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Mailbag: Ravens' Biggest Needs at the Start of 2024 Offseason

OLB Odafe Oweh
OLB Odafe Oweh

Mink: Much of this depends on how things shake out over the next month. With nearly 30 unrestricted free agents, the Ravens have a lot of decisions to make on who they'll bring back and who they won't before the market opens.

Generally speaking, the top needs are going to be at outside linebacker, the offensive line, and running back. I'll rank them in that order.

At outside linebacker, veterans Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy were both on one-year deals and teamed up for 18.5 sacks. That's a lot of production to potentially need to replace if one or both aren't re-signed. After such big seasons, they'll command bigger paydays than they got last offseason. Too big for the Ravens? The good news is Odafe Oweh was the Ravens' most improved player, per Pro Football Focus. His arrow is pointing up and he's a player Baltimore can count on to have a strong 2024. David Ojabo, though super talented, is more of a question mark as he's coming off a second major injury. Tavius Robinson got a lot of valuable reps as a rookie and will be in a key role in Year 2, but the Ravens still need more depth and insurance.

On the offensive line, both starting guards (Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson) are pending free agents. It sounded like Zeitler was ready to sign a contract to return to Baltimore as soon as the season ended, so there could be a quick solution there if the interest is mutual and they can find a price that works. The Ravens do have some young guards (Ben Cleveland, Sala Aumavae-Laulu, and Andrew Vorhees) who could step in. The Ravens also have to at least start thinking about their future at both tackle spots, though that is likely more of a draft priority than free agency.

At running back, it's more of a blank slate. The running backs under contract for next season are Justice Hill and Keaton Mitchell, but the latter is coming off a season-ending knee injury. General Manager Eric DeCosta called Hill "one of the unsung heroes of the team down the stretch," and he'll play a big role again next year. If Mitchell hadn't suffered his injury, he probably would have been the lead back entering the 2024 season, but the Ravens likely won't want to bank on putting him in that spot coming back from such an injury. They could bring back Gus Edwards or J.K. Dobbins, look to add a top-of-the-line veteran, or turn to the draft for another young back with fresh legs (and a lower salary). More on that below.

Brown: The Ravens would love to keep both Madubuike and Queen, but it's going to be difficult.

I'm guessing they'll place the franchise tag on Madubuike if they can't agree on a new contract. He's one of the NFL's best interior linemen coming off a career year with 13 sacks. Madubuike is in his prime at age 26, and his ability to generate consistent pressure up the middle is a major asset that many defenses don't have. Madubuike, Clowney (9.5 sacks) and Van Noy (9) are pending free agents, and I don't see the Ravens letting the team's top three sack leaders from 2023 all leave. Placing the franchise tag on Madubuike would keep him in Baltimore and allow both sides more time to negotiate a new deal.

Queen, 24, is even younger than Madubuike and made the Pro Bowl for the first time after his best season (133 tackles). DeCosta called Queen one of his favorite players after the season, but the talented linebacker has never had more bargaining power. It's going to take a lot to re-sign him and salary cap limitations could lead to Queen signing elsewhere, no matter how badly the Ravens would love to keep him.

Mink: It's tough to say which direction Baltimore will go at running back this offseason. As much as I love Saquan Barkley as a player and leader, I think he will be too expensive for Baltimore. Derrick Henry's price will probably be lower considering he's entering Year 9. That's just the way it has worked for veteran running backs. There were plenty of rumors around the trade deadline that Baltimore was in on Henry, but it didn't materialize. If Henry's price tag is palatable, that could work as a high-end shorter-term solution.

Generally speaking, with the Ravens' salary cap getting tighter as Lamar Jackson's hit keeps getting higher, I doubt Baltimore will want to spend much on a running back. Mitchell is just the latest example of the value that can be found in the draft (or even undrafted market). If the price tag is too high on a veteran, the Ravens could draft a back to help take the offense to another level during his rookie contract, like they envisioned with Dobbins when they took him in the second round in 2020. In that scenario, Hill could lead the way at the start of the season as the young backs get healthy and acclimated to the NFL.

Brown: Most early mock drafts have the Ravens leaning toward defense in the first round, targeting either an edge rusher, inside linebacker or defensive tackle.

That's logical, considering the talent that could potentially leave Baltimore's front seven during free agency. The Ravens still have plenty of talented players under contract in the secondary, led by safeties Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams and cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Stephens.

This early, I'd guess the Ravens could take a defensive lineman who can rush the passer in the first round, like Jer' Zhan Newton of Illinois, if they don't trade out of the first round. But the Ravens have a history of staying true to their draft board. They selected Hamilton at No. 14 when safety wasn't their biggest need, and that turned out very well. The Ravens will assess where their biggest needs are after free agency. But they won't let position totally dictate which player they chose.

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