On Thursday, Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh gave their end of season press conference. Among the things they addressed were Lamar Jackson and his contract, the search for their new offensive coordinator after the departure of Greg Roman, the situation at wide receiver, the defense, continuity and more. I’ll be going through the topics most pressing and my takeaway from the press conference.
Lamar Jackson and the Contract
The single-most pressing issue facing this team is the contract status of Jackson and the Ravens. This is the domino which controls them all. Days ago, defensive end Calais Campbell said as much when I asked him if Jackson’s contract impacts whether he’d re-sign with the Ravens.
“I want to have a chance to win it all,” Campbell said. “And I think that Lamar gives this team the best chance to win it all. The front office knows that, too.”
DeCosta in his opening statement addressed the matter, expressing he’s “excited to start up negotiations again with Lamar Jackson.”
The first question of the presser asked DeCosta’s confidence level in re-signing Jackson.
“It certainly takes two to tango,” DeCosta said. “But I think Lamar and I have a great relationship. We communicate quite often. We spent some time together today as a matter of fact.”
DeCosta also offered some insight to how previous deals have been accomplished with a few franchise players to demonstrate the differences in each.
“Ronnie Stanley’s contract took about a year and a half,” DeCosta said. “Mark Andrews’ contract took probably three or four days. We did Roquan [Smith’s] contract over the span of six days over the course of one month, basically. So they happen in different ways.”
If nothing else, the Ravens come away with Jackson’s value in tact. DeCosta said he wasn’t entertaining trade talks or wanting to share thoughts on them but certainly he has to be the most prepared person on the planet regarding outcomes with Jackson. That is his job. So, they escape a press conference saying all the right things.
At most, this is a precursor to Jackson and DeCosta completing a long-term deal. It’s what DeCosta and Harbaugh stated is their goal and that though they don’t speak for Jackson, it’s what they believe he wants, too.
Offensive Coordinator Search
About 90 minutes before the press conference, Greg Roman’s team announced/leaked he would be stepping down from his position with the Ravens. This could be a highly sought after job, with special talents including Jackson, Andrews, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and a powerful offensive line. But, the biggest name among them is currently a free agent.
According to Harbaugh, the search will include Jackson’s input.
“I did ask Lamar about it,” Harbaugh said. “And he will be involved in it. I’ll keep him abreast of what’s going on and I’m sure he’ll have some input along the way.”
Harbaugh was asked about the challenges of bringing in any outside candidates due to the business aspect impacting Jackson’s short-term and long-term future.
“My answer would be, ‘no way,’” Harbaugh said. “This is going to be a highly sought after job. This is one of the top football coaching jobs in the world. Everybody’s going to want this job. So I’m looking forward to getting started. It won’t just be me, it’ll be other coaches and scouts involved in it and cast a wide net and we’re going to look far and wide and close. And we’ll get the best fit for what we’re trying to accomplish and it’s going to be a highly-qualified candidate.”
The status of Jackson is ultimately the greatest factor and you’ll be hard pressed to convince me otherwise. A coach interviewing for the open offensive coordinator role will want the MVP-caliber quarterback to scheme with and around. There’s a significant difference in scheming for and around Jackson, who everybody recognizes as “one of one,” compared to any other quarterback. Yes, there is excitement in building around some of the other pieces but in totality, Jackson’s the single-most important factor in bringing in an offensive coordinator.
Along with this, there are nine (!) other teams searching for an offensive coordinator. The Ravens have an advantage in having Jackson, but they also have a disadvantage in an unknown future with him. Would a coach be willing to commit before Jackson’s deal is locked down?
Offensive Philosophy, Identity & Continuity
The search for a new offensive coordinator comes with an intriguing territory. Jackson is a different style of quarterback over every other one in history. The offense the Ravens have operated in is different than any other offense in the NFL. So, what are the Ravens looking for?
According to Harbaugh, part of it is sticking with the run game that Roman, who is one of the leading minds in scheming rushing attacks, helped build.
“You want to be able to hold onto those things,” Harbaugh said. “I’d like to keep a lot of those schemes around.”
Harbaugh was asked about the identity of the offense, and stuck to running the football is a core belief of this team.
“You’ve got to be balanced,” Harbaugh said. “You have got to be able to run the ball. We’re going to always believe in running the ball and we’ve done that really well over the last number of years. With that, you’ve got to have a complementary passing game. You’ve got to have a standalone passing game with the drop back passing. Situational passing, third downs, especially third and long, in the red zone, and then you have to have a play-action passing game that goes with whichever runs you run.”
Continuity was another factor Harbaugh was asked about regarding the offense.
“Continuity [in personnel] does matter,” Harbaugh said. “The offensive line, as Eric mentioned, is together. That offensive line is going to be wholly intact or almost wholly intact next year coming back. The tight end room is together... the running back room, intact. Now we can add a player to any of those spots of course. The one area that needs to be built is the wide receiver room. So that’ll be a new room basically. There will be pieces of it still there, you know the guys, but then we’ll be adding a lot of pieces to that room and there will be competition too.
I think this an offense in need of evolution. I respect and appreciate a good rushing attack but it’s getting harder to entrust Baltimore to score points and go head-to-head with the other AFC contenders who are valuing passing attacks and wide receivers more each season. There’s a reason the Chiefs, Bengals and Bills are at the top of the conference and were expected to be there from the get-go. They have high-scoring players with passing attacks that teams are desperate to match. It’s an arms-race.
The Ravens have an approach to limit possessions from their opponent with their run game and solid defense, but their red zone abilities faltered and in part due to a lack of weapons. Their greatest pass catcher, Andrews, is getting doubled and tripled. With Rashod Bateman out they had no true No. 1 wide receiver and he’s not proven himself yet to be one. They need more. This could very well be something they’re intentionally not discussing to give away their hopes of wide receiver acquisitions, signings or trades, but they need to evolve and it didn’t sound like that’s their main goal.
Patrick Queen’s Future as a Raven
There is a bit of uncertainty surrounding linebacker Patrick Queen’s future as a Raven after the team traded for and signed Roquan Smith to the richest linebacker deal in NFL history. The first big decision regarding Queen, who was their first-round pick in 2020, arrives soon with the deadline for DeCosta to pick up the fifth-year option of Queen’s deal, which would cost around $11.56 million according to Over The Cap’s projections.
“Specifically speaking to the fifth-year option, I’m probably not prepared to make that announcement at this point,” DeCosta said. “Does it make it difficult to sign him long term? If he’s a great player we’ll find a way to make it work... We want to keep as many good players as we can. I would never rule out right now signing a player two years from now.”
DeCosta went on to compliment Queen and his play alongside Smith, stating they’re the two best young linebackers in the NFL.
Last year, DeCosta said two words in regard to picking up the fifth-year option of wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
“I do,” DeCosta said.
Different situations—I get it, but the Ravens made their decision to trade two picks for and sign arguably the best inside linebacker, then pay him the richest deal. Queen’s a great linebacker beside him but the Ravens are likely considering how much they can gain from Queen long term or if they can find similar production for less money, because there’s only so much cap a team can spend in each area and they’ve got a $20 million per year backer in the middle already.