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Ravens Insider: Five questions facing the Ravens heading into NFL owners meetings


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It was nearly a year ago to the day that the collective NFL world — or at least all of Baltimore — momentarily shook.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was about to sit down with reporters at the annual NFL owners meetings in Phoenix when his quarterback, Lamar Jackson, revealed in a tweet that he’d asked to be traded after it was clear the organization had “not been interested in meeting my value.”

Harbaugh, who doesn’t have an account on X (formerly Twitter), was of course aware of the request, which had been made privately weeks earlier, but was not expecting it to come out at that moment.

A table that had about 10 reporters awaiting his arrival swelled into the dozens with a palpable buzz throughout the Arizona Biltmore ballroom, where there were tables for each of the 15 other AFC coaches. Later, a handful of teams around the NFL strangely disclosed their disinterest in acquiring the Ravens’ star, and things got even wilder when New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told reporters that rapper Meek Mill had texted him a few days earlier saying Jackson would like to play for the Patriots.

Jackson, of course, is still in Baltimore after signing a five-year, $260 million extension a few weeks later, and this year’s meetings in Orlando, Florida, figure to be decidedly less dramatic for the Ravens.

Still, there are plenty of questions for owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Eric DeCosta and Harbaugh after a season in which the Ravens were an NFL-best 13-4 during the regular season, had the league’s Most Valuable Player in Jackson and reached the AFC championship game. In the weeks since that defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs, they lost a handful of key coaches and front office staff, along with several players in free agency.

Bisciotti is not expected to be available to the media for a second straight year, though team president Sashi Brown will meet with reporters Monday afternoon. Harbaugh and the other AFC coaches, meanwhile, will speak Monday morning, NFC coaches on Tuesday morning and most other owners and/or general managers are also generally available.

Here’s a look at the most pressing questions facing the Ravens going into this year’s meetings.

What will the offense look like with the addition of running back Derrick Henry?

Henry, who signed a two-year deal with the Ravens earlier this month, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time NFL rushing champ in eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans, where he also had at least 215 carries in five of the past six years (2019, when he missed the final eight games because of a foot injury, was the exception). The last time Baltimore had a running back with that many carries in a season was a decade ago, when Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns on 235 carries in 2014.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry runs from New England Patriots safety Duron Harmon, right, in the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Charles Krupa/AP
Former Titans running back Derrick Henry, left, gives Baltimore a new dimension in the backfield. But how he will be utilized is a key question. (Charles Krupa/AP)

But Harbaugh rightfully isn’t worried about Henry fitting into a shotgun-heavy scheme that transitioned into a spread attack under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken last season.

“I think you always try to build the offense around the players that you have,” Harbaugh said. “What Derrick does really exceptionally well is going to be where we’re going to move toward, but we’re versatile.

“It’s not just his specific talents, because he can run out of any kind of backfield. He can be in the pistol. We can be under

. We can be in the gun. He can move around.”

To that point, Henry logged the most snaps of his career from the shotgun each of his past two seasons in Tennessee. His 33 and 28 catches in his final two years there were also career highs. And he had success — albeit in small doses — alongside speedy Titans backup quarterback Malik Willis, next to whom Henry averaged 6 yards on 78 carries.

Henry is the best back Harbaugh has ever had at his disposal, so it will be both fascinating and critical how he deploys him.

What will the starting offensive line be?

Of course, how Henry fares will also be dependent upon the Ravens’ reshaped offensive line. Guards Kevin Zeitler and John Simpson have moved on (to the Detroit Lions and New York Jets, respectively), while right tackle Morgan Moses was traded to the Jets.

There’s now way around it: Filling three starting roles is a difficult task under the best of circumstances, never mind doing so on a tight budget and with question marks about possible in-house replacements.

Harbaugh has been adamant about the offensive line since the Ravens hired him in 2008, and in many years Baltimore has boasted one of the league’s best units. But how he sees next season’s group piecing together will be worth watching.

Does he see the recently signed Josh Jones as a starter at right tackle? What about Daniel Faalele and the versatile Patrick Mekari? Can he find two starting guards among Ben Cleveland, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and Andrew Vorhees, let alone two?

These are all questions that will come up in Orlando and continue to play out in the months ahead.

What about all the coaching and front office turnover?

The biggest departure on the Ravens’ coaching staff was defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks. But he was hardly the only one, with defensive line coach Anthony Weaver taking the defensive coordinator job with the Miami Dolphins and defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson leaving for the same role with the Titans, among other changes, including in the front office.

Harbaugh at least knows his new defensive coordinator well, with Zach Orr having played linebacker for the Ravens from 2014 to 2016 before a congenital neck issue forced him to retire.

However, it will be the first time calling plays for Orr, 31, who was Baltimore’s inside linebackers coach for two seasons and an outside linebackers coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars for one.

Given all the new hires on his staff, that will undoubtedly put more pressure on Harbaugh. As the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, he’s used to it, but it will put him in the spotlight.

avens Jadeveon Clowney arrives prior to the Baltimore Ravens hosting the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship at M&T Bank Stadium. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)
Jadeveon Clowney is still a free agent. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)

Where will the Ravens’ sacks come from next season?

Last year, the Ravens became the first team in the modern era to lead the league in sacks, takeaways and points allowed per game. Many of the players who helped them do that, however, could be or will be elsewhere next season.

Outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy are free agents. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen signed with the Steelers. Geno Stone went to the Cincinnati Bengals. Cornerback Ronald Darby is with the Jaguars.

Baltimore still has defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who signed a four-year extension, and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, but who else will provide pressure is a valid concern. Again, the Ravens don’t have the salary cap space to make a big splash on the free agent market, so presumably they’ll turn to the draft and veteran castoffs as usual.

There are also questions about what kind of impact outside linebacker David Ojabo will have after he suffered a torn ACL last season following a torn Achilles tendon the previous year.

What do the Ravens think of the potential rules changes for next season?

The biggest possible change for next season could be on kickoffs.

Under a proposal from the competition committee, kickers would still kick from the 35-yard line but the other 10 players would line up at the receiving team’s 40, while at least nine members of the receiving team would line up in a “setup zone” between the 35 and 30. Up to two returners would be allowed to line up in a “landing zone” between the goal line and the 20, and no one other than the kicker and returner(s) can move until the ball hits the ground or a player inside the landing zone. Touchbacks would be marked at the 35 and no fair catches would be allowed.

The idea is to increase return rates while also lowering concussion rates.

Meanwhile, hip-drop tackles could also be banned. Ravens tight end Mark Andrews suffering a significant ankle injury on one from Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson last season was only the latest moment that has cast scrutiny on the play.

Both proposals, among others, could be voted on at the meetings.

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