John Harbaugh Is Confident Ravens Can Keep Young Talent

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T Ronnie Stanley; OLB Matt Judon; CB Marlon Humphrey

If the Under Armour Performance Center were open to players, there would be a line forming – socially distanced, of course.

The Ravens have a cluster of young Pro Bowl players that will be looking for big second-year contracts, and it's going to stress their salary cap.

This offseason, outside linebacker Matthew Judon was the first up. The Ravens placed the franchise tag on him, meaning they have until next offseason to try to reach a long-term deal. Next will be left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Then cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tight end Mark Andrews and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. And don't look now, but MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson is coming around the corner.

Having too much talent is a good problem to have but finding the right solutions will play a part in how long the Ravens can prop open their Super Bowl window.

"I'm really confident that a lot of these players want to be back. I know we want them back," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "So, I think that we'll get a high number of these guys back."

Even Judon knows the "difficult" situation the Ravens are in trying to keep so many good pieces when their price tags will also skyrocket.

"I want to stay here for as long as I play, but I understand that it's a business and that they've kind of got a 'bad-good' problem to have," Judon said. "We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can't all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers. So, they have stuff that they have to address, and obviously, I have needs as well. If we can meet and work on that, I'm 'A-OK' with it."

It all starts with drafting well. The Ravens have drafted six Pro Bowlers since 2016, including three in the star-studded 2018 class that was Ozzie Newsome's final class. As long as the Ravens continue to draft well, and there's no reason to believe they won't, they will keep stockpiling the next crop of talent on cheaper rookie contracts.

"To me that's like golf. You play the shots as they're presented. The more shots you hit in the middle of the fairway, the cleaner the shots are going forward," Harbaugh said. "That would be drafting good players, and we've done that. We've drafted a lot of good players."

The other part is Harbaugh and his all-star coaching staff have developed the players well. For example, numerous Day 3 picks or undrafted players have gone to Pro Bowls or signed rich deals with other teams after getting a strong foundation in Baltimore. The list includes guard Kelechi Osemele, center Ryan Jensen, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, right tackle Rick Wagner, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, tight end Darren Waller and, most recently, defensive tackle Michael Pierce.

"I'm pretty sure that last year and the year before, everybody wasn't talking about how talented we were or what a great roster we had," Harbaugh said. "I think the guys have just done better than they were expected to do."

The Ravens have had a tough time keeping some of their homegrown talent in recent seasons, by virtue of Joe Flacco's contract, some extensions that didn't work out, and other factors. Linebacker C.J. Mosley, who went to four Pro Bowls in five seasons in Baltimore, was the latest example.

"We have not been in good cap shape for the last six, seven years," Harbaugh said. "Every year we've been behind the eight-ball with the cap, and that's just the way it was. This year was a little better. Next year will be a lot better. With that, we'll have to sign guys, but we'll have money, too."

Baltimore wants to avoid losing such quality players like that moving forward, and General Manager Eric DeCosta taken a different approach to structuring contracts to give itself more flexibility from year to year.

"We'll keep as many guys as we can. I am very optimistic about the fact that we have a good cap situation going forward," Harbaugh said. "I'm very optimistic that Eric and his crew will just do an amazing job of figuring out the numbers. Hopefully the agents will work with us, so we'll put it in perspective. We'll keep the guys we can and the guys that we can't, we'll replace. We'll keep building what we're doing here."

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