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50 Words or Less: Why This Is a Critical Combine for Ravens

Baltimore Ravens executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta looks on during pre-game warm-ups before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Baltimore.
Baltimore Ravens executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta looks on during pre-game warm-ups before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Baltimore.

The NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis, and for most fans it's the beginning of the draft season.

The draft has been the Ravens' lifeblood throughout franchise history. They put an immense amount of importance on nailing it every year.

Looking at Baltimore's current situation, there's a case to be made why this year's offseason is more important than ever as the Ravens look to get over the hump and into the Super Bowl.

Here's why, and more thoughts, all in 50 words or less:

- Maybe the Ravens restructure Lamar Jackson's contract to free up salary-cap space, but either way, it's going to get expensive ($32.4 million projected for 2024). That means less space to add ancillary pieces or shop the free-agency market. Baltimore will need cheap, young talent to keep the window open.

- The Chiefs won back-to-back championships because of Patrick Mahomes and a bunch of major contributors on their rookie contracts (Rashee Rice, Trent McDuffie, George Karlaftis, Isiah Pacheco, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, L'Jarius Sneed and more). That's the model. Baltimore has a strong foundation of such players and will need more.

- After the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII and paid Joe Flacco his big deal, they made the playoffs one of the following five years until Jackson arrived in 2018. There are many reasons for that, but looming large among them is early-round draft misses during that era.

- Perhaps the most important order of business in Indy is progress with Justin Madubuike. A long-term deal would give the Ravens significantly more flexibility to make additions, cut/restructure fewer contracts. If he's on the franchise tag, suck that stomach in because it's time to tighten the belt.

- Keep in mind that the Combine is much more than what you see on TV. The 40-yard dashes are a piece of the scouting puzzle, but the discussions between general managers and agents, prospect interviews, and medical evaluations are a bigger deal. Negotiations go beyond Madubuike.

- News of the increased salary cap is definitely welcomed for the Ravens, but an additional roughly $10 million over expectations doesn't mean Baltimore has a spending spree incoming. If could be the difference in making some modest deals, but moreso, it probably means fewer cuts/restructures.

- According to Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland, the Ravens can save about $43.2 million with "simple" contract restructuring. Last offseason, void years were a chief mechanism to clear space. They won't do them all, but this year, several restructures could be the ticket to push money down the road.


581: Predicting Ravens Salary Cap Moves

Salary cap expert Brian McFarland from Russell Street Report joins our insiders, Ryan Mink and Garrett Downing, to talk about Baltimore's spending power, ways the Ravens can free up more money, what to expect with Justin Madubuike and others key free agents, and more.

- Pending free agent Geno Stone made it clear this week that he wants to be a starter, which would be an affirmation of his value. A reunion in Baltimore before testing the market was probably never going to happen. My guess is Stone finds the suitor he's looking for.

- With such a loaded offensive line class in this year's draft, it's reasonable to think Baltimore could get a plug-and-play starter at tackle, guard, or both. That has likely played a part in the Ravens' decisions on Kevin Zeitler, Ronnie Stanley, and Morgan Moses before the draft.

- The Ravens have a strong trio of wide receivers in place with Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, and Nelson Agholor. I'd be surprised if Eric DeCosta takes a fourth first-round wideout, but will have an eye on Day 2 receiver prospects in Indy. He wants to keep that room well stocked.

- Baltimore needs to hit scripted deep shots more consistently for the offense to take the next step. Speed is always a premium, but a player who excels at making contested catches could fit Jackson well. He's shown great chemistry with Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely. How about a big wideout?

- There's lots of buzz about the potential for the Ravens to make a run at a free agent running back, particularly Derrick Henry. Count me in as an engaged listener. It's always right player, right price for the Ravens, but I think adding a difference-making running back is important.

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