Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Baltimore Ravens.
Just think. If the Ravens had just stopped Tyler Boyd of the Cincinnati Bengals from scoring a last-second touchdown near the end of the final game of the regular reason, they would’ve made the playoffs. Instead, they went into the offseason early.
Now, the team needs to decide how much longer they’ll stick with Joe Flacco at quarterback. Yes, it wasn’t too long ago that he helped lead them to a Super Bowl victory, but his numbers have visibly fallen in the years since. He had just 3,141 passing yards and 18 touchdowns in 2017, not the type of production you want from a championship QB.
In Flacco’s defense, he hasn’t exactly had a lot of help from the rest of the offense, mostly in the passing game. The Ravens offense was 11th in the league in rushing yardage, but they were fourth worst through the air. The offensive line hasn’t been great either, allowing 60 sacks the past two years.
Thankfully, the Ravens defense is still one of the better units in football. They were the 12th best defense in terms of yards allowed in 2018, ranking in the upper half of the league against both the run and pass. They were also 6th in points allowed. There are no glaring holes to fill there either, which will allow all the focus to go to the offense this offseason.
The goal for head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome (in his last season before transitioning to a different executive role with the organization) is to add as many weapons as possible for Flacco to fall back on next year. If he still can’t break free from mediocrity, then maybe they can move on from him in 2019.
Current number of draft picks: 7 (#16 in the first round)
Cap space: $8-11 million
Notable free agents
Mike Wallace, WR: Hard to believe that Wallace was one of the top free agent wideouts just five years ago. He only made it through two years of his five-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, getting traded to the Minnesota Vikings and then getting cut after another season.
The Ravens signed him to a cheaper two-year contract, and while he hasn’t been able to recapture his glory years from when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he still led the team in receiving yards for both seasons. He had 52 catches for 748 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2017. In any case, the Ravens might be better off looking to the draft for an upgrade at receiver.
Benjamin Watson, TE: After 14 years in the league, Watson is still kicking, and he remains a reliable option at tight end. Despite coming off a torn Achilles injury from last season, he led the team in receptions with 61 for 522 yards and 4 touchdowns. At 37, Watson may never be a top-tier player again, but he can act as a short-term solution if need be.
Ryan Jensen, C: Jensen had his best year as a pro, ranking 9th in Pro Football Focus’ center grades and allowing just 3 sacks all season. His run blocking was fairly decent as well. With the shakiness of the rest of the offensive line, keeping Jensen on the team would be a nice luxury for the Ravens.
Terrance West, RB: West began the season as the Ravens starting running back, but he quickly saw his snaps decrease as injury and mediocre play set in. He ended up playing in just 5 games, only managing 138 yards. While West was dealing with a calf injury, he was never put on injured reserve, so his lack of appearances came down to other backs replacing him. He may be able to find a backup role elsewhere, but the Ravens won’t need him.
WR: Wallace going to free agency will deplete the Ravens receiving corps further. Jeremy Maclin is just a #2 option at best at this point in his career, while Breshad Perriman has been a first-round bust. The Ravens will have the opportunity to take one of the top receivers in the draft this year though.
C: Jensen will be a free agent and could end up getting attention from other teams. The only other center on the roster, backup Luke Bowanko, is also a free agent.
G: The Ravens interior offensive line was ravaged by injuries in 2017. They ended up having to use six different guards during the season. While stud right guard Marshal Yanda will be returning, left guard James Hurst is a free agent and not a very good one at that.
TE: With Watson and Crockett Gillmore going to free agency, the Ravens will be left with just Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle at tight end. An intermediate option for Flacco is essential if he is to stay at QB.
OLB: Terrell Suggs is somehow still playing at a high level at 35, but he only has so much time left. The rest of the Ravens edge rushers have flashed, especially Matthew Judon, but they’ll miss Suggs if he decides to retire.
QB: In addition to the questions about Flacco’s future, backup Ryan Mallett is hitting free agency. The Ravens may spend a mid-round draft pick on a long-term developmental prospect.
Best player/building block
Jimmy Smith, CB: The Ravens defense was fairly strong this season, especially the secondary, but it’s fair to wonder if they would’ve allowed that backbreaking play against the Bengals if Smith was on the field.
He had 3 interceptions and 9 pass breakups (third and second on the team, respectively) despite playing through a sore Achilles for most of the season. That ended up costing him though, as it led to a full-on tear with just a month to go. Even though he played in just 12 games, PFF graded him as the 15th best corner in the league. Hopefully, he’ll be able to recover in time for next season, though he may never be the same player again.
Alex Collins, RB: At the start of the season, Collins was languishing on the Ravens practice squad after getting cut from the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the preseason. Out of nowhere, he’d get an opportunity following injuries to West and Danny Woodhead.
Despite not starting until week 4, Collins finished with 973 rushing yards, leading the Ravens and ranking 11th in the NFL. He also scored 6 touchdowns. The Ravens may have found an affordable young starter at running back for the near future.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers