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50 Words or Less: Ravens Have 'Won' Free Agency Their Way

From left: DT Justin Madubuike, RB Derrick Henry
From left: DT Justin Madubuike, RB Derrick Henry

Rarely do the teams that "win" free agency go on to win division titles and playoff games.

There's good reason why the teams who make the biggest splashes in free agency can do so. They have ample salary-cap space because they aren't paying a franchise quarterback and they aren't drafting, developing, and re-signing homegrown stars.

The Ravens check those boxes, which means this isn't their time of the year to shine. Once again, Baltimore has remained true to itself through the first week of free agency. The Ravens have "won" their way, and they're still getting high marks from pundits.

Before the doors opened, they signed one of the league's best defensive linemen, Justin Madubuike, to an extension. Then they grabbed the league's leading rusher of the past eight years in Derrick Henry. Those two moves will have a tremendous impact on the Ravens' 2024 season and beyond.

Here are my thoughts on what has transpired the past week, all in 50 words or less:

Age isn't just a number, but it's also not something to be scared of. The tape, the player, the fit all matter more than a birth certificate. The Ravens operate that way and have been richly rewarded by high production from 30+-year-old players over the years. Henry is next.

Baltimore has (so far) lost a whopping eight free agents to other teams, which is higher-than-usual turnover. The reason is because their 2020 draft class was so strong and because so many veterans they signed to one-year deals last offseason performed so well. Eric DeCosta should take a bow.

Right now, Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland estimates the Ravens have essentially $4.7 million in usable salary-cap space to spend, but with room to create more with restructures. I expect they'll spend a chunk on a pass rusher (maybe Jadeveon Clowney), but otherwise a series of smaller short-term veteran deals.

The details from Ronnie Stanley's reported contract restructure have come to light, and they clearly spell out a prove-it-year for the veteran left tackle. The Ravens reportedly saved more than $9 million on this year's cap and Stanley is set to become a free agent next offseason. He's highly motivated.

The Ravens' demolition portion of the offensive line "rebuild" is done. Now comes the fun part. I expect Baltimore to sign a veteran (likely interior) at some point, but the draft will be the primary avenue. Expect an early offensive tackle, followed by another guard to add to the competition.

While Baltimore's offensive line will have three new starters, the entire defensive line is back. That's great news for new Defensive Line Coach Dennis Johnson and Baltimore's ability to keep offensive linemen off Roquan Smith, especially with Patrick Queen moving on. The Ravens defense will be strong up front.

Aaron Donald's retirement feels like a passing-of-the-torch moment for Madubuike. Chris Jones is now the league's top dog, but nobody resembles Donald more than Madubuike, who has trained and modeled his game after the future Hall of Famer. Donald exploded with 20.5 sacks in Year 5. That's lofty, but possible?

The Steelers' trade of former first-round quarterback Kenny Pickett just two years into his career underscores, yet again, just how perfect the Ravens' transition went from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson. In limbo since Big Ben left, Pittsburgh is now tying its hopes to Russell Wilson with no long-term solution.

Speaking of the Steelers, Queen's introductory press conference comments that he's "where I wanted to be" and plans to be a "villain" in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry aren't surprising. He talked the same way on this side and there's no way you can go into Pittsburgh and look soft.

Between Queen, Geno Stone (Bengals), Hollywood Brown (Chiefs) and DeShon Elliott (Steelers), the Ravens will see plenty of familiar faces when they face their rivals. Oh, and there will be a Harbowl in Los Angeles. More than anything it just makes the Ravens' 2024 schedule that much juicer.

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