The Ravens are looking at one of the most important drafts in franchise history.
Not only does GM Eric DeCosta need to find players that can help over the long-term, he has to fill immediate needs to compete in 2019.
The Ravens already boosted their secondary by signing Earl Thomas to start alongside Tony Jefferson and added Justin Bethel for depth and special teams. DeCosta also landed a solid veteran running back with Mark Ingram.
Still, the Ravens need to find pass rushers, interior offensive linemen, wide receivers and a defensive end.
DeCosta has about $16.2 million remaining under the cap, enough to perhaps sign another player in the second wave of free agency. The rest of the talent might have to come though the draft.
The Ravens, however, have never selected players based solely on need. Rather, they’ve always subscribed to the philosophy of “best player available.”
DeCosta has extensive experience working the draft and might be willing to slightly deviate from that traditional plan now that he is fully in charge.
“I’ve been running the draft meetings since 2004, I think. There will be some changes.” he said. “There will be some changes in the way that we do things. I want to make sure I give our people a chance to really do their jobs and to be as effective as they can be in their roles.
“We have some amazing scouts, and we have some really good people who can organize and manage and help us make the best decisions. We have some really good coaches that are good evaluators. I think we have a really, really good structure in place.”
The Ravens have eight draft picks in 2019 after selecting 12 players the previous year. Of those 12 picks, Lamar Jackson (first round), Orlando Brown Jr. (third round), Mark Andrews (third round), Anthony Averett (fourth round) and Kenny Young (fourth round) made an immediate impact.
First-round pick Hayden Hurst was injured at the beginning of the season, but showed flashes of a potential playmaker, alongside Andrews. Bradley Bozeman (sixth round) provided valuable depth on the offensive line.
Two receivers from last year’s draft class, Jaleel Scott (fourth round) and Jordan Lasley (round five), have a tremendous opportunity to take the next step in their development because of the lack of depth at that position. DeCosta could not find a suitable match in the free-agent market.
This year, the Ravens do not have a second- or seventh-round pick, but have two selections in the third, fourth and sixth rounds. That means DeCosta is going to have to find value in those later rounds. The team generally does not like trading any draft picks.
If anything, DeCosta might trade down to acquire more players.
With the signings of Thomas, Ingram and Bethel, the Ravens don’t appear to be looking to reload in 2020 when they will have substantially more cap room to make moves. It appears the team is fully intent to defend the AFC North title this season.
However, DeCosta has been prudent with his spending in first year as a GM, opting not to match offers for the team’s top free agents, namely C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs. He also jettisoned Joe Flacco’s hefty contract by trading the veteran quarterback to Denver.
“We see good young players leave us every year,” DeCosta said. “We’ve tried to adjust over time, but I think now is a great opportunity for us to become financially responsible, to get control over the salary cap to understand the concept of right player, right price.”
It’s been a delicate balance this offseason.
Regardless of what happens with wins and losses in 2019, DeCosta is laying the groundwork for future success.
“We want to be creative in getting that done, and we’ll continue to do that, whether it’s in free agency or in the draft.” DeCosta said.
“We have a great opportunity coming up at the end of April to draft some good football players. And then post-draft, there will be an opportunity for us to get some good players, too. As a wise man once said, we don’t have to play games until September, and I think we’ll be ready to play in September.”