Mink: First of all, Brian McFarland of Russell Street Report is the expert on this subject. If you want to take a deep dive, read his 2022 salary cap preview. To summarize, after inking the reserve/future deals, exclusive rights guys and restricted free agents, the Ravens' projected starting point is $7.2 million. However, they can free up a lot more cap space.
Reaching an extension with Lamar Jackson would be the biggest domino because he's currently projected to eat $23 million on his fifth-year option. If the two sides can reach a deal, they could drop his 2022 hit to $10-$13 million, McFarland projected. The Ravens will also create more space with salary-cap cuts that could conservatively come in around $8.5 million and aggressively around $29 million. They could also restructure a couple of their biggest contracts if needed. The point is, there's a big savings range that will give Eric DeCosta a good amount of flexibility.
The Ravens have done a better job of getting out of cap jail during the DeCosta era. But they still have a lot of good players that take a lot of money. When you draft as well as the Ravens do, you're never going to be one of these teams with a ton of cap space. That usually isn't a sign of good franchise health.
Now, to your question. The Ravens will have enough cap space to make some moves and DeCosta will. Obviously, Jackson's contract will largely determine how aggressive the Ravens can be but DeCosta is certainly not averse to picking up the right veteran at the right price; he's signed several big-name players over the years.
Once the Ravens get their players healthy again, I don't think they have a ton of holes. They most notably need help at offensive tackle, edge rusher, cornerback, safety and inside linebacker. They have enough money to plug a couple holes in free agency and will lean on young players, and yes, even high draft picks.
Downing: First all of, your last statement is totally true: Every injury is different. Players' bodies don't necessarily respond to injuries the same way. Timetables change. Setbacks can happen. Nobody wants that, but we saw that this year as Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and Nick Boyle (knee) both tried to battle back from serious injuries. Now, with that said, the Ravens hope that just about everyone is ready for the season opener. Let's start with Stanley. When he elected to have surgery, he said it was with the intent of returning to full strength in 2022. He had the surgery in October, which gives him nearly 11 months to get healthy for Week 1. His recovery from the initial injury has been anything but smooth, but he and the Ravens hope this surgery gets him back to his All-Pro level.
A big question this offseason will be the status of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, who both suffered torn ACLs. The silver lining with their injuries is that they happened before the regular season, so they should have enough time to get back for training camp and the season opener. The same goes for veteran cornerback Marcus Peters. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey suffered a torn pectoral late in the season in December, but the recovery time for that injury typically is much shorter compared to the more serious knee injuries. A player whose Week 1 status next year is most in question is probably outside linebacker Tyus Bowser. He reportedly suffered a torn Achilles in the season finale. I know Cam Akers just shocked everyone with a six-month recovery, but that's the exception to the rule. A torn Achilles is a serious injury, and that could put Bowser on the sidelines to start of the season.
Mink: I've always thought the playoff criticism of Lamar was unfair. It just doesn't make sense to me to be so critical of a player for how he performs in three games when he's played 62 of them. And it's not like he has some long history of playoff stinkers. He's 25 years old and been to the playoffs three times. Most guys aren't good enough to enough to get to that point. Plus, it's not like Lamar was that bad in those playoff games. He certainly was a lot better than Kyler Murray was the other night.
But to your question, no, I don't think that outside criticism of Jackson's 1-3 playoff record and performances motivates him all that much. He doesn't really care about that noise. He wants to win in the playoffs more than anybody else, so the motivation is totally intrinsic.
Downing: A season opener against the Bengals sounds fun to me. The tension between the Ravens and the Bengals seems to be elevated after Cincinnati swept them in 2021. The Bengals are a good team with a young corps, and facing them in the season opener would be a marquee matchup. There's some good mojo when it comes to facing the Bengals in Week 1. I still remember opening the season against the Bengals on "Monday Night Football" in 2012, where Ed Reed had a pick-six and the Ravens won, 44-13. Of course, the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl that season. How about a repeat of that? Sounds good to me.