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Late for Work 6/8: Lamar Jackson's Supporting Cast Could Be 'Elite'

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Few Teams Have Had Better Offseason Than Ravens

The Ravens didn't trade for Julio Jones or make a splashy free-agent signing, but they still have had one of the best offseasons of any team in the league.

Baltimore is No. 4 in ESPN’s Bill Barnwell’s rankings of all 32 teams' offseasons. The rankings encapsulate free agency and the draft, and measure what each team did versus expectations heading into the offseason.

"The Ravens imported talent around Lamar Jackson," Barnwell wrote. "Up front, they signed Kevin Zeitler and added Alejandro Villanueva to replace Orlando Brown Jr., who was dealt to the Chiefs for a haul of picks. Getting a first-rounder for a player who was likely to leave in free agency next year is a nice turn, even if it meant dealing him to an AFC rival.

"Jackson will also get more help at receiver, with the Ravens signing Sammy Watkins before using their first-round pick on Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman."

In addition to the players Barnwell mentioned, the Ravens also are high on guard Ben Cleveland and wide receiver Tylan Wallace, who were drafted in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, to help the offense.

General Manager Eric DeCosta also addressed Baltimore's pass rush in the draft with the selections of Odafe Oweh in the first round and Daelin Hayes in the fifth.

In addition, the Ravens re-signed several key players on defense, including outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee, defensive end Derek Wolfe and inside linebacker L.J. Fort.

Lamar Jackson's Supporting Cast Cracks Top 10 in Bleacher Report Rankings

As Barnwell noted, the Ravens got Jackson more weapons this offseason, and the additions were reflected in Bleacher Report’s rankings of every quarterback’s supporting cast.

Baltimore landed at No. 9 in the rankings, up from No. 20 on last season's list.

"Baltimore added Sammy Watkins this offseason, and the 2014 first-round pick should make an immediate impact as one of Jackson's perimeter options," Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox wrote. "However, the big move of the offseason was the first-round selection of Rashod Bateman. The Minnesota product has the potential to be the No. 1 target that Jackson has lacked. If that happens, this supporting cast will be better than just a top-10 unit — it will be elite."

Knox pointed out that the Ravens have a solid core of returning offensive players as well, including running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews.

"The Ravens have some fine complementary receivers, too," Knox wrote. "Marquise Brown isn't a consistent perimeter target, but he possesses game-breaking speed and led the team with 769 receiving yards last season. Miles Boykin showed flashes last year, ranking fourth on the team with 266 receiving yards and four scores."

Five Veterans Who Could Help Ravens Via Trade or Free Agency

As productive as the offseason has been for the Ravens, as DeCosta says, the team doesn't have to play games until September.

That means the Ravens still could add veterans to bolster the roster, although they don't have a lot of salary cap space, so any move would have to fit the organization's "right player, right price" credo.

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec identified 10 players who could help the Ravens at positions of need via trade or free agency. Here's a look at five of them (among the players on the list we excluded are free-agent edge rushers Justin Houston and Melvin Ingram, who have often been written about as potential targets for the Ravens) and the pros and cons of each:

TE Zach Ertz

The Philadelphia Eagles reportedly are looking to trade Ertz, and there's a possibility he could be released.

Why it makes sense: "The Ravens have plenty of internal candidates for the No. 3 tight end job behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle, but none of them are proven commodities and pass-catching threats like Ertz."

Why it doesn't: "Philadelphia is reportedly looking for a Day 2 draft pick in exchange for Ertz and that is probably too rich for the Ravens. While Ertz is only 30, he's played a lot of football at a demanding position and there are some questions, especially with how banged up he was last year, about his shelf life as an impact player. Complicating matters is that Ertz is due $8.5 million in the final year of his contract and that's significant for a team tight against the cap."

TE Delanie Walker

Walker, who reportedly worked out for the San Francisco 49ers last week, sat out the 2020 season as he recovered from injuries.

Why it makes sense: "Walker is looking to get back into the league and he'd probably come pretty cheap. … If he's healthy and still has a little juice left, he'd fit in well as a No. 3 tight end capable of blocking while also helping the Ravens some in the passing game."

