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To trade or not to trade: what is best for the Ravens?

Should the Ravens roll with what they have, or make a move?

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

With the NFL’s trade deadline approaching at 4 p.m. EST on November 2, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves in a unique situation.

On one hand, they are in the driver’s seat at 5-2, sitting atop the AFC North. On the other, they’re fighting with one hand tied behind their back. They’re without All-Pro players at premium positions like left tackle (Ronnie Stanley) and cornerback (Marcus Peters), as well as key role players like Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and L.J. Fort.

Other impact players should be returning to the lineup in the month of November, such as Derek Wolfe, Nick Boyle, Sammy Watkins, Patrick Mekari, Ben Cleveland. Daelin Hayes and Ja’Wuan James may even be able to return later in the year as playoff fortifications. This means that, barring setbacks or more key injuries, Baltimore should organically be “better” after the deadline, regardless of making a move or not.

General Manager Eric DeCosta is also relatively tight against the cap. Over The Cap projects Baltimore has a paltry $1.8M in cap space as things currently stand, with the ability to crack the proverbial piggy bank to manufacture perhaps another $1-2 million through restructures. DeCosta also has quite a wealth of draft capital in his back pocket, including an estimated (pending compensatory finalizations) nine picks in the first four rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.

The cost/benefit analysis includes lengthy bullet points on each side.

The Ravens are in first place with a young quarterback in Lamar Jackson who is playing MVP- caliber football. Baltimore has proven that they can beat any team in the NFL because of that quarterback, particularly if their defense plays on the manic side of their bipolar tendencies. One could certainly argue that tomorrow is never promised and letting the trade deadline pass would be blasphemous. However, it takes two to tango when bartering, and it’s unknown who is actually available. We can examine teams that look to be belly up at this point, such as Jacksonville, Detroit, Miami, Houston and Washington.

Narrowing down to those teams, and perhaps the Jets and Broncos — who have proven feisty competitively yet wise enough to gain value when they can — we can pinpoint a few players that the Ravens could benefit from adding. Also of note, if the last two trade deadlines give any insight into DeCosta’s thought process, Baltimore has made moves to bolster the defensive side of the ball.

In 2019, DeCosta traded linebacker Kenny Young and a fifth-round pick for Peters, who was then extended and remains a Raven today. In 2020, DeCosta traded third and fifth-round picks to add a potent pass rusher in Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue, in contrast to Peters, wasn’t extended. However, the Ravens are expected to receive a fourth-round pick in 2022 for Ngakoue, who hit free agency after a half-season in Baltimore. This shows how the compensatory formula can factor into trade deadline considerations.

On the defensive side of the ball, Baltimore can never have enough cornerbacks. With Peters out, Baltimore is living on the figurative edge. They’re extremely reliant on the health of cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett, Tavon Young and Jimmy Smith. Young and Smith are no strangers to the injury report. Smith hasn’t played in more than 12 games since 2015, while Young missed the entire season due to injury in 2017 and 2019 (and all but two games of 2020).

Two potential trade targets include Texans’ cornerback Desmond King II and Broncos’ cornerback Kyle Fuller. King II has been linked to the Ravens by dozens of articles over the years. The former Charger and Titan has been one of the best blitzing slot defenders in football throughout his five year career, notching ten sacks throughout his rookie contract. King II is owed a little over $1.3M for the remainder of the season, making him a practical and realistic option for Baltimore.

Fuller is a little more . . . complicated. The 29-year-old cornerback has been benched, essentially, playing only two defensive snaps in the Broncos’ 17-10 win over the Washington Football Team on Sunday. Broncos’ General Manager George Paton also just shipped franchise legend and superstar pass rusher Von Miller to the Rams in exchange for draft picks and agreed to take on most of Miller’s remaining salary ($9 million of his remaining $9.7 million cap hit). The same salary and player for picks exchange would need to happen in order for Baltimore to acquire the veteran cornerback.

Fuller is due nearly $5 million the rest of the way, meaning the Denver would need to take on the majority in order to execute a trade. Whether Fuller is worthwhile is the greater question. He hasn’t played up to the standard that he created for himself earlier in his career, appearing to struggle to transition as quickly and stay in phase. The Ravens would need to do some serious homework — but having a veteran with Fuller’s experience wouldn’t hurt in case of emergency.

