Amidst a record-breaking, 14-win season in which Lamar Jackson’s MVP campaign dominated nearly every Ravens-related headline in the media, it would have been easy for someone like Marshal Yanda to get lost in the shuffle.
However, the 13-year veteran was once again at the forefront of the team’s success and was rewarded with another Pro Bowl nod - the eight of his career - and was named to the All-Pro second team. As he’s done year after year since 2007, Yanda continued to quietly plug away and build upon an already rock-solid resume for an eventual Hall of Fame bust in Canton.
The Ravens have not had to address the right guard position in over a decade. Think about that for a second . . .
During that span, the Ravens have seen turnover at nearly every position on the roster, especially over the past few seasons. The one constant and stalwart has been Yanda, who has been with the team through thick and thin and through all the ups and downs.
However, all good things eventually come to an end and unfortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel is fast approaching for Yanda’s NFL career.
Around this time last year, speculation over whether or not Yanda began to circulate over the organization. Many believed Yanda would in fact call it quits after a disappointing playoff loss. Flash forward to this year and the circumstances are nearly identical. The only difference is that Yanda is another year older and the prospects of the team’s success are brighter than they were before.
Throughout this past season, Yanda voiced his happiness and joyfulness on numerous occasions. Whether it was cracking jokes on Marlon Humphrey’s post-game instagram live videos or gleefully saying “Yeah!” in response to Lamar Jackson asking, “Do you wanna go for it [on fourth down]”? against the Seahawks, Yanda cleary enjoyed himself in 2019.
Never known to be much of a vocal presence, Yanda stepped up as a team leader in a big way, consistently delivering chilling pre-game speeches like this:
IT BURNS IN ME‼️— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 29, 2019
Marshal Yanda delivered an emotional pre-game speech to the team. pic.twitter.com/83eqYXTKJS
As the elder statesman on a team comprised of a youthful core, it was a pleasure to see Yanda thrive and play every game like it was his last.
At the Pro Bowl just weeks ago, Yanda was asked about retirement and said, “I’m just going to take my time now . . . over the next month and basically go with my heart and see how I feel.”
That’s exactly what he should do and he’s earned every right to take as much time as he needs to choose which path is best for him and his family. However, looking ahead to when Yanda does in fact announce his decision, what would the ripple effects be?
If Yanda returns . . .
The Ravens have one less hole on their roster to fill and one less position to address in the draft and/or free agency. Instead, they can focus their efforts on more glaring areas of need, such as finding an interior defensive lineman, edge rusher and wide receiver.
Sure, Eric DeCosta would miss out on the added cap space that Yanda retiring would provide, but the pros of him returning far outweigh that.
Yanda coming back would be a significant boost not just for the offensive line but for the entire team and organization. Yanda has been the anchor of the team’s five-man unit up front for years on end and has elevated the play of others around him. Without him holding it down this past season, there’s no telling if unheralded youngsters like Bradley Bozeman and Patrick Mekari could have maintained their level of play.
Bozeman solidified himself as a starting-caliber player in 2019. While Mekari exceeded expectations as an undrafted rookie, the Ravens would almost surely feel more comfortable about him entering the 2020 season as the starting center with Yanda back in the fold as opposed to the alternative.
In addition, it’s a safe bet to say that if Yanda comes back, someone like Lamar Jackson would be even more motivated to win a super bowl in 2020. Jackson is evidently a guy who respects his “vets” and seemingly developed a solid rapport with Yanda throughout the season, so you can presume he’d strive to help get Yanda another ring next season.
If Yanda retires . . .
Addressing the right guard spot, and more specifically the interior of the offensive line overall, becomes one of the highest priorities this offseason. Yanda’s departure would be a significant blow to five-man group that, despite being one of the best offensive lines in the NFL during the regular season, was manhandled by the Titans in the postseason.
Yanda leaving would likely force DeCosta to exhaust an early-round pick on a potential replacement in the draft, sign someone in free agency or a combination of both scenarios. In addition, the Ravens would have to concentrate on speeding up the development of Ben Powers, their fourth-round pick in 2019, who could potentially find himself competing for significant snaps after watching from the sidelines for almost all of his rookie season.
Presuming that the Ravens would in fact look to draft a guard in the first three rounds of the draft, doing so would prevent them from using one of those picks on a receiver, pass-rusher or linebacker, three areas of need regardless of whether or not Yanda comes back. If the team waits to draft a guard until the later rounds, it places a higher priority on them finding an optimal player on the free agent or trade market.
To be frank, the current in-house options on the roster would not be suitable replacements for Yanda. It’s unfair to ask anyone to replicate what Yanda brings to the table, of course, but the Ravens would have to scramble quickly to patch together a combination that works alongside Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. - the team’s bookend offensive tackles.
It’s impossible to know for sure if Yanda is leaning towards retiring or running it back for one more season. Right now, it seems like there’s truly a 50/50 chance Yanda returns next season. However, what is certain is that either way, the gravity of his decision will ultimately have a significant impact on the courses of action that Eric DeCosta and company make throughout the offseason.
For now, all we can do is sit back and wait for No. 73 to make his decision.