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Ravens Insider: Six big questions the Ravens need to answer this offseason


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NFL free agency is a month away, and the draft doesn’t begin until late April. There is still plenty of time for Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh, general manager Eric DeCosta and the staff to sift through a 2023 season that fell one victory short of the Super Bowl before turning the page to 2024.

But with close to two dozen unrestricted free agents and several questions surrounding some of the key players under contract for next season, the Ravens will have to be strategic about their spending in the hopes of building another championship-caliber roster around two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson.

Here are six questions the Ravens need to answer entering another pivotal offseason:

Will they continue using void years?

The Ravens’ 2024 roster will begin taking shape as soon as 4 p.m. Monday, when the contracts of five pending free agents — right guard Kevin Zeitler, running back Gus Edwards, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, safety Geno Stone and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin — will void.

What does that mean, exactly? Void years are a way for teams to manipulate the salary cap by placing fake years on the end of a contract to defer cap charges to the future. As the Ravens prepared to eventually sign Jackson to a five-year, $260 million extension last April, they restructured the contracts of Zeitler and Edwards and added void years, freeing up cap space to help absorb Jackson’s deal.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s one-year, $15 million contract was recently reworked to remove void years. As noted by Russell Street Report, that allows the Ravens to designate Beckham as a post-June 1 release if an extension is not reached by March 16.

While effective, void years come with a cost. For example, the Ravens would carry nearly $10 million in dead money on their 2024 salary cap if none of those five players were re-signed.

It’s a strategy DeCosta and previous general manager Ozzie Newsome hadn’t deployed in the past, but with Jackson signed to one of the richest deals in the NFL, void years are a lever the Ravens might need to pull more often.

Will Justin Madubuike and Patrick Queen return?

After breakout seasons as part of the league’s best defense, pending free agents Madubuike and Queen are both expected to command lucrative contracts.

Madubuike, who led the team and all interior defensive linemen with 13 sacks — including at least half a sack in 13 of 17 games — is projected to receive $23 million annually, according to Pro Football Focus. Queen, who recorded a career-high 133 tackles and earned his first Pro Bowl selection along with Madubuike, is projected to command $18.1 million per year.

Even with the salary cap expected to rise to about $245 million in 2024, the Ravens won’t have enough money to re-sign both players. That’s where the franchise tag might come into play.

By placing the exclusive franchise tag on Madubuike before the March 5 deadline, the Ravens would keep him under contract for a projected $20 million while maintaining the ability to hammer out a long-term deal. It’s what they did last year with Jackson, who received the nonexclusive tag a month before signing an extension.

Given how impactful Madubuike was as a pass rusher for a team that led the league in sacks last season, it seems all but certain the Ravens will find a way to bring him back. But since they already have All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith signed through 2027 and a promising prospect in 2023 third-round draft pick Trenton Simpson, it appears unlikely Queen will return.

What happens with Ronnie Stanley?

Just days after Stanley signed a five-year, $98.75 million extension in October 2020, he suffered an ankle injury that required multiple surgeries and cost him the better part of two seasons. He hasn’t been the same player since.

The 2019 All-Pro has played in 25 games since that injury, including 13 this past season. Even when healthy, Stanley has not been as effective as he once was, ranking 37th in PFF grade in each of the past two seasons after climbing to second in 2019. Toward the end of the season, the Ravens rotated Stanley and right tackle Morgan Moses with Patrick Mekari and Daniel Faalele to keep the veteran bookends fresh.

While there’s hope that Stanley returns to form next season, he’ll turn 30 on March 18, and moving on from the 2016 first-round draft pick would create significant cap space.

Let’s say the Ravens and Stanley both desire a fresh start, and he is either traded or designated as a post-June 1 release. That would create $15 million in cap space, but would also push $6.67 million in dead money onto the 2025 cap, according to Russell Street Report.

The Ravens could also shed $5.5 million from their 2024 cap by releasing Moses after June 1, but that would create holes at both starting tackle spots for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. A more likely scenario is bringing back Stanley on a restructured deal that asks him to take a pay cut, since he’s unlikely to fetch $15 million annually on the open market.

