Toughest Ravens Decisions to Make This Offseason


Eric DeCosta already rolled up his sleeves and hammered out an extension with safety Chuck Clark, but there's still a lot more work to do this offseason.

In his first year as general manager, pretty much everything DeCosta touched turned to gold. His two big free-agent signings, Earl Thomas III and Mark Ingram II, both went to the Pro Bowl. His top draft pick, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, broke franchise records.

During the season, DeCosta got a steal in trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and rebuilt the defense on the fly with other signings of L.J. Fort, Josh Bynes, Jihad Ward and more.

As DeCosta and the rest of the Ravens' chief decision-makers massage the roster this offseason, there will be many more tough decisions to make, many of which were probably already discussed at Owner Steve Bisciotti's house in Jupiter, Fla.

Here are some of the toughest decisions remaining in Baltimore:

What to do with Matthew Judon

Judon is the Ravens' biggest pending unrestricted free agent. Pure and simple, Judon is the Ravens' best pass rusher and Baltimore needs more pass rush after finishing 21st in the NFL in sacks last season. He's been very dependable with 28.5 sacks over his four seasons, including a team-high 9.5 last year. Judon is going to get big money somewhere this offseason; the question is whether the Ravens are the team that's going to give it to him. The franchise tag is an option, and it's been reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Baltimore could tag and trade him. If so, what pass rusher would the Ravens add and how much would he cost?

Who else to keep in the secondary

DeCosta already made one move to secure the long-term future of the Ravens' stacked secondary by agreeing to a three-year extension with Clark. But two veteran cornerbacks who have played huge roles in recent seasons are question marks. Jimmy Smith is a pending unrestricted free agent and Brandon Carr has a club option. Baltimore is already rich with a Pro Bowl duo at cornerback with Peters and Marlon Humphrey. Tavon Young, who got a big contract extension last offseason, will return from a neck injury in the slot.

With that said, the Ravens never want to be short-handed at corner again, as their spending at the position in recent years illustrates. Baltimore loves being able to roll in multiple cornerbacks. Are Anthony Averett and/or Iman Marshall ready to step into a primary backup role? Could the Ravens afford to be without both Smith and Carr? Bring back one of them? If so, which one? Smith is a rare talent but has availability question marks due to persistent injuries. Carr is always available but started to transition to safety last season, though that adds versatility.

Level of investment at wide receiver

The Ravens have a young, talented offense. They're loaded at quarterback, running back and tight end. As far as skill positions, wide receiver is the area for growth. But how heavy should that investment be this offseason? Brown is in position to make a Year 2 jump and veteran Willie Snead IV will be back. Seth Roberts and Chris Moore are pending free agents.

Much of this depends on the level of faith in young wideouts Miles Boykin (a third-round pick in 2019) and Jaleel Scott (a fourth-round pick in 2018). Boykin was the toast of the town in training camp and the preseason last year, and he made some plays given his limited opportunities (13 catches, 198 yards, three touchdowns). Is Boykin ready for a starting role? Scott flashed his talent as well over the summer but was active for just three games and made one catch. Does Baltimore make a big signing? Use a Day 1 or Day 2 pick? Aim for the middle rounds again?

Boosting the offensive line

Baltimore had one of the league's top offensive lines in 2019, anchored by perhaps the best tackle duo in Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., and potential future Hall of Famer Marshal Yanda at right guard. Bradley Bozeman proved a lot in his sophomore season, establishing himself as a full-time starter at left guard. The biggest question marks are at center and right guard. If Yanda retires, it leaves a big hole with no clear in-house replacement. At center, Matt Skura (who was having a strong season) is coming off a major knee injury and hopes to be ready for training camp. Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari held his own after Skura's injury. But in back-to-back years, the Ravens got beat in the trenches in their opening playoff loss, which leaves a feeling of wanting to upgrade.

Where to spend in the front seven

The Ravens have more salary cap space than usual this offseason with Joe Flacco's contract off the books. So where's the best place to invest it? Head Coach John Harbaugh said the team's focus is on improving the front seven. Is that money best spent on an edge rusher, disruptive down lineman or inside linebacker? Edge rusher is the most expensive of the bunch, generally speaking. The run defense was fifth-best in the league, but only Fort is under contract at inside linebacker. Most analysts, at this time, project Baltimore to draft either an inside linebacker or edge rusher with their first-round pick.

Other extensions still remaining

When he took over, DeCosta made it clear that he wanted to retain Baltimore's best young players before they hit the open market, and he's followed through on his word by reaching numerous extensions. The biggest name left on the list is Stanley, who was graded as the league's top left tackle and best pass blocker (at any position) by Pro Football Focus. He has the look of a franchise left tackle, and is about to enter the fifth and final year of his rookie deal. Do the Ravens hammer out an extension before he suits up next season?

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