The Ravens never expected their season to end as suddenly as it did. After the best regular season in franchise history, the Ravens were defeated in the divisional round and their offseason is here.
Here are some key questions as they prepare for free agency, the draft, and the 2020 offseason:
How will the Ravens improve their pass rush?
Bolstering the pass rush is a top priority after Baltimore finished 21st in the NFL in sacks (37) despite blitzing more than any other team. Matthew Judon had a Pro Bowl season and was far and away the team's best pass rusher with 9 ½ sacks. The next closest teammate was Tyus Bowser with five sacks.
Judon will be a free agent in March and he is in line for a huge payday if he hits the open market. Will the Ravens place the franchise tag on Judon, insuring that they keep him at least one more season? Will they offer him a deal that entices him to stay? Or will they lose their best pass rusher in his prime at age 27, after losing Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs during last year's free agency? Smith finished sixth in the league in sacks (13 ½) with the Green Bay Packers, helping them reach the NFC Championship game.
Rookie Jaylon Ferguson had 2 ½ sacks and showed promise. Bowser made strides and could continue to improve. Pass rushers are a valuable commodity, and regardless of what happens with Judon, the Ravens will be targeting pass rushers this offseason via the draft, free agency, or trades.
How w*ill Lamar Jackson improve this offseason?*
The same question was asked last offseason and Jackson answered it emphatically, having a remarkable season that made him MVP-worthy. However, the playoff loss to Tennessee leaves him with another sour ending to cope with, and Jackson has never hidden his obsession with winning a Super Bowl. Jackson was trying to fast-forward the norm by leading the Ravens to a championship in his first full season as a starting quarterback. It didn't happen, but Jackson is only 23 years old and remains the key player leading the direction of this franchise.
His competitiveness and resiliency have never been questioned. Even if he doesn't have better statistics next season, Jackson will be determined to return a better player in 2020. He can still make strides as a passer after leading the NFL in touchdown passes (36), increasing his completion percentage by nearly eight points (66.1) and posting a quarterback rating of 113.3. Jackson's 2019 season put the NFL on notice. The Ravens have a special quarterback, one who's good enough to give them more shots at winning a Lombardi Trophy for years to come.
What's the next step for the Ravens' offense?
After setting offensive records all season, Baltimore scored a season-low 12 points in its playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, despite posting 530 yards of offense. For the second straight year, the Ravens were held under 20 points at home in the postseason and it cost them dearly.
The Ravens had the NFL's top rushing attack and the league's deepest tight end group. However, almost half of Jackson's 3,127 passing yards went to his tight ends (1,522 yards) – Mark Andrews (852), Hayden Hurst (349) and Nick Boyle (321). Don't be surprised if the Ravens look to acquire another wide receiver target who can make their passing attack more diverse.
Which young players will improve the most this offseason?
Jackson became the presumptive MVP in his second season, while Andrews, Judon, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and left tackle Ronnie Stanley became Pro Bowlers for the first time. Now the Ravens have other young players whose development will be important to the team's success. That list includes wide receiver Marquise Brown (46 catches, 584 yards, seven touchdowns), who was an impact rookie as the team's best deep threat, Brown, Ferguson, wide receiver Miles Boykin, running back Justice Hill and guard Bradley Bozeman.
How different will the cornerback rotation look next season?
Eric DeCosta made a host of key moves in his first year as general manager, including trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and signing him to a long-term contract. Peters and Humphrey give the Ravens a cornerback tandem that ranks second to none. But Jimmy Smith is an unrestricted free agent, the team must decide whether to exercise Brandon Carr's contract option, and nickel cornerback Tavon Young missed the entire season following a neck injury. Young's return would allow Humphrey's return to playing outside, but it will be interesting to see if Smith and Carr are back in the fold. Baltimore also has some talented youngsters in Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall. The Ravens' deep and versatile secondary was a key part of the 2019 team's success.
Can the Ravens find another playmaking inside linebacker?
Losing C.J. Mosley during free agency last year left the Ravens scrambling early in the season. Josh Bynes and L..J. Fort were signed after Week 4, with Fort eventually agreeing to a contract extension. However, Patrick Onwuasor who was second on the team in tackles (64), is an impending free agent, as is Bynes. The Ravens' may also lose free agent defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who is a solid run stopper. Adding an athletic, sure-tackling linebacker looks like a priority to help the Ravens deal with running backs that hurt them like Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry.