The Baltimore Ravens finished last season with a 14-2 record after winning their final 12 regular-season games. Led by eventual NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, they looked like Super Bowl favorites.
Things changed on a dime as heavy home favorites against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Baltimore relied too much on what was a mistake-prone Jackson, shockingly losing by the score of 28-12.
Heading into the offseason, Baltimore must do certain things to help Jackson if it hopes to knock off the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC next season.
Here’s the gist: Baltimore must find upgrades at wide receiver and would benefit from more reinforcements in the defensive front seven. That’s what general manager Eric DeCosta has to focus on initially.
The salary cap: Baltimore currently finds itself $26.57 million under the cap. It has a few players to think about re-signing, but can create more cap room with the following moves.
Internal free agents: As noted above, John Harbaugh and the Ravens have a couple of their own free agents that should be priority re-signs.
Free-agent upgrades: Let’s assume for a second that Judon and Skura are re-signed at a combined annual cap hit of an estimated $24 million, Baltimore will still have room to work with.
Cory Littleton, linebacker
This would be a way for Baltimore to get younger at linebacker and upgrade over the above-mentioned Onwuasor. Littleton, 26, is a season removed from earning a Pro Bowl appearance with the Rams. He recorded 134 tackles, nine passes defended, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2019. Los Angeles will have a hard time re-signing him with the team’s cap situation in shambles.
A.J. Green, wide receiver
What better way to stick it to the division rival Bengals than by signing their longtime future Hall of Famer? Despite missing all of last season to injury, the 31-year-old Green would be a major upgrade over the likes of Willie Snead and Seth Roberts behind Marquise Brown. Those two combined for just 52 receptions in 2019. Green could probably be had for about $10-$11 million annually.
The NFL Draft: In order to remain viable over the long haul, teams must find cheap and young talent. The draft is obviously Baltimore’s best avenue to do just that. Here, we check in on what the first few rounds should look like.
1- Laviska Shenault, wide receiver, Colorado: Baltimore needs more talent behind Brown at receiver. Enter into the equation a big-bodied receiver in Shenault who can make the contested catch. He stands at 6-foot-2 and holds down a 220-pound frame. We could not ask for a better fit next to Brown for Jackson and Co. moving forward.
2- Troy Dye, linebacker, Oregon: Veteran Josh Bynes was a stopgap option, at best, last season. Baltimore needs more youth at linebacker. A 6-foot-4, 225-pound backer, Dye has tremendous athleticism and could come in immediately in nickel situations with his already plus-level cover skills.
3- Daryl Williams, guard, Mississippi State: Marshall Yanda is not getting any younger. Bradley Bozeman is serviceable, but not a major talent. Taking a chance on the high-upside Williams, who can also play center, makes sense. At least initially, he’d provide the necessary depth for Baltimore.
4- Denzel Mims, wide receiver, Baylor: Why not triple down at wide receiver this offseason? After adding A.J. Green and Shenault, Baltimore selects a big-bodied 6-foot-3 receiver for Jackson to play catch with. Mims was highly productive at Baylor and could ultimately turn into a good No. 2, if needed.
4- Tony Pride, cornerback, Notre Dame: The Ravens will likely see longtime corner Jimmy Smith depart in free agency. Equally as important, they need a youngster at the slot. Pride was the Irish’ best corner last season and excelled in taking on a larger role after Julian Love departed for the NFL. He’s a great fit.
This offseason should be spent finding more weapons for the electric Lamar Jackson on offense. He has two elite players in that of tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Marquise Brown.
However, in order to contend with the high-flying Chiefs, more weapons are needed. In getting A.J. Green and Laviska Shenault, the Ravens would be telling Jackson they are all in for the 2020 season.
Littleton would be a nice upgrade at linebacker. Meanwhile, Dye could come in and start immediately.
This is what we expect Baltimore to do during the 2020 offseason. Go all in. Put the defending champs on notice. Because, if you’re not getting better in the NFL, you are not doing it right. It’s a win-now league. The time is now for John Harbaugh and Co. to continue working under that philosophy like they have done in the recent past.