Street Talk Ravens Roster Challenges

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The Ravens added three key playmakers in free agency by signing safety Earl Thomas, running back Mark Ingram and special teams ace/cornerback Justin Bethel.

In addition, the team inked cornerback Tavon Young to an extension and signed tight end Nick Boyle before he hit the free-agent market.

General manager Eric DeCosta has plenty of work ahead of him with the current roster.

Nonetheless, the vision remains the same even though the players change.

“I think we always want to be a physical, big, fast, aggressive, disciplined football team,” DeCosta said about the Ravens for 2019 and beyond. “We always want to play with passion. We always want to have the ability to impose our will on our opponents. I think we want to be financially responsible when it comes to the salary cap.”

The Ravens need to replace four starters on defense, including a couple of pass rushers. Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, who combined for 15.5 sacks last season, both left via free agency.

Ideally, the Ravens would like to get some production from Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, but at this point, both of those players might face a battle just to make the final roster.

DeCosta invested heavily in the secondary, but that unit still needs some support with an effective pass rush. Justin Houston is the best remaining candidate in free agency, but he might be out of the Ravens price range.

KANSAS CITY, MO – NOVEMBER 20: Outside linebacker Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs claps after a play during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens need to upgrade the offensive line and find some physical players that can help boost an offense centered around the run. However, almost every NFL team is looking for effective offensive linemen and DeCosta might have to find reinforcements via the draft. The Ravens have been linked to several potential candidates in the first round, including N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury and Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom.

The Ravens need to find receivers after releasing Michael Crabtree, who had an underwhelming season. John Brown also left via free agency to sign with the Bills. Ideally, a pair of second-year players Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott are able to take the next step in their development and show they can make some type of impact.

The current free-agent market for wideouts is fairly bare, so once again, DeCosta might have to look toward the NFL Draft to fill that void. The Ravens have been linked to Hakeem Butler (Iowa State), Cody Thompson (Toledo) and N’Keal Harry (Arizona State). However, the Ravens historically have struggled to find playmaking receivers in the draft, and DeCosta is looking to reverse that cycle.

Finally, the Ravens still need to find a backup quarterback for Lamar Jackson. There was some speculation that Tyrod Taylor could be a good fit, but he signed a two-year deal with the Chargers. The team could still sign Robert Griffin III, who became the primary backup last season when Joe Flacco was injured.

Finding a capable backup remains an understated priority.

“There’s no faster way to ruin your season than to get your starting quarterback hurt and not having an effective backup quarterback,” DeCosta said. “Your season is basically over at that point. We never want to be in that position again.”

DeCosta also might be able to pick up a few veterans released from other teams, but that is always a risky proposition.

The Ravens have a young roster with 48 players age 26 or younger. However, it’s clear that DeCosta wants to compete this year, rather than embark on a rebuilding project. Otherwise, why would he have signed Thomas, Ingram and Bethel?

There is also plenty of time to fill some of the holes on the roster. The Ravens have always been prudent in the free-agent market, and that has not changed from Ozzie Newsome‘s long-term tenure to DeCosta’s inaugural season at the helm.

With the possible exception of RG3, the Ravens don’t appear likely to sign any of their own remaining free agents, including DE Brent Urban, TE Maxx Williams, RB Javorius Allen, RB Ty Montgomery and CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste. 

“I think it’s a chess match,” DeCosta said about free agency. “One thing I think that we’ve all learned from Ozzie is to be patient and trust the process. I tend to be more anxious about things and more aggressive, but I think with free agency, sometimes if you start early, you lose late.”


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Todd Karpovich

About Todd Karpovich

Todd Karpovich has been a contributor for ESPN, the Associated Press, SportsXchange, the Baltimore Sun, among other media outlets nationwide. He is the co-author of “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Baltimore Ravens Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box,” “Skipper Supreme: Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles,” and the author of “Manchester United (Europe's Best Soccer Clubs).” Karpovich lives in Towson with his wife, Jill, daughters, Wyeth and Marta, and a pair of dogs, Sarah and Rory. More from Todd Karpovich

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