Eric DeCosta

AFC North Notes: Ravens, Lamar, Steelers

In a press conference this past Thursday, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta spoke to the future of several Ravens players as the team heads into the offseason. Although the free agency of quarterback Lamar Jackson is obviously the main headline of Baltimore’s offseason, DeCosta still has plenty on his plate from key free agents like cornerback Marcus Peters and offensive guard Ben Powers to veterans flirting with retirement like defensive tackle Calais Campbell.

Peters is headed towards free agency this offseason after three seasons in Baltimore. The Ravens have been fairly top-heavy at the cornerback position in the past few years with Peters and Marlon Humphrey. They invested some draft capital in the position last year, selecting rookies Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion Williams, but due to experience and injuries, they were still forced to rely on contributions from the likes of Daryl Worley and Kevon Seymour. The team signed free agent Kyle Fuller in the offseason, but a Week 1 knee injury knocked him out for the year. DeCosta hinted that the team will continue to try and add more talent at cornerback regardless of whether or not they are able to re-sign Peters.

Powers continued his play this year as a full-time starter and had his best NFL season in a contract year. He may follow the likes of former Ravens’ linemen like Ryan Jensen and Kelechi Osemele, who priced themselves out of a new contract in Baltimore in the past.

The Ravens were able to sign trade acquisition Roquan Smith to a long-term deal and now are faced with the contract situation of fellow linebacker Patrick Queen. Queen’s play elevated substantially while playing alongside Smith and has the Ravens considering his future going into this offseason. DeCosta said he isn’t ready to announce that they will pick up Queen’s fifth-year option, but he made sure to clarify that Smith’s contract won’t preclude them from signing Queen long-term.

Lastly, the Ravens have two esteemed veterans that could consider hanging up their cleats. Campbell mulled retirement last season and will likely kick the idea around a bit once again this offseason. Pass rusher Justin Houston is under contract for another season but could potentially call it a career. He stated recently that he does intend to keep playing, and both athletes met with DeCosta before leaving town for the offseason.

Here are a few more rumors from around the AFC North, starting with the main storyline for the offseason in Charm City:

  • Ryan Clark referenced a debate on ESPN’s first take recently about the details of offers made to Jackson. A source provided knowledge that the Ravens’ initial offer had $113MM in guaranteed money and that offer was eventually upped to $133MM. That guaranteed amount doesn’t come anywhere close to Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s $230MM guaranteed contract, but the second offer would be the most guaranteed money to any quarterback in the NFL besides Watson.
  • The Steelers’ coaching staff is set to undergo some changes this offseason. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one coach on his way out is assistant wide receivers coach Blaine Stewart who is set to join the staff at West Virginia University. Stewart’s father, Bill, served as head coach of the Mountaineers from 2008-10.
  • The Buccaneers parted ways with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich at the end of this season. The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly speculated that, unless Leftwich finds work elsewhere as an offensive play caller, the former Steelers quarterback could find a role as an offensive assistant on Mike Tomlin‘s staff. Kaboly posits that a role as senior offensive assistant/passing-game coordinator could be in play for Leftwich. Leftwich would essentially be a coordinator-in-waiting as current offensive coordinator Matt Canada is in the final year of his contract.

Ravens Fail To Agree On Contract Extension With Lamar Jackson

Today was considered the deadline for the Ravens to finalize an extension with quarterback Lamar Jackson, after he named today as the last negotiating window before turning his attention to the 2022 campaign. The team confirmed that a deal will not be coming in time for the start of the season. 

“Despite best efforts on both sides, we were unable to reach a contract extension with Lamar Jackson,” general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate how he has handled this process and we are excited about our team with Lamar leading the way.”

The news comes as little surprise at this point; a mega-deal like several others signed this offseason was reported as being unlikely earlier this week. The matter of guaranteed money has long been seen as the sticking point between team and player, as Jackson is believed to be seeking a deal which is fully guaranteed, just as Deshaun Watson‘s historic Browns contract is.

The Ravens have not, at any point during negotiations, been willing to go that far, including when they reportedly increased their offer to the 25-year-old. The same has been true of the Cardinals and Broncos, who have extended Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson, respectively, on deals which outstrip the $46MM-per-year average of Watson’s pact, though they fall well short in terms of guaranteed compensation.

