The Ravens might have overachieved this season.
Many believed this was going to be somewhat of a transition year with Lamar Jackson taking over the starting job at quarterback for a full 16-game regular season.
There were supposed to be some growing pains.
Instead, Jackson had an MVP-caliber campaign and led the Ravens to a record-setting season for wins and rushing yards. Andrews emerged as one of the top tight ends in the entire league and made the Pro Bowl, along with Jackson and 10 other players.
Baltimore clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs for the first time in franchise history and was surrounded by Super-Bowl hype as the best team in the NFL.
Then, the Ravens were upset in the playoffs by the Tennessee Titans and suddenly the bandwagon was empty.
The franchise, however, is just getting started.
Entering the year, the Ravens took a $16 million dead-cap hit for 2019 by trading Joe Flacco to the Broncos. However, GM Eric DeCosta also was able to free up more than $20 million in cap space for each of the next two years.
The Ravens will have $33.8 million in room under the salary cap when the 2020 league year opens in March — a significant improvement from previous years. DeCosta can create more financial flexibility by releasing several veterans, including safety Tony Jefferson ($7 million in savings), offensive lineman James Hurst ($2.75 million) and cornerback Brandon Carr ($7 million).
So, DeCosta will have the wherewithal to fill holes on a roster that frankly does not have many holes. The priorities would be a pass rusher, a sure-handed, veteran wide receiver that can be a game-changer, a three-down inside linebacker, a top-tier kickoff/punt returner and an interior offensive lineman.
The Ravens will fill some of the gaps in the upcoming draft and also dabble in the free-agent market. Remember, DeCosta wants to create a roster that is built for long-term success. He’s not going to blow up the salary-cap to perhaps make a run at one title.
Despite an early exit from the playoffs for a second straight season, almost all of the players and coaches are encouraged by the future of the team.
— Todd Karpovich (@toddkarpovich) January 13, 2020
“We’re just an extremely young group, and we’re only going to get better,” rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin said. “You’re talking to 22-, 23-year-olds playing against veterans every day. So, we’re definitely going to get better. We’re excited for it. I don’t know what our ceiling really is, just because of the type of talent that we have in this organization.”
While Jackson is already taking criticism for losing the first two playoff games of his career, he is also confident the team is on the right path.
“I don’t really care about what they say,” Jackson said. “This is my second year in the league. Many people aren’t able to bring it to the playoffs. I’ve got a great team with me. I don’t really worry about what people say. We’re just going to keep going … and get ready for next year.”
Jackson’s teammates know the frustration in the playoffs is only going to make him better because he’ll work harder. Last season, when critics said he could not be an effective downfield passer, he spent the entire offseason on his mechanics and led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes.
“Nobody cares. Work harder.”
That’s been Jackson’s motto and he’ll take that strategy into the offseason.
“He’s a competitor,” Andrews said. “He’s the most competitive person I’ve been around. I know he’s going to take this and use it as fuel to make himself a better football player. I know he knows that for us, he’s our leader. He means everything to this team, this city, and what we’re all about.
“We go as he goes. That’s our guy, and I love him to death. It’s so much fun playing with him, and he’s going to continue to get better. We all will with him.”
While the loss to the Titans still stings, the Ravens are confident even better days are ahead.
Right now, there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon, but don’t wait too long to get your seat.
“That’s the thing that’s encouraging. I think we have a lot of guys coming back, especially to the offense,” fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard said. “We’ll see with some other guys in free agency, but I think the future is bright here, especially with Lamar as our quarterback. I’m excited for it. I can’t wait to get to work and come in for OTAs and just keep getting better.”