Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta was crystal clear on the subject of the Ravens' offensive line Friday, telling the media that improving the unit is a "point of emphasis" in 2022.
"For us to be the very best offense we can be, we've got to have a strong, commanding offensive line that can control people at the point of attack," he said.
Illustrating the urgency, DeCosta gave a specific answer when asked how much change in the O-line is likely to occur.
"I think we'll probably add two guys, possibly, potentially," he said.
He then outlined the many methods he can use to manufacture such change, starting with the draft and free agency.
"If the right player becomes available, we'll probably make a move," he said. "We were very happy last year when (guard) Kevin Zeitler became available and we pounced. That's kind of what our mindset is. If we're in the draft and there's a guy at 14 and we like him, we'll take him. If we're comfortable trading back to 20, thinking a guy will be there who is an offensive lineman, we'll take him."
He also raised the possibility of adding players via trades and other teams being forced to cut players due to salary-cap issues.
"If there happens to be a cap casualty on March 18 and that guy looks like he can make our team better, we'll try to swoop in. That's basically our mindset," DeCosta said. "If a team calls and offers a guy and we have the draft capital to make that happen, potentially that's something we might look at. There's a lot of different ways to build the team."
The front office addressed the O-line coming into the 2021 season, signing Zeitler and tackle Alejandro Villanueva in free agency and drafting guard Ben Cleveland with a third-round pick. They also picked up tackle Ja'Wuan James as a possible future puzzle piece after he suffered a torn Achilles and was cut by the Broncos.
But the line struggled, finishing the season ranked No. 21 out of 32 teams, according to Pro Football Focus.
Although it dominated at times, only one team allowed more sacks and Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged earlier this week that the running game was not as effective as usual.
Injuries played a major role, piling up to the point that nearly a dozen O-lineman saw the field in 2021. The biggest absence was Ronnie Stanley, one of the NFL's top tackles, who only played in one game before undergoing season-ending ankle surgery for the second straight year.
DeCosta shouldered the blame for the team having counted on Stanley to play in 2021, only to lose him.
"My mistake," he said. "My understanding and belief was Ronnie would come back and play good football for us, be healthy and be strong and be ready to go, and he wasn't. That was a big setback."
Although DeCosta declined Friday to get into the specifics of Stanley's current rehab, he said he was "optimistic" Stanley would play in 2022.
"I truly believe Ronnie will be back this year and play good football, play winning football and become again the Ronnie Stanley that was an All-Pro left tackle," DeCosta said. "If he can do that, it will be a huge, huge advantage for us moving forward."
Stanley isn't the only question mark among the team's incumbent O-linemen. Bradley Bozeman, the starting center, is due to hit free agency in March if the Ravens can't re-sign him before then. Villanueva has been identified in the media as a potential cap casualty. Those two combined to make 33 starts in 2021.
But James, who was a starter in Denver, is expected to be fully recovered and available in 2022, and the team is also counting on the continued growth of young players such as Cleveland, Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers and Trystan Colon.
"Some of these young guys maturing and developing into the players we expected them to be when we drafted them … the burden is on them," DeCosta said.
The ideal in that respect is Patrick Mekari, a former undrafted free agent who signed a contract extension during the 2021 season, assuring him of an important role going forward. He was a standout at right tackle in 2021 but can play all five O-line positions.
It's far too early to know how the situation will shake out, but the Ravens have made it clear they're seeking an O-line that looks different and is more consistently effective in 2022.