Mailbag: Why Don't the Ravens Get a No. 1 Wide Receiver?

012721-Mailbag
GM Eric DeCosta

Mink: It's not that the Ravens don't want to add a top-flight receiver. It's just they cost a lot and Baltimore hasn't felt the value offered has matched the price. The Bills gave up four draft picks, including a first-round pick that the Vikings turned into Justin Jefferson (who posted just 135 fewer receiving yards than Diggs, by the way). The Bills also took on Diggs' five-year, $72 million contract. Baltimore is already going to part ways with homegrown players it really wants to keep just because there are so many. Taking on a hefty wide receiver contract would mean even more tough goodbyes.

Like just about everyone else, I do think improving the passing game should be a top focus this offseason. It's not as bad as some fans are making it out to be, but it's not good enough either. Adding a very good wide receiver would help in that effort. So would better pass protection. So would more development from Lamar Jackson and the young weapons he already has around him. I'm confident the Ravens will add a wideout or two this offseason. They could do it via free agency (there will be Tier-2 wide receivers released under a tightening salary cap) or the Ravens could take another swing in early rounds of the draft. There have been some absolute studs in recent years (see Jefferson above).

In both of Lamar's seasons as the Ravens' starter, Baltimore has had the fewest passing attempts in the NFL. That's not going to change anytime soon because Lamar's most unique gift is his running ability and the stress that puts on a defense. Plus, running the ball and being physical is just Baltimore's bread and butter. Thus, I just personally don't think the investment that one of these "No. 1" wide receivers that everybody is talking about is worth it.

Downing: Before diving into this answer, I think it's worth mentioning a couple things. First, sacks aren't the be-all, end-all. Both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills had fewer sacks than the Ravens this year and they obviously still made it to the AFC championship. Secondly, the Ravens were middle of the road in sacks this year (14th), but still allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL. Now with that said, there's no question that Ravens Defense Coordinator Wink Martindale wants to have an aggressive defense that gets pressure on the quarterback, and that's why he blitzes more than any coordinator in the NFL.

Something that worked against the Ravens this year as far as the pass rush was the fact that opposing offenses got rid of the ball quickly. The Ravens faced a number of teams that were among the fastest in the league at getting rid of the football, and that limits the opportunities for pressure. It actually brings up an interesting decision going into an offseason where the Ravens have four unrestricted free agents at outside linebacker – Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyus Bowser and Pernell McPhee. General Manager Eric DeCosta was asked on Monday about whether premier pass rushers may no longer be as valued because of how teams design a quick-passing offense. DeCosta acknowledged that "we've looked at that," but still emphasized the importance of a good pass rush against play-action heavy teams (such as Tennessee).

The truth is that it's going to be difficult – probably unlikely – for the Ravens to keep all of their pending free against outside linebackers. That will likely hurt the pass rush to some degree in 2021. Sure, they could use a high draft pick on a pass rusher, but what kind of immediate impact should the team expect from that player? You can rest assured that Martindale will examine every possible avenue to bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks, but he's not going to send the blitz just for the sake of doing so, especially if teams are getting rid of the ball under three seconds.

Mink: The middle and right side of the offensive line did not have a good game against the Bills. The snaps were obviously their own issue, but the pass protection wasn't good either. What the Ravens will do, however, is evaluate each player and the unit over the long haul. The offensive line was getting major props for coming together down the stretch. Ben Powers had solidified his spot at right guard. Right tackle won't be an issue after Ronnie Stanley returns and moves Orlando Brown Jr. back over. So it's really center and right guard.

Do the Ravens feel strongly enough about the continued development of Powers, Tyre Phillips, Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon-Castillo to lean on them? DeCosta said he really likes the young linemen they've developed in recent years and it wouldn't surprise me at all if it's Mekari and Colon-Castillo battling for the starting job this summer and Baltimore's limited resources go elsewhere.

The Ravens have not invested much in the center position since they signed Matt Birk more than a decade ago. Birk helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl, but the Ravens have gotten solid play at the position since while spending little. Three undrafted centers (Matt Skura, Mekari and Colon-Castillo) have helped Baltimore build a historically good rushing attack the past two years.

But if the Ravens feel strongly enough that improving the pass protection up the middle would help the aerial attack reach another level, they could look for a Birk-like veteran. The other option would be investing a high draft pick and Ohio State's Wyatt Davis or Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey. The Ravens already have too Sooners on their offensive line and Humphrey, who projects as a likely second-round pick, has a lot to like.

Downing: In terms of someone stealing Martindale to be their head coach, that's not going to happen this year. He reportedly didn't get any interviews for head coaching jobs this offseason (which is crazy, by the way), so he'll be back as Baltimore's defensive coordinator in 2021. Adding Ryan as the inside linebackers coach has more to do with the fact that the Ravens had a vacancy there after Mike Macdonald took the defensive coordinator job at Michigan. Ryan is a proven coach with plenty of experience coaching linebackers, and he has a relationship with Martindale that goes back years. Could Ryan become the team's defensive coordinator if Martindale were to leave at some point? Maybe. But rather than looking at the hire as a long-term contingency plan, I think this is more about filling an immediate need.

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