The Baltimore Ravens are a team known for their defense. Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Ed Reed are just a few names that come to mind when anyone thinks of the Baltimore Ravens franchise. However, recently, the Ravens biggest shortcomings have come on the defensive side of the ball. For the last three seasons, the pass rush off of the edge has been a big problem in Baltimore. Suggs is still the last Raven to record double-digit sacks in a single season and general manager Eric DeCosta is facing a large task this coming off-season. But the Baltimore Ravens EDGE group will be revamped in 2021.
Baltimore Ravens EDGE Group Will Be Revamped in 2021
Going into 2021, the Ravens have just one EDGE defender under contract. Jaylon Ferguson was drafted by the Ravens in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft and is the only EDGE on the Ravens roster with 15 or more defensive snaps played in his career. Matt Judon. Yannick Ngakoue, Pernell McPhee, and Tyus Bowser are all set to become free agents on March 17th. The four outside linebackers played a total of 1,913 defensive snaps for Baltimore in 2020. Ferguson played 302.
DeCosta could bring back one of the four pending free agents but he is also not a stranger to completely reshaping an entire position group. Baltimore’s receiving room was completely revamped in the off-season of 2018 and again in 2019 and their linebacking room was essentially reconstructed midway through the 2019 regular season.
Pass rushers and elite EDGE defenders are some of the most important players in the modern-day NFL. Quarterbacks are getting better at avoiding pressure so having guys who can consistently win 1-on-1 and cause havoc in the backfield is paramount to putting together a good defense. These are some of the potential ways the Ravens could address the multiple holes at EDGE in 2021.
Retaining Any Current Ravens Will Be Tricky
As previously mentioned, Judon, Ngakoue, Bowser, and McPhee are all set to become free agents this off-season. The four combined for 14.0 total sacks, 53 quarterback hits, and 18 tackles for loss in 2020. Their total cap hit last season was just over $24.6 million. Both Judon and Ngakoue together will likely command more than that number on the open market.
If there is one player that is likely to be retained, it is Ngakoue. DeCosta traded a third and a fifth-round pick to acquire the former Jacksonville Jaguars defender back in October and though he didn’t have an ideal year for Baltimore in his 11 total games, he is still just 25 years old. His lack of production could also be chalked up to transitioning to an outside linebacker from a 4-3 defensive end. Ngakoue is probably the most likely player on the Ravens roster to receive the franchise tag this off-season.
While Judon has been the Ravens most successful EDGE defender over the past four seasons, his time as a Raven seems to have come to an end. It was already unlikely that DeCosta would bring back Judon after placing the franchise tag on him in 2020, and now a Twitter dispute between Judon and ESPN beat writer Jamison Hensley puts his future further in question. Judon has the most sacks for the Ravens over the past four seasons with 30.5 in 62 games. He also has the fourth-most quarterback hits in the NFL over that same time frame.
There is a good chance that none of the four players listed above will be back in Baltimore next season. The Ravens rank tied for 12th in sacks over the past three seasons. If Bowser or McPhee was brought back, it would purely be for depth purposes on a hometown discount.
If the Ravens could switch the timing of the draft and free agency in 2021, they’d do it in a heartbeat. Baltimore’s lack of bodies on the edge is not ideal in any scenario but even less ideal considering they have to make a number of large decisions regarding where to allocate their remaining cap space. Per Over the Cap, the Ravens are projected to have roughly $18 million in cap room when the new year opens. That number could reach roughly $28 million depending on what happens with Earl Thomas‘ ongoing contract dispute with the Ravens. Trading Orlando Brown Jr. would also free up another $3.4 million.
DeCosta will have to bring in another EDGE in free agency. The question at hand is for how much. It has been speculated that the Ravens could be in the market for a big-name wide receiver and those usually come with a hefty price tag. Acquiring an Allen Robinson caliber player would cost the Ravens likely between $16 million and $20 million per season. The Ravens could backload the contract with a smaller cap hit in 2021 but it would still create significantly less flexibility for bringing in a pass rusher.
The free agent EDGE class in 2021 is an interesting one. Ngakoue is likely the most valuable member of the class. While it isn’t a bad class by any means, there is not a young and franchise-altering pass rusher on the open market this year. Instead, there is an excess of established veterans who may not demand top-dollar. The Ravens will likely have to sign at least one EDGE before the draft and their best options are trying to bring in a prove-it player like Jadeveon Clowney on a one-year contract or sign a tier-two option like Leonard Floyd.
The 2020 NFL Draft
The draft is where the Ravens do their best work and they really need to once again nail their picks in 2021. And the board currently projects to fall nicely for them. This year’s EDGE class possesses a group of around eight guys and any one of them could end up being selected by the Ravens with their 27th overall pick. Pro Football Focus currently has six EDGE’s ranked in their top-50, Daniel Jeremiah has eight in his top-50, and the Draft Network’s consensus board has six in their top-50.
DeCosta will have his choice of EDGE’s if he chooses to draft one in the first round. While Suggs is still the only EDGE selected by the Ravens in the first round in franchise history, the plethora of options also gives the Ravens a choice of where they would likely to add to their pass rush. If they want to add a player that will start as a pass rush specialist and eventually turn into a three-down pass rusher, they have the option of going with a player like Miami’s Jaelen Phillips or Wake Forrest’s Carlos Basham. If they want a more versatile outside linebacking fit for Don Martindale‘s defense, Baltimore could look at either Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari or Texas’s Joseph Ossai.
There is also a high probability that the Ravens double-dip on pass rushers during the draft. Outside of Ferguson, Chauncey Rivers is the only player under control by the Ravens organization going into this off-season.
Due to the lack of bodies in the Ravens pass-rushing room, EDGE is the Ravens biggest off-season priority. They are going to have to add through both the draft and free agency and will hopefully assemble a group that can outperform the team’s underwhelming EDGE groups from the past few years.
After being dominated up front in the Ravens 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans and Derrick Henry during the 2019 Division Round, the Ravens went out and acquired four new defensive interior players; one via trade, one through free agency, and two through the draft. DeCosta has shown he isn’t scared to uproot an entire position group and he has no choice but to do the same with the EDGE group in 2021.