Mink: Let's start big picture with the first offseason edition of Mailbag. The biggest priority this offseason is Lamar Jackson, both off and on the field.
We'll start with the elephant in the room, and that's the contract extension. The Ravens consistently stated their desire to sign him to a long-term deal. How soon will that happen and what will that look like after a difficult end to the year? Jackson is entering the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, valued at about $23 million.
On the field, the Ravens need to help Jackson take the next step as a passer. He made strides this year, particularly with his mechanics. However, Jackson's touchdown to interception ratio has regressed each of the past two years and was 16-13 this season. He struggled to overcome the blitz after the Dolphins came after him and other teams started adopting a similar strategy. Jackson must consistently read and react faster and more accurately, and the Ravens have to pull out the stops to help him do so.
I believe the Ravens have put the pieces around Jackson. He has the wide receivers, and if J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards return from their injuries at full strength, Jackson will also have a dynamic running back duo. The Ravens can finish off their offensive personnel makeover by upgrading the offensive line. Now the biggest key is helping Jackson to individually elevate.
Mink: Lots of offensive line questions this week. I think the Ravens must improve their offensive line this offseason. It was clear that Jackson did not feel comfortable at times, and the Ravens gave up the second-most sacks in the league.
A big question mark is determining how much faith to put in Ronnie Stanley returning in top All-Pro form. We all assumed that would happen last year, but he instead played in one game and underwent another ankle surgery. I think the Ravens need a viable solution in case Stanley isn't full-go at the start. Maybe that's the versatile Patrick Mekari, who they just re-signed to an extension. If Stanley is back at 100%, that's a huge upgrade in itself.
Rookie Ben Cleveland looked pretty good and got valuable reps at left guard, so I wouldn't spend a lot to upgrade that spot. Plus, I'd like to see Tyre Phillips get a fair shake at left guard instead of being bounced to tackle. At center, the Ravens probably want to re-sign Bradley Bozeman, who has been consistently good and is a great guy, but at what cost? If they don't, it would be mighty expensive to sign someone better or you'd probably have to spend a high draft pick. Mekari would be a cheaper alternative, but is he an upgrade? And then who would be the right tackle or backup to Stanley? Kevin Zeitler was great at right guard this year, so nothing needed there. At right tackle, it would seemingly be Mekari or Ja'Wuan James. This is the spot that makes the most sense to upgrade. I think Baltimore needs to take an offensive tackle, or two, in the first three rounds who can compete for the starting job. Not having Stanley and depth at tackle was the line's weakness this year.
Downing: The free agent who will likely get the biggest deal this offseason is Bozeman. He's established himself as a quality player who can solidify the middle of an offensive line. But he's made it clear in recent days that his future is uncertain, and the possibility exists that he may have played his final game as a Raven. While it would be great to retain Bozeman, I actually think the most important free agent to bring back is veteran defensive lineman Brandon Williams. The Ravens had the best run defense in the NFL this season, and Williams is still the anchor of that unit. Williams missed four games this year, but he looked like his normal self when he was on the field. At a time when the defensive front could be going through some major changes considering the uncertain futures of Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe, retaining Williams would allow the Ravens to keep a key piece of the defensive front.
Williams said on Monday that he plans to continue to his career and wants to stay in Baltimore, and it seems like a favorable deal could be worked out for both sides. Williams has spent his nine NFL seasons in Baltimore, and maybe the Ravens could bring him back on a short-term deal like they've done with cornerback Jimmy Smith in recent seasons. Williams isn't in line for a massive contract extension like he received earlier in his career, but he's still an important player on this defense.
Downing: The Ravens always go through a self-evaluation process in the offseason, and I'm sure they'll take a hard look at the injuries this year to determine if there was any common thread. That could lead to tweaks in the strength and conditioning program, or maybe how practices are structured. But sometimes injuries are just bad luck, and the Ravens had plenty of that this year. It's obvious that the injury bug struck in a big way this season, but this year was more of an anomaly compared to recent seasons. The Ravens coaching staff and front office will have to decide whether the injuries were the result of bad fortune, or if they can make changes to prevent a similar fate in 2022.
Mink: I'll jump back in for a fifth(!!) question because this is a fun one. This may shock you, but, yes, I will miss the wide receiver banter. Quite frankly, it's more fun to talk about than defensive and offensive linemen (sorry, big guys!). On the other hand, it shows the Ravens are in good position with Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche II and others moving forward. They'll still probably draft a wide receiver though, so we can still talk about possible mid-to-late round targets.