That has led to the growing sense around the league that the Watson deal is an outlier. Baltimore is among the teams concurring with that view, as confirmed by Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson. He adds, however, that the Ravens are “believed to be willing to guarantee a large portion” of any Jackson extension, even eclipsing Wilson’s $165MM figure and at least approaching Murray’s $189.5MM mark.

Wilson also cites sources emphasizing that negotiations between DeCosta and Jackson (who does not have an agent) have not resulted in an “acrimonious situation.” Nevertheless, this is a disappointing development for the team, and one which leaves Jackson months away from unrestricted free agency.

Assuming he holds true to his aversion to in-season talks, Jackson will play out his rookie contract in 2022 and become subject to a franchise tag in March. The one-year pacts will represent a significant raise from the $23MM Jackson will earn this season, regardless of whether an exclusive or non-exclusive tag is used. The former would place a massive burden on the team’s 2023 cap structure, while the latter would leave open the possibility of an offer sheet.

“We will continue to work towards a long-term contract after the season,” DeCosta’s statement concludes, “but for now we are looking forward to a successful 2022 campaign.” The Ravens open the season on Sunday against the Jets, but this storyline will hang over the franchise for the duration.

Lamar Jackson Won’t Negotiate Extension During Regular Season

For the second day in a row, there has been an important development with respect to Lamar Jackson‘s extension efforts. ESPN’s Jamison Hensley reports that the Ravens quarterback won’t negotiate a new contract once the regular season begins. 

[RELATED: Jackson Seeking Fully Guaranteed Deal?]

When asked about a firm deadline approaching in the form of Week 1, Jackson said, “We’re coming up to it. It’s coming up. The season’s coming up. We’re going to be good for the season.”

The 25-year-old also repeated his desire to finalize a new contract in time for the season, which is in line with remarks he made in the build-up to training camp last month. Jackson is currently set to play on the fifth-year option this season, which will pay him just over $23MM.

One (or two) subsequent seasons played on the franchise tag remains an option if a deal can’t be finalized by next July, a path which this situation seemed to be headed towards for much of the offseason. With negotiations – which at all times have been conducted personally between Jackson and Ravens GM Eric DeCosta – potentially becoming more urgent, the lack of leverage the former has relative to Deshaun Watson as his trade market led to a fully guaranteed pact contrasts with the significant toll a franchise tag would take on the Ravens’ 2023 cap situation.

“I’m very confident that it will get done when it gets done,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t really rush it. I don’t think either side wants to rush anything.”

With just under one month remaining until the regular season, there is still time for both sides to finalize a deal which would all-but assuredly place Jackson at or near the top of the QB market. In the absence of an extension coming together in the immediate future, though, this situation will be set to drag on for several more months.

Latest On Ravens’ WR Room

The Ravens have frequently been mentioned as one of the teams most in need of an addition at the receiver position this offseason. That has included the team being identified as a landing spot for one of the veterans still on the free agent market. 

Such speculation is unsurprising, given the current state of the team’s WR room. Four wideouts can comfortably be slotted in on the 53-man roster, led by 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman. He, like Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace, however, lacks NFL experience and a track record of success in the pros. Especially in the absence of Marquise Brown, an addition of some kind has been widely expected since the draft.

Outside of free agency, trades represent another avenue by which the Ravens could an established pass-catcher. On that point, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic opines that it is all-but guaranteed general manager Eric DeCosta has “spoken to teams about acquiring a receiver” (subscription required). A blockbuster deal such as the one involving Brown is unlikely, though, given the team’s sparse salary cap space and run-heavy offense.

Assuming a sizeable move isn’t made in the coming weeks, Zrebiec names Proche as the incumbent wideout best-positioned to see an increased workload. While Bateman is in line to take on the role of No. 1 receiver, and All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews will see a healthy target share, the 2020 sixth-rounder could be in line for a starting spot. He has totalled just 17 receptions to date, but put up substantial production during his college career at SMU.

Given his track record in player swaps (from Brown most recently, to Orlando Brown Jr. last offseason), DeCosta making a trade for another wideout would come as little surprise at this point. Even if that happens, however, the position will remain one to watch throughout training camp and into the start of the season.

Ravens A Viable Destination For Free Agent WRs?

Historically known as a franchise left out of contention for free agent wide receivers to join, the Ravens may find themselves in unfamiliar territory. According to PFF’s Doug Kyed, Baltimore was labelled by a source as “an attractive landing spot” for veterans still on the open market. 

