ESPN latest suggestion for Ravens offseason could leave team in cap hell

This would be a fairly risky extension.
Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars
Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars / Perry Knotts/GettyImages

The Baltimore Ravens are paying stars like Roquan Smith and Lamar Jackson a ton of money in the next few years, which will make it tougher for them to retain their role players. The Ravens are preparing for yet another defensive departure as cornerback Brandon Stephens gets ready to test the market.

Stephens, picked at the end of the third round in 2021, has evolved into a respectable outside cornerback over the last few years. However, with Marlon Humphrey still in town and two young cornerbacks in Nate Wiggins and T.J. Tampa being drafted in 2024, the odds of giving him a long-term deal seem iffy.

The Ravens will likely revisit a Stephens deal in the offseason, as they will need to see just how good he can be in new defensive coordinator Zach Orr's attack. That hasn't dissuaded ESPN, who believes that Stephens needs to be locked up ASAP.

Aaron Schatz of ESPN (ESPN+ required) believes the Ravens, who have become known for making big moves in the late stages of the offseason, should sign Stephens to a contract extension, citing his versatility, youth, and performance last season. Considering all the other deals the Ravens need to account for, a Stephens deal this early could be tough to overcome.

ESPN suggests Ravens extend starting CB Brandon Stephens in 2024 offseason

Stephens, who recorded a 69.2 PFF grade alongside two interceptions last season, became a reliable starter outside on the league's best defense. While Stephens' starting job is not under any sort of scrutiny, the Wiggins pick does make keeping him much more difficult than it was previously.

Not only do players like Smith, Jackson, and $98 million defensive tackle Justin Madubuike make high-end money, but the Ravens will also need to figure out ways to give Zay Flowers, Kyle Hamilton, and Tyler Linderbaum new contracts without becoming financially rigid.

Stephens' situation seems like what Patrick Queen went through last season before joining the Steelers. Baltimore will likely try to make an effort to retain him, but they also spent premium draft capital on a young replacement and could be unwilling to go over a hypothetical maximum value they set for him.

Stephens is still a young player on a rookie contract, and he could go on a Queen-esque hot streak that turns him into a more expensive player. However, with Wiggins promising to be a first-rate starter if he develops properly, it seems unlikely Baltimore's 2024 secondary can stay together very long.