Ravens Discussed Trade for Julio Jones Prior to Draft
Any speculation about the Ravens trading for Julio Jones is over, but it was warranted.
On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans traded a reported 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Julio Jones and a 2023 sixth-round pick.
NFL Network's Peter Schrager reported that the Ravens were never one of the main teams contending for Jones. The Ravens were reportedly at least interested, however.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that the Ravens discussed a trade with the Falcons before the draft but pulled out of the running after drafting Rashod Bateman in the first round.
"The Falcons took a swing at trading Jones during the week of the draft, but at that point their asking price—a first-round pick—prevented an agreement from being reached," Breer wrote. "Another thing that complicated Atlanta's push to get a deal done was that it could be agreed to then, but not executed until after June 1 (when Atlanta could move $15.5 million of Jones' $22.25 million in dead money from 2021 to 2022).
Breer reported that the only first-round pick offered for Jones was part of a pick swap. Another big part of Jones landing in Tennessee is because the Titans are reportedly taking on his contract of $15.3 million in 2021.
"There were plenty of things working against Jones making his way to the Ravens, including his big contract, how much Baltimore invested in the wide receiver position and more," Ravens Wire’s Kevin Oestricher Oestreicher wrote. "While there's no doubt that Jones would have made the Ravens' offense better, the team obviously didn't feel comfortable enough to bring him in and will ultimately roll with what they already have on their roster."
Focus Shifts to Developing Young Receivers
It's no secret that receiver has been a hot topic of conversation in Baltimore, but Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried wrote not acquiring Jones shifts the focus to developing the young receivers.
"[T]he Ravens already invested heavily in the wide receiver position this offseason," Freid wrote. "They signed Sammy Watkins in free agency and added both Bateman and Tylan Wallace in the 2021 NFL Draft.
"Baltimore could focus on developing their young receivers such as Bateman, Wallace, Devin Duvernay, and even Marquise Brown. Meanwhile, they could use their future cap space to ink both Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews to long-term deals — two contracts that are certainly more important than Jones."
For years, the Ravens have relied on veteran pass catchers, but now they've become one of the most aggressive teams drafting receivers. That continued when General Manager Eric DeCosta doubled up on receivers in the draft.
Even Watkins, who was signed as the "veteran" of the group, is only 27.
"The Ravens' two biggest additions at wide receiver — Bateman and Watkins — could help stretch the field," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "Bateman averaged 20.3 yards per catch in 2019 (his last full season in college), and Watkins produced 18 catches of 20-plus yards in 2015 (his one season with Roman as his offensive coordinator in Buffalo). Brown, Baltimore's fastest receiver, is also participating in his first full offseason after being limited in 2019 (recovering from foot surgery) and catching passes in his driveway in 2020 (NFL canceled in-person offseason activities due to COVID-19)."
The Ravens have put the pieces in place to develop their young receivers. That includes adding Wide Receivers Coach Tee Martin and Pass Game Specialist Keith Williams to the coaching staff.
Baltimore still returns one of the league's highest-scoring offenses with or without Jones. Now they'll have a chance to see what a group of young receivers can do.
"It's honestly reassuring that the Ravens did not move heaven and earth to get Jones," Russell Street Report’s Nekhil Mehta wrote. "It means that the team is confident in their WR room as-is, despite its relative youth and inexperience.
"… Only time will tell if the Ravens should have gone all-in on Jones. But the Ravens have never treated the acquisition of one player as an end-all, be-all for the franchise, a strategy that has always served them well."
Pass Rush Still Among Ravens' Biggest Questions
The Ravens have addressed a lot throughout the offseason, but what remains one of their biggest questions?
That's what Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport looked at for every team. For the Ravens, it's still centered around the pass rush.
"For a team that is considered by some to be the front-runners in the AFC North and a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Ravens have a few questions," Davenport wrote. "There are new starters along the offensive line. Baltimore's wide receiver corps remains a work in progress. And after losing Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, the pass rush is a potential question mark."
Similar to receiver, the Ravens have infused outside linebacker with young talent. Aside from 32-year-old Pernell McPhee, Baltimore doesn't have a player older than 30 at the position.
"The Ravens are confident they have the type of system where they can plug-and-play with the pass rush," Russell Street Report’s Todd Karpovich wrote. "They let Za'Darius Smith leave via free agency after a 10.5 sack season. If the Ravens are worried about the pass rush, they sure aren't showing it."
Aside from receiver, pass rusher has been the other obvious position where the Ravens could add a veteran. Names like Justin Houston and Melvin Ingram have been mentioned as potential options, but the buzz has quieted down.
"[T]he Ravens have a track record of successfully replacing edge-rushers who depart in free agency," Davenport wrote. "But if Baltimore is going to hold off the Browns and Steelers in what may be the AFC's toughest division, the team needs a couple of pass-rushers to step in as at least capable starters."
Ravens Can't Afford to Lose Ronnie Stanley … Again
Aside from quarterback, you can make the argument that left tackle is the most important position on a football field.
That's what CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin did when he looked at the non-quarterback each team can't afford to lose.
"The Ravens advanced to the playoffs after losing [Ronnie] Stanley to an ankle injury, and Jackson is better than anyone at making plays on his own," Benjamin wrote. "But an extended period without a legitimate left tackle isn't good for any QB. Orlando Brown Jr. isn't walking through that door. Marlon Humphrey would be a reasonable name here as well, though Baltimore's better about unearthing defensive starters."
The Ravens know firsthand how important tackles are after Stanley suffered a season-ending ankle injury in 2020. In five seasons, he's cemented himself as one of the best tackles in the league.
As Benjamin noted, the Ravens don't have the same depth at the position after trading Brown to the Chiefs. That highlights Stanley's role even more, as he's charged with protecting a quarterback who's expected to receive a new contract sometime in the near future.
"Of course, this will likely be one of the biggest contracts in NFL history so it's no small task to hammer out, but it should be something that the Ravens put an emphasis on getting done before the 2021 season," CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan wrote.