What Mink Thinks: Ravens Have to Stay Aggressive in Loaded AFC

Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Wednesday, March 2, 2022.

Did somebody drop a stink bomb in the NFC?

A couple of elder statesman (Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers) are still around, but has anybody new come onto the scene? I ask because it sure seems like every high-profile free-agent signing or trade has only made the AFC richer, and thus, the Ravens' path to their Super Bowl dreams more challenging.

Let's go through the checklist:

  • QB Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos
  • WR Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders
  • DE Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers
  • WR Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns
  • OLB Von Miller to the Buffalo Bills
  • OLB Chandler Jones to the Raiders
  • OLB Randy Gregory to Broncos
  • QB Deshaun Watson (off the Houston sideline) to the Browns
  • OL La'el Collins, Alex Cappa, Ted Karras to the Cincinnati Bengals
  • CB J.C. Jackson (stays in the AFC) to the Chargers
  • QB Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts
  • OT Terron Armstead to the Miami Dolphins

That's the who's who of available players at their respective positions. The result is an absolutely loaded AFC – particularly in the AFC West and AFC North.

The Ravens got in on the exodus, luring safety Marcus Williams from the New Orleans Saints. Not known for being big free-agency spenders, the Ravens shelled out a reported $70 million for the young, talented safety.

Baltimore then quickly hopped on inking Morgan Moses, one of the top tackles on the market, and had a reported agreement in place with one of the best edge rushers, Za'Darius Smith, before he backed out. Baltimore quickly pivoted to bring back one of the leading interior defensive linemen, Michael Pierce, and now brought back Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard.

It sure seems like teams around the league took notice of GM Les Snead's "f--- the picks" T-shirt at the Rams' Super Bowl parade. I still don't envision Eric DeCosta and the Ravens being a team that's going to embrace trading away first-round picks, but it sure seems like other AFC foes are down to figure out the future later in order to get a sniff of the Vince Lombardi Trophy now.

The Ravens don't seem to be reacting as much as they have been executing a free-agency plan. But there's no doubt that Baltimore knows what it's up against.

The Bengals, Bills and Chiefs all looked like premier threats to challenge for the conference crown in 2022. Now add the Broncos, Browns, Chargers and Raiders to the list. Heck, even the Jaguars have gotten better through their spending spree. They probably think they're this year's version of last year's Bengals.

In 2019, the 14-2 Ravens were the only team in the AFC North with a winning record. That won't be the case in 2022, with the Bengals coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Browns going all-in and the Steelers reloading but still a team that can never be counted out.

The Ravens are going to be in the title hunt as long as their stars return healthy and back to their previous forms. Lamar Jackson, of course, will have to continue his progression and play at a very high level. Seeing the other quarterbacks coming to the AFC, he's going to need to show he's a star among stars.

But even with all the additions made so far, there are still holes left to fill. Baltimore is going to have to continue to stay aggressive to keep pace.

With Jackson still on his fifth-year option, that $23 million salary cap hit is looking like more of a bargain with each passing day. Now is the time to win, before that number jumps even higher. A contract extension would probably lower that salary-cap hit in the short term, but not for long.

Asked last week about the Ravens' atypically aggressive start to free agency, DeCosta said, "I think we're known as a team that likes to chase the comp picks, but every single season presents different challenges – other teams, players available, your roster, the salary cap, draft capital, various things."

Notice that "other teams" was the first item on the list. The Ravens had a chance to get a premier, young player at a position of need. It was the "right player at the right time," DeCosta said.

The time is now, because the last thing the Ravens want is for the rest of the AFC contenders to pass them by.

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