The NFL midseason trade deadline is less than a week away set to expire at 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Halloween night. That means front offices around the league are working the phones around the clock to see if they can either acquire players at positions of need or recoup assets in return for those they no longer wish to keep because of their hopes of realistically contending for a championship are already slim to none through the first seven weeks.
Throughout the illustrious history of the Baltimore Ravens franchise, their head executives have not been afraid to make bold moves to bolster the roster in any given year. During his first four years since taking over the reins of general manager from his longtime friend and mentor, Eric DeCosta has made a bold move at or before the deadline in three of those seasons to try to improve a position where the team either had a perceived weakness or could’ve just befitted from an upgrade to take them to new heights.
All three trades were for defensive players and two came at tremendous value considering what they gave up in exchange for the boost each of them provided the unit. The first was acquiring multi-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters from the Los Angeles Rams in 2019 in exchange for backup linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick. He made his presence felt from his very first game and played at such an elite level in tandem with Marlon Humphrey that he was extended before the season was even over.
The second was Pro Bowl pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue in 2020 from the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a 2021 third-round and 2022 fifth-round pick. At the time of the trade, he had already racked up five sacks in six games but managed just three in 11 games with the Ravens including the playoffs. He wasn’t quite utilized correctly or always put in the best position to succeed by former Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale and was not re-signed the following offseason.
At last season’s deadline, DeCosta made his most impactful transaction as the Ravens head executive outside of inking quarterback Lamar Jackson to a long-term deal this past offseason. He acquired All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a 2023 second-round pick and he went on to be the catalyst for the elite rise of the Ravens defense in the second half of the 2022 season.
As was the case with Peters, he played so well that he earned a new deal before the season was even over and this year has taken his game to an even higher level. Not only has he been the best player on arguably the best unit in the entire league but he has been worthy of every penny of his top-of-the-market contract and has looked like the second coming of Ray Lewis with how he has been the heart and soul of the defense.
Roquan Smith shared the message behind his fiery pre-game speech. pic.twitter.com/XfBsefQ8XU— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 22, 2023
Barring a rash of injuries, the Ravens typically like to let the team they assembled over the course of the offseason take shape and reveal any glaring deficiencies before pulling the trigger on a move to address them during the season. Thus far through the first seven games of the 2023 season, the roster that DeCosta put together from March to the end of training camp and even through the last month looks like one of the best in the league with no real weaknesses on either side of the ball.
Several minor injuries at cornerback during training camp caused them to add multiple veterans out of necessity and now that almost all of their players at the position are healthy, their depth has shined and is now an underrated strength. Third-year pro Brandon Stephens has developed into a lockdown cornerback opposite three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey, who seems recovered from foot surgery.
Marlon Humphrey in coverage vs. the Lions:— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) October 24, 2023
51 coverage snaps
2 receptions allowed, 5 yards
1 forced incompletion
Behind them, the Ravens have a pair of experienced and talented veterans in Ronald Darby and Rock Ya-Sin who would start on many other teams in the league but are serving as quality backups and rotational pieces in Baltimore. After losing Ar’Darius Washington to injury, veteran Arthur Maulet has stepped up and played exceptionally well in the slot at nickel.
After countless pundits questioned the Ravens ability to consistently disrupt the opposing team’s quarterbacks for most of the offseason and into training camp, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s unit has been the most potent pass rush in the NFL with a league high 29 sacks in seven games. They’ve gotten contributions from all three levels of the defense but the most pleasant surprises have been the play of 10-year veteran outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy who both have three or more sacks this season.
The Ravens had eight different defenders generate multiple pressures in their Week 7 win over the Lions.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 22, 2023
Kyle Van Noy and Odafe Oweh finished tied for the team lead in pressures with 5 each.#BALvsDET | #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/elJoPOT0OU
Analysts and prognosticators have been linking the Ravens in midseason trade rumors for several notable edge rushers including Brian Burns, Chase Young, and Danielle Hunter. However, they already have reinforcements on the edge.
Against the Detroit Lions in Week 7, third-year pro Odafe Oweh racked up four pressures, and a strip sack, and led Ravens outside linebackers with 44 total defensive snaps in his first game back since suffering an ankle sprain in Week 2. While there is a bit of some mystery surrounding the health status of veteran Tyus Bower, he is confident that he is trending in the right direction and the team is hopeful for his return this season. Second-year pro David Ojabo is currently on injured reserve but can return to action as soon as he’s ready now that his mandatory four games have been missed.
While the Ravens are firm believers that a team can never have too many quality players at premium positions, their current starters and depth pieces don’t merit making a bold move to further improve outside linebacker given what it would take to acquire a significant needle mover. There’s also the fact that the Ravens only have just over $6.2 million in available salary cap space according to overthecap.com which ranks in the bottom 15 of the league.
If DeCosta were to make a move to bolster depth at a position that hasn’t been inefficient by any means but has been hit hard by injury, it could be running back. After losing starter J.K. Dobbins in the season opener to a torn Achilles tendon, the Ravens top two ball carriers behind Jackson have been veterans Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. They have combined for 509 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 127 carries, and have looked sharp in new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s offense.
The Ravens also have undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell on the roster who impressed on his first offensive touch in the regular season after being one of the brightest standouts for the team during the preseason. He is currently dealing with a hamstring injury that will likely keep him sidelined for at least a week and both Hill and Edwards have dealt with minor ailments this season already.
In his final year as the Ravens’ general manager, the last in-season trade that Ozzie Newsome made was to acquire dynamic running back Ty Montgomery from the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a 2020 seventh-round pick. He didn’t do much outside of providing some depth behind entrenched starters.
If DeCosta does make a move at the deadline to reinforce the team’s backfield, expect another trade where minimal compensation will be given up and it almost certainly won’t be for a big name such as Saquon Barley or Derrick Henry, much to the chagrin of hopeful fans and fantasy owners.
There are also several veteran free-agent running backs still available that wouldn’t cost any draft capital and could be signed to non-guaranteed contracts for around the veteran minimum. Some options include former first-rounder and Super Bowl champion Leonard Fournette, pass-catching specialist J.D. McKissic, and two-time Super Bowl champion Ronald Jones.
The Ravens have everything they need to make their deepest playoff run in over a decade and legitimately contend for a Super Bowl this year. They have a nice blend of young talent, hungry established players that have yet to reach the mountain top, and experienced veterans on both sides of the ball who know what it takes to go all the way. This blend of various ingredients has the makings of a recipe for success now that they are starting to play their best football.