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Ravens 2020 Offseason Primer: Roster outlook

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NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

After a special regular season, the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl aspirations were shattered when the Tennessee Titans engineered a stunning divisional round upset. Vulnerabilites that had remained hidden during their franchise record 12-game winning streak were exposed in the postseason. A few schematic and personnel deficiencies have become apparent following the season ending loss.

Nonetheless, the Ravens enter the 2020 offseason well positioned to remain among the NFL’s contenders.

In previous years, the front office has been burdened by a disadvantageous salary cap situation. Lamar Jackson, along with a return to above average draft results, have completely changed the paradigm.

Now armed with approximately $30 million in salary cap space and nine projected draft picks, including seven in the top-150, savvy general manager Eric DeCosta has the ammunition to supplement a roster that will return eight prime age Pro Bowlers.

A few key players are set to hit unrestricted free agency and the team may decide to release a few veterans as well. Baltimore will have positional needs entering the draft and the depth chart will not be perfect entering training camp. Yet after period of mediocrity, the Ravens have now assembled a foundation of players worthy of a ‘win-now’ strategy.


Quarterback

Expected to return: Lamar Jackson ($2.6M cap charge) , Robert Griffin III ($2.5M), Trace McSorley ($0.6M)

The league’s MVP will enter his third season with the support of Griffin, a mentor who is signed through next season. McSorely should return as a developmental backup.

Running Back

Expected to return: Mark Ingram ($5.3M), Patrick Ricard ($4.6M), Gus Edwards (exclusive rights free agent), Justice Hill ($0.8M)

Edwards is under team control as an ERFA and will be brought back at a near league minimum salary. Tone setting fullback Ricard was recently extended through the 2021 season. This position group is well stocked for 2020 with a trio of diverse backs.

DeCosta has wisely avoided large signing bonuses that create dead money with these backs in case something changes and he wants to go in another direction next offseason.

Offensive Tackle

Expected to return: Ronnie Stanley ($12.9M 5th year option), Orlando Brown Jr. ($0.9M)

Uncertain Future: James Hurst ($5.3M), Andre Smith (UFA)

Stanley and Brown provide Baltimore with a pair of top shelf bookend tackles. The Ravens may begin negotiating an early contract extension with Stanley this year before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season, but any savings from an early payday would likely be minimal since the left tackle is expected to become among the league’s highest paid.

The potential $2.8M cap savings that would be created by releasing Hurst may not be worth the hit to depth at a scare position.

Interior Offensive Line

Expected to return: Bradley Bozeman ($0.7M), Ben Powers ($0.8M), Patrick Mekari ($0.6M)

Uncertain future: Marshal Yanda ($11M), Matt Skura (restricted free agent), Parker Ehinger (RFA), Randin Crecelius (ERFA), Hroniss Grasu (unrestricted free agent)

Retirement is a real possibility for Yanda. The Ravens would net $7M in cap savings if their stalwart blocker decides to hang up his cleats.

The news that Skura suffered a potentially career ending injury could prompt the Ravens to offer him the low tender of $2.1M or a smaller short term contract. Even if Powers and Mekari continue on a positive developmental arc, the uncertainty at these positions coupled with this group’s underwhelming play against Tennessee make acquiring interior lineman a top offseason priority.

Tight End

Expected to return: Nick Boyle ($6.8M), Mark Andrews ($0.9M), Hayden Hurst ($3M)

The dynamic trio of tight ends will continue to be a focal point of the offense. Boyle’s extension last offseason runs concurrent with Andrews’ and Hurst’s rookie contracts that expire in 2021. Andrews will be a prime candidate for an early contract extension when he becomes eligible after 2020.

Receiver

Expected to return: Marquise Brown ($2.7M), Willie Snead IV ($5.4M), Miles Boykin ($0.9M), Jaleel Scott ($0.8M)

Uncertain future: Seth Roberts (UFA), Chris Moore (UFA), De’Anthony Thomas (UFA)

Brown had an impressive rookie season and will be entrenched as a starter going forward. Snead and Boykin offer utility but this group would benefit from the addition of another bonafide playmaker who can assist Lamar when comebacks are necessary.

Roberts, Moore and Thomas are complementary pieces who could be replaced by an early round draft pick from the 2020 wide receiver draft class brimming with excellent talent and depth.

