It’s almost time for Eric DeCosta to work more magic.
The Ravens general manager has already made some shrewd moves that paid huge dividends in his first year at the helm.
While the Ravens’ record-setting offense has been credited with much of the success of the 2019 season, DeCosta’s decision to trade for cornerback Marcus Peters was one of the biggest reasons for the team’s 12-game winning streak.
The Ravens did not shy away from talking about their goal of reaching the Super Bowl throughout last season, which ended in disappointment with another one-and-done appearance in the playoffs. That hangover is still lingering among many of the fans.
The players and coaches will continue to beat the Super Bowl drum in 2020. The Ravens have a young, talented roster and need to fill just a few holes, most notably adding a pass rusher, offensive line depth, a returner and veteran wide receiver, to make the team even more formidable.
The Ravens enter the offseason about $21.3 million under the league’s salary cap, according to the latest figures by RSR Cap Guru Brian McFarland. They must decide if they want to create more space 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).
Chuck Clark played well when Jefferson went down a season-ending knee injury, the Ravens are deep in the secondary and can fill the void if Carr departs, and Hurst is a valuable backup, but the team might decide to find his replacement in the NFL Draft.
“We have a few more resources in front of us right now,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We have good draft resources; we have great cap resources that we haven’t had in the past. So, we have a chance to build our roster in a way that we haven’t been able to maybe in the last large number of years.
“Then, because we have our quarterback in place, and because we have our defensive and offensive systems in place, it is pretty straightforward where we want to go, roster-wise.”
Perhaps the most vital variable for success in the NFL is the quarterback position. Teams with long-term franchise quarterbacks, such as the Patriots, Saints and Packers, are in the playoff mix each season. Lamar Jackson is looking to establish himself in that upper echelon, following the young career path of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
Jackson is coming off one of the best regular seasons among any quarterback in NFL history. He is the only quarterback to produce at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season. He is also just the third quarterback in league history to produce at least 35 passing touchdowns and seven rushing touchdowns in a season, joining Steve Young (1994) and Cam Newton (2015).
Nonetheless, people are already questioning whether he can win a playoff game after losing in his first two appearances at the age of 23. Even with the Super Bowl talk, the Ravens still need to show they can get over the postseason hump — the team hasn’t won a playoff game since 2014.
When asked where he needs to improve this offseason, Jackson said he needs to improve all aspects of his game. He already quieted most of his critics last season, and he’s poised to do that again this upcoming year.
“The things that he needs to work on, like any young quarterback, he’ll say ‘Everything.’ And it’s true,” Harbaugh said. “And then you prioritize, what’s the order? What’s the plan going to be moving forward to work on those things?
“And he’s really smart about that. He’s really self-critical. He really understands where he needs to improve in order for us to keep making steps as an offense. It’s really interesting to look at Lamar Jackson, because look at the progress he made in the last year.”
Jackson planned to take a few days off after being named the Most Valuable Offensive Player at the Pro Bowl and then get back to work.
The Ravens front office will do the same as they prepare for free agency and the draft. The players will then filter back for OTAs and hopefully right guard Marshal Yanda is among them because decides not to retire. I’m predicting Yanda is indeed back for one last crack at a title.
The team faces high expectations in 2020 as one of the favorites to advance to the Super Bowl.
It’s a role they’ll fully embrace.