The Ravens' offseason is underway, as new General Manager Eric DeCosta is in place and most of the coaching shuffling is done.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote up a full offseason primer, and we'll point out some of the more interesting nuggets:
Zrebiec: "Offensive playmakers. That has been their biggest need for several years now. With [Lamar] Jackson entrenched as the starter, the Ravens need to build an offense around him that best takes advantage of his skillset. They also need to add more speed at the offensive skill positions."
The Ravens are likely looking at another "revamp" of their receiver corps, as John Brown is slated to hit free agency and Michael Crabtree could be a "one-and-done in Baltimore," per Zrebiec.
Rookies Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley didn't play at all as rookies. Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon emerged in the backfield late in the year, but the Ravens could certainly bolster that group as well, especially with a big-play threat.
Zrebiec's other needs include the offensive line, a reliable backup quarterback, at least one young pass rusher, a safety/linebacker and another cornerback if the Ravens move on from Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.
"The Ravens' biggest need on defense is a fast and rangy safety and/or middle linebacker who can cover opposing tight ends," Zrebiec wrote. "That's been a major issue in recent seasons."
More Salary Cap Space
Ravens fans are surely tired of hearing every offseason that Baltimore is tight against the salary cap and thus unable to make any big moves. Well, this may be the year that could change.
"The Ravens will enter this offseason with a little more financial flexibility than they've had in the past. Estimates of their available salary cap space are in the $25 million range and there are ways they can create more," Zrebiec wrote.
"They have a host of over-30 veterans who are candidates to be let go, traded, or have their contracts reworked to ease their 2019 salary cap commitments. The Ravens aren't historically big spenders in free agency, but the money should be there if they need it."
Joe Flacco is the big item here, as moving on from the former franchise quarterback would provide a cap savings of $10.5 million. Other pricey veterans include Jimmy Smith, guard Marshal Yanda, Crabtree, safety Eric Weddle, Carr and others.
USA Today's Matthew Stevens outlined nine potential Ravens salary-cap casualties this offseason. Baltimore won't part ways with all of the players he mentioned, but some will come to fruition.
"If this entire list is released, it would free up an estimated $52.8 million on the 2019 salary cap, according to Over the Cap, giving Baltimore $84.6 million in available cap space," Stevens wrote.
C.J. Mosley Contract Update
So if the Ravens have money, one obvious item to spend it on would be linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is about to go to his fourth Pro Bowl in five seasons. Mosley is the Ravens' best unrestricted free agent and will command big money if he hits the open market.
Zrebiec reports that, according to sources, the Ravens and Mosley's agent, Jimmy Sexton, have had "recent" contract talks about the linebacker.
"Mosley has said that he'd like to stay in Baltimore and the Ravens typically don't let core defensive players get out of the building," Zrebiec wrote. "The hope is to get a deal done before the market opens in March."
ESPN feels it's "surprising" that the Ravens haven't reached a deal with Mosley already.
"He's a core leader for the NFL's No. 1 defense that could part ways with veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle," ESPN wrote. "If Baltimore fails to keep Mosley, it would go against the franchise's history. Of the Ravens' 10 first-round picks who made the Pro Bowl, nine were re-signed to a long-term deal. The only exception was guard Ben Grubbs."
The other option for Mosley would be to put the franchise tag on him, but that doesn't make the most dollars and cents. Since inside linebackers are lumped in with more expensive outside linebackers/pass rushers, the average of the top-five highest paid players would be more than $15 million.
"[That] would be a significant hit, but it would push the decision down the road and give the Ravens another year to groom a potential replacement," Zrebiec wrote.
Dream Free Agent (and More Realistic Ones)
One of the Ravens' more difficult decisions this offseason will be what to do with veteran Terrell Suggs, who would love to finish his career in Baltimore like Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden instead of playing one (or more years) somewhere else at the end.
"It isn't yet clear, however, whether the Ravens want him back," Zrebiec wrote. "Suggs still flashes and is valued for his leadership, but the Ravens are going to have to commit to younger pass rushers and defensive leaders at some point. Letting a potential Hall of Famer go isn't the easiest thing to do, though, especially for a first-year general manager."
So, if Suggs isn't back, Zrebiec looked to a "dream" free agent to help turn the page. That person is Houston Texans defensive end/outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.
