Mailbag: How Should the Ravens Upgrade at Wide Receiver?

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman (7) runs a route during an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

Mink: The Ravens were clear about their intention to upgrade the wide receiver corps this season. Head Coach John Harbaugh said the wide receiver corps is "the one area that needs to be built." The Ravens will explore all options, and I anticipate they will probably utilize both free agency and the draft.

There's a lot of buzz about the potential of a trade for DeAndre Hopkins. While I like the idea on the surface because I think Hopkins is a bona fide No. 1 wideout, I don't see the Ravens trading away a first-round pick for him and they don't have a second-round pick. Hopkins also has a 2023 base salary of $19.45 million, per Spotrac, that the team he's traded to would take on. Maybe the Cardinals eat a large chunk of that salary and the two sides could work out a creative way for trade compensation, but I view that as a longshot.

I think what's more likely is the Ravens target a more mid-level wide receiver, either via trade or free agency, and draft another wide receiver (or two). I do think a first-round pick on a wide receiver is certainly a possibility, though I don't think they'll trade up to get one because they already don't have many picks as ammunition.

It's too early to say where the top wide receivers will go. ESPN's Mel Kiper has TCU's Quentin Johnston projected to the Ravens at No. 22 in his first mock draft. Kiper has USC's Jordan Addison and Boston College's Zay Flowers going after that. So maybe the Ravens could stay at No. 22 (or even move back a little) and still get a wide receiver they really like. I think Baltimore's preference is stocking the wide receiver room is via the draft because they are so expensive otherwise.

In terms of free agency, I think a mid-range target such as an Allen Lazard, Parris Campbell, Mecole Hardman or D.J. Chark could be possibilities. None are projected to have a yearly average salary above $11 million, per Spotrac. Maybe that's the sweet spot for the Ravens, who showed a couple years ago that they were reportedly willing to give about that for JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Downing: The run game isn't going away for the Ravens. They have a pair of talented running backs with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and Lamar Jackson is the best running quarterback in NFL history. The Ravens don't want to completely abandon that approach. It's part of the reason they've been so successful over the last five years. Yes, they want to improve the passing attack and that will be a key piece of the offensive coordinator search, but they also want to maintain the run game success that they saw with Greg Roman at the helm. Roman is one of the best run game designers in the NFL, and Harbaugh said during the season-review press conference that "you want to be able to hold onto those things." Regardless who the Ravens hire as their new offensive coordinator, they have coaches on staff who have run those run schemes the last few years and can keep them in place. The changes to the offense will be a significant transition this offseason, but I don't expect the Ravens to swing the pendulum too far away from the ground game that has proven successful.

Mink: Anytime. Eric DeCosta said he already spent time with Lamar Jackson last week and the two "communicate quite often." However, DeCosta also said, "It's going to take some time, it's going to take some effort, it's going to take great communication – give and take – but I'm confident that we'll be on the right path to get that done."

We've all been waiting on pins and needles for this deal to get done for more than a year. The two sides will work again on it this offseason, and I would expect that the Ravens would prefer to get it done as soon as possible, which would give them a clearer picture of their resources available before heading into free agency.

The Ravens would also probably like it done before they would have to put the franchise tag on Jackson (March 7). They would then have until July to reach a multi-year deal before Jackson would have to play on the tag. That's the general timeline. But, as we've seen, these things take time, so who knows?

Downing: DeCosta made no commitments on Chuck Clark during the season-review press conference, and Clark told reporters at locker cleanout that he was unsure whether he would return in 2023. He's technically still under contract for next season, but releasing him would result in a cap savings of $3.6 million, according to Spotrac. The Ravens have already made big investments in safety by signing Marcus Williams and drafting Kyle Hamilton in the first round. Williams showed his value and ball hawking ability this year, and Hamilton came on very strong in the second half of the year. Clark also played at a high level in 2022 as the starting safety next to Williams, allowing the Ravens to use Hamilton in a versatile role as a blitzer and in the slot.

This is one of the toughest decisions the Ravens have to make on defense. Clark is a respected veteran who maintained the starting job last year and showed his value over the course of the year. Moving on from him would bring a risk and cut into Baltimore's depth at safety. The verdict may come down to a salary cap consideration.

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