What are the Ravens’ biggest offseason needs?

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Andrew Gillis
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What are the Ravens’ biggest offseason needs? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

A week ago, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta made it clear that the Ravens aren’t going to reinvent themselves this offseason. With an offense that’s ranked seventh and first in points the last two seasons, there’s not much need to. 

There are, however, some potentially major holes the Ravens need to patch before the 2021 season starts, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. There are a few underlying needs, like youth on the defensive line or depth in the secondary, but there are more pressing issues for the Ravens to attend to over the next few months.

Here are the three biggest positions to keep an eye on as the offseason gets underway: 

Offensive line

Interestingly enough, when asked about the team’s potential improvement in the passing game, the first thing DeCosta mentioned was about the offensive line.

“I think one of the things we have to do is get better up front with pass protection,” DeCosta said. “Losing Ronnie Stanley was definitely a tough deal for the offensive line to handle. Orlando (Brown Jr.) did a great job, and I think the offensive line, in general, really battled versus some adversity this year. But pass protection is going to be a factor. I think that having an OTA this year, if we can, more practice time would be a big thing.”

Interestingly enough, Brown tweeted Friday emphasizing the fact that he was a left tackle. 

A report by Jason La Canfora indicated that Brown would like to play left tackle, a position firmly taken up by the newly-extended Stanley. 

Obviously that situation bears watching as the offseason goes on, but Brown is under contract for 2021 and with him, the Ravens have perhaps the best tackle situation in the league. In 2020, it was the interior that caused them issues. 

Bradley Bozeman had another strong season at left guard, but center and right guard were question marks for most of the season. Simply snapping the ball was difficult at times, as both Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari both had games with poor snaps — Mekari’s poor game in the playoffs. Ben Powers stepped in at right guard and played well and could make a nice tandem with Brown, his former Oklahoma linemate, but adding a veteran presence up front could make for a nice add to a Ravens’ offensive line that has many puzzle pieces, but not a firm idea of where everything fits yet.

Wide Receiver

As the Ravens’ offense continued to struggle against the Bills in their divisional playoff loss two weeks ago, it became clear the Ravens needed some kind of spark on offense. The issue is what. 

DeCosta already mentioned the offensive line, but it was obvious the Ravens needed another pass-catcher to add to the duo of wideout Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. 

The issue, though, is where to get that player. 

The Ravens are set to pick 27th in the draft and have about $20 million to spend in free agency. There are certainly talented wide receivers available in both the draft and free agency this year for the Ravens to acquire. 

The problem is simply capital. The Ravens won’t get their hands on the draft’s top receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle or even tight end Kyle Pitts without a significant trade up and they might not have enough money to go after a top-flight free agent like Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay.

That could leave the Ravens with, while undoubtedly an upgrade, options like free agents Curtis Samuel and Corey Davis, or draft picks like Rashod Bateman and Amon-Ra St. Brown. 

“There are a lot of things that we can do,” DeCosta said. “It’s not all about getting the quote ‘No. 1 receiver’ that everybody likes to talk about. We will certainly look at that. We would try to upgrade every single position on this football team this offseason, if we can — based on the parameters of what we have to work with draft pick-wise, money-wise, and all the other challenges associated with building a football team.”

The Ravens will assuredly add receiver depth this offseason with Willie Snead, Dez Bryant and Chris Moore all set for free agency. 

It’s clear the Ravens need an upgrade at the receiver position, but acquiring one won’t be as easy as it seems.

Edge Rusher

This position has the most variance of any headed into the offseason. 

Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward are all free agents this offseason. That leaves just Jaylon Ferguson as someone who has rushed off the edge consistently left on the roster. 

DeCosta mentioned that quarterbacks got the ball out quicker in 2020 than they had in previous seasons, but also stressed the importance of having a sturdy pass rush they can rely upon. 

With a limited salary cap, it’s not clear what the Ravens’ options are with Judon and Ngakoue, both of whom figure to be headed for expensive contracts. If the market dictates both get long-term and high-paying deals, it’s a guarantee at least one of them will not be a Raven next season, and potentially both.

McPhee and Bowser and Ward all shouldn’t cost much, but the Ravens would be in a bit of a bind even with those three plus Ferguson, as none have stepped up as a true No. 1 pass rusher in the NFL. 

McPhee is excellent against the run and was dominant in the team’s playoff win over the Titans and he was tied with Ward and Ngakoue for the fourth-most sacks on the team (three). But McPhee, Ward, Bowser and Ferguson combined for 10 sacks all season. 

The Ravens have an incredibly talented secondary, which certainly helps out with a less-dominant pass rushing corps, but depending on who leaves this group over the next few weeks, the Ravens could make the priority for edge rushers high in both the draft and free agency.