The other area that DeCosta may be able to go discount shopping ahead of the deadline is the defensive interior. While Wolfe will be coming back and certainly provide a boost, only Wolfe, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington are under contract in the defensive line group beyond this season. The Ravens will likely need to double dip in free agency and the draft unless they decide to offer Brandon Williams and/or Calais Campbell another contract. Williams hasn’t been playing his best football this year and his limitations as a pass rusher have only grown louder as his ability to stalemate the line of scrimmage slowly escapes him.

In an entirely Madden-like speculative scenario, Baltimore could inquire about Washington’s dynamic defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne. Payne could certainly provide a boost in the pass rushing department while also being a stout run defender. Payne is due a little over $2 million the remainder of the season, making his cap number palatable. Whether Washington would consider trading Payne is another conversation, but he’s due $8.5 million in 2022 and could effectively solve a major need for at least one season without making a major financial commitment before seeing how the shoe fits. The Ravens wouldn’t be forced to break the bank immediately like the Giants were for Leonard Williams, but again, this is purely an exercise in speculative fun.

More realistically, Baltimore could regain the services of Jihad Ward, who signed with the Jaguars this offseason after spending nearly two years in Baltimore as a rotational outside linebacker and defensive lineman. Ward has made comments stating his desire to return to Baltimore recently.

Ward’s versatility to align at any technique and use his length and athleticism to pressure quarterbacks and clog passing windows would be a welcome sight, while maybe not making a dramatic difference either way. Would acquiring him be worth a draft pick? Will Ward be the difference in reaching a conference championship game or not? Could Ward simply convince the Jaguars to let him walk and rejoin the Ravens? Tune in next week to find out.

The biggest need of all is to solidify Lamar Jackson’s protection, particularly at offensive tackle position. With Mekari sidelined due to a high-ankle sprain, Baltimore will rely on Tyre Phillips or the recently signed Cedric Ogbuehi until Mekari can return. Perhaps Ogbuehi, who has played nearly 2,000 snaps in his career, can be the answer until Mekari and/or James get healthy. If the Ravens don’t think so, it’s negligent not to make sure their soon-to-be franchise quarterback doesn’t have adequate protection when they’re 5-2. The Ravens have had bad luck in the tackle department with Stanley’s injury and Orlando Brown Jr. desiring to play left tackle. Therefore, overcompensating there might be wise.

Two of the most viable solutions via trade would be Andre Dillard and Morgan Moses. Both have shown flashes of quality play so far this season and would fit under the salary cap. Dillard, a former first-round pick, is stuck behind Lane Johnson and the recently extended Jordan Mailata, but has proven valuable in a swing tackle role. The Eagles, sitting at 3-5, don’t appear to be belly up quite yet. They rocked the Lions 44-0 Sunday and could certainly feel like they could fight their way into the hunt with a strong final two months. Dillard is regarded as a much more sound pass protector than in the run game, but is athletic with length and strong movement skills.

The Jets and Eagles feel relatively similar in terms of grit and salt. The Jets are coming off of a proud win against a strong Bengals team and might want to ensure Mike White and Zach Wilson have enough protection to evaluate their progress as the season wears on. Moses would be a veteran rental who is owed under $2M the rest of the way and could immediately come in and boost the Ravens offensive line. Moses may be the one cheap player that could actually provide a true boost to the Ravens front-five. He can move bodies in the run game and has been a consistently decent pass protector in his eight-year career. I wouldn’t be surprised if DeCosta is swooning Jets’ General Manager Joe Douglas on the phone as I’m typing.

Ultimately, after assessing the market, what the Ravens can afford, what the cost might be and other factors, it feels like the only two logical moves that could help the Ravens win a playoff game are acquiring Fuller and/or Moses. The two quickest ways for the Ravens to crumble in the playoffs this year would be an inability to protect Lamar Jackson or cover wide receivers effectively due to injury. Either could be had without breaking the bank, although Fuller would require the Broncos to eat a fair amount of his cap hit, which increases the price.

With “one hand tied behind their back” due to injuries, it would be foolish to overspend on a rental. However, the Ravens front office owes it to Lamar Jackson to ensure he has enough protection to keep them from getting overwhelmed like they were in their 17-3 loss in Buffalo last season. If Moses or Dillard can be had reasonably, the Ravens need to pull the trigger.

The worst case? Mekari heals quickly, James stays on schedule to join the team in December, Villanueva stays healthy. In this scenario, you might not have needed to make a trade and are without one Day 3 draft pick that has a 1/30 chance of becoming a starting caliber player — but Lamar Jackson has enough protection to make a run.

Doesn’t sound like a bad proposition, even in hindsight down the road.

All contract figures in this article were provided by Overthecap.com