Late for Work 3/30: What Areas Do the Ravens Still Need to Address This Offseason?

033021-LFW

What Areas Do the Ravens Still Need to Address This Offseason?

During the first two weeks of free agency, the Ravens addressed needs on the interior offensive line and at wide receiver in addition to re-signing several key players on defense. So what do the Ravens still need to do this offseason?

With the next wave of free agency underway and the NFL draft a month away, Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens identified which areas the team still needs to address. Here's a look at three of them, with Stevens' analysis:

Edge rusher

"Re-signing [Tyus] Bowser was a big start, hopefully filling [Matthew] Judon's production as a versatile option that can rush the quarterback, set the edge in run defense, and drop back into coverage. But neither [Pernell] McPhee nor Jaylon Ferguson should be expected to start opposite him.

"With a defense that is pretty stacked across the board, this is the one position that can ruin it all. Granted, Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale's blitz-happy scheme helps to disguise some of their issues but finding an elite pass rusher would do wonders for this team. At the least, the Ravens need to add more bodies to the depth chart and create a competition for the other starting job."

Offensive tackle

"The importance of this position relies quite a bit on what happens with right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. If the Ravens do indeed trade him, this jumps to the tippy top of the list immediately. But even if Brown sticks around, Baltimore would be wise to invest heavily at the position this offseason regardless.

"Even if Brown stays in Baltimore this season, he's on the final year of his rookie deal and has made it clear he wants to play at left tackle. That likely means he's out the door next offseason even in the best of circumstances. The Ravens know this and have to be thinking a year or two ahead already, looking for his eventual replacement now in order to give him time to develop."

Wide receiver

"I'm a big fan of the [Sammy] Watkins signing. He fills an immediate need quite well, having done a lot of the things Baltimore truly needs from the position over his career, and he does so on the cheap. But it's little more than a stop-gap solution considering Watkins is on a one-year deal. However, the signing of Watkins at least gives them a little time and insurance to address it without having to reach.

"The Ravens can look to the 2021 NFL draft either for a player very similar to Watkins — big-bodied, relatively sure hands, good route runner who knows how to use their size to box out defenders, and isn't afraid of contact — or they can look for the true 'No. 1 receiver' they've never had. Regardless of which direction they go, I'd expect Baltimore to address this need within the first three rounds of the 2021 NFL draft."

Should the Ravens Sign Safety Malik Hooker?

Given that the Ravens have two solid starters at safety in Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott, it's not a position high on the offseason priority list. However, free-agent safety Malik Hooker would be a valuable addition, in the opinion of multiple observers.

Clark and Elliott are both natural strong safeties. Hooker, who was selected 15th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 2017, has shown flashes of being a ball-hawking free safety and could fit the Ravens' "right player, right price" mantra.

"In the best-case scenario, Hooker becomes the starting free safety and adds to the Ravens' takeaways," Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote. "What if Hooker could be what the Ravens were hoping to get out of Earl Thomas? The Ravens would have three quality starters at safety. Clark and Elliott would be interchangeable and one could act almost like a linebacker in sub-packages.

"Hooker could also be used in a variety of ways and would be an insurance policy for [Jimmy] Smith and [Tavon] Young. This is a move that can't hurt and would give Don Martindale more tools to play with."

Injuries are a concern with Hooker, who turns 25 on April 2. He played just two games last season due to a torn Achilles and has never played all 16 games in his four years in the league. However, as NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal wrote, players coming off major injuries "can often be underpaid in free agency."

"His checkered injury history is a serious concern but his talent is undeniable," Baltimore Beatdown's Joshua Reed wrote. "While he shouldn't be relied upon to play a significant amount of playing time on defense, he could really shine and be impactful if featured in a limited role in the backend. He is a natural free safety and his presence would allow Martindale the schematic flexibility to utilize the dime defense more effectively."

Schisler added: "If the Ravens are the right spot for him it could foster an incredible athlete's career rebound. It makes more sense than drafting a defensive back in the fourth round and wanting him to make an immediate impact. There is a realistic range of expectations already established for Hooker."

Who Is the Ravens' Best Free-Agent Signing of the Past Decade?

While the splashiest signings typically occur during the first wave of free agency, one of the Ravens' trademarks has been to sign veteran players later in the offseason who have been cut. Such was the case with Jacoby Jones.

The Athletic identified every team's best free-agent addition of the past decade, and Jones was the pick for the Ravens, who signed the receiver/returner in May 2012 a week after he was released by the Houston Texans.

"No signing was more instrumental in making the Ravens Super Bowl XLVII champions than Jones, who signed a two-year, $7 million deal a few months before training camp," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Not only do the Ravens not win a championship without him, they may not go to the playoffs either. Jones' return scores helped them win regular-season contests against the Steelers and Cowboys.

"He then made three of the team's biggest plays in the Super Bowl run, highlighted by his last-minute 70-yard tying touchdown catch against Denver, which was later dubbed the 'Mile High Miracle.' He added a 108-yard kickoff return score and a 56-yard touchdown catch in the Super Bowl XLVII victory against the 49ers. In three seasons with the Ravens, Jones had six return scores and five offensive touchdowns."

Jones, who played one season after leaving Baltimore, officially retired as a Raven in 2017.

John Harbaugh Among the Elite Head Coaches in Sports Illustrated's Ratings

When it comes to head coaches who could be on the hot seat this season, John Harbaugh's seat is about as cold as it gets.

Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr ranked every head coach's chances to survive a "really bad season" based on factors such as play-calling skills, coaching cachet, postseason success and intangibles. Harbaugh landed in the top tier, where he joined New England's Bill Belichick, Kansas City's Andy Reid, New Orleans' Sean Payton, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, Seattle's Pete Carroll and Tampa Bay's Bruce Arians.

Harbaugh, who has a .620 winning percentage, a Super Bowl title and 11 playoff wins in 13 seasons in Baltimore, "employs one of the most creative offenses and defenses in the NFL while also staffing one of the league's most robust and powerful analytics outfits," Orr wrote. "Harbaugh's transformation during the Lamar Jackson era cemented his staying power in Baltimore."

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