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The Baltimore Ravens are so close yet so far away from getting to another championship. As Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta takes the team into the offseason, one of the first things he has to do is look over the roster and see where his biggest needs are at.
Though Baltimore made it all the way to the divisional round of the playoffs, the Ravens enter this offseason with more than a few needs. Some are due to their pending free agents and others are rehashes of needs they’ve had for years but haven’t adequately addressed.
Before we here at Ravens Wire or even Baltimore can do anything this offseason, it all starts right here. Let’s take a look at the Ravens’ most pressing needs this offseason.
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Baltimore has both Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon set to become free agents this offseason. That means the Ravens could remedy their problem by re-signing one or both players. But it's not quite that simple. Neither Judon nor Ngakoue were sack machines in Baltimore, yet both are likely going to command a high price tag as if they did. It's easy to see how both players could quickly price themselves out of the Ravens' interest. Tyus Bowser could be a lesser but far cheaper option, especially if Baltimore is going to focus on the position early in the 2021 NFL draft. Of course, there are other pass rushers set to hit free agency as well. Between the potential influx of talent and nearly half the league expected to have negative cap space right now, the Ravens could decide to turn away all their own free agents and go get someone else entirely instead. Regardless of what Baltimore does here, they have to do something. If they don't either re-sign one of their own or go add a top pass rusher this offseason, the Ravens are in trouble. They'd enter the 2021 season with Jaylon Ferguson and Chauncey Rivers starting, which is less than ideal.
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Had Patrick Mekari not had such a poor day snapping the ball, the Ravens very well could have beaten the Buffalo Bills and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. That makes this arguably Baltimore's biggest problem on offense. There are some potential solutions already on the roster. Mekari is still signed through the 2021 season while Trystan Colon-Castillo is an exclusive rights free agent that will be cheap to re-sign. The Ravens even have left guard Bradley Bozeman available if needed. But Baltimore would probably be best to find a longer-term solution at the position. The Ravens won't have too many options available in free agency, where only a few top centers are set to hit the open market. Baltimore might just have to be patient and address this need during the first two days of the 2021 NFL draft. But if the offense is going to take the next step, the Ravens can't have centers firing balls all over the place and creating turnover opportunities.
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You might as well just put this on every Ravens offseason list from now until eternity. I've been covering this team for quite some time and it's been on every needs list every single year. This offseason isn't any different but at least Baltimore has narrowed down its need a little bit. While it's fashionable to say the Ravens need a "No. 1" wide receiver, they really don't. Baltimore truly just needs a big-bodied, outside possession receiver. If the Ravens could clone Anquan Boldin at any point of his career, they'd be set. Marquise Brown stepped up his game at the end of the regular season and into the postseason, pointing to some continued growth as he enters his third year in the NFL. With his straight-line speed, Brown is the ideal deep threat to take the top off a defense. But he's also got plenty of quickness, showing an ability to take even short throws the distance. Devin Duvernay and James Proche flashed a bit as well. With a full offseason with the team, there's hope both players will be a weapon from the slot primarily. Tight end Mark Andrews has been quarterback Lamar Jackson's best friend on the field, bailing him out of bad situations as a security blanket of sorts. That really leaves the other outside wide receiver role open right now. And with so many other niche roles filled already, the Ravens don't have to spend every cent they have trying to find the ultimate answer. Instead, getting a chain-mover with sure hands and an ability to win contested catches should be the priority. But make no mistake, finding that guy is a major priority if Jackson and this offense is going to grow at all.
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Just like at center, the Ravens have some options already on the roster at right guard. They selected Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson in last year's draft, and Ben Powers filled in nicely over the second half of the regular season. But you can never have too many starter-quality guards on a roster, so finding either a locked-in starter or adding more depth for a training camp competition is a priority. Baltimore's offensive identity is built around bullying opponents on the line of scrimmage and punching them in the mouth with the run game. Beefing up the offensive line is how the Ravens get that job done.
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I think Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott did a great job last season. They're smart, play fast, and can knock any player on their butts. But both are lacking in coverage, and in a passing league, Baltimore really needs to find a centerfielder at safety. The Ravens also need to find some depth at the position as they have just three safeties on the roster currently. As Baltimore saw last season, injuries can come quickly and hit a single position hard. They don't want to have to put no-name guys on the field when they're fighting for a playoff berth or in the postseason.
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This is another position the Ravens are reasonably situated with in 2021, but they need to be thinking about the very near future. When Nick Boyle suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 10, it became painfully obvious how much the position meant to Baltimore and how thin they were at it. Both Boyle and Andrews enter the final year of their contracts next season and the Ravens don't want to be forced into completely remaking the position in 2022. Baltimore has some options here in Eric Tomlinson, Eli Wolf, and Jacob Breeland; but none of them are much more than depth pieces right now. It would be ideal if the Ravens could find a star tight end to eventually replace Andrews since he's going to be expensive to re-sign. But at the very least, adding some capable depth and maybe a mid-round developmental player should be on Baltimore's plate this offseason.
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You can never have too many good cornerbacks. That's been a motto in Baltimore dating back to when general manager Ozzie Newsome was in charge, and new GM Eric DeCosta is continuing it. But it's more than just a philosophy in this situation. The Ravens could actually use more help at cornerback for 2021. Tavon Young is phenomenal when he's healthy and on the field. Unfortunately, he hasn't been either of those things for Baltimore since signing a contract extension nearly two years ago, having found his way to injured reserve in each of the last two seasons. While the Ravens trimmed his salary moving forward, they'd be foolish to not have a plan for replacing him as early as next season. Even if Baltimore figures out their slot cornerback situation -- seeing Young return at 100% or finding his replacement -- the Ravens need to stack the roster with more depth and some developmental options on both the inside and outside. Marcus Peters is only signed through the 2022 season and he could even be a salary-cap cut this offseason if the Ravens need the extra cash. Jimmy Smith is returning for another year but he's at the end of his career and could easily slide from good to bad overnight. Anthony Averett would probably be at the top of the pile to replace Peters but I don't think he's quite capable of filling those shoes. Iman Marshall and Khalil Dorsey are intriguing options but they have a grand total of 13 snaps on defense combined. Baltimore doesn't need to pay a top free agent or drop a first-round pick on a cornerback. But if the right player comes around for the right price, don't be shocked to see the Ravens happily add to their secondary. Either way, I'd expect Baltimore to spend a late-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft on the position, at the minimum.