The Ravens have seen a number of changes to their WR room this offseason. Departures at the position include Miles Boykin being claimed off waivers by the Steelers, and Sammy Watkins signing with the Packers after his one-year stint in Baltimore. The most impactful loss, of course, was that of Marquise Brown, whose trade request was honored during the draft when he was dealt to the Cardinals.

Those moves left the team thin on the depth chart, and with very little experience at the position. 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman is slated to become the No. 1 wideout in Brown’s absence, and will look to build off of an injury-shortened rookie campaign in which he flashed potential. The rest of the position group is led by Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace – a trio which has combined to make 72 catches in the NFL.

That left many expecting the Ravens to select at least one wideout during the draft; while the team did add pass-catchers in the form of tight ends Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely, no perimeter players were brought in. Free agency then represented the next avenue by which additions could be made, something general manager Eric DeCosta acknowledged when speaking about the roster.

“We like our receivers, we do” he said last month, adding, “we will add players to the mix. We’re doing that right now, and we’ll look at veteran players as well.” One such veteran is Will Fuller, whom Kyed names as a logical candidate for Baltimore to sign. The 28-year-old could add a speed element which was lost with Brown being traded away, and would, in all likelihood, represent another short-term, low-cost commitment the team has regularly made at the position. Baltimore could also consider T.Y. Hilton, who returned to the Colts in 2021 after receiving a larger offer from the Ravens.

With a roster spot and, quite possibly, a healthy number of targets available, those two and other wideouts still searching for a home may consider coming to Baltimore more than others have in recent years.

The NFL’s Longest-Tenured GMs

Wednesday, we took a look at how the 2022 offseason changed the HC landscape. While 10 new sideline leaders are in place for 2022, not quite as much turnover transpired on the general manager front. Five new decision-makers, however, have moved to the top of teams’ front office hierarchies over the past six months.

The Bears, Giants, Raiders and Vikings rebooted their entire operations, hiring new HC-GM combos. The Minnesota move bumped out one of the previous top-10 longest-tenured GMs, with 16-year Vikings exec Rick Spielman no longer in power in the Twin Cities. The Steelers’ shakeup took the NFL’s longest-tenured pure GM out of the mix. Kevin Colbert was with the Steelers since 2000, and although he is still expected to remain with the team in a reduced capacity, the 22-year decision-maker stepped down shortly after Ben Roethlisberger wrapped his career.

Twelve teams have now hired a new GM in the past two offseasons, though a bit more staying power exists here compared to the HC ranks. Two GMs (the Cardinals’ Steve Keim and Chargers’ Tom Telesco) have begun their 10th years at the helms of their respective front offices. They have hired three HCs apiece. The Buccaneers’ Jason Licht is closing in on a decade in power in Tampa Bay; Licht will now work with his fourth HC in Todd Bowles. Beyond that, a bit of a gap exists. But a handful of other executives have been in power for at least five seasons.

Here is how long every GM or de facto GM has been in place with his respective franchise:

  1. Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys): April 18, 1989[1]
  2. Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals): August 5, 1991[2]
  3. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000[3]
  4. Mickey Loomis (New Orleans Saints): May 14, 2002
  5. John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks): January 19, 2010; signed extension in 2021
  6. Howie Roseman (Philadelphia Eagles): January 29, 2010; signed extension in 2022
  7. Les Snead (Los Angeles Rams): February 10, 2012; signed extension in 2019
  8. Steve Keim (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2013; signed extension in 2022
  9. Tom Telesco (Los Angeles Chargers): January 9, 2013; signed extension in 2018
  10. Jason Licht (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 21, 2014; signed extension in 2021
  11. Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins): January 4, 2016[4]
  12. Jon Robinson (Tennessee Titans): January 14, 2016; signed extension in 2022
  13. John Lynch (San Francisco 49ers): January 29, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  14. Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts): January 30, 2017; signed extension in 2021
  15. Brandon Beane (Buffalo Bills): May 9, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  16. Brett Veach (Kansas City Chiefs): July 11, 2017; signed extension in 2020
  17. Brian Gutekunst (Green Bay Packers): January 7, 2018
  18. Eric DeCosta (Baltimore Ravens): January 7, 2019
  19. Joe Douglas (New York Jets): June 7, 2019
  20. Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns): January 27, 2020
  21. Nick Caserio (Houston Texans): January 5, 2021
  22. George Paton (Denver Broncos): January 13, 2021
  23. Scott Fitterer (Carolina Panthers): January 14, 2021
  24. Brad Holmes (Detroit Lions): January 14, 2021
  25. Terry Fontenot (Atlanta Falcons): January 19, 2021
  26. Trent Baalke (Jacksonville Jaguars): January 21, 2021
  27. Martin Mayhew (Washington Commanders): January 22, 2021
  28. Joe Schoen (New York Giants): January 21, 2022
  29. Ryan Poles (Chicago Bears): January 25, 2022
  30. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah (Minnesota Vikings): January 26, 2022
  31. Dave Ziegler (Las Vegas Raiders): January 30, 2022
  32. Omar Khan (Pittsburgh Steelers): May 24, 2022

