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Pressing questions, salary cap space, team needs and more – Boston Herald


This week, the Ravens will turn their full attention toward one of the most pivotal offseasons in team history.

On Thursday, coach John Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta will speak to the media at the team’s Owings Mills facility to discuss the past and future of the team, which has not advanced past the divisional round in four of the past five postseasons and has yet to agree on a long-term contract with its biggest star.

As the Ravens look to regroup following a 10-8 campaign, here’s a look ahead at the offseason.

Pressing questions

What happens with quarterback Lamar Jackson? One of the biggest storylines not only in Baltimore but around the NFL is what happens with Jackson’s contract negotiations as he enters unrestricted free agency. The 2019 NFL Most Valuable player missed the final six games of the season with a sprained knee a year after sitting out the final four games in 2021 with a bone bruise in his ankle, casting doubt about his durability as he reportedly seeks a fully guaranteed contract. If the Ravens can’t come to terms with the 2018 first-round draft pick, they can bring him back on the one-year franchise tag, which is expected to be around $45 million for quarterbacks. The Ravens must make that decision between Feb. 21 and March 7, although the franchise tag still leaves room for negotiations to continue on a long-term contract.

What does the offense look like next season? Even if Jackson returns, there are still major questions about the direction of an offense that finished with one of the league’s least productive passing attacks. Greg Roman has been heavily scrutinized during his four seasons as offensive coordinator for a lack of creativity with his passing concepts, though the Ravens’ rushing game returned to form in 2022 by ranking second in the NFL in efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. While Jackson performed at an MVP level during the first month of the season, he had few opportunities to play with a full complement of weapons as running back J.K. Dobbins and wide receiver Rashod Bateman stepped in and out of the lineup because of injuries. With Bateman undergoing surgery to address a Lisfranc injury in his foot, the Ravens once again enter the offseason needing help at wide receiver.

Which veterans are staying or going? Defensive lineman Calais Campbell hasn’t committed to coming back for his 16th season. His retirement would open up a big hole not only on defense, but in the locker room, as the six-time Pro Bowl selection has been a steady leader throughout his Ravens tenure. Other major contributors such as cornerback Marcus Peters, outside linebacker Justin Houston and left guard Ben Powers are entering free agency, as well as important role players such as tight end Josh Oliver, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and running back Justice Hill.

Salary cap situation

The NFL Network reported in early December that the salary cap for the 2023 season is expected to exceed $220 million. That would set an all-time record after the cap for the 2022 season came in at $208.2 million.

According to data from Over The Cap, the Ravens’ effective cap space — calculated after the team signs at least 51 players and its projected rookie class to its roster — will be roughly $24.1 million. That projection ranks eighth highest in the NFL.

However, if the Ravens come to an agreement with Jackson on a lucrative contract extension, it could create short-term savings. During the first year of their deals, the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson and the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen each had cap hits at or below $17 million. Otherwise, a $45 million franchise tag for Jackson could be prohibitive to signing potential free agents.

The Ravens could also free up space by releasing or trading players with relatively significant cap hits — such as running back Gus Edwards, safety Chuck Clark and defensive tackle Michael Pierce — or by restructuring lucrative contracts for left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and tight end Mark Andrews.

Draft picks

The Ravens are expected to have five picks in April’s draft, which would be one of their smallest classes ever. The only other Baltimore draft with fewer than six picks came in 1999, the year before the franchise won its first Super Bowl.

The reason? Trades and a lack of compensatory picks. The Ravens are sending their second- and one of their fifth-round selections to the Chicago Bears as part of the midseason trade for inside linebacker Roquan Smith, whom they signed to a five-year, $100 million extension. Their seventh-round pick is also heading to the New York Giants as part of the deal for guard Ben Bredeson in August 2021.

For the first time since 2010, the Ravens are not expected to receive any compensatory draft picks, which are awarded based on the players each team lost and gained in free agency. The Ravens received three comp picks in 2022 — a third-round pick (No. 100) and two fourth-round picks (139, 141).

Free agents

Unrestricted: QB Lamar Jackson, CB Marcus Peters, OLB Justin Houston, CB Kyle Fuller, RT Ja’Wuan James, WR Sammy Watkins, OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, DE Brent Urban, OLB Steven Means, TE Josh Oliver, RB Kenyan Drake, WR Demarcus Robinson, OLB Vince Biegel, CB Kevon Seymour, RB Justice Hill, G Ben Powers, CB Daryl Worley

Restricted: QB Tyler Huntley, C Trystan Colon, LB Kristian Welch, S Geno Stone, OLB Del’Shawn Phillips, LS Nick Moore

Exclusive rights: DB Ar’Darius Washington

Positional needs

Wide receiver: Through a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness, wide receiver has continued to be a weak spot for the Ravens. According to ESPN, over the past three seasons, Baltimore is last in the NFL in receiving yards by wide receivers by more than 800 yards. With Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay both recovering from season-ending foot injuries and veterans Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins hitting free agency, there should be even more urgency to find a top wideout to help improve the passing game.

Cornerback: If Marcus Peters doesn’t return, the Ravens will need another starting cornerback opposite three-time Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey. Brandon Stephens played the third-most snaps among Ravens corners in 2022 but has been inconsistent since being drafted in the third round in 2021. Rookies Damarion “Pepe” Williams and Jalyn Armour-Davis also struggled after being thrust into the starting lineup early in the season. Veteran Kyle Fuller, who turns 31 on Feb. 16, played only 80 snaps before suffering a torn ACL.

Defensive line: Justin Madubuike, Travis Jones and Broderick Washington have formed a solid group on the interior, but the Ravens didn’t get much production from their edge rushers outside of soon-to-be 34-year-old Justin Houston. Young outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo have shown promise, but the Ravens will need to replace roughly 1,800 combined snaps from Houston, Calais Campbell, Jason Pierre-Paul and Brent Urban if those veterans do not return.

Offensive line: The strong return of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and the steadiness of veteran right tackle Morgan Moses has solidified two spots that were a major question mark entering 2022. Rookie Tyler Linderbaum has also graded as one of the league’s best centers after being drafted in the first round. However, with left guard Ben Powers entering free agency and right guard Kevin Zeitler entering the final year of his deal, there’s a need on the interior. Fourth-round pick Daniel Faalele is a promising talent and Patrick Mekari is a versatile piece, but the Ravens could use another young prospect or two to either start at guard or serve as a swing tackle.

Key dates

Feb. 2: East-West Shrine Bowl (Las Vegas)

Feb. 4: Senior Bowl (Mobile, Alabama)

Feb. 28-March 6: NFL scouting combine (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis)

March 7: Deadline for clubs to designate franchise or transition players

March 13-15: Clubs are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents

March 15: The start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET. All 2022 player contracts expire and clubs can begin officially signing free agents and making trades

March 26-29: NFL annual meeting (Phoenix)

April 3: Start of offseason workouts for teams with new head coaches

April 17: Start of offseason workouts for teams with incumbent coaches

April 26: Last day for teams to match offer sheets for restricted free agents

April 27: Deadline for teams to time, test and interview draft-eligible prospects

April 27-29: NFL draft (Kansas City, Missouri)



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