Grading 2021 Offseason Moves: Hits, Misses and Mixed Reviews
The Ravens had to feel good about their chances of making a Super Bowl run in 2021 as they entered training camp. Certainly no one could have envisioned an 8-9 record and last-place finish in the AFC North.
Obviously, an excruciating number of injuries played a huge role in the team falling short of expectations, but in retrospect, did the Ravens do enough in the offseason to set themselves up for success?
Or, as The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec put it, could any general manager have assembled a deep enough roster to withstand the number of key injuries the Ravens endured?
"Here are a few facts: The offensive line and pass rush, two areas that were said to be primary focuses for DeCosta last offseason, remained major issues in 2021," Zrebiec wrote. "That calls into question some of the moves DeCosta and the front office made last offseason. Still, the Ravens had enough roster quality and depth to be in just about every game despite a litany of injuries and illnesses. That's a credit to DeCosta and company.
"Probably, the fairest way to put it was that it was an uneven year for DeCosta and the Ravens front office, one with some hits, misses and mixed results."
Zrebiec gave several examples for each of those categories. Here are some excerpts:
Hit: Signing tight end Mark Andrews to a four-year, $56 million extension
"A week before the start of the regular season, the Ravens struck a deal with Andrews, their top pending unrestricted free agent. Five months later, they have to be overjoyed that they did, because they almost certainly saved money by not waiting any longer. Andrews ranks fourth among tight ends in average money per year ($14 million) and second behind San Francisco's George Kittle in total guaranteed money ($37.6 million). That still feels like a bargain after a season during which Andrews set franchise records with 107 catches for 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns. Andrews was the team's best player by a wide margin this season, and it has to be comforting to Ravens officials that he's signed through 2025."
Hit: Using the organization's two first-round picks on wide receiver Rashod Bateman and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh
"Neither Bateman nor Oweh posted monster numbers, and both missed time with injuries. … Still, both flashed their significant potential and look like strong building blocks. Defensive tackle Christian Barmore and safety Trevon Moehrig would have worked out quite well, too, but the Ravens still have to feel good about Bateman and Oweh's potential."
Miss: Replacing offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. with Alejandro Villanueva
"The issue isn't that the Ravens traded a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle and their best insurance policy for a rehabbing Ronnie Stanley (more on that later). It's that they opted to replace Brown with Villanueva, who other teams, including his longtime employer, the Pittsburgh Steelers, were staying away from after a rocky 2020. The Ravens signed Villanueva to a two-year, $14 million deal when there was no obvious competition for the 32-year-old's services. By no means was it all bad for Villanueva. He had a handful of strong games and also posted every week at a time when another tackle injury would have been devastating. But there were times when Villanueva was overmatched and needed a lot of help. Veteran tackles Morgan Moses and Charles Leno, who were available after the Brown trade was completed, would have been cheaper and better choices."
Miss: Signing wide receiver Sammy Watkins to a one-year, $5 million deal
"It could have been worse. The two free-agent receivers the Ravens tried to sign, JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.Y. Hilton, battled injuries and combined for 38 catches for 460 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games. Watkins, whom the Ravens ultimately settled on, had 27 receptions for 394 yards and one score in 13 games. Watkins had arguably the team's two biggest catches of the season, setting up the late wins in Detroit and Chicago. However, he couldn't stay healthy and completely fell out of the game plan, finishing without a reception over the final four games. One-year deals for modest amounts aren't disastrous, but the Ravens had to expect more bang for their buck from Watkins."
Mixed review: Trading Brown, a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 sixth-rounder to the Chiefs for 2021 first-, third- and fourth-round picks and a 2022 fifth-rounder
"Did the Ravens miss Brown, particularly when Stanley's season ended in Week 1? They sure did. He could have made a significant difference for an offensive line that struggled for parts of the season. But does that mean that they were wrong for playing the long game? No. Brown didn't want to be there, and the Ravens certainly didn't have the flexibility or the interest in paying him top offensive tackle money. They'd have lost him anyway this offseason and gotten no better than a future compensatory selection in return. To turn Brown into Oweh and projected 2022 starting left guard Ben Cleveland, and to still have more draft capital from the deal to use this year, can't be dismissed."
Pundit: There Never Should Have Been Any Debate Over Marquise Brown's Fifth-Year Being Exercised
Whether the Ravens would exercise the fifth-year option of wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown had been debated by pundits this offseason, but DeCosta put the debate to rest with a two-word response when he was asked if he anticipates picking up the option during his press conference last Friday:
PressBox’s Glenn Clark contends that there never should've been a debate to begin with.
"In what world would it have made sense for the Baltimore Ravens to NOT pick up Brown's fifth-year option?" Clark wrote. "The option is set to cost the team $12.9 million for the 2022 season. There are 20 wide receivers in the NFL whose contracts are currently higher than $12.9 million per season. The next three highest receiver contracts in terms of average annual value belong to Corey Davis ($12.5 million), Curtis Samuel ($11.5 million) and Nelson Agholor ($11 million).
"The list is likely to grow a good bit beyond 20 before the 2022 season begins. While I would stop short of agreeing with DeCosta that the number is a 'bargain' for the team, the evidence is nearly overwhelming that the number is quite fair for a productive player."
Brown's production has increased every season since the Ravens selected him 25th-overall in 2019. He finished this past season with 91 catches for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns.
The real debate, Clark said, will be what the Ravens should do about Brown long-term.
"He still has time to prove himself worthy of a big-money contract," Clark wrote. "But there is also the possibility that the Ravens get to the end of the 2022 season and believe the market for Brown (given how few quality receivers typically reach free agency) will exceed what they'll be willing to pay the player. If that's the case, there is absolutely room to consider whether the team should trade him before that fifth year in an attempt to recoup as much value as possible."
Zach Orr Reportedly Hired as Inside Linebackers Coach
Former Ravens linebacker and defensive coaching analyst Zach Orr reportedly has been hired as inside linebackers coach.
It was reported late last week that the Ravens had parted ways with Inside Linebackers Coach Rob Ryan and Outside Linebackers Coach Drew Wilkins and that Orr would interview for the ILB job Monday.
The Ravens have not confirmed the moves.
Orr played three seasons for the Ravens and was a second-team All-Pro in 2016. He retired the following offseason because of a congenital spine condition and joined the Ravens' coaching and personnel staffs.
He left Baltimore last offseason to be the outside linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Changes on the Ravens' defensive coaching staff began last month when the team moved on from Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale and subsequently replaced him with Mike Macdonald.
Georgia DT Prospect Devonte Wyatt Linked to Ravens
Georgia defensive tackle prospect Devonte Wyatt is being linked to the Ravens by multiple outlets.
Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine named one prospect from this past Saturday's Senior Bowl that each team should covet, and Wyatt was his choice for Baltimore.
Ballentine agrees with the popular opinion that the Ravens need to get younger and more explosive on the defensive interior.
"Wyatt was an integral part of Georgia's attacking 3-4 defense that was the best in college football," Ballentine wrote. "The Ravens also play an attacking style of defense. He could pair with [Justin] Madubuike to create a scary, young combination on the interior."
In ESPN’s Jordan Reid’s mock draft, he has the Ravens selecting Wyatt in the second round with the 45th-overall pick. However, Reid noted that Wyatt, who had an impressive showing in the Senior Bowl, might be gone before the start of the second round.
"His stock has risen a lot over the past couple of months, riding a stellar end to the season and standout performance at the Senior Bowl," Reid wrote. "Wyatt could climb to the backend of the first round by the time we get to April."