Footnotes:

  1. Jones has been the Cowboys’ de facto general manager since former GM Tex Schramm resigned in April 1989.
  2. Brown has been the Bengals’ de facto GM since taking over as the team’s owner in August 1991.
  3. Belichick has been the Patriots’ de facto GM since shortly after being hired as the team’s head coach in January 2000.
  4. Although Grier was hired in 2016, he became the Dolphins’ top football exec on Dec. 31, 2018

Ravens Resume Contract Talks With Lamar Jackson

The Ravens’ offseason has been dominated by the distinct lack of progress being made regarding contract negotiations with Lamar Jackson. With the former MVP back at the team’s facility this week, though, he was able to provide an update on the situation. 

[RELATED: Jackson Reports To Ravens’ Minicamp]

When speaking to the media after the team’s final practice before training camp, the 25-year-old said that he has been in conversation with GM Eric DeCosta about his contract status this week (Twitter link via the Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec). That is in line with previous negotiations, as Jackson represents himself and DeCosta has personally handled talks throughout this process.

Jackson added that he “expects to stay with Ravens for his career,” something which seemed like an inevitability at one point but has since been clouded by the growing belief he will play on the fifth-year option in 2022. If that were to take place, the door would be opened to a pair of franchise-tag years, in a situation similar to the one involving Kirk Cousins in Washington.

On that point, ESPN’s Jamison Hensley reported before Jackson’s remarks today that there is “not a lot of optimism Baltimore and Jackson can agree to an extension before the season.” Talks between the two sides, even for a brief period, could change that sentiment, especially considering a different statement Jackson made.

Jackson “does feel worthy of a contract extension” at this time (Twitter link via Zrebiec). That contradicts the notion from earlier in the offseason that his focus would be squarely placed on the upcoming season, and remarks from owner Steve Bisciotti that he felt the need to win a Super Bowl before commanding a sizeable raise.

Jackson also made it clear that his unprecedented absence from Baltimore’s OTAs “was not contract-related,” as noted by Hensley (on Twitter). On the other hand, when asked about his planned attendance at training camp and the beginning of the regular season, he replied, “We’re having a conversation about it. I don’t know” (Twitter link).

Depending on how talks go, there could be progress made on an extension in the near future. It still appears likely, however, that this storyline will continue into the summer.

Ravens Seeking Veteran Edge Rush Addition?

This time of the offseason is rife with teams looking to round out their depth charts with available veterans who can help fill remaining roster holes. In the case of the Ravens, that could lead them to be players on the edge rusher market. 

[RELATED: Ravens Eyeing Veteran WRs?]

Jeff Zrebiec of the Athletic (subscription required) writes that Baltimore will “likely still sign a free agent pass rusher”. The team has already added a number of notable players on defense recently, including veteran cornerback Kyle Fuller. Their front seven could stand to be bolstered further, though.

The Ravens currently have Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh at the top of their depth chart at the outside linebacker position. The former stepped into a larger role after the departures of Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue last offseason, and responded by putting up career highs in sacks (seven) and tackles (59). However, he suffered a torn Achilles in the season finale, putting his Week 1 availability in question.

That would place an even heavier burden on Oweh, who flashed potential with a five-sack rookie campaign, and the team’s other young options at the position, Jaylon FergusonDaelin Hayes and, potentially at some point this season, David Ojabo. As a result, it came as little surprise when general manager Eric DeCosta said in April that the team wasn’t finished making additions in the edge department. However, the team didn’t select a pass rusher in the draft other than the injured Ojabo, leaving the June free agent market as the last realistic avenue to add to the unit.

