Saturday, January 21, 2023

Ravens plan to build a wide receiver depth chart this offseason

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According to head coach John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens are expected to have most, if not all, of their starters and top offense performers back for the 2023 season in every position group with one exception. Your wide receiver room is the only one not expected “completely intact, completely intact”.

“The only area that needs to be built is the wide receiver room, so basically that’s going to be a new room,” Harbaugh said at the end-of-season press conference. “There’s still going to be bits of it – you know the guys – and then we’re going to add a lot of bits to that space, and there [will] also be competition. So that’s going to be the space that starts together in this new offensive and we’re going to build with these guys.

The team’s lack of depth and overall talent was apparent for most of the season after sophomore pro Rashod Bateman got off to a hot start before suffering a foot injury that eventually required season-ending surgery would do. Devin Duvernay, a third-year pro, jack-of-all-trades and two-time Pro Bowl returnee, would also go down with a foot injury that ended his 2022 season early.

After that, the offense was forced to rely on veterans like DeMarcus Robinson, who was signed just before the end of the preseason, and Sammy Watkins, who was released from waivers by the Green Bay Packers at the end of the year. At one point, they signed a 36-year-old DeSean Jackson to add some of the vertical field-stretching element to the offense that was lost when Bateman went down.

Harbaugh is pleased to be able to bring back about 75% of the offense intact because continuity in so many places and an influx of new talent at wideout will help the Ravens offense and quarterback Lamar Jackson be more successful in 2023.

“The wide receiver room can be expanded, and those are bits that we can give to Lamar and give him a chance to really thrive,” he said.

While most fans and analysts are calling for the team to make a bold move into the position by acquiring a big name via free agency or massive trading, this would require a large investment of either salary cap and/or premium draft capital.

While they are set to take a new direction on the offensive side of the ball with the departure of Greg Roman as play caller, the front office does not expect to deviate from its traditional approach when it comes to responsibly allocating salary caps.

“We have to get creative, and there are things we can do,” said Eric DeCosta, Ravens general manager. “There’s a lot of different ways to build the team and find players and afford players and different things like that. But we have to be really creative.”

The fifth-year front office manager said the chances of the team making one of those blockbuster trades or big free agency splashes on the position are “more challenging — not impossible” when a team has a “big ticket item at quarterback.” “ did as they did with Jackson.

“Of course we have to ask a lot of the players we have in the team and we will take everything into account. There are different ways to do this.

A reporter asked him if they were considering following the recent trend of some teams swinging after the fences with a huge early-round trade in draft capital and issuing record-breaking, or at least near the top of the market, deals to their youngsters Matching franchise quarterbacks with proven elite playmaking wide receivers.

“I think what we don’t want is to get mortgaged in two or three years by paying a whole bunch of people this year,” DeCosta said. “Our goal is to be a really competitive, strong team every year.

Neither he nor Harbaugh has an interest in rolling the dice and going “all in” in a single year and being forced into a protracted rebuild whether it falls short or pays off.

“Our goal is to always have that window open when we can compete to win the whole thing,” DeCosta said. “I think we’ve made a lot of good decisions with the cap over the last four years. I’m excited to see where we are this year. But it goes without saying that you cannot pay for everyone.”

As we all saw with the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in their defending season, paying multiple players at or near the top of the market for their respective position brackets can limit the front office’s ability and their case, cripple, to find and fill the list with quality depth.

“You can’t have eight or nine players at the top all doing ‘X’ because what happens is you have nothing at the bottom and we’ve seen teams like that. We’ve seen teams like this this year. Said DeCosta. “Depth is a crucial thing in this sport because players get injured and I personally think depth is probably one of the most important things in building a squad, across the board because guys do it [get hurt]every single week.

“It’s great to have all these star players, but you have to have some young, up-and-coming players under you who can catch up when those guys aren’t there. And it’s hard when you have all these enormous salaries at the top of your ledger.”

The 2021 first-round pick had a sparkling start to his second season in the league before it was cut short by Lisfranc’s foot injury. He led the team with 19 yards per catch and had hauled two touchdowns from 50+ yards in the first four games of the year before suffering a metatarsal sprain that would develop into an even bigger setback by midseason.

The team gambled on him working with three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews as the center and main playmaker in the passing game in 2022 before injuries derailed those plans. He is now months away from his surgery and is not only on a fast track to recovery, according to Harbaugh, but is expected to be available in the off-season as he prepares for a crucial third season in 2023.

“The screws can come out when it’s best for them to come out. I think they will come out, but they don’t have to come out,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not exactly sure how that works, but the whole point with Bateman is that he’ll be ready to run at full speed very soon.”

They believe he is “going to have a great off-season” and will be ready to run and resume football activities when organized team activities begin.

“All these guys are going into the off-season healthy which gives them the opportunity to train from now until then to prepare for the start and that also helps your injury prospects going forward,” Harbaugh said.

As we all saw with the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in their defending season, paying multiple players at or near the top of the market for their respective position brackets can limit the front office’s ability and their case, cripple, to find and fill the list with quality depth.

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