Despite letting a golden opportunity to reach the Super Bowl slip away, Baltimore is still well positioned for the future. There will be significant attrition from both the coaching staff and depth chart, but general manager Eric DeCosta has the resources required to help Lamar Jackson deliver on his draft day promise of bringing another Super Bowl to the Ravens franchise. These storylines will shape the 2024 offseason:
Salary Cap Manipulation
After a decade of preaching cap conservation, Baltimore borrowed more than $30 million from future seasons, via void years and not-likely-to-be-earned incentives, to assemble the 2023 roster. The aggression paid off with a conference championship game appearance. However, with more than 20 impending unrestricted free agents, the roster is set to lose multiple difference makers. Whether the Ravens opt to continue borrowing from future caps to build another top flight contender or begin paying off the debt from 2023 borrowing while attempting to win in the postseason with inferior personnel, the strategic decisions regarding salary cap management will underpin Baltimore’s entire offseason plan.
Retooling the OL
The organization has wisely prioritized maintaining a strong blocking unit throughout their history. Baltimore’s 2023 offensive line graded well overall but struggled at times to provide Lamar with clean pockets in must-pass situations. Moreover, starting guards Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson are slated to become free agents, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley has not played up to his lucrative contract in terms of performance or availability. Reducing Stanley’s cap hit one way or another, and the team’s willingness to commit another contract to the aging Zeitler will shape the offensive line in 2024 and beyond.
Upgrading Offensive Weaponry
After years of surrounding Jackson with subpar receivers, DeCosta finally constructed a championship caliber receiver corps that helped Lamar post his best passing season in 2023. However, Odell Beckham Jr., Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay are impending free agents this offseason. Filling out the depth chart behind Zay Flowers and Rashod Bateman with a competent veteran and playmaking rookie should be priorities. The tight end room is the strength of the depth chart but multiple running backs are likely to depart. Nonetheless, the Ravens historic success mining above average production from scrap heap and undrafted free agents make running back the logical position to save resources as a way to offset the team’s above average expenditures at quarterback, fullback and inside linebacker.
Maintaining the Pass Rush
The Ravens led the league in sacks in 2023 but their top three sacks artists are all set to hit the market this spring. Justin Madubuike is in line for a major payday after his breakout season while Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy increased their market value with career years in Baltimore. Madubuike is the big ticket item, but it remains to be seen if the Ravens have budgeted for another cornerstone contract, so the franchise tag or tag and trade maneuver are viable options. Retaining Clowney would also be beneficial, he often created the initial pressure that allowed his teammates to rack up clean-up sacks. DeCosta could go in many different directions to piece together a comparable pass rush, including re-signings, veteran additions and the draft.
Bolstering the Secondary
Aided by departed coordinator Mike Macdonald’s deceptive pressures and disguised coverages, the Ravens fielded the NFL’s best pass defense in 2023. Yet this is another area where attrition is likely. Key contributors Ronald Darby, Geno Stone and Arthur Maulet boosted their market value last season and are no longer under contract with Baltimore. Despite a rocky finish to the year, Brandon Stephens enjoyed a breakout season will be counted on as a starter in 2024, the final season of his rookie contract. Cornerstone cornerback Marlon Humphrey struggled with injuries and may be nearing the end of his prime. Therefore, perimeter cornerback is a close second behind left tackle when accessing early round draft priorities. Baltimore must also find a third starting caliber safety in order to continue deploying Kyle Hamilton as the big nickel in their most utilized personnel package.