Three Key Players Ravens Will Have to Decide Whether to Extend
As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, signing Lamar Jackson to a contract extension is a top priority for the Ravens, but the team will also have to make decisions on a number of other key players who are set to become free agents in 2022.
That list includes young players nearing their second contracts and veterans potentially looking for one final contract before moving on.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec looked at several such players. Here's some of his analysis on three of them, all of whom have made the Pro Bowl within the past three seasons:
TE Mark Andrews (age 25)
Why they may extend him: "The Ravens have a tight end-friendly offense and Andrews has been one of the most productive tight ends in football over the past two seasons with 122 catches and 17 touchdowns. Jackson has a great rapport with Andrews and it doesn't make a lot of sense for the Ravens to invest long-term in their quarterback and not in his favorite target."
Why they may not: "Andrews won't come cheap and if the Ravens pay Jackson in the $38-$40 million per year range, which is what it may cost, they'll have to make concessions somewhere."
What it may cost: "Andrews may not eclipse San Francisco's George Kittle ($15 million per year, $40 million guaranteed) as the game's highest-paid tight end, but he probably won't be far off."
How it may play out: "Either via an extension or the franchise tag, Andrews will be a Raven in 2022. The bet here is an extension gets done although it could go down to the wire."
FB Patrick Ricard (27)
Why they may extend him: "Ricard is arguably the best blocking fullback in the league and he's improved as a pass catcher, his skill set fitting in perfectly with the Ravens' unconventional offense. The former Maine standout has become a tone-setter for the Ravens and guys with his combination of size, strength and versatility aren't easy to find."
Why they may not: "Cap space will be at a premium with the expected deal for Jackson and there could be some hesitance to use a chunk of it on a player who touches the ball infrequently, especially if the team believes it has a much cheaper alternative."
What it may cost: "At $5.4 million per year, former Raven and current 49er Kyle Juszczyk is the highest-paid fullback in the league by a wide margin. I don't know that Ricard gets that much, but his agent can certainly make the case that he's every bit as important to the offense as Juszczyk is to the 49ers."
How it may play out: "Ricard was a big-time find for the Ravens and he fits the organization so well. As long as Ricard's contract demands are reasonable, team officials should be able to get a deal done."
DL Brandon Williams (32)
Why they may extend him: "Williams has been a core piece for the Ravens for a long time and when he's been out, the team's run defense has mostly struggled. The Ravens really don't have a proven young interior run stuffer on their roster who could step in for Williams if he departs and the team's decision-makers have always prioritized stopping the run."
Why they may not: "Entering his ninth NFL campaign, Williams is 32 years old and he's missed games in three of the past four seasons, so it would be understandable if the Ravens had concerns about his durability."
What it may cost: "He took a pay cut this year and his base salary is $6 million. Williams might have to accept less than that."
How it may play out: "The Ravens not extending Williams this offseason to reduce his cap number — and instead going the pay-cut route — could be telling to the team's thought process. … If Williams is willing to return at a reduced rate, there is probably a deal to be made. But it wouldn't be surprising if this is his final season in Baltimore."
Marlon Humphrey Chosen As One of Five Players to Start a Franchise With
Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo and Sam Monson each drafted five current players they would want if they were starting an NFL franchise right now.
All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey was selected by Palazzolo, who cited Humphrey's age (he turns 25 this week), versatility and ability to force turnovers. Monson applauded the pick.
"Humphrey, in particular, is a really good corner to take in this kind of scenario because of that versatility," Monson said on the PFF NFL Podcast. "I think in theory you could give him a Jalen Ramsey role and he would hold up really well, he'd be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL at it. Alternatively, he moves around everywhere, so if you end up in a situation where Humphrey now needs to cover the slot because you didn't find a slot corner later on, you can do that.
"He's one of those secondary lynch pins that lets everything else function. If you have that guy you don't have to start focusing so hard on specific skill sets because he lets you play with anybody else."
The other Raven mentioned in the discussion was Jackson. Monson strongly considered making Jackson one of his five picks, but he ultimately chose Buffalo's Josh Allen at quarterback. (Palazzolo went with Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes as his QB.)
"I think there's a strong case for Lamar Jackson," Monson said. "Lamar is the unique case because he's the unicorn in terms of athlete, in terms of just freakish athletic weapon. We've seen in Baltimore the type of impact he can have. The entire thing is built around him. The offense hinges on the fact that Lamar Jackson is this freak, unique weapon that nobody else has and you can't defend."
Is DeShon Elliott Poised for a Big Season?
While much of the praise for the Ravens' talented secondary goes to Humphrey and fellow All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters, safety DeShon Elliott also is poised for a big 2021 season, Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher wrote.
A 2018 sixth-round pick, Elliott was limited to six games over his first two seasons due to injuries. However, he started all 16 games last season at safety and played well.
Elliott is a big-time hitter and strong in run support. He had 80 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season.
"With each game that Elliott played in last year, it seemed like he was getting more and more confident in his abilities," Oestreicher wrote. "Now with a full offseason to learn through training camp practices and the preseason, he'll be able to work through mistakes before the season as well as get valuable time in with teammates and coaches."
The biggest knock on Elliott at this point in his career is that he hasn't been a ball-hawking safety. That doesn't mean Elliott won't develop into a playmaker as he gains more experience, though.
"While Elliott didn't have any interceptions during the 2020 season, he had nine in his three years at the University of Texas, including six in his final year playing at the collegiate level," Oestreicher wrote.
Elliott was also one of the players Zrebiec pointed to as a key pending 2022 free agent the Ravens will have to make a tough decision on.
"The Ravens will probably wait and see if Elliott is able to get through another season healthy and make progress as a defensive playmaker before they make a long-term commitment," Zrebiec wrote. "Elliott has talked about how much he loves playing in Baltimore and could solidify his future with the organization by turning in a strong season."