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“If, then” scenarios moving forward for the Ravens

Speculation! No info!

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a sucker for a good hypothetical. Whether we’re talking fan theories centering on movies or TV, speculating on #Stonks that I know little to nothing about with the paltry sums populating my Robinhood account, or talking sports, there’s very little that gets me going more than a good old fashioned rap session about all that is vs. all that could be.

To that last point, speculation is undoubtedly one of the more fun parts of being a sports fan, and specifically someone who follows the NFL. The idea that the league dominates the calendar year round has been repeated to the point that it’s cliched, but if we’re being honest, that’s the case for a very good reason.

Combining one of the best on field products with a lively offseason that keeps the audience engaged is just one of the many ways that the transition from the Paul Tagliabue era to Roger Goodell (love him or hate him) has been a massive success. That is, using their media arm to capitalize upon every link in the chain of an offseason that used to be marketed no differently from any other.

Those links are centered around the scouting combine, free agency, and converges at the draft which is the pinnacle of the off months of the league. As things stand, we’re still living in (speaking of clichés) somewhat uncertain times, so things don’t look entirely the same as we’re used to without the combine going on as normal. Regardless, the offseason still feels fairly normal without it.

Fairly normal, right up to the point that Ravens fans are (unsurprisingly) polarized on the moves that their team has and has not made. So far through this free agency period they’ve seen several of their top players walk out the door, while retaining one of their own in linebacker Tyus Bowser, inked a deal with Kevin Zeitler to be their starting right guard, traded for an intriguing tight end prospect in Josh Oliver, while otherwise standing pat.

They’ve received praise for the Bowser and Zeitler moves, while absorbing some criticism across the airwaves and the Internet for some relative inactivity when it comes to juicing up their passing game, specifically not signing a wide receiver just yet. They reportedly had a nice offer out to JuJu Smith-Schuster who they missed on, and hosted Sammy Watkins for a visit in Owings Mills on Tuesday.

Wideout is a polarizing position for a regular fanbase, but when it comes to Baltimore (a franchise it’s historically been a bugaboo for), fans have a particularly visceral reaction when it comes to moves they do and don’t make. With that in mind, how about some hypotheticals for what the Ravens can do both at that position, and others throughout the rest of the offseason?

Presenting, “If, then,” an exercise that explores what they could do moving forward in the event they make X, Y, or Z move next. Let’s get started:

If the Ravens sign Sammy Watkins, then...

Super Bowl LV Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This is the perfect spot to start, as the seven year veteran was in Owings Mills meeting with the team to potentially sign on. The caveat is that he currently has visits scheduled elsewhere, including Indianapolis on Wednesday:

After not drawing much interest through the first wave of free agency, it sounds like a somewhat vigorous market is beginning to bubble up for the former fourth overall pick out of Clemson. This shouldn't be too surprising as he projects to be more of a supporting character wherever he winds up, as opposed to the star of the show.

Frankly, this should include Baltimore, no matter how desperate they are at the position. Watkins is a really nice player, but there are a few factors to consider when it involves adding him to the receiver needy Ravens, namely:

  1. He’s had trouble staying healthy in his career, only playing 16 games once (as a rookie), and only playing in over 10 three times outside of that (13 in 2015, 15 in 2017, 14 in 2019)
  2. After his injury issues began in Buffalo, he hasn’t produced a ton, with his highest yardage total being 673 in 2019 as a role player for the supercharged Chiefs

While those are concerning factors, they shouldn’t be deal breakers or preclude Baltimore from signing Watkins, as they A) should take what they can get, and have a plan for how to manage his health if they do pick him up, and B) shouldn’t be overly concerned about his numbers anyway as Greg Roman’s offense doesn’t need a super prolific receiving option anyway, just a more talented one. Watkins is certainly good enough to start for Baltimore right now, and that’s regardless of any questions surrounding health.

So the question from there if they sign him is, what now? If the Ravens sign Sammy Watkins, then the answer for what to do moving forward shouldn’t surprise anyone: Double down at receiver.

This is a young offense that’s been largely built through the draft, and while that’s kept things cheap for Eric DeCosta to be able to spend elsewhere, their inexperience has shown up in big games. Watkins would remedy that without breaking the bank, but that doesn’t mean DeCosta should stop trying to add young talent on that side of the ball to grow with Lamar Jackson.

This means that if Watkins is your veteran addition to bring some grit to the receiving corps, but not necessarily your Super Bowl move, the next move would be to keep juicing things up through the draft. Baltimore having the 27th pick puts them firmly out of the sweepstakes for the top three receivers in the draft (Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith), but there are plenty of other picks to potentially be made, even if it requires a slight trade up (Rashod Batemon, Terrace Marshall Jr., Kadarius Toney, etc.)

So what it boils down to is this: If the Ravens sign Sammy Watkins, then don’t be afraid to continue to add dynamic young talent to a passing attack that will still very much need it.

If the Ravens trade for Michael Gallup, then...

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Speaking of dynamic young talent, Gallup may just be the perfect combination of what Baltimore is looking for to start at receiver right now. At 25 years old with just three seasons under his belt, he has much less wear and tear to worry about than Watkins, with 16, 14, and 16 games played over those three seasons with the Cowboys to prove it.

He’s been a reliable, underrated, and tough target for Dak Prescott the last couple of years, while largely playing second fiddle to Amari Cooper and sharing targets with CeeDee lamb last year. As an ascending property, he’d be the much more exciting addition, though he doesn’t come without his fair share of concerns either.

