The Ravens' 2023 offseason will be a fascinating one, with major decisions looming.
Here are the top storylines entering the offseason:
What happens with Lamar Jackson?
This is at the top of the list. Jackson has played out his rookie contract. Now the Ravens will need to place the franchise tag on him or reach a long-term deal (or both), for Jackson to be their quarterback next season and/or beyond. The only other avenue would be to tag and trade their star, because he's not going to hit the open free-agent market.
If the Ravens place the franchise tag on Jackson by the March 7 deadline, they will have to choose whether it's an exclusive or non-exclusive tag. The exclusive tag comes with a higher price tag (projected $45 million compared to $32.5 million), but it would keep Jackson from negotiating with other teams. A non-exclusive tag would mean he can reach a deal with another team that the Ravens could either match or get two first-round picks.
The Ravens and Jackson both said all last offseason that they want a long-term marriage. Now it remains to be seen whether they get to the alter.
How do the Ravens upgrade at wide receiver?
The wide receiver corps was the biggest weakness in the 2022 offense, and Baltimore will surely look to upgrade it this offseason. Rashod Bateman's season-ending foot injury was a major reason for the struggles. He's expected to be back next season, but the Ravens have seen that players coming back from such injuries need time to get back to full speed. Devin Duvernay is also coming off a season-ending foot injury.
The Ravens need more depth and top-end talent, but how do they get it? They would have a tough time fitting the salary of a top unrestricted free agent under their cap. What mid-level options (or cap casualties) will be available, and would adding one (or two) be enough to significantly upgrade the unit? The draft will yet again have plenty of options, but they've spent first-round picks on wide receivers in two of the past four years. Do they do it again at the expense of other needs?
How does the Ravens offense change?
The Ravens' innovative, run-heavy scheme ushered in by Greg Roman has led them to much success, but the passing game has lagged behind and struggled when Jackson has been injured. Baltimore's old-school philosophy is counter to the rest of the NFL, and the Ravens will need to decide whether to continue down that path or shift gears.
A major part of that decision centers around Jackson, who is the best running quarterback of all-time. If Jackson is going to stay long-term and take the next step in his evolution, do the Ravens need to rebuild the offense to have him throw more and run less? If so, Baltimore may need major investments in receiving weapons.
On the flip side, does Baltimore stick with its offensive vision based on the current roster construction? Running back J.K. Dobbins is pining for a bigger role, and he'll be ready for it one year healthier from his major knee injury. The Ravens have a strong offensive line projected to remain largely intact. It's hard to imagine Baltimore straying too far away from its identity as a physical team on both sides of the ball. A strong defense and powerful run game can take a team far. Balance is always the goal, and determining offensive vision and scheme is part of the process.
How do the Ravens clear salary-cap space?
The Ravens are projected to have just more than $40 million in salary-cap space, per Spotrac, but much (or all) of that could disappear if Jackson signs a franchise tag tender. That means they may need to part ways with some respected veterans or work out lowered salary-cap hits.
Chuck Clark is a highly respected member of the Ravens secondary and was once again a key piece of Baltimore's secondary. However, with a salary-cap hit of about $6.3 million next year, the veteran safety said he enters this offseason uncertain about his future in Baltimore.
Clark held off first-round pick Kyle Hamilton for the starting safety job next to Marcus Williams, but the rookie came on strong and finished with a stellar playoff game in Cincinnati. Hamilton proved he's going to have a major role in this defense for a long time. The question is at what position. He flourished once the Ravens put him in more of a slot cornerback role. Is that valuable enough and such a good fit that he stays, or does he move into the more traditional safety spot manned by Clark?
Running back Gus Edwards is slated for a salary-cap hit of $5.6 million, per OvertheCap.com. Do the Ravens make Dobbins their clear No. 1 back moving forward?
Defensive tackle Calais Campbell has a projected salary-cap hit of $9.4 million in 2023 and is mulling retirement again. Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington took steps forward this season, and rookie defensive tackle Travis Jones got a lot of valuable experience and flashed his potential. Are they ready to take over the defensive line?
