The NFL hasn’t officially reached the offseason, but the Ravens have already taken steps to rework their roster.
Veteran running back Mark Ingram was waived after two seasons. The emergence of rookie J.K. Dobbins made Ingram expendable. It also means the Ravens will retain Gus Edwards, who is a restricted free agent. Edwards and Dobbins provided a thunder and lightning dynamic to the ground attack and it would be productive to keep them together for at least another year.
The Ravens also parted ways with backup quarterback Robert Griffin III, wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas and cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davontae Harris. None of those moves was particularly surprising; although Harris expressed some optimism about returning to the team.
The process, however, gets more complicated.
The Ravens have four linebackers — Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee — eligible to become unrestricted free agents. General manager Eric DeCosta will likely make inquiries with all of those players, but their agents will also kick the tires with some other teams for perhaps a more lucrative deal.
The Ravens placed the franchise tag on Judon prior to the season and there was no further movement on a long-term deal. Judon finished the regular season with 49 tackles, six sacks, and 21 quarterback hits.
That performance could have taken him out of the Ravens’ comfort zone. Judon could be looking for a contract similar to former teammate Za’Darius Smith, who signed a four-year, $66 million deal with the Green Bay Packers as a free agent after leading the Ravens in sacks
Judon has come to terms with finding a new home after spending the first five years of his career with the Ravens.
“I would like to thank the Ravens organization,” Judon said. “You all might ask me, but I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. I don’t know what’s going to happen in my future – that’s all out in front of me. But the past five years, man, it’s been a hell of a ride. I wouldn’t ask for another organization, or coaches, or mentors, or players to play with, man.
“Some of these guys [that] I’ve played with, they’re my real brothers. [They’re my] real-life brothers. So, with that being said, I love the Ravens and the organization. I would just like to thank them.”
The Ravens acquired Ngakoue from the Vikings at the trade deadline. However, there is a question of whether he was productive enough to merit a new deal. The Ravens do need more production from their edge rushers.
Bowser had his best season since being drafted by the Ravens in the second round (47th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft. Bowser is unsure about his future in Baltimore.
“[For] me, personally, it’s just trying to be better than I was the last day,” he said about free agency. “Just having other guys come in during their contract year, make big plays and get paid … It’s going to work out. I pray about it all the time. I know God is going to work something out for me. All I can do is just control now, and that’s just taking advantage of each and every day in practice [and] each and every time I’m on the field during the game just to make the best of the plays that I have.
“I’m going to go out there and work hard each and every play, and if a play happens, it happens. [I’m] just going to continue to work and get better.”
Defensive end Derek Wolfe is also eligible for free agency after a solid year.
The Ravens already signed left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Marlon Humphrey to extensions during the regular season. The NFL might have a lower salary cap next season because of the fallout from COVID-19, which means more players on the roster might have to be cut loose.
The Ravens need to add playmakers on offense, most notably at wide receiver, the offensive line and perhaps a tight end.
As a result, the changes within the roster are just beginning.
When the Ravens kick off the 2021 season, there will inevitably be several new playmakers in the mix.
The goal of winning a Super Bowl will not change.