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To Julio, or not to Julio? An honest look at a tough question

Should the Ravens go all-in?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has regularly emphasized sustainable models of winning year in and year out as his ultimate goal. The Ravens have achieved that with Lamar Jackson and their historic rushing attack married to a complex and coverage capable defense. They’ve obviously fallen short of their ultimate goal, winning a conference championship and playing for a Lombardi Trophy.

In their past four postseason games, they’ve struggled to find success offensively, particularly in the first half. Ignoring a Lamar Jackson scramble that propelled the Ravens to their first playoff victory of the Lamar Jackson era, Baltimore hasn’t mustered another touchdown in the first half of any of those games. Their prolific ground game has been stifled. Their passing game has lacked. While there are a slew of names to scrutinize and blame, ultimately they’ve just fallen short.

This offseason the Ravens attacked their offense and passing attack by adding Kevin Zeitler, Sammy Watkins, Alejandro Villanueva, Rashod Bateman, Ben Cleveland and Tylan Wallace. They’ve already made significant investments to reach more homeostasis offensively. It’s also difficult to throw the ball around the yard in Buffalo on a windy, freezing night in January.

In fact, it feels likely that the Ravens will almost certainly be playing freezing cold games in harsh conditions, as the Browns, Chiefs and Bills present some of the toughest competition, while Baltimore is often frozen in mid-January. However, they must find a way to throw themselves into first half success. Their additions this year will help. The Ravens receiving corps should be the best of the Lamar Jackson era, at least on paper. With Julio Jones trade rumors reaching their pinnacle as the June-1 designation nears, the Ravens have been rumored to be involved for quite some time, which obviously would take the room over the moon. Baltimore, could have arguably the best receiving room in the entire NFL, which seemed a far-cry merely two months ago.

While things have changed since the draft, where Baltimore made two big name additions in Bateman and Wallace, discussing adding a potential superstar goes beyond player, position or “need.” Rather, a philosophical debate upon what the best direction for the Baltimore Ravens to hoist multiple trophies and aim towards becoming the dynasty that they’ve never quite been.

Baltimore is one of the most winning NFL franchises in history, dating back to the days of the Baltimore Colts. The Ravens, however, have never been able to find themselves playing for multiple Super Bowls in a short window, rather one in each of the past two decades. They’ve made the postseason in 13 of the last 20 seasons, quite a feat that should never be overlooked. They’ve achieved a stable model despite nearly everything else changing. Quarterbacks, players, coaching staff and owners have changed hands in that time.

Baltimore’s fan base should never take the winning culture that has entrenched itself into their hearts for granted. They should, as always, appreciate that. . . While also hoping to become a champion— further— a dynasty. That’s the ultimate goal. It’s endlessly tougher than it sounds. It’s nearly impossible. Winning merely one Super Bowl takes enough blood, sweat and tears to power a small nation.

However, the Ravens are drifting away from their Super Bowl XLVII triumph over the San Francisco 49ers. That was in the days of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. These are the days of Lamar Jackson and Marlon Humphrey. This era got over the hump, finding their first playoff win since 2014 when defeating the Tennessee Titans this past year. Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh have calmly navigated what seemed like an offseason which nearly escaped them when being turned down by Juju Smith-Schuster in lieu of returning to their rival Steelers.

The Ravens brass, seemingly tone deaf to their receiving troubles, lied at the liar’s luncheon, sparking much debate, then ultimately playing the master puppeteer and double dipping in the draft. That left fans and pundits alike optimistic about the direction of the Ravens offense and outlook moving forward. Was it enough to take them over the top? We shall see.

Insert Julio Jones. The 32-year-old surefire Hall of Famer who still has gas in the tank along with a hefty price tag. From a sky-view, Jones makes the Ravens offense nuclear to their opponents. The greatest rushing attack in modern football paired with a litany of young receiving talent mentored by an actively dominant Hall of Fame receiver who has played in a Super Bowl and desires winning above all else.

Trading Jones would be a win now move. He would require, realistically, somewhere between a first-round pick and a pairing of a day-two and day-three picks (let’s call it a second-round and fourth-round pick.) If for no reason other than to drive up the price for other contenders within the AFC, the Ravens should absolutely put a pair of non-first-round picks on the table. If it’s the best offer the Falcons receive, acquiring Jones is a hell of a consolation prize.

Jones’ cap hit would be large, where the Ravens have limited space currently, yet enough to make it work and seal that move as their last of the season aside from veteran minimums. The Falcons could also be willing to eat some of the financial burden to make it work for Baltimore. The Ravens have ample cap space throughout the next few years, including potential Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson contract extensions. Jackson’s major cap hit in an extension likely wouldn’t come until the end of Julio Jones’ current contract— which could certainly be reworked. Andrews also likely wouldn’t carry a major cap hit in year one, and tight ends aren’t paid like quarterbacks, receivers, tackles, cornerbacks or pass rushers anyway. If the Ravens hadn’t paid Sammy Watkins $5 million, the trade would feel much more logistically simple.

If the Ravens do believe they’re a Julio Jones (or similar caliber player) away from a real shot at a Super Bowl, there is no reason for them not to part ways with a second/fourth round picks, acquire that player, then propel themselves to the Super Bowl. Winning that initial Super Bowl of this current Baltimore Ravens era validates the direction that Baltimore has headed in— one which was the road less traveled with a unique yet supremely talented quarterback and a reimagined offense that has taken the league by storm.

While the Ravens absolutely want to hold draft picks as Lamar Jackson nears an extension, winning the Super Bowl drives up revenue and in turn profit, attracts coaches and players, while cementing confidence into the bloodstream of their young quarterback, much like Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have done.

In a world where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers return all 22 of their starters, the Chiefs possess eight All-Pro caliber players, the Bills kept the Ravens out of the end zone and the AFC is absolutely stacked by the likes of the Browns, Dolphins, Patriots and Colts, among other potential threats. . . how will the Ravens rise up and conquer success? A move like trading a few picks when the Ravens should already be receiving at least three compensatory picks in the 2022 NFL Draft without parting ways with a first-round pick or necessarily mortgaging their cap future seems like the way to do so.

Watching a player like Jones instead join the likes of the Browns, Colts, or God forbid the Kansas City Chiefs, then for the Ravens to fail to advance to a conference championship would feel damning. There’s certainly risk involved and no guarantees. Regardless, with Lamar Jackson in his final cheap year, some cap maneuverability, a boatload of draft capital. . . If not now, when?

It’s time for the Ravens to make “the move” to take themselves over the top. It doesn’t need to be Jones specifically, but at some point, Baltimore will need to add the final infinity stone. Perhaps it is indeed Bateman accompanied by Watkins, Zeitler, Cleveland, Wallace and Watkins. If Baltimore feels that’s adequate, there’s no need to acquire Jones. They know themselves better than anyone else. While games aren’t played on paper, Baltimore might not be the scariest team in their own division. Again, if Baltimore feels that they are a Jones away from truly conquering the NFL this year and doesn’t need to mortgage their future, then they must make the move.

If DeCosta and the Ravens continue to pinch pennies and gain compensatory picks, yet fall short of their ultimate goal— at some point, it’s time cash in on your savings. Too many have died with their retirement in the bank. Hindsight will always be in perfect clarity, but being able to accurately gauge their ability to take down the Chiefs, Bills and company is perhaps the single most important skill that Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh must have to bring a championship back to Baltimore. If Julio Jones is needed, do it. If not, they better hope they move the needle and find themselves playing for a conference championship.

In the end, simply, DeCosta and Harbaugh seem to make the right move more often than not.