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Late for Work: Insiders Expect Ravens to Pursue a 'Bell-Cow Back'

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) carries the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in East Rutherford, N.J.
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) carries the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in East Rutherford, N.J.

Zrebiec: "I Foresee [The Ravens] Adding a Bell-Cow Back"

Fans have longed to witness a blue-chip running back paired with Lamar Jackson. There have been bursts of great play from running backs Mark Ingram II, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and others, but never a superstar in the backfield to complement Jackson's ever-threatening take-off ability.

That all may change in 2024, with The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec and other NFL insiders envisioning the Ravens adding one a top-notch back in free agency next month.

"Maybe this isn't semi-wild because it's been speculated, but the Ravens are going to add a big-name running back this offseason," Zrebiec wrote. "I don't know whether it will be Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, Austin Ekeler or Josh Jacobs, but I foresee them adding a bell-cow back."

ESPN's Jeremy Fowler said he's hearing the same, noting the Ravens have done their homework on the potential running backs.

"Well, they could add a playmaker," Fowler said. "We're talking about a potential running back. They're looking at some of the top guys. Saquon [Barkley], Derrick Henry, D'Andre Swift; they're at least doing the leg work."

However, Fowler notes it will all come down to the money.

"Price point could be an issue. Baltimore's typically not a big spender, especially at that position, but there are five or six really good players and the running back market has suffered in recent years," Fowler said. "So, they could maybe wait it out and see if anybody falls down to them at the right price range and could get an elite guy. I talked to somebody with the team that admitted, 'Could you imagine Saquon Barkley [and] Lamar Jackson [in] the same backfield?'"

As it stands, the Ravens have $16.6 million in cap space before any franchise tags or new deals come about. But the potential to add the likes of Henry, Barkley, Josh Jacobs, or others could add another threatening dynamic to the Ravens' upper echelon rushing attack.

Constructing Offensive Line a Top Priority for Ravens

As it stands, the Ravens have three of five starting offensive linemen from 2023 under contract for the upcoming season, with guards John Simpson and Kevin Zeitler unsigned.

This, along with the possibility of parting ways with right tackle Morgan Moses or even left tackle Ronnie Stanley as cap casualties has Zrebiec seeing the offensive trenches being the Ravens' top priority this offseason.

"General manager Eric DeCosta's top priority has to be to solidify the offensive line. That will also be his biggest challenge," Zrebiec wrote. "Baltimore's offensive line is currently a stud center Tyler Linderbaum and four question marks. They have a few internal options, so the cupboard is not bare, but DeCosta will have to use multiple assets on the offensive line this offseason."

Regarding the cupboard not being bare, the Ravens have numerous options to fill the guard roles, with offensive linemen Patrick Mekari, Ben Cleveland, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and Andrew Vorhees looking to contend for starting roles. Right tackle could also be filled by waiting-in-the-wings Daniel Faalele, who saw snaps.

Ravens Must Look for a Left Tackle Replacement

Heading into 2024, the Ravens have a decision to make on Stanley as he boasts the second-highest cap hit on the team at $26.17 million. Whether that remains the case will come down to DeCosta, writes Aaron Schatz of ESPN and FTNFantasy.

"Cutting Stanley before June 1 would save $8.3 million on the salary cap but would leave $17.8 million in dead money for 2024," Schatz wrote. "A post-June 1 cut would save $15 million with $11.2 million in dead money for 2024 and additional dead money in 2025."

For Schatz, the cap relief appears to outweigh keeping Stanley.

"Stanley struggled last season for the Ravens, and they rotated him with Patrick Mekari. Stanley hasn't played a full season since that 2019 All-Pro year, and he ranked 38th in pass block win rate (87.2%) among tackles in 2023," Schatz wrote. "… There's no clear replacement for Stanley on this roster. Mekari is considered more of a swing tackle, a stellar backup but not a starter capable of protecting Lamar Jackson's blind side for 17 games. But the Ravens are probably going to need to find a replacement for Stanley this offseason, so they might as well get some cap relief while finding a more trustworthy left tackle."

Finding a starting caliber left tackle – in a division with perennial defensive player of the year pass rushers no less – isn't a simple feat. But Sports Illustrated’s Nick Faria believes Baltimore is the team to do so, and the 2024 Draft is the way to go.

"The 2024 class at tackle is arguably one of the most talented in recent memory with as many as six players receiving clear first-round grades," Faria wrote. "Players like Joe Alt, Olu Fashanu, and Taliese Fuaga may be out of the running for a contender like Baltimore, but the later names of Tyler Guyton, and Patrick Paul could all be in contention when the Ravens make their selection. Should the Ravens even target the tackle position, though? When looking at 2023, the answer is an emphatic yes."

For Faria, adding a tackle may not be about the 2024 season, but bringing a player to take the reins in 2025.

"Immediate help, or long-term stability? That's the question the Ravens will have to answer in the draft this year," Fauria wrote. "A first look at some of the tackles at the Scouting Combine could be the first step toward seeing which way the team will go."

Quick Hits

  • CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin selected cornerback Stephon Gilmore for the Ravens in the CBS free agent mock draft, writing, "Patrick Queen is on the board here, but having already paid big bucks to Roquan Smith, Baltimore instead looks for a more affordable defensive upgrade, adding the seasoned Gilmore opposite Marlon Humphrey in the secondary."

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