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Five Questions for Ravens as Offseason Begins

DT Justin Madubuike
DT Justin Madubuike

The Ravens' season ended a game sooner than they planned after Sunday's loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship.

Here are five key questions for the Ravens heading into the offseason:

How many key players will depart in free agency?

All teams face this question, but the Ravens could have a higher turnover than usual with 23 pending unrestricted free agents.

The top players on that list are defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and inside linebacker Patrick Queen, young defensive studs who made the Pro Bowl for the first time. Madubuike led all NFL interior linemen with 13 sacks and Queen had a career-high 133 tackles, teaming with All-Pro Roquan Smith to give Baltimore a premier inside linebacker duo.

Madubuike and Queen are going to command top dollar as free agents and it's going to be difficult for the Ravens to sign both.

Other significant contributors who may not be back include: starting right guard Kevin Zeitler, pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, who combined for 18.5 sacks; running back Gus Edwards; starting left guard John Simpson; safety Geno Stone, who had a career year with seven interceptions; cornerback Ronald Darby, who was solid as both a starter and backup; wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Nelson Agholor; and slot corner Arthur Maulet.

It's too early to say how many free agents won't be back. But a significant number of the nameplates in the Ravens' locker room will be changing, which is another reason why so many players were heartbroken after Sunday's loss.

"The group, you won't get it back again next year, but I felt like we had a squad to win it," Clowney said. "It kind of hurt more than anything that has happened in my career to lose that game."

How will the offense continue to evolve?

In Lamar Jackson's four playoff losses during his career, Baltimore has scored 17 points (2018), 12 points (2019), three points (2020) and 10 points (2023).

Baltimore's offense improved in 2023, finishing No. 1 in rushing, No. 6 overall and No. 22 in passing after finishing No. 2 in rushing, No. 16 overall and No. 28 in passing in 2022.

However, scoring just 10 points in the conference championship was a huge disappointment, equaling the Ravens' lowest point total of the season. After the Ravens led the NFL in rushing, running backs Gus Edwards (20 yards) and Justice Hill (three yards) had just three carries apiece against Kansas City.

The offense under first-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken hit its stride from Weeks 7 through 17, averaging 34 points during a 10-game stretch when the Ravens went 9-1. But the Chiefs made moving the football difficult for the Ravens, who didn't help themselves by committing three turnovers. Kansas City's defense is often overshadowed by the exploits of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, but the Chiefs ranked No. 2 in total defense and the Ravens didn't find enough answers to reach the Super Bowl.

In Mahomes' 17 playoff games, the Chiefs have only scored fewer than 20 points twice – when they lost the Super Bowl to Tampa Bay, 31-9 in 2021, and Sunday against the Ravens.

Jackson was happy with strides the offense made this season, and the emergence of second-year tight end Isaiah Likely gives the Ravens an avenue to explore utilizing more two tight end formations with Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews fully recovered from ankle surgery. Jackson is looking forward to the offense continuing to evolve.

"I'm very proud of my team," Jackson said. "We had a new system, offensive coordinator different things. We had adversity at the beginning of the season. We weren't playing well. People didn't know what the Ravens offense or defense was going to look like, and we made it all the way to this point.

"We've just got to put points on the board. That's the thing right now. There's nothing we could have done better to prepare for the game. If we had put points on the board, and we'd be talking about something else right now."

How will Jackson respond to another playoff disappointment?

John Elway played his first 14 seasons without winning a Super Bowl, then ended his career with back-to-back Super Bowl victories. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees played nine seasons before winning the Super Bowl.

Winning a championship often takes many years, even for great quarterbacks. Part of that journey is handling adversity and criticism along the way, especially in this age of social media and daily hot takes from pundits on television and radio.

Jackson sounded undaunted in his determination to win a Super Bowl after Sunday's loss, and he'll be provided with even more fuel from naysayers who are doubting whether he will reach his biggest goal.

"We were one game away from the Super Bowl – what I've been talking about and my team has been talking about all season – and we fell short," Jackson said. "We're not frustrated; we're just angry, because we know how hard we worked to get here."

At this time a year ago, Jackson was coming off a season he didn't finish due to injury, there was uncertainty about his contract status, and he was being criticized by many for not having an agent. He ended up signing a five-year contract extension that reportedly made him the highest paid player in league history at the time. Jackson had perhaps his best season, he played brilliantly in the second half of the division round against Houston, and the Ravens went deeper into the playoffs than ever before with him at quarterback.

Clowney, who was the No. 1-overall pick in 2014 and knows what it's like to enter the league with high expectations, believes Jackson will return with vengeance.

"I'd just tell him to keep God first and continue to do what he does and be him," Clowney said. "He's a leader regardless of what anyone thinks. Everybody in the locker room can vouch for that, we love to be around the guy.

"I'd tell him to keep your head up. I dealt with that scrutiny throughout my career, and I just kept my head up, keeping the people around that love me and kept them close and, 'Build from there and continue to move forward.'"

How much turnover will there be on the coaching staff?

As of Tuesday, Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald is a candidate to become the head coach of the Commanders or Seahawks, while Defensive Backs Coach Dennard Wilson was reportedly being pursued for several defensive coordinator positions.

Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Anthony Weaver, Pass Game Coordinator/Secondary Coach Chris Hewitt, Wide Receivers Coach Greg Lewis and Inside Linebacker Coach Zach Orr have all reportedly received coordinator interview requests.

The Ravens' defense was the first in league history to lead the NFL in scoring defense, sacks and takeaways and Head Coach John Harbaugh often talked about the strength of his staff. It's possible he may have some positions to fill in the coming days and weeks.

How will the Ravens attack the draft?

With the No. 30 pick in the first round and expected to have eight picks overall, which positions and prospects will the Ravens have high on their list?

Could they take another first-round wide receiver, with Beckham and Agholor possibly not returning? How much will their potential losses in free agency change their draft strategy?

Those are some of the questions the front office will ponder, but the Ravens' last two draft classes have been led by three studs – Zay Flowers, who became the team's leading receiver as a rookie, and 2022 first-rounders All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton and Pro Bowl center Tyler Linderbaum. The Ravens already have a strong young nucleus, with the ammunition to add even more talent this spring.

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