Mainly, it’s his contract situation that may have Eric DeCosta hesitant to pull the trigger. Not his cost, as his rookie deal includes a less than a $3 million cap charge 2021, but that it’ll be the last year of his deal meaning that the Ravens run the risk of him being simply a one year rental.

On Glenn Clark Radio, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec pointed to this move as a possibility, and it’s likely not a name that was just pulled from thin air:

What you’re ultimately weighing here if you’re the Ravens brass are two things: Are we willing to pay him after next year, and what do we have to give up to get him? The latter question actually isn’t too complicated.

The Cowboys have a need along the offensive line (specifically left tackle with Tyron Smith’s status uncertain), and the Ravens have a very strong right tackle who’s seeking a move out of town so he can play the blindside position. If the Cowboys are sold that Orlando Brown Jr. could be the future at the position for them, it should be a no brainer of a trade with Cooper and Lamb in the picture long term.

Whether the Ravens would see Gallup as a long term piece or not, it would still leave them with a few moves they would of course have to make in accordance. First of all, trading Brown for Gallup would solve a problem at receiver but leave them with one at right tackle. Luckily for them, there are plenty available in the upcoming draft, whether it’s Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield, Alijah Vera-Tucker from USC, or the mammoth of the man that is Teven Jenkins at Oklahoma State.

What’s intriguing about the tackle position in this draft is how deep it seems to be. This could mean that if Baltimore enters it with a hole on the right side, they could conceivably find a starter there within the first two days.

What I’m ultimately arriving at is if the Ravens acquire Michael Gallup via trade (specifically for Orlando Brown in this case), then they should try and acquire a tackle in the first three rounds of the draft, and focus on getting the best player available otherwise. This really does seem to be a great scenario for Baltimore as their track record inspires confidence they could make it work with a rookie tackle, and the combination of a serious option like Gallup, plus an otherwise BPA led offseason could see them winding up as preseason darlings of the football cognoscenti.

The only remaining issue of course would be Gallup’s contract situation, but it seems like a move worth making even if he only proves to be a rental. The post Lamar Jackson contract world may involve a bit of a rebuild, and Gallup is an all-in for ‘21 move.

If the Ravens sign Melvin Ingram, then...

New York Jets v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Baltimore is a franchise that’s historically been uncomfortable going into a season with virtually any holes on the defensive side of the ball. This is well reflected even this offseason with some of the whispers that have gone around regarding the fact that they were aggressively in on pass rusher Haason Reddick.

One of the top options at that pass rusher/EDGE position, where they lost two starters in Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, is Melvin Ingram. The longtime Charger will be 32 this coming season, and is coming off a bit of a down year in which he struggled with injuries and didn’t register a sack.

While that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement of his services as we head into 2021, it appears to be a bit of an outlier as he hadn’t had less than seven sacks in any of the last five seasons prior (with his peak being 10.5 in both ‘15 and ‘17). 2020 being a washout year for Ingram complicates things a bit as his value may be tough to predict, as does the fact that the Ravens aren’t in much a position to offer up a one year deal with a ton of guaranteed money anyway.

But if he does enter the picture for something between $6-10 million base salary (a pure estimation not based on much other than Twitter speculation), then where do the Ravens go from there? Per an NFLPA report following pay cuts taken by Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, they’re currently at around $18.6 million in total cap space:

Let’s say that Ingram would carry a cap charge of somewhere between $6 and $8 million total, and then from there speculate with what they can do with $10-12 million in workable cap room. When you take a hard look, there are some very intriguing moves to be made.

The first move they could make is one that ties in with another one we’ve discussed. With Michael Gallup’s cap charge only being around $2 million in ‘21, you could conceivably both sign Ingram AND ship off Brown Jr. to acquire to him - the only problem there is you might be assured of not being able to pay Gallup long term, and would of course have an issue at right tackle.

I suppose the point there is that while Gallup is a top move that could be made on a low number for ‘21, that the Ravens could really look anywhere to try and solve their receiver problem (within reason of course). That could include the also inexpensive D.J. Chark, or a veteran player they’ve been rumored to like in Adam Thielen.

All of this is without mentioning some of the sneakier options that are still available for them to explore such as Malik Hooker, who could give them a rangy presence at safety that they may still want. And that’s of course without mentioning the draft at all.

The fact is that if Ingram is the Ravens big free agent move, then there will still need to be some moves earnestly executed to get this offense all the way up to speed in the passing game. If the Ravens sign Melvin Ingram, then they’ll need to also find a way to get Lamar Jackson legitimate help in 2021, whether that’s a corresponding trade for Gallup, or a double down in the draft (picking someone like Batemon/Marshall, followed immediately by either another receiver, or someone pro ready at tight end like Brevin Jordan).

While signing Ingram would be a good move, it would be hard to shake the feeling that the Ravens wouldn’t be worse off than they started when free agency opened as they traded out two starting caliber EDGEs for one guard. This, of course, is where the remaining moves we’ve discussed come into play.

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While the Ravens were relatively inactive to start the new league year, there are still some very nice moves out there for them to make, though making only one isn’t going to be enough at this point. To ensure they close out the first chapter of the Lamar Jackson era in style, one of these moves (or an equally strong one we’re not expecting) will be crucial, as will the corresponding moves they’ll also certainly need to make to fully round out the roster.

Competing in a loaded AFC in 2021 is going to be a tall order, but with a great head coach, quarterback, and general manager, Baltimore shouldn’t be counted out just yet. But in the meantime, they’ll need to start making some moves; Lord knows the rest of the conference definitely hasn’t waited to do so.