6 Baltimore Ravens offseason questions on defense: C.J. Mosley’s worth, deciding on DBs and more - Aaron Kasinitz
How much are they willing to pay inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and what should they do if a deal isn’t done?
Mosley’s earned Pro Bowl invites in four of his first five NFL seasons, solidifying his place as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has labeled Mosley the future face of Baltimore’s defense, but the 26-year-old can enter free agency this March. It’s hard to argue that losing Mosley would make the Ravens a better team, so they’ll probably at least try to work out a deal to retain him. Inside linebackers don’t carry as much value as the top edge rushers and cornerbacks in the modern NFL, though, and these negotiations could grow intense as Mosley seeks to earn a fair payday. If Baltimore doesn’t agree to a deal with Mosley, it will have the option of using the franchise tag sometime between Feb. 19 and March 5 to keep him for one more season. If the Ravens don’t sign Mosley or place the franchise tag on him, they’ll risk letting a top-tier player in his prime entertain offers from other teams, which could dislodge a linchpin from Baltimore’ defense.
Mosley is regarded as one of the top inside linebackers in the league. However, run stuffing ‘backers have become less valuable in the modern NFL. New general manager Eric DeCosta may decide to let Mosley test free agency before matching a generous long-term contract.
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That’s not to say DeCosta has it easy as he settles into the GM chair. Anything but. The Ravens might be back in the ballgame, relevant again, but they still have plenty of ground to make up to draw even with the AFC’s elite. If you watched the New England Patriots destroy the Chargers Sunday, you know that.
There are plenty of items on DeCosta’s to-do list. As usual, the offense could use a young, play-making wide receiver. The line on that side of the ball could stand an upgrade. Defensively, huge decisions loom on the futures of key veterans who led the way in 2018.
But the biggest move of all has already taken place with the transition from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The last of Newsome’s 24 first-round draft picks, Jackson alone ushers the Ravens into a new era in several important respects, ensuring that Newsome’s influence on the team will continue well into the tenure of his successor.
Dealing Flacco would create a short-term salary cap issue in the form of a significant “dead” money charge, but long term, it would give DeCosta far more roster flexibility than Newsome in recent years.
After shedding Flacco’s contract, DeCosta will have roughly $45 million of salary cap space at his disposal, which would put the Ravens close to the league average. The 2020 salary cap picture offers tremendous flexibility without Flacco, Baltimore is projected to have $112 million before signing 2019 free agents and the draft classes.
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Do they go all-in on a Lamar Jackson offense?
The Ravens went all-in on using Jackson’s legs as the focal point of the offense, and it led them all the way to the playoffs. No one has ever been willing to utilize a quarterback’s legs to that extent at the NFL level because of the injury risk associated, but there’s no denying how deadly it can be with someone like Jackson at the helm. Before Jackson, the Ravens were 27th in rushing yards (834) and 31st in yards per carry (3.6). In the last seven games with Jackson, they ran for 415 more yards than any other team and were third in yards per attempt (5.1).
With each of the top four scoring offenses making their way to conference championship Sunday, it is unclear if defense still wins championships. The Ravens finished the regular season ranked 13th with 24.3 points per game.
The collegiate blue-bloods will continue supplying the NFL with plenty of young talent in the 2019 draft.