The Ravens did what many thought was possible, or even likely, last week when they added pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue to a defense already stacked with talent.
In order to acquire the Maryland-native, the Ravens sent a third and fifth round draft choice to Minnesota which made a few things abundantly clear.
Firstly, the Ravens are certainly all-in on the 2020 season. That was never in question, especially after their remarkable 2019 campaign with a significant portion of the roster returning. Now, the Ravens hope they’ve got a pass rush capable of getting to the quarterback without sending exotic blitzes of six or more defenders.
It’s not hard to see the Ravens’ plan for Ngakoue (or whatever pass rusher they wanted) was rooted in the fact that they want to get after the quarterback by sending as few defensive players as possible. It’s not an in-depth football strategy to figure out, it’s simple mathematics.
Baltimore wants to have as many players as possible defending the pass while still disrupting the opposition’s quarterback as if it was blitzing. The Ngakoue addition creates that possibility.
“You have more people in coverage,” defensive back Jimmy Smith said Wednesday. “If you have six guys out in coverage compared to everybody in zero blitz or manned up, it just gives you an opportunity more to defend the pass. If you can get pressure generated out of a front four, there’s a lot more you can do back there on the back-end.”
In that regard, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, who is usually commended for his aggressiveness and creativity as it relates to sending blitzes, could become more and more creative in the secondary.
There are a ton of variables as it relates to the Ravens’ future on the field, but off the field, there are still a handful of questions to answer about the direction of the Ravens over the next week.
The trade deadline is on Nov. 3, which means the Ravens and general manager Eric DeCosta have less than a week to bring in a player from another team, if they want to make another move. But their options may be limited.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Ravens have $3.786 million in cap space (sixth-least in the league) so any move they make would require some significant restructuring, or a piece moving out the door in return — which isn’t the idea the Ravens have in mind.
Additionally, they’ve got a limited supply of 2021 draft choices to offer a team looking to shed salary and add future young players to a team. Those young players will be of high-priority next year, and perhaps in the coming years, as the league’s salary cap is likely to take a hit.
The Ravens have a limited amount of picks next year, and they’d likely be hesitant to further dip into that pool and hamper the team’s ability in the upcoming offseason. For those reasons, a trade would have to be very carefully constructed or cost next-to-nothing for the Ravens to make.
There are a few options that make sense, considering the Ravens’ needs on the roster.
The team could use an interior lineman to plug in at right guard, or a tight end/wide receiver to help in the pass game, or another cornerback to give the team even more depth on the back-end.
All are moves that would make sense for the Ravens. The offensive line hasn’t been what it was without Marshal Yanda, the passing game has struggled and Dez Bryant is likely a few weeks away from making a significant impact and the cornerback depth has been tested with Tavon Young, Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall all on Injured Reserve. Averett, who was playing well this season, is set to return in a few weeks, but only after the Ravens complete their murderer’s row of games in November.
Slot cornerback Brian Poole of the Jets, who is rumored to be on the market, would make sense, as his cap figure is just $4.937 million, a figure the Ravens can certainly work around to get him in the building. The Ravens are fine at cornerback now with Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Marcus Peters, but if one of those three suffers an injury, they’re going to rely on some unproven secondary talent to get by. That’s not a position they want to be in.
According to a report from Ed Kracz of Sports Illustrated in Philadelphia, the Ravens made an offer for standout Eagles tight end Zach Ertz — who is under contract for 2020 and three more years after. His cap figure for 2020 is $12.481 million.
“Interest in Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was percolating, and a source indicated that at least two teams, the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Ravens, made offers right before he was placed on Injured Reserve on Oct. 22,” Kracz wrote Monday.
If that’s true, the Ravens have certainly made it clear they’re interested in adding offensive weapons to help quarterback Lamar Jackson.
There’s a handful of directions the Ravens could go before Tuesday’s deadline, and truthfully, one path is a train to nowhere. A deal might not come to fruition as a player — free agent or otherwise — might require more money and/or draft choices than the Ravens are willing to pony up.
Additionally, the Ravens have a young roster with rookies looking to make contributions across the roster. What right guard Tyre Phillips, or wideout Devin Duvernay, or any other young player may need more than anything else is simply time to develop.
But should the Ravens be done adding players to the roster, the Ngakoue acquisition is certainly a move they’ll be able to feel good about. As for other moves they didn’t make, those will simply be lost to the category of “What if?