New GM Eric DeCosta enters a fascinating first offseason in charge.
To sum up:
- Franchise pillars Joe Flacco (certainly) and Terrell Suggs (maybe) could both be out the door.
- A long-tenured coach he has to either extend or move on from.
- Several veterans under contract that will need to go under the “80-20 rule” lens and a few younger veteran free agents on whom he needs to come to a decision.
- Oh, and there’s this dynamic 22-year-old signal caller to cultivate that essentially holds everyone’s fate in his hands.
The complexities of all this and the simple fact that nobody but Ozzie Newsome has ever run this franchise has me as anxious as I’ve ever been for an offseason to begin. DeCosta and company have a lot to accomplish, and in most cases, it’s impossible to adequately address every need in one offseason, but here’s what the Ravens absolutely have to square away in this one.
Establish a Timeline
“How close are we…really?”
The Ravens ended a three-year playoff drought on the back of a tough and aggressive defense and a dynamic running game with an explosive rookie centerpiece in Lamar Jackson.
They also had a middling offense that ranked 20th in red zone scoring percentage and 21st in net yards per pass attempt.
The Chargers might have just given future opponents a blueprint to contain said dynamic running game and the leagues #1 defense will almost certainly look different next season.
Self-scouting is one of the more important aspects of team building. How this team weighs all these factors and determines how close it is to true contention is a question I’m sure will be at the very top of boards in the castle.
Until that’s determined, a lot of these other questions can’t be answered…at least they shouldn’t be.
Determine a Schematic Direction on Offense
The Ravens’ offensive approach after inserting Lamar Jackson was without question the right one. Factoring in limitations of both the QB and the current coaching staff, it was the most viable approach to winning this season – but for a multitude of obvious reasons, that offense is unsustainable.
Jackson is now the roster’s most important player and should have every resource possible invested in his development. Part of that entails creating a Lamar-centric offense that accentuates his strengths while minimizing his injury risk. It needs to be a scheme that highlights what he is as a passer now with a clear plan on how to expand it as he develops. Ideally this plan will be led by someone modern who can nudge the passing game into this century.
Exorcize Draft Day Demons
It’s incredibly difficult to acquire what I call “table setters” on offense via free agency. True difference-making skill position players either don’t hit the open market at all or cost all of the bread. When you are as cash-strapped as the Ravens have been for much of the last several years, it makes it impossible. Simply put, DeCosta will have to do what Ozzie couldn’t…hit big on a receiver in the draft. I’d also put running back firmly on the list as well, as they have talent at the position but lack the type of open field threat that creates matchup problems for defenses.
Before that 6-1 run to close the regular season, I was certain that input on this would come from a new, offensive-minded head coach but it doesn’t sound that development is likely. I wonder what changes to the scouting department or simply to the scouting approach we see. When the track record is this bad, something has to change.
I also wonder if DeCosta will be more or less inclusive on draft decisions. Whatever happens, it must produce more skill position talent to ensure that the Lamar Jackson era doesn’t begin as the last few years of the Joe Flacco era ended.
O-Line Talent Boost
Joe D’Alessandris deserves a massive amount of credit for the job he did this season (and last). He navigated through injuries to not only cultivate a unit that the team could win with but also built inexpensive depth.
Because of this, the Ravens enter the offseason with at least seven legitimate NFL-caliber offensive linemen under contract. But there’s more to be done. Left Guard and Center specifically could use talent upgrades and for as great as Marshal Yanda has been, 2019 will be his age 35 season. Whether it be through free agency or the draft, the Ravens need to invest in their interior offensive line.
Define “Creative, Organized and Responsible”
The quote comes from DeCosta in describing how he wants to approach the salary cap, but what does it actually mean? I could guess…the Ravens annually have had little wiggle room due to contract structure, restructuring old deals and not being proactive on player extensions (maybe unfair, as it takes two to tango).
DeCosta will inherit a significant edge over Ozzie cap-wise, as Flacco’s contract will come off the books very soon. It will be important that this isn’t the only change. 2020 free agents like Matt Judon, Tavon Young, and Michael Pierce should be approached now about extensions instead of waiting until they receive bloated offers on the open market.
Tying cap dollars into players past their prime should be avoided. Inevitably the cap situation will get better as the Ravens have signed on for the newly popular rookie QB contract rebrand. They need to take the lessons learned from years of cap constraints and make sure that when things get tight again, it’s for a champion.