The Lamar Jackson era has reignited optimism around the Ravens regarding their ability to contend for a third Super Bowl title. Coming off of their third straight postseason appearance — and first playoff victory — during Jackson’s tenure as the starting quarterback, expectations were high for the 2021 season in Baltimore. A myriad of injuries (including to the 25-year-old himself) sparked a six-game losing streak to end the campaign, knocking the team out of the postseason.
This coming season is therefore seen as something of a mulligan in Charm City. A return to health for a number of key players, along with a retooled defense, could once again land the team among the AFC’s elite. The conference has added a number of stars on both sides of the ball, though, including moves which figure to see both Ohio teams remain divisional contenders for the foreseeable future. With Jackson’s Baltimore tenure remaining a point of contention, have the Ravens done enough this spring to make a championship run?
General manager Eric DeCosta has shown a propensity to pull off significant trades during his relatively brief time at the helm of the Ravens. Moving Brown represents another sizable deal he executed, a process which involved keeping the likelihood of a swap under wraps for months. Only after the Day 1 draft deal was it revealed that Brown had requested to be traded at the end of the regular season. By honoring that wish, the team ended the up-and-down tenure of only its second-ever homegrown 1,000-yard receiver.
Putting aside the close personal relationship between Brown and Jackson, the deal leaves the team with a significant void in the passing game. Brown eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2021 and ranked 10th in the NFL in targets. While 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman is poised to take over as the Ravens’ top wideout, the depth chart seriously lacks experience and pedigree. With neither the extra first-rounder they acquired via the pair of swaps made during that night, nor any other selection, did the team add to its WR corps. Baltimore has been labeled a candidate to bring in a veteran, though a move of anywhere near as much significance as the Brown deal is highly unlikely.
- Marcus Williams, S. Five years, $70MM. $37MM guaranteed.
- Michael Pierce, NT. Three years, $16.5MM. $6.75MM guaranteed.
- Calais Campbell, DE. Two years, $16.5MM. $6MM guaranteed.
- Morgan Moses, OT. Three years, $15MM. $5.5MM guaranteed.
- Patrick Ricard, FB. Three years, $11.25MM. $4.5MM guaranteed.
- Justin Houston, OLB. One year, $3.5MM. $3.5MM guaranteed.
- Kyle Fuller, CB. One year, $2.5MM. $2.5MM guaranteed.
- Josh Bynes, LB. One year, $1.27MM. $600K guaranteed.
- Mike Davis, RB. One year, $1.12MM. $155K guaranteed.
- Brent Urban, DE. One year, $1.12MM.
- Steven Means, OLB. One year, $1.12MM.
- Vince Biegel, LB. One year, $1.04MM.
- Kevon Seymour, CB. One year, $965K.
The Ravens haven’t been afraid to spend significant free agency dollars on the safety position in recent years, handing out deals to the likes of Eric Weddle and Earl Thomas. Williams is the latest in that line of acquisitions, though his age (25) should allow for a longer tenure with the team compared to the team’s previous big-ticket safety signings. The former second-rounder established his playmaking ability in New Orleans, where he racked up 15 interceptions across five seasons. The 2021 campaign, in which he played on the franchise tag, also saw him make strides in pass coverage.
Williams will provide the Ravens with a ball-hawking ability which has been lacking recently. The team ranked 26th in the league with just nine interceptions last year, a statistic which was exacerbated by the defense’s overall struggles against the pass (surrendering a league-worst 279 yards per game through the air). At an annual average of $14MM per season, Williams’ contract ranks eighth among safeties, as the position continues to enjoy an upward trend. The degree to which he lives up to the lucrative pact will go a long way in determining the defense’s success for the short- and long-term future.
The defensive line was identified as an area in need of a youth movement at the end of the 2021 season. While the starting unit will look different this fall, Campbell and Pierce will be familiar faces. The former had contemplated retirement before ultimately committing to play at least one more season, making a reunion with Baltimore a logical choice. The 2010s All-Decade Team member will be 36 this campaign, but he also represents the lone returnee from the 2021 starters along the D-line. Campbell’s level of play against the run in particular has shown little sign of decline in recent years, and his leadership within a relatively young front seven will carry value.
In the middle of the line, Pierce will step back into the starting role he held at the end of his first Ravens tenure in 2019. The deal he signed to return is significantly smaller in value than the one he inked with the Vikings that offseason, but it gives him notable security considering the limited time he has spent on the field in the last two years. A 2020 opt-out, the 29-year-old was limited to eight contests last season, ultimately leading to his Vikings release. Rediscovering the form which earned him that Minnesota deal would add a boost to the defensive front. Urban represents another reunion; the veteran Canadian has started for the Ravens in the past but figures to play a rotational role in 2022.
On the opposite side of the ball, fortifying the offensive line became plainly necessary as the 2021 campaign progressed. While a return to health from left tackle Ronnie Stanley would solve much of the issue in pass protection in particular, finding a veteran bookend was among the team’s top priorities, and something made more financially viable by a reunion with Za’Darius Smith falling through. Moses, 31, figures to provide a steady presence at that spot, having posted a PFF grade of 71 with the Jets last year, a figure roughly in line with his career average.
A recipient of the rarely used UFA tender, Houston remaining in Baltimore was always the likeliest outcome, despite the delay in his decision to re-sign. The Ravens had been connected to a number of veteran pass rushers, and the former NFL sack leader will again be leaned on in at least a rotational capacity within an otherwise young position group facing a number of health questions. Likewise, the one-year investment in Fuller could prove worthwhile. The Baltimore native is coming off of a disappointing season with the Broncos, but he could see significant playing time as part of the Ravens’ retooled CB room.
- Anthony Averett, CB
- Miles Boykin, WR
- Bradley Bozeman, C
- DeShon Elliott, S
- Justin Ellis, NT
- L.J. Fort, LB
- Devonta Freeman, RB
- Sam Koch, P (retired)
- Anthony Levine, S (retired)
- Pernell McPhee, OLB
- Latavius Murray, RB
- Jimmy Smith, CB
- Alejandro Villanueva, OT (retired)
- Sammy Watkins, WR
- Brandon Williams, NT
- Derek Wolfe, DT (released via injury settlement; later retired)
- Tavon Young, CB
Williams and Wolfe headline the front-seven departures. The former had spent his entire nine-year career in Baltimore, while the latter was in line to start alongside him this season before being sidelined with hip issues. Their departures will leave the team short two starting-caliber leaders, and place even higher expectations upon 2019 third-rounder Justin Madubuike to not only take on a permanent first-team role, but develop into an impact player.
Given the struggles on the offensive line, changes were inevitable. Villanueva’s retirement came after an underwhelming final chapter of his Pro Bowl career, but it was expected considering his inconsistent play. Bozeman departing was likewise unsurprising, though the fact that he was only able to land a one-year deal in Carolina was noteworthy. The Alabama product established himself as a dependable starter in the middle of the line, albeit at a position the team had options for regarding a replacement both before and after the draft.
The area of the roster which has seen the most changeover is the secondary. Elliott handled full-time starting duties for the second straight season, proving his worth when able to remain on the field (the infrequency of which throughout his career no doubt hurt his free agent value). Averett shouldered by far the largest workload of his career (with a snap share of 90%) stepping in for a CB room which lost Marcus Peters and, later, Marlon Humphrey as well. The production he managed in 2021 made the position’s remaining depth the source of many questions leading up to the draft.