Ravens Titans Football
Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser looks on before a game against the Titans at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London on Sunday. Bowser, who hasn't played yet this season because of a knee injury, said on his podcast that he's "feeling great" and "moving around very well."
Steve Luciano/AP
Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser is the most obvious candidate to be cut for salary cap space. (Steve Luciano/AP)

Will there be any salary cap cuts?

In addition to Stanley, Moses and Beckham, the Ravens have one obvious cut candidate: Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser.

After signing a $22 million extension with Baltimore ahead of the 2021 season, Bowser was considered a key piece of an ascending defense. He posted seven sacks that year and was widely praised for his versatility to both defend the run and make plays in pass coverage.

But he appeared in just nine games in 2022 before undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, the start of an awkward saga with the team. He didn’t participate in the Ravens’ offseason program or training camp last year as he dealt with a knee injury, but coach John Harbaugh said in August that he expected Bowser to return for the start of the season. Two weeks later, Bowser was placed on the non-football injury list. He didn’t play a snap all year.

With the Ravens set to receive $5.5 million in cap space for releasing Bowser, it seems all but certain he will not be part of the team’s future.

Will there be any contract extensions?

The Ravens have often rewarded young players with contract extensions before they enter free agency. Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, tight end Mark Andrews and Smith, now part of the team’s nucleus, are just a few of the recent examples.

Cornerback Brandon Stephens might be the next in line. A 2021 third-round draft pick, Stephens moved from safety to corner this season and thrived, recording 74 tackles, 11 passes defended and two interceptions while playing nearly every defensive snap in 16 games. The 27-year-old is entering the final year of his rookie deal.

While signing Stephens to an extension would not create immediate cap space, it would help solidify a cornerback room that has struggled to find a reliable partner for Humphrey.

If the Ravens are looking to clear cap space, perhaps an extension for fullback Patrick Ricard makes sense. The four-time All-Pro turns 30 in May and played just 39% of the snaps in a more spread-out offense this past season under new coordinator Todd Monken, but he’s been a standout blocker for the league’s best rushing attack. The Ravens could also choose to cut Ricard, who carries a $4 million base salary in the final year of his deal, but that seems unlikely given his role.

The Ravens also have until March 2 to decide whether to exercise the fifth-year option for outside linebacker Odafe Oweh and wide receiver Rashod Bateman, their 2021 first-round picks. Given how much of a financial commitment that would be — $12 million for Oweh, $13 million for Bateman — for a pair of players who have yet to deliver consistent production, it seems likely the Ravens will decline.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) carries the ball against Baltimore Ravens free safety DeShon Elliott (32) in the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Wade Payne/AP
Titans running back Derrick Henry carries the ball against the Ravens during an AFC wild-card game Jan. 10, 2021. (Wade Payne/AP)

How aggressive will the Ravens be in pursuit of upgrades?

The Ravens enter the offseason with holes to fill at offensive line, wide receiver, running back, linebacker and edge defender. Depending on what happens with Madubuike, Queen, Stanley, Moses, Beckham, guards John Simpson and Kevin Zeitler, Edwards and fellow running back J.K. Dobbins, they could have as many as eight new starters next season.

Running backs Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry are among the tantalizing names available in free agency who could be an upgrade over Edwards and Dobbins, the latter of whom is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the season opener. ESPN reported Saturday that “some personnel people inside the league believe the Ravens will target a running back with pedigree in free agency.”

Free agent wide receivers Mike Evans, Marquise Brown, Calvin Ridley, Gabe Davis and Curtis Samuel would offer more upside and dynamic play than Beckham and Agholor, but might be too expensive.

The Ravens had high hopes for the duo of Oweh and David Ojabo, but it hasn’t worked out so far, with Ojabo struggling to stay on the field after being drafted in the second round in 2022 and Oweh yet to deliver on his immense promise after being picked No. 31 overall in 2021. That opens the door for the Ravens to make a splash.

Maybe that’s a trade for Brian Burns, who is expected to receive the franchise tag from the Carolina Panthers after recording at least 7 1/2 sacks for the fifth straight season to begin his career. Such a deal would require the Ravens to send a package of picks and/or players to Carolina to acquire Burns, who would then be under contract for just one season at a projected cost of $22.79 million.

The Ravens have taken big swings before in trading away Orlando Brown Jr. and acquiring Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Smith in recent years. Perhaps they’ll add to that list this offseason.

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