Why it doesn't: "Does Walker have anything left? That's a fair question. From 2007-17, he was one of the NFL's most durable players, but he'll turn 37 during training camp and he's played just eight games since 2018. The Ravens have young tight ends in [Josh] Oliver, Eli Wolf and Jake Breeland, all of whom they believe have potential. Developing one of them and giving them an opportunity is probably more preferable than taking a flyer on a veteran who has been out of the league for a bit."

OLB Olivier Vernon

An unrestricted free agent, Vernon has 63.5 career sacks, including nine last season in 14 games with the Cleveland Browns.

Why it makes sense: "He ruptured his Achilles in January and since he may not be ready for the start of the season, his price tag figures to be significantly lower than Houston's or Ingram's."

Why it doesn't: "It's tough to know what, if anything, you'll get from a 30-year-old player who is just five months removed from an Achilles injury. That's just the latest injury for Vernon, too. He's missed 17 games over the past four seasons, so health questions are legitimate."

S Malik Hooker

The 2017 first-round pick, who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in Week 2 in 2020, is an unrestricted free agent.

Why it makes sense: "If he's healthy and injuries haven't robbed him of his playmaking ability, Hooker would provide quality veteran depth at a position where they are lacking it. … The Ravens also don't have that rangy center field-type of safety who can make plays on the ball and that was Hooker's game when he was healthy."

Why it doesn't: "Hooker has reportedly visited the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers and hasn't signed. It's unclear what the holdup is, but when a talented veteran is unsigned at this stage of the offseason despite being available for three months, it's usually a sign that he's either looking for more money or isn't 100 percent yet."

RB Duke Johnson

A free agent, Johnson averaged 56 receptions per season from 2015-19 before an injury-marred 2020 season.

Why it makes sense: "Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman recently brought up establishing a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, and that's very much part of Johnson's skill set. … If the Ravens don't believe Justice Hill is a great fit as a third-down back, Johnson certainly would be a decent option. He also wouldn't be a bad depth add to a backfield that's pretty young."

Why it doesn't: "The Ravens are set with J.K Dobbins and Gus Edwards as their one-two punch and they seem interested in giving Hill more opportunities than he's gotten over his first two seasons. They probably don't have the roster flexibility to carry four running backs."

Extending Gus Edwards Is 'Another Smart Move' by DeCosta

Defenses will have to contend with the 1-2 punch of Dobbins and Edwards for at least three more seasons thanks to the Ravens and Edwards agreeing to a two-year contract extension for a reported $10 million yesterday.

Pundits are praising DeCosta for extending Edwards, who was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season.

"Gus is in his prime and will probably still improve for the length of this contract," Russell Street Report’s Chad Racine wrote. "Speaking of which, I would normally not be a fan of extending a running back but this is only a two-year extension at a very reasonable rate. Eric DeCosta makes another smart move keeping a great player here a little longer without breaking the bank."

"You could possibly argue against giving any RB $10 million. But it's not much of an investment for a back who is still young, loads shares with J.K. Dobbins, and is the anvil of the offense," Russell Street Report's Dev Panchwagh wrote. "Edwards' game has evolved from being just a straight-ahead bulldozer. When he got more reps last season after Mark Ingram faded, Edwards displayed impressive open-field elusiveness. He is one of the most reliable pile movers and short-yardage producers in the league."

CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora said it's a smart deal for both parties.

"He gets $10M and some security at high-injury rate position," La Canfora tweeted. "Ravens get extra year of service beyond RFA with great scheme fit who is quality Dobbins insurance, too. Remain perplexed we don't see more mid-salary, 2-year deals in this sport."

Edwards, 26, is one of two players in NFL history to produce at least 700 yards rushing and average 5-plus yards per carry in the first three seasons of a career, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. The other is Nick Chubb of the Browns.

Former Ravens Offensive Coordinator Jim Fassel Dies

Former New York Giants Head Coach and Ravens Offensive Coordinator Jim Fassel has died at the age of 71, his son, John, confirmed to the Los Angeles Times last night.

Fassel led the 2000 Giants to Super Bowl XXV, where they lost to the Ravens and Head Coach Brian Billick.

Billick brought Fassel to Baltimore as an offensive consultant in 2004. Fassel was the Ravens' offensive coordinator in 2005 and part of the 2006 season.

Fassel also served as offensive coordinator for the Giants, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals.

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