This is mighty hopeful, as Clowney will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market and will get a massive contract. Though he has yet to reach 10 sacks in his career and has a litany of injuries on his resume, the former No. 1-overall pick is still one of the most freakishly gifted players in the NFL.
"The Ravens rarely bid on the top free agents, so it's important to keep expectations in check," Zrebiec wrote. "If there is a dream addition, it probably would be a young edge rusher like Jadeveon Clowney who can replace Suggs and/or [Za'Darius] Smith, and become a disruptive force."
By the way, Zrebiec picked Clowney over Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who many fans have been clamoring for.
Other (more realistic) free agents that Zrebiec believes the Ravens could target in free agency are Broncos center Matt Paradis, Redskins safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Broncos outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett.
Potential Draft Targets
The Ravens went defense heavy in 2017, then offense heavy in 2018. Now they have a good, young nucleus of offensive players, but a number of veterans that could move on from the defense.
So, with the No. 22-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens select …
"The Ravens have no shortage of needs, but they may find it tough to pass up the best available edge rusher," Zrebiec wrote. "This draft is loaded with them, and Jachai Polite (Florida), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Brian Burns (Florida State) and Montez Sweat (Mississippi State) are among the outside linebackers that could go off the board in the middle-to-late first round."
Another defensive possibility named is Alabama safety Deionte Thompson. If the Ravens go offense, they could sit at No. 22 and perhaps land the top running back (Alabama's Damien Harris or Josh Jacobs) or one of the top wide receivers (Mississippi's A.J. Brown, Oklahoma's Marquise Brown, or Arizona State's N'Keal Harry).
Jackson Wants to be the Tom Brady of Baltimore
Tom Brady has reached the AFC championship game 13 times in 17 seasons with the Patriots – a record nine straight. He's gone to the Super Bowl in half of his seasons (eight of 16).
Jackson has long admired what Brady has accomplished, and during an interview with Showtime's Inside the NFL, which aired last night, he told Ravens legend Ray Lewis that he wants to do the same in Baltimore.
"Ain't no ceiling," Jackson said. "I already said it when I got drafted: I wanted to bring a Super Bowl to Baltimore. So I'm going to try to bring as much as I can. ... I want to bring the Super Bowl here. I want to be the [Tom] Brady [of Baltimore]. I want to be the Brady. Bring multiple, if I could."
The interview was taped before the Ravens' Wild-Card playoff game against the Chargers, so Jackson's run at titles will have to wait another year. But it's still good to see the rookie set his sights high.
Lewis also asked Jackson when he realized that he was the fastest kid on the block.
"Probably when I'm playing football with my older cousins," Jackson told Lewis. "I used to play with all the older guys. I never played with, really, my age group when I was younger. ... There would be a new kid come on the block, and they'd be like, 'Oh, this kid, he's good,' this and that. So I get jealous, because I'm like, 'Man, I'm the best kid over here,' so I'm going to outperform him."
Just like Jackson admires what Brady has done, Brady was a fan of Jackson's when he saw him play in college. Brady said Jackson is "a beast!!!!" in the comments of an Instagram post last April before the Ravens drafted Jackson.
Re-Grading the Ravens' Offseason Moves
Baltimore got a B+ grade from ESPN at the conclusion of the 2018 offseason. Now after the season, the re-grade hasn't changed the mark. The Ravens still got a B+.
ESPN's Mike Sando only gave four teams (Colts, Bears, Rams, Chargers) A's in the re-grade.
"The selection of quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' succession plan at general manager showed that the team had a workable plan for its long-term future. The Ravens' playoff run with Jackson in the lineup was affirming," Sando wrote.
"No one could know last offseason whether Jackson's selection with the 32nd-overall choice would buoy the franchise for years to come. There are still no guarantees, but Jackson represented good value at the time, and his selection appears as smart now as it did then. Third-round pick Mark Andrews' quick development into a productive tight end also helped.
"Signing Michael Crabtree to a three-year, $21 million deal did not produce the desired results, and fellow receiving addition John Brown seemed to be a better fit with Joe Flacco. But with the offense clearly in transition to a new quarterback with a new style of play, growing pains were understandable."