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Ravens News 2/18: QB Index and more

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Every NFL team’s most improved player in 2021 - Anthony Treash

BALTIMORE RAVENS: LB JOSH BYNES

PFF Grade change from 2020 to 2021: 52.6 → 74.8 (+22.2)

Bynes produced at a career-low level in his lone season as a Cincinnati Bengal in 2020. He turned in a 52.6 PFF grade that year — over 27.0 grading points lower than his 2019 campaign in Baltimore. He came back to the Ravens for 2021 and bounced back once he became the starter in Week 6. From that point on, Bynes was a top-10-graded linebacker in the NFL.

The biggest offseason needs for all 32 NFL teams and how teams can fill them via the draft, trades and free agents - Jeff Zrebiec

Baltimore Ravens

Position of greatest need: Offensive tackle

You could go in a number of different directions here and make a solid case. Edge rusher, interior defensive line, center, safety and even cornerback all are prominent needs. But the uncertainty surrounding former All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s future, plus the organization’s lack of depth at the position, puts tackle on another level.

Stanley has played just one game in the past season and a half because of an ankle injury that has required two surgeries. Ja’Wuan James, a candidate to start at right tackle, has played in only three games in the past three years. Alejandro Villanueva seems likely to retire or get released. Patrick Mekari and Tyre Phillips are better suited to play inside or occupy the swing tackle role. The Ravens badly need a better contingency plan for Stanley than they had in 2021, and the draft is probably the best place to find it. Quality free-agent tackles will likely be too pricey for the cap-limited Ravens.

‘F Them Picks!’ Won’t Be Ravens’ Strategy - Ryan Mink

The Ravens know they aren’t going to win it all by assembling a team of Average Joes. You must have stars. You have to hit with those draft picks that you protect. Had Baltimore had its biggest star, Lamar Jackson, down the stretch, it probably would have beaten the Rams and maybe gotten into the playoffs.

But the Ravens will continue to collect those stars primarily through the draft. That has always been Baltimore’s lifeblood, and that’s been a model that has led to sustained success. Put yourself in position, year after year, to challenge for a Super Bowl and let the chips fall where they may. Their 2012 squad wasn’t their best, but it won it all after knocking on the door with a better squad the previous year.

“One of the decisions you have to make as a GM is do you mortgage the future to make a short-term trade,” DeCosta said earlier this month. “Could we have done that? Probably, we could have. Other teams have done it with some success.

“But our philosophy and my philosophy is that the idea of taking on dead money each year is probably not a great philosophy. If you look at other teams’ situations, you’ll see teams this year that are in very, very tough financial straits. I don’t want that to be us. Steve [Bisciotti] doesn’t want that to be us. John [Harbaugh] doesn’t want that to be us. Dick Cass doesn’t want that to be us.”

Where the Ravens can — and can’t — create salary cap space in a pivotal offseason - Jonas Shaffer

Restructures

If the Saints’ team-building process has revealed anything in recent years, it’s that “salary cap jail” is a low-security institution. It’s easy to get out of. New Orleans cleared about $52 million off its books last year through restructured contracts alone.

According to Over The Cap, only four teams can clear less cap space than the Ravens ($26.2 million) through simple restructures. One such move is considered unlikely: Given left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s injury history, the Ravens aren’t expected to convert his 2021 salary and create $6.3 million in cap relief.

Other restructures would be more prudent. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is an obvious candidate: His $10 million salary in 2022 could be converted into an approximately $1 million salary and $9 million signing bonus, which, because of its proration over a deal that lasts through 2026, would reduce his 2022 cap hit from $17.5 million to $10.3 million.

Elsewhere, a simple restructure of guard Kevin Zeitler’s deal would save $2.4 million. For tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, restructures would amount to about $2 million apiece. Only three other Ravens — outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, kicker Justin Tucker and running back Gus Edwards — have contracts that would net over $1 million in savings.

NFL QB Index: Ranking all 62 starting QBs of the 2021 NFL season - Gregg Rosenthal

Rank 14

Lamar Jackson

2021 stats: 12 games | 64.4 pct | 2,882 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 16 pass TD | 13 INT | 767 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 6 fumbles

2020 final ranking: 7 | 2019: 1 | 2018: 23

Lamar looked like an MVP candidate through five weeks, then hit the roughest stretch of his career, including four missed games. Ravens GM Eric Decosta said in January they are working at “Lamar’s pace” on a new contract in “an unusual negotiation,” because Jackson is representing himself. It feels like a matter of when, not if, Jackson gets his money.

Rank 26

Tyler Huntley

2021 stats: 7 games | 64.9 pct | 1,081 pass yds | 5.8 ypa | 3 pass TD | 4 INT | 294 rush yds | 2 rush TD | 4 fumbles

Huntley’s sour finish in close losses to the Rams and Steelers shouldn’t distract from his strong body of work in four starts and two relief outings as a second-year player. He’s already one of the best backups in football and may develop into a mid-tier starter elsewhere, like Tyrod Taylor once did when he left Baltimore.