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Ravens Insider: Ravens roundtable: Answering questions about Lamar Jackson, free agency, 2024 record and more


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It’s been just over a week since the Ravens’ season came to a stunning end in the AFC championship.

The Kansas City Chiefs will play in their fourth Super Bowl in five years, while Baltimore, which produced the NFL’s best record and was the AFC’s top seed, is left asking what went wrong as it again failed to advance to the sport’s biggest game for the 11th straight season. The Ravens are just 3-6 in six postseason appearances since their 2012 title season, and they haven’t won more than one playoff game in the same postseason during that span.

What do they need to do to break that streak? Baltimore Sun reporters Brian Wacker and Childs Walker weigh in on this year’s playoffs, Lamar Jackson and the future.

Coach John Harbaugh said it’s a fair criticism that the Ravens’ postseason performance didn’t match its regular-season output, much the way it hasn’t in recent playoff failures, yet was firm in his belief that their process works. What’s your take?

Wacker: It works in that there’s a level of consistency the Ravens enjoy that many other teams in the NFL do not. Consider: Baltimore has the eighth-best record in the league since 2013, behind only the Chiefs, Patriots, Seahawks, Steelers, Packers, Cowboys and Saints. Still, something isn’t entirely translating when it comes to the postseason. Their 2019 failures can perhaps be pinned on a young quarterback in the spotlight for the first time, 2020 to a windy game on the road with a quarterback who was pressing and this season a quarterback who looked to be playing tight as the favorite against the league’s best at the position. Notice a trend? But for all the fans’ exasperation, the Ravens did take a step forward and got within a game of the Super Bowl. Now there’s only one thing left to do.

Walker: What else was he going to say, really? The Ravens did about everything their fans could have asked right up to the moment they took the field for the AFC championship game, and they’ve made it clear they’re not about judging their season through the lens of one disappointing performance. Their destiny is inextricably bound to Jackson’s progress toward becoming a championship-level quarterback, and as Harbaugh noted, Jackson will only have a greater hand in shaping their attack in year two under Todd Monken. They don’t really have a choice other than to steam forward and hope Jackson takes the final step in 2024, as Joe Flacco and company did after their massive championship game disappointment at the end of the 2011 season.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, #8 beats Houston Texans defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to the end zone with his second rushing touchdown during the fourth quarter of the Divisional Round of the 2024 NFL Playoffs in Baltimore. The Ravens defeated Houston 34-10, to advance to the AFC championship. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff Photo)
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson beats Texans defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to the end zone during a playoff game last month. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

What does Lamar Jackson need to do to get the Ravens to a Super Bowl?

Wacker: Play like Lamar Jackson. What’s always made him so dangerous is his ability to run, by design or off script. That doesn’t make him any less “quarterback-y.” Though the next few years feel like his best window to get to/win a Super Bowl, this was also Jackson’s slowest season in terms of top speed (19.62 mph, per Next Gen Stats) and that number figures to only decline with each passing year, thus diminishing his threat to defenses. Jackson said earlier this season that he doesn’t like to run, and there seems to be a desire to win by passing. It’s a fine line between running less and throwing more, but while Jackson is plenty good as a passer it’s his ability to run that makes him impossible to stop, and he can’t forget that.

Walker: He did it right up until the Chiefs game, playing with exceptional confidence and command of Monken’s offense in key late-season wins over the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins and again in the second half of the team’s divisional round trouncing of the Houston Texans. That was a quarterback more than capable of leading his team to a Super Bowl win. So where did that Jackson go after Kansas City jumped on the Ravens early? He was off-rhythm, off-target and visibly angry at himself as the Ravens’ chances slipped away in the second half. It’s difficult to say how Jackson might jump this last hurdle in a career that will soon feature two Most Valuable Player Awards. Is the necessary work more technical or psychological? Will simple experience serve him as it did previous greats Peyton Manning and John Elway, who did not win Super Bowls until deep in their careers? If the answer was simple, Jackson would have already found it. Harbaugh and his teammates have expressed absolute confidence that he’s thinking the right way to get there.

The Ravens will have more than 20 unrestricted free agents come March 13. Who are the biggest priorities?

Wacker: Keeping Justin Madubuike, who led all interior defensive linemen with 13 sacks, is easily the highest priority. Expect the Ravens to use a franchise tag on him, which allows general manager Eric DeCosta time to perhaps work out a long-term extension. Doing so also gives them an All-Pro at each level of the defense, along with inside linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton. Re-signing right guard Kevin Zeitler would also provide some stability on the offensive line, while bringing back wide receiver Nelson Agholor, cornerback Ronald Darby and running back Gus Edwards would affordably fill some holes.

Walker: Madubuike, Madubuike and Madubuike. Elite interior pass rushers are among the rarest gems in the league, and that’s what he became in his fourth season. Madubuike also has a chance to be the best pass rusher of any type the Ravens have developed since Terrell Suggs. They cannot let him reach the open market, even if that means using the franchise tag to extend their negotiating window. A shorter-term reunion with Zeitler, who’s still as dependable as any lineman on the team and wants to be back, would also make sense. In a perfect world, the Ravens would line up Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith side by side for the next four years, but Queen right now feels like the top free agent the Ravens cannot afford.

The Ravens have the 30th pick of the NFL draft plus six other picks. What’s their biggest need(s)?

Wacker: With the exception of tight end and quarterback, the Ravens need help just about everywhere, most notably along the offensive line with two aging, injury-prone tackles and two starting guards who are free agents and little in the pipeline behind them. After that, outside linebacker is a big need with uncertainty about how David Ojabo will fare coming back from a torn ACL after suffering a torn Achilles tendon the year before and Odafe Oweh’s performance having flattened out as the season went on (though his ankle injury could’ve played a part). Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, meanwhile, are both free agents and coming off career years, likely making them unaffordable. Cornerback, wide receiver and running back are also areas that will need to be addressed.

Walker: They need at least one young offensive lineman who could start in 2024 and preferably another to compete for a starting job by 2025. They could go a win-now route in 2024 and bring back most of their line, save penalty-prone left guard John Simpson, but major change will be in order the following season, with center Tyler Linderbaum the only long-term building block on the current roster. They also need a cornerback given that Brandon Stephens is headed for free agency after next season and Marlon Humphrey missed eight games with a variety of injuries in 2023. A plug-and-play running back would help given that Keaton Mitchell will be coming back from knee surgery.

Baltimore’s 2024 schedule includes eight teams that made the playoffs this season, down one from this past season. What’s your way-too-early prediction on how the Ravens will fare next season?

Wacker: Given all the turnover on the roster and among the coaching staff, it’s hard to imagine the Ravens matching what they did in the regular season. Plus, division foes the Bengals and Steelers should both be better next year, along with other teams like the Chargers. But maybe that’s not the worst thing. Perhaps Jackson plays better as the underdog than a Super Bowl favorite. Maybe the Ravens are better off having to go on the road and can somehow avoid the Chiefs. Still, based on Baltimore’s opponents I see a 10-7 record at best and another season without a Super Bowl appearance.

Walker: It’s worth remembering that for all our hand-wringing over his postseason performance, Jackson is 58-19 as a regular-season starter. This was the NFL’s best team, with a string of resounding victories over elite opponents. They’ll still have a top defense led by All-Pros Smith and Hamilton and coordinated by Mike Macdonald’s sharp, charismatic young protege, Zach Orr. Even if the Ravens take a step back, they’ll be plenty good, with 11 wins as a reasonable baseline. And their fans won’t be convinced by any of it until the Ravens show up with a great performance in late January.

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