Zrebiec: Mark Andrews and Bradley Bozeman Among Likely Extension Candidates
There's been plenty of talk about Lamar Jackson's contract situation and pass rushers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, but what other Ravens could be in line for an extension?
That's the question posed to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec during a reader mailbag, and he believes the next likely candidates are tight end Mark Andrews and guard Bradley Bozeman.
"They view both as important and ascending core offensive players who are productive, tough and reliable on the field and positive influences in the locker room and in the community," Zrebiec wrote. "That's assuming they don't extend a guy like Brandon Williams or Calais Campbell just to lower their 2021 cap numbers."
In just three seasons, Andrews has developed into one of the league's top young tight ends, and one of Jackson's favorite targets. After a Pro Bowl season in 2019 where he led all tight ends in touchdown catches (10), Andrews followed it up with another strong campaign, finishing with 701 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
With all the attention focused on improving the receiver core this offseason, the Ravens have a top pass catcher at tight end.
But like quarterback, tight end is a position that's only getting more expensive. Last August, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce agreed on record-setting extensions just hours apart from each other.
Kelce was given a four-year, $57.25 million extension while Kittle agreed to a five-year, $75 million extension, making him the NFL's highest-paid tight end.
Andrews (rightfully so) will likely command a contract somewhere in that ballpark. Spotrac's market value projects him to receive a contract worth $11 million annually.
"It's difficult to imagine the Ravens offense without Andrews in it, at least as currently constructed. The tight end position is more important in Baltimore than perhaps any other offense in the NFL," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "After trading away Hayden Hurst last offseason and seeing Nick Boyle suffer a season-ending hip injury this season, Andrews' presence was all the more important to the Ravens success in 2020."
Bozeman, a sixth-round pick in the same draft class, has been a key starter on the offensive line. He's started all 16 games over the last two seasons, and as Zrebiec mentioned, has been a standout member in the community as the Ravens' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee last season.
"The Ravens face a lot of uncertainty in the interior of their offensive line, with questions at center and at right guard," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote. "At center, Matt Skura is a pending free agent and is not expected to return. Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon-Castillo, an undrafted rookie this past year, are in the mix, but the Ravens might look to upgrade via free agency. Bozeman had played center at Alabama, and he could be a candidate to shift from left guard to center if the Ravens find a guard in free agency or the draft.
"Regardless, Bozeman has shown to be a capable starter and is a known quantity on a line that — especially given Brown's situation — faces a lot of uncertainty."
Since taking over as general manager, Eric DeCosta has made a concerted effort to retain the Ravens' young talent, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see more extensions this offseason.
Pundit Suggests a Move to Tight End for Miles Boykin
In last week's edition of Late for Work, we talked about the leap Miles Boykin could take entering his third season. Sports Illustrated's Todd Karpovich thinks one way that could happen is with a move to tight end.
"The Ravens are looking for a player to emerge as the third tight end behind Andrews and Nick Boyle," Karpovich wrote. "The team could also explore the free agent market or add a player in the draft. Perhaps, they could consider moving Boykin into that role."
Karpovich noted that the Ravens made a similar move with Darren Waller in 2016. Waller has since emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league with the Las Vegas Raiders. Waller and Boykin are two different players, so it's not like the same result can be automatically expected.
Along with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, Boykin is part of a young receiver core the Ravens have invested in. Even if the Ravens add a "No. 1 wide receiver," Boykin is still an important part of the equation. Last year, Boykin finished with five receptions for 113 yards and three touchdowns during the final five regular season games.
One of his biggest strengths is his strong blocking on the outside, which has helped propel the Ravens' rushing attack. That blocking would be useful as a tight end, but at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he would also need to put on at least 30 pounds.
"It doesn't appear the Ravens will be moving Boykin to tight end at least in the short-term," Karpovich added.
On the other hand, Baltimore Beatdown's Cassidy Higdon thinks Boykin has been underutilized at receiver.
"[Twenty eight] wide receivers were drafted in 2019 and another 35 were selected in the 2020 draft, bringing the total to 63," Higdon wrote. "Of those 63, six have never recorded an offensive snap in the NFL. Of the remaining 57, Boykin has out-snapped all but seven on offense. Despite those high snap counts, though, he ranks only 26th in total targets with 55 in two years. That leads to a target share of 5.67%, which, when adjusting for only players who have tallied 100 or more offensive snaps, puts him at 45th out of 47 qualifying players. Even rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche were targeted on a more consistent basis than Boykin."
James Proche II Shows Off Insane Hands During Training
The theme of young Ravens receivers continues as James Proche II is on the field training ahead of his second season.
He grabbed some attention on social media with an insane catch during a drill.
Proche saw only 25 offensive snaps during his rookie season, in which he served as the team's punt returner for much of the year. But he could be in for a larger offensive role next season. Daniel Jeremiah said Proche had the best hands in the 2020 NFL draft coming out of SMU.
It's hard to argue after watching some of the catches he's hauled in.
DeCosta said he believes Proche's best football is ahead of him, and Baltimore Beatdown's Jakob Ashlin called Proche the "wild card" in the Ravens' receiving core.
"It is safe to say Proche's future role is uncertain," Ashlin wrote. "At the same time, I still believe he could develop into a quality starter. Ideally, he will be targeted more than three times next season.
"Even though Proche finished his rookie season with only 14 receiving yards, I cannot call his performance as a wide receiver disappointing, because the sample size was so small. Improving the wide receiver position has been, perhaps, the biggest topic of the Ravens' offseason, thus far. Still, the Ravens may already have more receiver talent on their roster than we realize."
Restructures That Could Open Up Cap Space
If the Ravens don't have any obvious salary cap casualties, one way they can free up cap space this offseason is through restructuring contracts.
By doing this, teams can convert a portion of a player's salary into a signing bonus and prorate the remaining money over the remaining years of the contract.
Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens looked at some contracts the Ravens could restructure.
Marcus Peters: "Because Peters has just two years remaining on his deal, the cap savings in 2021 would hit next season. If Baltimore is confident the salary cap will return somewhat to normal next year, it might not be too bad. However, by adding $5.248 million to his cap hit in 2022 would make him the highest-paid player on the team with quite a bit of dead money, making him an anchor on the salary cap with little savings if cut."
Ronnie Stanley: "Though Stanley is coming off a nasty ankle injury that put him on injured reserve, he's cemented himself as one of the best young tackles in the league. It's likely the Ravens will want to keep him long-term, taking most of the risk out of any restructure."
Marlon Humphrey: "In 2022, Humphrey has a $10 million base salary with four more years remaining, meaning the Ravens could get far more cap savings without taking too big of a cap hit in future years. I'd expect Baltimore to keep this one in their back pocket."
Justin Tucker: "Tucker might just be the safest option to restructure because of his consistent high level of play and how long kickers can play in the NFL."