With respect to veterans, the likeliest move could be a reunion with Justin Houston. The Ravens placed the rarely-used UFA tender on the 33-year-old last month, pointing to another low-cost, one-year deal being possible in the near future. The longtime Chief totalled 4.5 sacks in 15 games, providing an experienced presence to an otherwise young unit. If not Houston, other options for the Ravens to target include Trey Flowers and Jason Pierre-Paul. By training camp, the team could very well have signed one of those three, or another edge rusher, to add depth to a position group facing a number of questions.

Ravens Notes: WRs, Clark, Ojabo

The Ravens were busier than expected during Round 1 of last week’s draft, making not one but two selections. To acquire the second pick, of course, they honored Marquise Brown‘s trade request. That was the largest of a number of receiver departures this offseason, leaving many surprised the team didn’t draft a wideout at any point over the weekend.

When asked about that, general manager Eric DeCosta said, “it wasn’t for a lack of effort. I think, honestly, the fact that there was a run of receivers in the first round like there was … I wouldn’t say it was a great receiver class in general, compared to some of the years… There were some receivers that we liked; we tried to take a couple guys at different points… I said this last year, but we like our receivers.” 

Baltimore’s WR room now consists of recent draftees Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Tylan Wallace. DeCosta did say, though, that the team “will add players to the mix”, a process which will likely involve diving into the remaining free agent market.

Here are some more notes from around Charm City:

  • Regarding DeCosta’s above remark about failing to land draft targets at WR, they were apparently one pick away from selecting Calvin Austin III, according to Peter King of FMIA. As he details, Baltimore was prepared to use pick No. 139 on the Memphis speedster, but the Steelers took him at 138. While they didn’t draft a wideout, the Ravens did add a pair of tight ends in the fourth round: Charlie Kolar and Isiah Likley.
  • After the Ravens drafted safety Kyle Hamilton 14th overall, some have raised questions about Chuck Clark‘s future with the team. CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora writes that it’s “hard to see” Baltimore keeping the latter much longer, given Hamilton’s skillset and the recent trend of trading away valued players seeking new and/or larger roles.
  • Another draft pick vaunted for its relative value was that of edge rusher David Ojabo in the second round. His reason for falling out of the first round – a torn Achilles suffered at his pro day – has many expecting the Michigan product to miss his entire rookie season. However, as ESPN’s Jamison Hensley writes, the team is “optimistic that at some point this year he’ll have a chance to play”, a sentiment which Ojabo himself also shares.

Marquise Brown Requested Trade Out Of Baltimore

The first of two sizeable trades involving wide receivers saw Marquise Brown dealt from the Ravens to the Cardinals. To pundits and fans alike, the swap came as a surprise, but such a move had apparently been a distinct possibility for months. 

[RELATED: Ravens Trade Brown To Cardinals For First-Round Pick]

When speaking to the media after last night’s first round, general manager Eric DeCosta said Brown’s desire to be dealt was well-known in the organization long before it became public. That was further verified by the events which took place during the build-up to the draft. As NFL Network’s James Palmer noted (on Twitter) last night, ‘Hollywood’ himself was already at the Arizona draft party by the time the trade was announced.

That’s a complicated topic” DeCosta said about the trade. “For me personally, complicated because Marquise was my first pick and one of my favorite guys on the team. But Marquise came to me after the season and requested that he be traded. He was not happy and wanted to play elsewhere.

It was something I anguished over for a long time. He would tell you that he and I had many conversations throughout the spring… This was a situation where it was going to be impossible for the club to truly win [the deal], but we try to do what’s best for the player.”

The trade sees Brown reunited with former Oklahoma teammate Kyler Murray, and will give the Cardinals a replacement for the speed at the position they lost with Christian Kirk‘s departure. The Ravens, meanwhile, elected not to use the 23rd overall pick on a direct WR replacement (as the Titans did after trading A.J. Brown), instead picking All-American center Tyler Linderbaum. That leaves the team thin on the WR depth chart, with 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman and All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews headlining Baltimore’s pass-catching corps.

How the Ravens fill the void left by the trade, and the level of success Brown has with the Cardinals will be two storylines worth watching over the remainder of the offseason and into 2022.