Will the Ravens Be Able to Keep Mark Andrews for the Long Term?
Looking at recent headlines, it's evident just how impressive the Ravens' 2018 draft class turned out to be, as speculation about contract extensions for players from that class has become a hot topic.
General Manager Eric DeCosta said recently that he will be talking to Lamar Jackson soon about a contract extension. During that same press conference, DeCosta also said he was open to discussing long-term extensions with tight end Mark Andrews and offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. All three are heading into the final year of their rookie deals.
The flip side of hitting on draft picks is that the salary cap makes it nearly impossible for a team to keep everyone in the fold it would like to. The expectation that the salary cap will decrease this year makes the challenge even greater.
As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, Brown's "I'm a LEFT tackle" tweet could be an indication that he's not going to be in Baltimore for the long haul, but Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote that even if Brown ends up elsewhere, there's no guarantee the Ravens will be able to afford to lock up Andrews.
Andrews has been Jackson's top weapon. Over the past two seasons, Andrews has averaged 61 catches and 776.6 yards per season and scored 17 touchdowns.
"It sounds almost laughable that the Ravens would let one of the best tight ends in the NFL even come close to slipping away," Schisler wrote. "It is however realistic that the Ravens will be worried about that possibility this time in 2022."
Andrews and fellow tight end Nick Boyle are integral components to the success of the Ravens offense. Last week, Boyle signed a two-year extension, which reportedly provided the team with immediate salary cap-relief.
Schisler said that if the Ravens and Andrews do reach an agreement on an extension, it's unlikely to happen this offseason.
"Ironing out a long-term deal with Andrews right now would make sense, but Andrews has to get in line," Schisler wrote. "The first player from his draft class getting an extension is going to be the MVP quarterback. The Ravens have a lot to do this offseason and Andrews has one more year of affordability for Baltimore. Don't expect an extension this offseason.
"The franchise tag will be an option heading into the offseason next year. That would be a cap hit over $10 million. There's going to be no scenario where the Ravens saying goodbye to Andrews is going to be preferable."
While acknowledging that "you can't sign everybody" because of the salary cap, DeCosta said: "We are a tight end-centric offense, and Mark Andrews, in my opinion, is one of the better tight ends in the entire NFL. He's a Pro Bowl tight end, in my opinion. So, we would be foolish to not want to try and keep him. Those discussions will start up at some point. Hopefully, we can make progress and get some deals done."
Are Ravens Still Among Elite Super Bowl Contenders?
The Ravens were one of the top two Super Bowl favorites entering the 2020 season, but after being eliminated in the divisional round of the playoffs for the second straight year, are they still regarded as serious contenders going forward?
After consulting with six NFL analysts, ESPN placed all 32 teams into one of six tiers according to when each of them could be considered a "serious threat" to win a Super Bowl. The Ravens were in the second tier, which consisted of teams "on the cusp of contending."
The first tier, described as "clear-cut contenders," was composed of the teams playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday (Kansas City and Tampa Bay) and the teams they defeated in the conference championship games (Buffalo and Green Bay).
Making upgrades on offense is the key to the Ravens reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2012 season, says ESPN's Jamison Hensley.
"The Ravens need to bolster the supporting cast around quarterback Lamar Jackson, from improving the offensive line to adding another top target in the passing game," Hensley wrote. "Baltimore has averaged 30 points per game with Jackson as its starter, but the Ravens have failed to score more than 20 points in any of his four playoff games.
"The Ravens aren't going to change their identity of being a dominant running team. Baltimore knows the key from going from Super Bowl contender to a Super Bowl champion means being less one-dimensional in the postseason."
Pundit Says Ravens Trading for J.J. Watt Unlikely
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec weighed in on the speculation that Baltimore could be a landing spot for defensive end J.J. Watt if the Houston Texans put the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year on the trade block.
Zrebiec said Ravens fans shouldn't get their hopes up.
"The Ravens have shown a willingness in recent years to trade for impactful defensive players. However, there are two obvious hurdles," Zrebiec wrote. "Watt turns 32 in March. The Ravens already have a 34-year-old Calais Campbell and a 32-year-old Brandon Williams along their defensive front. I'm not sure the Ravens would want to add more age there.
"Two, Watt carries a $15.5 million cap hit in the upcoming season. You add his contract to the ledger and it's going to make it very hard for the Ravens to make other significant veteran additions to their roster this offseason. I'd say that any trade for Watt would be unlikely from the Ravens' perspective, but I've been surprised before."
Rob Ryan's Swagger Should Benefit Young Inside Linebackers
The Ravens' decision to hire Rob Ryan as inside linebackers coach after Mike Macdonald left to become the University of Michigan's defensive coordinator went beyond the fact that he has an impressive resume, which includes 20 years of experience as an assistant coach in the NFL, Zrebiec wrote.
The word "swagger" has often been used to describe Ravens defenses over the years, and it's also a trait associated with NFL coaches from the Ryan family.
Ryan, the brother of former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan and son of legendary defensive coach Buddy Ryan, has a big personality that should benefit the Ravens' talented, young inside linebackers.
["Ryan] brings a swagger and confidence that should serve the Ravens young inside linebackers well," Zrebiec wrote. "Macdonald is a good young coach and did a nice job with Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison and the rest of the position group. However, the Ravens want Queen and Harrison playing with more swagger and aggression. It will be the swashbuckling Ryan's charge to make that happen."