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Late for Work 3/2: Opportunity for 2022 Draft to Be Eric DeCosta's 'Magnum Opus'

Baltimore Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta in the Draft Room at the Under Armor Performance Center in Owings Mills, MD during the 2021 NFL Draft season.

Opportunity Is There for 2022 Draft to Be Eric DeCosta's 'Magnum Opus'

The Ravens have been one of the most successful franchises in the NFL this century, as only four teams — the Patriots, Steelers, Packers and Colts — have won more games. A byproduct of all that winning is that the Ravens rarely have high draft picks.

With the 14th-overall selection in this year's draft, the Ravens have their highest pick since 2016, and they're in the upper half for only the third time in the past 16 years. With nine picks in the first four rounds, Baltimore has both quality and quantity.

For a franchise that has built its success primarily through the draft rather than free agency, the Ravens have a great opportunity to fortify their talented roster.

Russell Street Report’s Dev Panchwagh said this year's draft needs to be General Manager Eric DeCosta's "magnum opus."

"This is an unprecedented opportunity for DeCosta to stack premium players on his roster and gain ground on the rest of the AFC powerhouses," Panchwagh wrote. "The Chiefs and Bills, for the sake of it, don't have a top 15 pick to play around with. … The possibilities for DeCosta are vast, but the outcome has to be singular: the 2022 NFL Draft must be a grand slam."

As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Ravens trading back in his latest mock draft. Conversely, Panchwagh said he hopes DeCosta uses some of his draft capital to move up.

"I would like to see him use those middle round picks as currency (my word of choice) to move his way up in those second and third rounds," Panchwagh wrote. "This draft is being billed as deep across the board. Why not go after that higher graded player on the board if it looks less likely he'll make it back to you in the following round? Go get your players, instead of hanging back to see them picked off. Picking earlier makes it easier to ensure you grab your guy, but it's still a card that can be played.

"DeCosta has the same type of capital to move up in the first round as well, if that path makes sense. Maybe you package one of those thirds, a fourth, and a 2023 second-round pick to move up a few spots and jump ahead of the competition. I'd rather see the front office stay aggressive to land a marquee player they covet instead of settling on a lesser player at pick 14."

Pundit Says Lamar Jackson's Contract Extension Would Be Done by Now If He Had an Agent

The lack of a contract extension for Lamar Jackson continues to be the most discussed topic surrounding the Ravens this offseason.

"With each passing week, Jackson gets closer to the reality of playing the 2022 season on the fifth and final year of his rookie contract," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "That was almost unthinkable at this time last year when Ravens officials at least publicly were treating a Jackson contract extension as little more than a formality."

The Ravens have made it clear that they want Jackson for the long term, and Jackson has said that he wants to remain a Raven. So why hasn't a deal been finalized?

Several pundits continue to point to the fact that Jackson is representing himself in negotiations rather than hiring an agent. DeCosta said last month that he has spoken directly with Jackson about his contract five or six times, adding that they're "working at Lamar's pace."

"The Ravens were ready to sign him last year, but no one from Lamar's camp would engage them in real, meaningful negotiations aimed at getting a contract done," Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said on the "Dan Patrick Show." " … I feel bad for Jackson because he should have his deal by now. And because he's decided to go without an agent, he doesn't have it."

NFL Network analyst Marc Ross, a former New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles executive, told Zrebiec that negotiating directly with a player can make for an awkward situation.

"The agent is the buffer. It's like, no hard feelings, this is what you do," Ross said. "Now, you get the player involved directly, where it is business and not personal, but how do you keep that from getting to that point? There's so many questions about it, the dynamic of it. I've been in that room, where you yell things and (curse) an agent through the whole deal and 10 minutes later, you say, 'OK, let's work this out.' With the player, I just don't see any way that's successful."

Ravens Ranked No. 2 on List of Teams Most Likely to Improve in 2022

Pro Football Focus ranked the seven teams most likely to improve in 2022. The Ravens are No. 2 on the list, behind the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jaguars, who have gone 4-29 the past two seasons, have nowhere to go but up. For the Ravens, who missed the playoffs this past season for the first time since 2017, it's obviously all about staying healthy.

"Lamar Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters were the three most valuable Ravens in 2019 and 2020 collectively, and all three missed crucial time in 2021," PFF's Anthony Treash wrote. "To no surprise, Baltimore led the NFL in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) lost this past season due to injury. The good news is that Jackson, Humphrey and Peters will be ready to go for the 2022 season."

Looking ahead to the draft, Treash named two players who would be major additions for the Ravens.

"Landing either cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. or Trent McDuffie with its No. 14 overall pick would be a home run, as both rank top eight on PFF's big board," Treash wrote.

Looking at Key Members of Ravens' Pending Free Agents

With the start of free agency less than two weeks away, Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones expressed his thoughts on the Ravens' pending free agents. Here's what Jones said about six prominent Ravens set to hit the open market:

  • "With no indication of any productive contract talks recently and reports of other teams' interest, envisioning a Bradley Bozeman return is becoming more difficult. He's a good center, but the bet is on another team being willing to pay him like a great one, something Baltimore probably shouldn't do."
  • "With Calais Campbell still playing at a high level and enjoying his time with the Ravens, his potential return has been a popular topic. However, the 35-year-old ranking prominently on free-agent lists won't help attempts to re-sign him on the cheap. Some other contending teams will certainly be interested."
  • "I thought we'd see an extension for Patrick Ricard by now, but you can't blame the three-time Pro Bowl selection for leveraging the potential for other teams bidding despite fullback being a niche spot. Though I could be wrong, I still don't see another suitor valuing him more than Baltimore."
  • "Though the Ravens will likely aim higher and younger than Justin Houston to beef up their edge rush, the 33-year-old's play was better than critics dwelling on his 4 1/2 sacks would indicate. It'll be interesting to see what his market looks like, especially with the salary cap increasing considerably."
  • "Publications are viewing DeShon Elliott and Anthony Averett anywhere between afterthoughts and potential diamonds in the rough. With some believing the safety market is about to boom, Elliott could be a good value signing if healthy, admittedly easier said than done."

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