The Ravens have 19 unrestricted free agents after this season, adding more pressure to a deep playoff run.
Several of these players have key roles with the team, including center Bradley Bozeman, tight end Mark Andrews, defensive end Calais Campbell, safety DeShon Elliott, fullback Pat Ricard and nose tackle Brandon Williams.
That’s a lot of talent to replace if these players test the free-agent market.
The Ravens also want to reach a contract extension with Lamar Jackson, and that could cost them $40 million annually. As a result, there won’t be as much money for other free agents.
“It will change the way that we do contracts, potentially,” DeCosta said earlier this offseason. “We will have to be probably a little bit more careful about which players we sign and which players we don’t sign. We may lose some good, young players.
“That’s unfortunately just the salary cap age that we’re in, and it happens to every single team. So, we’ll be aggressive, if possible. I think the Draft will continue and will always remain the lifeblood of this organization when it comes to building this team and building the roster, and Draft picks will be more important than ever.”
Andrews’ skill set marries well with what the Ravens want to do in the passing game. He’s a big target who can work down the seams, and he has come up big in the red zone. His 12 red-zone touchdowns over the past two seasons are tied with Kelce for the most at the position.
Andrews is also one of the few tight ends in the league who has served as his team’s primary target in recent years. Andrews (185) and Marquise Brown (160) are the only players on the team with 100-plus targets since 2019. It will be interesting to see if that changes following the Ravens’ additions at wide receiver this offseason.
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Elliott replaced Earl Thomas in the secondary for 2020, and CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora even reported that the Ravens’ leadership council backed Elliott and urged Baltimore to cut ties with Thomas. The Texas product missed his rookie season due to a fractured forearm, and played in just six games in 2019. In his first season as a starter, however, he impressed. Elliott recorded 80 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles in 16 games played. He’s entering the final year of his contract, and should really turn some heads if he builds on last season in 2021.
3) AFC North
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson
I thought it was close between the AFC West and AFC North, but Mahomes raised the bar and Roethlisberger lowered it. Big Ben is pushing 40 and his arm shows it. Obviously, he’s a Hall of Famer, but remember: This ranking is based on my expectations for the 2021 season. And those aren’t too high when it comes to Roethlisberger, especially behind Pittsburgh’s patchwork offensive line. In 2021, Ben’s the fourth-best quarterback in his own division. On the other end of the career spectrum ... Burrow is going to shine. Fresh off a promising — albeit injury-abbreviated — rookie campaign, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick now has his No. 1 receiver from back at LSU. With Ja’Marr Chase joining Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in Cincy, Burrow has a legit Big Three. Burrow also has it — you know, of the indefinable sort.
Jackson is a flat-out stud and the best quarterback in this division, breaking ankles, throwing darts and generally taking breaths away. He’s a former MVP who will be in the mix for the award every year for the foreseeable future. As for the guy who went No. 1 overall in Jackson’s draft class? The light went on for Baker last year under savvy coach Kevin Stefanski. As long as Odell Beckham Jr.’s return to the lineup doesn’t disrupt things, Mayfield will have the best full season yet in 2021.