Will Marcus Peters return?
Baltimore and Marcus Peters have been a great fit since the Ravens traded for him in 2019. That's why the Ravens gave him a contract extension before that year was up and kept him at a $15.5 million salary cap hit last year despite him coming off a major knee injury. But now he's a pending unrestricted free agent and his future is unclear.
Peters' knowledge and competitive fire rub off on his teammates and he's been one of the game's premier takeaway artists. However, Peters had a career-low one interception in 13 games this year and gave up some big plays in crucial situations. He admitted that he was “second-guessing” himself this season at times.
If the Ravens and Peters don't have a reunion, who would Baltimore turn to as a starter cornerback opposite Marlon Humphrey? Is Brandon Stephens, who stepped in well when Peters was hurt last year, ready? Rookie Jalyn Armour-Davis missed much of the year. Even a first-round pick would likely need some time before stepping in as an immediate starter.
Are the young pass rushers ready to spread their wings?
The Ravens have decisions to make with another defensive leader. Outside linebacker Justin Houston is a pending unrestricted free agent after leading the team with 9.5 sacks, his highest total since 2019. Houston said after the playoff loss that he would like to return, but at what price? Sacks often lead to paydays on the open market, but Houston will turn 34 years old in a few days.
The Ravens will need to decide whether members of their young front seven are ready to spread their wings. Odafe Oweh didn't boom as hoped for in his sophomore season, and second-round rookie David Ojabo barely saw the field in his rookie season. The Ravens' 48 sacks this season were tied for the fifth most in the league and they don't want to take a step backwards in that department.
Which other free agents stay or leave?
A couple other key pending unrestricted free agents are guard Ben Powers and tight end Josh Oliver.
Powers grew into a highly effective and reliable starter on an offensive line that really gelled throughout the year and will be a strength of the team in 2023. Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris gives out an offensive lineman of the week award after each game and Powers won it more than any of his teammates. Powers said he doesn’t know what the future holds.
Oliver developed into a top-tier blocker that was a key part of Baltimore's offense, similar to the role Nick Boyle held before his knee injury. The Ravens signed Boyle to multiple contract extensions. Are they ready to do the game for Oliver even though they have two young tight ends waiting in the wings with Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar?
Other pending unrestricted free agents include wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, edge Jason Pierre-Paul, cornerback Kyle Fuller, defensive end Brent Urban and running back Justice Hill.
Do the Ravens sign anyone to an early contract extension?
The Ravens will have to determine by May 1 whether to exercise the fifth-year option for linebacker Patrick Queen, which would keep him under contract through 2024. Given Queen's breakout year and the prospect of having arguably the NFL's best inside linebacker duo for at least two more seasons, the likelihood is high.
Beyond that, could Baltimore reach contract extensions with any of its other young talents who don't have expiring contracts? Dobbins, Duvernay, Madubuike and Washington would be other candidates from the 2020 draft. They will all be entering the final year of their rookie contracts next season.
What tender does Tyler Huntley get?
The Ravens' quarterback situation doesn't end with Jackson. Tyler Huntley is a pending restricted free agent. That means the Ravens must submit a qualifying offer (tender) before March 15 at 4 p.m. or he hits the open market. The question is not so much "if" as "how high" of a tender.
Huntley was 2-3 as the Ravens' starting quarterback, including the playoffs, after Jackson went down. He played valiantly in the wild-card loss, but his fumble on the goal line will haunt him all offseason. Still, Huntley has proven that he's a high-quality backup quarterback and the Jackson situation could certainly impact Huntley's worth.
Do the Ravens try to get more draft picks?
The Ravens are expected to have just five draft picks in 2023, as they traded reported second- and fifth-round picks for Roquan Smith and aren't projected to receive any compensatory selections. Baltimore made 11 picks in last year's NFL Draft, and General Manager Eric DeCosta loves stockpiling lottery tickets, as he calls them.
Baltimore has the 22nd-overall pick and could look to move back to get more selections. But the Ravens could also have some major needs at wide receiver and cornerback that need to be addressed in the draft, and those are two premier positions that typically fly off the board.