Nearly two handfuls of catastrophic injuries unfortunately derailed the Baltimore Ravens' 2021 campaign. Baltimore's horrific luck began before the season even officially kicked off when J.K. Dobbins, Marcus Peters, and Gus Edwards suffered season-ending injuries in late August and early September. Regular-season injuries to Lamar Jackson, Ronnie Stanley, and Marlon Humphrey piled on the misery, and the Ravens failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2017. General manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh will be excited to get healthy and reload ahead of 2022, but that doesn't mean change isn't also on the horizon. Jim Harbaugh surprisingly parted ways with long-time defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale at the conclusion of the season and replaced him by plucking 34-year-old Mike Macdonald from Michigan. Macdonald previously worked under coach Harbaugh in various defensive roles, and now returns to his old stomping grounds via a much-deserved promotion. The Ravens currently possess $9.7 million in cap space, via Spotrac. Several key contributors are set to become free agents, including Anthony Averett, Bradley Bozeman, Justin Houston, Sammy Watkins, and Calais Campbell, just to name a few. Baltimore will look to make several shrewd additions. DeCosta can create more financial freedom by releasing or restructuring the contracts of a plethora of players including Peters and Alejandro Villanueva. With cap, team needs, pending free agents, and draft selections all put into consideration, here are three offensive and defensive free agents Baltimore could target when the signing period begins on March 14.
JASON PETERS, OT, CHICAGO BEARSThe Ravens must better protect themselves in case Ronnie Stanley's career continues to be hampered by injury. Recurring ankle injuries that required a pair of season-ending surgeries have limited Stanley to just two appearances since the former Notre Dame standout signed a five-year contract extension worth a whopping $112.8 million in October of 2020. Stanley is an excellent blindside protector when healthy, but DeCosta must prepare for the worst given his recent lengthy roads to recovery. Veteran tackle Villanueva is a prime candidate to be released this offseason after experiencing a declining campaign. The Ravens will search for additional depth in the form of an affordable, proven veteran starter via free agency. The 40-year-old Jason Peters is miraculously still a high-level player at an unprecedented age at his position. Should Peters continue playing in 2022, he'll want to do so for a legitimate contender after spending the 2021 season with the rebuilding Chicago Bears. Peters is still an excellent run blocker that would give Baltimore another much-needed option across their starting five. We'd love to witness this link-up next season.
CEDRICK WILSON, WR, DALLAS COWBOYSThe oft-injured Watkins is a free agent and is expected to search for a fresh start elsewhere. Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Rashod Bateman should serve as outside receivers in Baltimore's offense in 2022, but the slot position still remains in question. Devin Duvernay has flashed some intriguing potential inside, but the Ravens will want to bring in competition in hopes of upgrading their pass-catching corps. Furthermore, Miles Boykin qualifies as a prime cut-candidate as Baltimore attempts to identify opportunities to create more financial freedom. Cedrick Wilson would help the Ravens fill out what's already an intriguing group of ascending receivers. Wilson has routinely played behind the likes of CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup in Dallas. Wilson was stuck in a situation that prevented him from showcasing the full range of his talents, and he's almost certain to search for more opportunity elsewhere. Wilson is an every-down slot receiver that would quickly build chemistry with Jackson in the passing game.
ETHAN POCIC, C, SEATTLE SEAHAWKSAforementioned interior offensive linemen Bozeman will witness his contract expire in March after spending time both at guard and center throughout the past four seasons in Baltimore. Bozeman was an excellent find in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Alabama. Bozeman served as Baltimore's starting center in 2021 and took significant strides forward at a new professional position. It's a development that could land Bozeman a nice payday in free agency. DeCosta may be forced to search for a more cost-effective replacement given Baltimore's needs and salary cap situation. Seattle's Ethan Pocic makes sense from a fit and culture perspective. Pocic has routinely done his best work when the Seahawks attempted to establish the run and play out of condensed formations. He's not a player that belongs in a pass-heavy offense that attempts to spread defenses thin. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has routinely fielded one of the most efficient and effective rushing attacks in Baltimore, and more of the same is expected going forward. The Ravens love to utilize multiple tight ends in heavier packages, and Pocic fits that style of play and identity. Pocic is an asset as a physical interior blocker.
MELVIN INGRAM, EDGE, KANSAS CITY CHIEFSThe Ravens recorded just 34 sacks in 17 regular-season contests. A franchise that has often prided itself on strong defensive reputations, the 2021 iteration of Ravens lacked the pop of prior pass-rushing units. Tyus Bowser led the team in sacks with seven, and first-round rookie Odafe Oweh enjoyed an exciting debutant campaign by recording five quarterback takedowns. Both Bowser and Oweh should continue to impact opposing pockets in 2022, but the Ravens must surround them with more talent and depth going forward. Justin Houston and Calais Campbell combined for 5.5 sacks and are both expected to depart in free agency. DeCosta would likely look to replace them with proven veterans. Melvin Ingram still has enough juice to produce as a rotational pass rusher and as a tone-setting edge defender in the run game. Ingram enjoyed a second-half resurgence after being traded by the Steelers to the Kansas City Chiefs and will prefer to play for a Super Bowl contender again in 2022. Ingram possesses the attitude and mentality to thrive as a Raven. He's nearing the end of his illustrious career, so finding the correct environment is key to continued success. Both parties would benefit from this move.
AHKELLO WITHERSPOON, CB, PITTSBURGH STEELERSDeCosta must address a secondary that handed out receiving yards on a silver platter last season. The Ravens allowed a league-leading 278.9 yards through the air per contest. It represents an unacceptable and inefficient rate for a franchise that must deal with Joe Burrow and the high-flying Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Aforementioned injuries hindered Baltimore's abilities in the secondary, but change will be mandatory. Peters turns 29 years old and carries a sizable cap hit that leaves his future hanging in the balance. Also at cornerback, Averett and Jimmy Smith are unrestricted free agents. There's an excellent chance that the back end of Baltimore's defense will look significantly different in 2022 as coach Macdonald begins to usher the unit forward. Ahkello Witherspoon is the type of affordable cornerback that can thrive in Baltimore's aggressive defense. Witherspoon possesses the skill set to survive as a boundary cover-man in Baltimore's preferred Cover 1 tendencies. He's a competitive corner that enjoyed a rejuvenating campaign with the Steelers in 2021. The Ravens are awfully familiar with Witherspoon after playing against him twice last season. Baltimore's cap situation may prevent them from being big spenders, but DeCosta can still land quality, high-upside contributors such as Witherspoon.
JAYRON KEARSE, S, DALLAS COWBOYSWe continue to address the Ravens' undermanned secondary with the addition of Dallas Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse. Ravens starting safety DeShon Elliott is yet another backend defender that's set to become a free agent in March. The former University of Texas standout is due a substantial annual raise in pay after earning just north of $650,000 in 2021. The expiration of Elliott's rookie contract will finally allow him to command somewhere between $5 and $7 million annually on a multi-year contract. A sixth-round selection in 2018, Elliott has certainly outplayed his draft slot. Elliott is a quality starter that may land his desired payday elsewhere. Kearse is an underrated safety that would fit what coach Macdonald wants to achieve on the defensive side of the ball. Baltimore's defense plans to remain a blitz-heavy and aggressive unit under its new defensive coordinator, so accumulating talented secondary players that can survive in man coverage is of the utmost importance if they hope to take the desired step forward. Kearse is a versatile defender that possesses the size, length, and mindset necessary to cover opposing tight ends in man coverage when called upon.
- May 20, 2022
- May 20, 2022