There are certainly issues to address after an excruciating 8-9 season, only the second losing campaign of the Harbaugh era. But the key to reacting without overreacting is to not romanticize what the Ravens actually were when they were 8-3 and atop an AFC that was every bit as underwhelming in Week 12 as it looked over the final weekend of the regular season.
They didn’t look like a serious contender underneath that 8-3 hood, and many were saying as much at the time.
To be clear, suggesting a disappointing season was just about injuries would be too dismissive and dangerously complacent. Though Jackson’s late-season absence and an offensive line without its best player made for an incomplete evaluation of a passing attack that was the hot topic entering the 2021 season, it’s perfectly fair to question whether coordinator Greg Roman has this offense on the right track after Jackson’s hot start began to cool in late October. The offensive line definitely needs more work, especially with Stanley’s ability to return to pre-injury form still up in the air.
A defensive line with multiple 30-something free agents needs to be rebuilt while the pass rush again didn’t show enough juice, the inability to disrupt a statuesque Ben Roethlisberger in crunch time on Sunday being the latest example. And 2021 reminded that you can never have enough cornerbacks and a playmaking safety would still make a big difference in the secondary.
Now that the season is over for the Ravens, the real questions begin for the team’s decision-makers - Jeff Zrebiec
Who will stay and who will go?
How much cap space the Ravens have will obviously be impacted by how they address Jackson’s contract. As it is, they’ll likely have some flexibility, but not a ton of room. That’s pretty much standard operating procedure for the front office. There will likely be room to sign a handful of their own free agents and then make a few outside additions.
First, though, Baltimore will always work to re-sign its own. Along with the defensive starters mentioned above, Ricard and starting center Bradley Bozeman are set to hit the free-agent market. Neither will be cheap. Averett may have priced himself out of the Ravens long-term plans, too. And if a guy like Campbell, who will ponder retirement, decides to keep playing, the Ravens will have to make it worth his while to return.
To create more cap room, the Ravens will also consider cuts or contract adjustments. Veterans like Alejandro Villanueva and Young stand out in those discussions.
Having already given out huge deals to the likes of Stanley, Humphrey and Andrews in recent months and primed to write a significant check to Jackson, the Ravens will need to spend wisely and draft and develop well to maintain roster depth. DeCosta has long said that he’s frustrated the organization hasn’t been able to keep more homegrown players. This offseason, they are primed to lose quite a few more.
“So, so grateful and blessed to have called myself a Raven for the last four years,” Bozeman said. “I hope it’s the next four more, but we don’t really know right now. We’ll figure that out this offseason and see what happens. It’s just been a great place to call home the last four years.”
“I feel like as long as they want me I’ll be here,” Williams said. “You never know what they’re thinking upstairs. At this point, it’s something I can’t worry about, because it’s something out of my control. I’m not going to rattle my brain and just kind of go crazy over what could maybe happen. I’m just going to enjoy time with my family and see what happens.”
“I am beyond interested,” Bynes said. “I feel like I have a lot of ball left in me. I feel like I proved that this season. It’s not like I feel I have one more in me kind of thing. I feel like I have two, three four, whatever amount that is given to me. I put in that work in the offseason, take care of myself throughout the year. I want to continue that as long as I can. My body feels great. I’d love to be back in Baltimore. This is home for me.”
The ageless wonder Calais Campbell is in the midst of another very strong season now at 35 years of age, with his 86.6 grade well above any of the other pending free agent interior defenders. He’s a better run defender at this stage in his career than he is a pass-rusher, but he can still win his one-on-one matchup and get upfield in a hurry now and then.
Contract Projection: One year, $8 million fully guaranteed
Contract Projection: One year, $7 million fully guaranteed
Houston has lost some of the juice that helped make him one of the NFL’s best all-around edge defenders in Kansas City, but he has shown this season that he remains a technician capable of winning one-on-ones.
Contract Projection: Two years, $12 million ($6M per year), $7.5 million total guaranteed
Watkins has the potential to be a No. 2 receiver, but his injury history makes that very unlikely. Teams will carry him for the few healthy games a year where he can have huge performances.
2022 NFL Mock Draft: Carolina Panthers select QB Sam Howell at No. 6, New Orleans Saints land Ole Miss QB Matt Corral at No. 16 - Michael Renner
Walker looks like the Terminator with how he runs down ball carriers at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds. While he’s got almost nothing to speak of in the way of pass-rushing moves, you can’t coach what he can do physically.