The Baltimore Ravens had an underwhelming season in 2021, finishing with a lackluster 8-9 record. While the Ravens started hot, winning eight of their first 11 games, the wheels came off when both Marlon Humphrey and Lamar Jackson suffered season-ending injuries within three quarters of game time. With the defense unraveling in the final weeks, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was let go. The Ravens replaced him with University of Michigan defensive coordinator (and former Ravens assistant) Mike Macdonald.
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Pending Free Agents
The Ravens have $8.8 million in projected cap space for 2022 and 31 impending free agents. They have eight exclusive rights free agents, such as quarterback Tyler Huntley, and a pair of restricted free agents. In recent years, the Ravens have let expensive players walk while paying for second-tier free agents. For example, they re-signed Tyus Bowser instead of splurging for Yannick Ngakoue or Matthew Judon in March 2021. Perhaps no team is as adept at maximizing compensation picks by signing other teams’ cap casualties or trading for pieces, so if the Ravens have a quiet “true” free agency period, they will be active with compensatory picks.
While Campbell is going to be 36 by the time the season begins, he is still an impactful player. His influence is not always evident in the box score, but he is one of the better run defenders in the NFL and is still an elite space-eater on the defensive interior. In two seasons with the Ravens, Campbell has 5.5 sacks, seven pass deflections, and 10 tackles for loss. The Ravens should look to re-sign Campbell on a short-term contract, but he could be poached away by a different team. Given that Campbell wants to win a Super Bowl, and the Ravens are a reasonable Super Bowl destination (+2000 according to Caesars), Campbell has about a 60 percent chance to return.
Ricard has made three straight Pro Bowls as the star fullback for the Ravens. While most teams would retain their multi-time Pro Bowlers, the Ravens have a history of not paying the fullback position. Kyle Juszczyk spent four successful seasons with the Ravens from 2013 to 2016. He made his first Pro Bowl in 2016, and the Ravens let him walk the next offseason. He is currently on a streak of six Pro Bowls, one of five players to make all six. As effective as Ricard is for Baltimore’s exact offense, expect them to opt for a cheaper option. Ben Mason might be that option. The Ravens selected Mason in the fifth round of the 2021 draft, and they signed him away from the Chicago Bears in January.
Bozeman is a three-year starter along the offensive line, playing left guard in 2019 and 2020 before moving to center in 2021. He has played in 48 of 49 games, missing just a handful of snaps in three years. He had his best season in 2021, returning to his college position. Per PFF, Bozeman set career-highs in both run-blocking and pass-blocking grades. Four of the five spots along the line are accounted for, so Bozeman’s return could solidify the line for years to come. However, he may have played his way out of the Ravens’ checkbook. Bozeman’s positional versatility will boost his contract value, so there is about a 40 percent chance that Bozeman returns.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Ravens have limited restructure potential, ranking in the bottom five in restructured dollars, per Over the Cap. While they could save money by restructuring Ronnie Stanley or Humphrey’s contracts, expect them to have a handful of high-profile cap casualties. There will be lower-level casualties, but the Ravens might need to part ways with key pieces. If not, the Ravens will have limited upside in terms of roster improvement through free agency.
Alejandro Villanueva ($6 Million Saved)
The Villanueva experiment was a disaster. Villanueva allowed the most sacks of any season in his career, and he was just an average run blocker (65.9 PFF grade). With Stanley (likely) back at left tackle and the duo of Ja’Wuan James and Patrick Mekari fighting for right tackle, there is no room for Villanueva. He is the fourth-best tackle on the roster, and he is too expensive to keep.
Tavon Young ($5.8 Million Saved)
Young played 500 snaps for the first time since 2018, and he was solid despite being forced to play as a boundary corner for the second-most snaps of his career. Despite playing in all 17 games, Young only played 51 percent of snaps in a decimated secondary. He signed a three-year extension before the 2019 season, paying him premium money for a slot corner. He proceeded to play two games in two seasons before 2021. Like Villanueva, he is too expensive for the role he has on the team. The Ravens could re-sign him later in the offseason, but he has underperformed his contract.
Marcus Peters ($10 Million Saved)
Peters is the least likely of the three to be cut, but his $10 million saving figure might be enough to coerce the Ravens into cutting him. Peters tore his ACL and missed the entire 2021 season, so if the Ravens have any worry about Peters, he could end up off the team. He is one of 10 cornerbacks with an average annual value of $14 million or higher, so Baltimore could look to get younger and cheaper. Humphrey already is on the hook for $19.5 million per year.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
Entering free agency, the Ravens have three key positions of need. They could use offensive line reinforcements regardless of whether Villanueva or Bozeman return. Similarly, they need defensive line fortifications, particularly on the interior. Finally, the Ravens have a desperate need for a true free safety. DeShon Elliott (free agent) and Brandon Stephens (2021 draft pick) played free safety in 2021, but neither are true free safeties. However, the Ravens are unlikely to answer these needs with high-priority free agents. Ravens management generally prioritizes compensatory picks, so expect them to look for players from other teams who are cut as cap casualties rather than players whose contracts run out.
Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
The Ravens had interest in Mathieu when he was previously a free agent, so the match makes sense on paper. Mathieu is not exactly a true free safety, but he is one of the most versatile players in the NFL. In 2021, Mathieu logged more than 200 snaps in the slot, 300 snaps as a free safety, and 500 snaps as a box safety. He has even played 80 snaps as a boundary corner with the Chiefs. Mathieu would be the third All-Pro-caliber player in the Ravens’ secondary, and he is a takeaway machine. He had 13 interceptions with the Chiefs, notching 27 pass deflections. It is a relatively low chance, but the Ravens were linked to Mathieu in 2019 before they nabbed Earl Thomas.
Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints
Williams, unlike Mathieu, is a true free safety. He has played more than 4,000 snaps as a pure free safety in his five seasons with the Saints. Historically, when the Ravens have been at their best, they have had a superstar free safety patrolling the deep third. Williams is not quite Rod Woodson, Ed Reed, or Thomas, but he is one of the better free safeties in the NFL. Signing Williams would be a change from Baltimore’s usual processes, but they are a team that prioritizes the secondary.
Antonio Brown, Free Agent
Brown is exactly the free agent that the Ravens go after in their quest to accumulate as many compensatory picks as possible. While Mathieu and Williams would be subject to the compensatory formula, Brown would not. Brown has had his share of off-field issues in every stop in his NFL career, but the talent is undeniable. Brown would be the best receiver in franchise history the second he signs. He would join his cousin (Marquise Brown) and one of his good friends (Jackson) to enhance the Ravens’ passing attack. Brown is the most likely individual free agent to sign with the Ravens.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
In the early rounds of the draft, the Ravens still have their picks. They will pick up a third-round compensatory pick, but their most important round is the fourth. The Ravens have their own pick, but they also added one from the New York Giants and one from the Arizona Cardinals. The Ravens could package one or more of these fourth-round picks to move up in Days 1 or 2. They have a general history of taking the best player available, but they also trade down a reasonable amount. One exception is Jackson in 2018, one of the most rewarding trade-ups in the last decade.
Round 1, Pick 14: Edge Rusher
While the Ravens would love to pull the trigger on Kyle Hamilton (trade-up candidate) or Tyler Linderbaum, David Ojabo makes a lot of sense here. He has two huge connections to the 2022 Ravens defense. Not only was Macdonald his defensive coordinator at Michigan, but Ojabo was also high school teammates with Odafe Oweh, the Ravens’ 31st overall pick from 2021. Like Oweh, Ojabo is a toolsy edge defender with limitless potential. Ojabo is more polished as a pass rusher, but that is more of an indictment of Oweh than praise of Ojabo. With both Oweh and Ojabo, the Ravens would have two of the top-10 athletes among edge defenders.
Round 2, Pick 45: Defensive Back
The second round is more up in the air, but there are several defensive backs the Ravens could pull the trigger on here. If they want to draft a true cornerback, they could look at the likes of Kyler Gordon out of Washington. If they want a chess piece in the mold of Mathieu, they could go with Jalen Pitre or Daxton Hill. Lewis Cine and Kerby Joseph are pure safety options. Joseph is a true free safety while Cine is more of a hybrid. Hill could be a trade-up candidate while Joseph could be a trade-down candidate.
Round 3, Pick 76: Linebacker
There are a handful of linebackers who could be a solid addition to the Ravens’ linebacker corps. Outside of the two blue-chip linebackers, Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd, the next eight could go anywhere from the end of the first round to Day 3. Christian Harris, Brandon Smith, Brian Asamoah, Leo Chenal, Chad Muma, Troy Andersen, Channing Tindall, and Quay Walker offer the Ravens a variety of directions to go in.
Round 3, Pick 99: Best Player Available
If there is any guarantee for draft season, it is that the Ravens will have one mid-round pick that is a massive value. In 2021, the Ravens nabbed Tylan Wallace in the fourth round. They grabbed Devin Duvernay in the third round of 2020. For the Ravens’ third-round compensatory pick, expect them to select a player who had second-round or early third-round value here. They could look at a tight end like Cade Otton or offensive linemen like Dylan Parham, but value is king for the Ravens.
Early 2022 Expectations
While the Ravens had a disappointing 2021 season, there is a clear scapegoat: injuries. The Ravens have room to improve, but the team is better than 8-9. Vegas seems to agree as the Ravens are often among the top-10 teams in Super Bowl odds. The true number varies between bookies, but the Ravens are in the Super Bowl conversation in 2022. They are not quite on par with the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills. However, they are in the second wave of AFC teams with the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals. It would not be surprising to see the Ravens win 12 games, take the AFC North, and make a deep playoff run.
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