big-money contract is expiring and he most likely is searching for one more entering the backend of his career.

If Peters is demanding a large contract though, I would not expect him to return. The team likes physicality from their cornerback unit and Peters is more of a ballhawk. A change at the position could come cheaper and can help the team stick to its nature.

Free agents that could fit the defensive scheme include James Bradberry, Cameron Sutton, or even a young player like Greedy Williams.

In-house, the Ravens have Brandon Stephens, Damarion Williams, and Jayln Armour-Davis, who boast different skills yet may need more time to develop into starting-caliber pieces.

Determine the fate of safety Chuck Clark

Clark played a pivotal role this offseason and continued to be a leader in the backfield. By the end of the season, the safety unit was arguably the team’s greatest strength. Between Marcus Williams, Kyle Hamilton, and young pieces like Geno Stone and Ar’Darius Washington, the Ravens’ safety corps was deep.

So…does Clark have a solid role next season?

The question may be more of whether Clark wants to return to a similar role this year or not.

Money is not much of an issue. Chuck Clark holds a cap number of $6.2 million but only approximately $2.8 million would be saved by releasing him. Clark has one year left in his original three-year extension and has been an undeniable staple in Baltimore’s classic hard-nosed defense, yet this is the NFL, and anything can happen.

If a change is coming, it would not come as an appalling surprise.

Decide who the real third running back is

For the majority of the Ravens’ last three seasons, Justice Hill has manned the third running back role. In addition to Hill, veteran Kenyan Drake enjoyed success this season in his given opportunities particularly as a pass-catching back.

Neither has a contract entering the 2023 season, so the Ravens have decisions to make. Hill averaged 5.3 yards per carry and Drake averaged 4.4. The duo totaled 744 rushing yards and helped carry the load early in the season when J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards dealt with injuries and needed rest.

The return of Hill would make sense. To end the season, Drake was a healthy scratch and did not play so Hill could be active. This was not consistent all season, but the end of the season is telling.

Hills’ work outside the tackles is something that differentiates him from Edwards and Dobbins.

The other path the Ravens could go is the draft. Last offseason, the Ravens selected Tyler Badie; Badie ended the season with the Broncos and even scored a touchdown.

Badie could return, similar to the career trajectory of safety Geno Stone. In any case, the team needs the role filled and there will likely be a fierce training camp competition in camp for the No. 3 running back position.

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