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Examining the biggest questions facing the Ravens ahead of this offseason

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After dropping six straight to games to finish the season at 8-9 in just the second losing campaign of John Harbaugh’s 14-year tenure, you’d think the Baltimore Ravens would be in a bit of a difficult spot as we enter the 2022 offseason. That’s true to an extent given the roster turnover they face, as well as some questions abound with this coaching staff (among the fanbase at least).

However, thanks to the extenuating injury circumstances they dealt with, we can acknowledge that 2021 was a disappointing season without seeking for wholesale changes to the Ravens organizational process. But even if there aren’t voluntary changes made in any capacity, this fact will remain that over the next few months: the tandem of Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh face a decent amount of questions related to this roster and coaching staff. There are few easy answers to offer for many of them.

So what are they, and where do we stand with answering them at this point in time? Let’s take a look.

What are your plans for a Lamar Jackson extension?

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To say that Baltimore is in an interesting position with their young franchise quarterback as we enter the 2022 offseason would be an understatement. Many saw an extension for him at some point over the 2021 offseason as nothing but a an eventual formality, with DeCosta even hinting as much at times.

But it never came to pass, and now here they sit in the unenviable position of having to negotiate a massive deal with an agent-less superstar that put together an up-and-down 2021 campaign. This season featured some of the best and worst football of his career in a condensed three-month stretch. Once again, though, context will be key in relation to that point.

Jackson’s camp will assuredly make the argument that the excellent football he put on tape in the first half of 2021 was in spite of what he had around him (specifically along the offensive line), and the Ravens brass would be wise to concede this point. They’d also be wise to bring up some of the uncertainties along the offensive line, such as Ronnie Stanley’s future with the team, to try and negotiate some more team-friendly leverage. This would allow them to maneuver that space over this offseason with some flexibility.

If the extension is the formality they’ve claimed it to be, Baltimore needs to figure out what they’d like to sign Jackson for and get as close to that as possible ahead of the opening of the league year. A number that frees up space and allows him to play on less than the $23 million figure that the fifth-year option represents would be ideal for all parties involved.

What to do with Greg Roman?

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There may not be a more controversial figure in the entire Ravens organization than Roman right now, and the frustration amongst this fan base with him goes back years at this point.

In retrospect, it all seems pretty predictable.

After coordinating a historically strong offense in 2019, the Ravens were always going to be due for a letdown in this category the following year. That’s what happened in 2020. In the second half of 2021, though, it’s fair to ask if it’s entirely fair to pin all of that on the offensive coordinator.

The clear delineation point seems to ride the talent line as these discussions often do, even if fans have a hard time accepting “the players simply weren’t good enough” as a viable excuse. If they go out and execute, good for them for making good on the opportunity. If they don’t, it’s on the coaching staff in charge of them for not scheming around their deficiencies.

In fairness, it’s okay to wonder if we’ve seen the best of what Roman has to offer. It’s fair to also wonder if it’s good enough to take this offense to another level of consistency and explosiveness in the passing game (basically a prerequisite for job security in his position today). The answer to this question for the Ravens hinges upon how they value the success he brings to the run game year in and year out. In his three years calling plays for Baltimore, the lowest rushing DVOA they’ve had is 11th this past year (they were No. 1 and No. 3 in 2019 and 2020, respectively).

In that sense, it won’t be an easy question to answer — but with the nature of the coach-hiring cycle, they’ll need to make it quickly. By the time you’re reading this, the question may have already been answered one way or another.

Let ‘em go, or run it back on defense?

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At each level of the defense, Baltimore faces questions surrounding some of their key 2021 contributors, all of which bring their own unique issues to deal with from a business perspective. Does Calais Campbell want to retire, or is he willing to return for another year on a smaller salary to try and make one last run at it? Will Justin Houston be willing to return for his age 33 season on a similarly affordable number he played at in 2021? Will Marcus Peters, coming off of a crucial injury for a cornerback, be willing to take a paycut to remain in Baltimore in 2022?

And frankly, those are just the obvious questions. Anthony Averett and DeShon Elliott were two young key contributors for the Ravens in 2021 and now hit the free agent market after ending the year with injuries. What would a new contract for them even look like, in Baltimore or elsewhere?

Brandon Williams was once again a solid run-stuffing defensive tackle in 2021, but played at an exorbitant number for that role. Is his role against the run (plus his beloved locker room presence) enough to make the front office try to keep him around for another year, even if his price will almost assuredly be much lower?

These are all going to be difficult to answer for a variety of reasons, but that’s why “EDC” is paid the big bucks to do so. In this case, you’ll likely see some turnover on “Wink” Martindale’s side of the ball, but don’t be surprised to see a few of these names still back in the fold in 2022.

How do you go about fixing an offensive line with uncertainty surrounding its most important starter?

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There shouldn’t be doubt in anyone’s mind that Baltimore’s brass recognizes they have some problems along their offensive line right now. There also shouldn't be any doubt that they’ll do their damndest to fix it this offseason, just as was the case with the wide receiver position at this time last year.

The problem lies in the status of their best and most important player on this unit: left tackle Ronnie Stanley. His brutal 2020 injury lingered into 2021 and caused him to shut it down for a second consecutive year, leaving questions about his long term playing future.

Perhaps a better question the Ravens will need to get answered is one that only Stanley can provide one for. That is, what’s the status of his ankle, and when will we know what he plans to do moving forward?

It’ll be an understandably difficult decision for Stanley to make. He might not be ready to do so until he has a few more months of rehabbing and potentially practicing to assess where he’s at. Without putting too much pressure on him, the Ravens will surely want some clarification on how he’s feeling in this regard prior to the draft, at the absolute latest.

While we all hope to see Stanley suit up and return to the All-Pro level he’s capable of playing at, there’s a very real possibility that the former (and by extension the latter) isn’t feasible given all he’s gone through.

For everyone’s sake, including the young quarterback Stanley has been tasked to protect, an answer to the questions surrounding his status will be a very welcome one regardless of the ultimate outcome it represents.

What on Earth can be done to prevent a rash of injuries like we saw hit them in 2021?

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Injuries are a tricky subject in many regards. Often, they’re nobody’s “fault” (no matter what any Twitter users tell you about the strength and conditioning coach) and can’t simply be solved by any one thing, such as examining playing surfaces, or rehab facilities and practices.

But after what happened to the Ravens’ roster this season, there will need to be a more comprehensive review of all of their practices in this regard, sooner than there’ll be a wave of the hand to dismiss it all as simple bad luck. That’s even if much of it was, which does ultimately appear to be the case.

The fact remains though: nothing close to this can happen again unless the Ravens want a repeat of the second half of this season. That means doing everything in their power. This could be reviewing and improving rehabilitation techniques if necessary, taking a look at in-game equipment and how it reacts to any and all playing surfaces (practice fields and otherwise), and of course having a chat with the already divisive Steve Saunders.

Pretty much by default, the Ravens are due for much better injury luck in 2022 than the hand they were dealt this past season. But if there’s anything they can do to prevent even one injury from taking place that would fall outside of the “bad luck” category, they would be wise to pursue it.