Special Teams

Expected to Return: Justin Tucker ($5.1M), Sam Koch ($3.3M), Morgan Cox ($1.2M)

Tucker’s recent extension will keep him in purple through at least the 2023 season. The Ravens are unlikely to move on from the aging Koch or Cox unless a UDFA beats them out in training camp.

Defensive Tackle

Expected to return: Brandon Williams ($14.2M), Chris Wormley ($1M), Daylon Mack ($0.7M)

Uncertain future: Michael Pierce (UFA), Domata Peko (UFA), Justin Ellis (UFA)

Williams turned in perhaps his best season in 2019 and his backloaded contract does not offer any potential cap relief until 2021. Pierce is a stout run plugger but the team may want to re-allocate his projected mid-level free agent contract to a tackle who offers more of a pass rush to complement their new high scoring offense.

Adding depth to Wormley and Mack will be important at some point in the draft. Yet with pass rushers in high demand, it is unlikely that an immediate impact rookie will be available at the 28th draft slot. Fortunately, there are several top tier impending free agent defensive lineman, defensive line is the best position of the upcoming free agent class.

Edge defender

Expected to return: Tyus Bowser ($1.8M), Jaylon Ferguson ($0.9M)

Uncertain future: Matthew Judon (UFA), Pernell McPhee (UFA), Jihad Ward (UFA)

Judon is the main domino of the offseason for the Ravens. Baltimore could offer their best pass rusher a lucrative long term contract, apply the $16.2M to $19.3M franchise tag or simply allow Judon to walk in free agency.

With Judon and one of McPhee or Ward on a short-term contract, along with rotational players Bowser and Ferguson, the team would have a serviceable quartet of edge defenders. Without Judon, DeCosta will have to go shopping for another high priced free agent edge defender that can shoulder a heavy workload or go into the season with serious concerns at an essential position.

Linebacker

Expected to return: L.J. Fort ($3.3M), Chris Board ($0.7M), Otaro Alaka ($0.6M)

Uncertain future: Josh Bynes (UFA), Patrick Onwuasor (UFA)

Fort was signed off the street during the season and performed well enough to earn a contract extension. Board and Alaka are mainly special teams contributors while Bynes and Onwuasor could return on low cost deals. Linebacker is certainly not a strength of this roster, nonetheless DeCosta may be better served using his resources at other more impactful positions.

Cornerback

Expected to return: Marcus Peters ($15M), Marlon Humphrey ($3.8M), Anthony Averett ($0.8M), Iman Marshall ($0.8M)

Uncertain future: Jimmy Smith (UFA), Brandon Carr ($7M option), Tavon Young ($8M)

In Peters and Humphrey, the Ravens have an elite duo of cover cornerbacks. Peters inked a below market value three year extension following his midseason trade. Humphrey is eligible for an early extension after completing his third season. It may be smart for the Ravens to lock up their lockdown corner before the cornerback market resets when other top young corners receive their coming paydays. Averett and Marshall supply deep depth.

Tavon Young missed the entire season after signing a new contract due to a disc issue in his neck. The prognosis is unknown, making his future uncertain. If he is unable to play and retires, an additional $1.5M expense would be added to the cap sheet.

With or without Young, the Ravens probably want to keep one of their veterans at this injury prone position. Carr played admirably in a dime safety role but he could regress soon given his advanced age. Declining Carr’s option would unlock $6M of cap space. Smith is still playing at a high level in his early thirties and could potentially re-sign on a short term team friendly pact.

Safety

Expected to return: Earl Thomas III ($15M), Chuck Clark ($0.8M), DeShon Elliott ($0.7M), Fish Smithson (ERFA)

Uncertain future; Tony Jefferson ($11.7M), Anthony Levine Sr. (UFA), Brynden Trawick (UFA), Jordan Richards (UFA)

After inconsistent play and a season ending knee injury, Jefferson is a probable cap casualty. Multiple restructures of his contract would leave $4.7M in dead money compared to $7M in net savings if he is cut. Levine and Trawick are mainly special teams contributors at this point of their careers. Their roster spots could be given to the younger Richards or mid-round draft picks.

Thomas may not quite have played up to his contract in 2019 but he is a vital piece on the backend, his contract structure will almost definitely keep Earl in Baltimore through 2021 at least. Clark stepped up to become the defensive signal caller and could be in line for a modest contract extension this offseason. Elliott has shown promise when healthy. DeCosta could fill out the depth chart with a rookie safety if an appealing prospect falls to the Ravens.


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