Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman will not return to the team in 2023, his agency announced Thursday, ending a divisive four-year tenure marked by record-breaking seasons and mounting exasperation among players and fans.
Roman’s departure comes four days after late-game struggles undercut the Ravens’ bid for an upset playoff win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals, and just hours before general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh were scheduled to hold an end-of-season news conference.
“I’ll truly miss Baltimore, but at the same time I am excited to attack my next opportunity with focus and passion,” said Roman, who plans to pursue other opportunities, in a statement released by his AthletesFirst agency.
“Greg has led the development and success of a record-setting offense in Baltimore for several seasons,” Harbaugh said of Roman, the 2019 Associated Press NFL Assistant Coach of the Year, in a statement. “He is a tremendous football coach, as well as family man and person. Greg devised and led our offense to no fewer than 26 historical NFL and franchise achievements. He established an identity for our offense. We are grateful for Greg’s great work and abilities, and we wish him and his wonderful family the utmost happiness going forward.”
The change sets the stage for a potential offensive teardown in Baltimore. The future of quarterback Lamar Jackson — who won NFL Most Valuable Player honors in 2019, Roman’s first season as the Ravens’ play-caller — remains as uncertain as ever after a second straight late-season injury strained relations with team officials. Jackson is a pending free agent, and negotiations reportedly broke down before last season over the Ravens’ unwillingness to commit to guaranteeing the entirety of a record-breaking extension.
Without Jackson’s spark, Roman’s run-heavy offense fizzled late in the season. Over the Ravens’ final seven games, including Sunday’s 24-17 loss in Cincinnati, they averaged 12 points per game, scored more than one touchdown just once and never eclipsed 20 points. In the five regular-season games started by reserves Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown, the Ravens ranked 19th in the NFL in offensive efficiency, according to Football Outsiders; 25th in expected points added per offensive play, according to TruMedia; and 29th in points per drive.
Frustrations boiled over as Jackson’s knee sprain lingered and the team’s AFC North title hopes faded. Harbaugh, who was normally quick to defend Roman, acknowledged late-season issues with pointed remarks.
He said Roman had told him that his tempo in a Week 12 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars needed to be faster, with Harbaugh adding that the “rhythm and the tempo were not like what we needed them to be at all.” Harbaugh characterized a double-reverse pass for wide receiver James Proche II, who threw an interception late in a Week 13 win over the Denver Broncos, as a “bad play.” He said there was “no excuse” for running back Gus Edwards getting just three carries in a Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He should definitely play more,” Roman later said of Edwards, acknowledging the mistake with the kind of equivocation that some fans saw as irresponsible. “It just played out that way.”
Support for Roman in the Ravens’ locker room remained steady over his final months, at least publicly, but some offensive starters seemed increasingly uninterested in backing him. After Roman emerged as a candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Stanford in late November, Jackson was asked whether he had a reaction to the news. He said he didn’t.
After the Ravens’ Week 15 loss to the Cleveland Browns, their first game without a touchdown in four years, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was asked whether the offense had the personnel and scheme to improve. He said yes. He did not immediately elaborate.
Even as the fan base’s discontent reached new levels in Baltimore — “Fire Greg Roman” flyers were dropped outside the team’s practice facility last month, and video emerged of Roman walking past fans screaming obscenities at him after one game — Roman remained upbeat and even-keeled at his weekly news conferences. At what would be his final media availability of the season, Roman noted that the Ravens planned to work on their red-zone offense, which had finished third to last in the NFL in touchdown percentage (45.8%).
Their continued struggles near the goal line provoked the most public rebuke of Roman yet. Running back J.K. Dobbins, who didn’t get a carry inside the 5-yard line in Sunday’s wild-card-round loss, said Huntley “should have never been in that situation” of attempting a quarterback sneak against Cincinnati. His failed fourth-quarter dive was stopped short of the goal line, and the Bengals punched the ball loose and turned it into a go-ahead 98-yard scoop-and-score.
“I’m a guy who feels like if I’m on the field all the time, I can help this team win, and I wasn’t,” said Dobbins, who added that he’d voiced his displeasure with his role to Ravens coaches. “It’s the playoffs. Why am I not out there?”
The moment provided an ironic coda to a tenure distinguished by the Ravens’ rushing success. Roman, a former offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers (2011-14) and Buffalo Bills (2015-16), was promoted from assistant head coach and tight ends coach to offensive play-caller in January 2019 after helping to reshape the Ravens’ pass-first offense for Jackson midway through his rookie year.
In Roman’s first full season with Jackson, their offense rewrote league record books with an unorthodox smash-mouth, run-first approach. The Ravens led the NFL in points per game (33.2), set the league’s single-season team rushing record (3,296 yards) and finished first in both rushing and passing efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. Jackson became the second-youngest MVP in league history after leading all passers in touchdowns (36) and all rushers in yards per carry (6.9).
Postseason success proved elusive, though — the 2019 Ravens scored just 12 points in a stunning divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans, just under their eventual playoff scoring average with Roman — and an offense that Harbaugh had called “revolutionary” soon proved unbalanced.
From 2019 to 2022, the Ravens ranked lower than third in rushing efficiency just once: during a 2021 season ravaged by injuries to their quarterback (Jackson), running backs (Dobbins and Edwards) and offensive line (left tackle Ronnie Stanley). Over that span, the Ravens not only finished first in EPA per rush (0.05), according to TruMedia, but were also one of only four teams with positive aggregate EPA.
The trouble was finding a complementary aerial attack. Despite investments in their offensive line and young group of receivers, the Ravens ranked 17th in passing efficiency in 2020 and 16th each of the past two years. NFL analysts and former players criticized Roman’s passing-game concepts for their lack of spacing and creativity.
“Lamar Jackson is a complete player that is being not trained in being a sophisticated passer. ... And now you’re asking, ‘Why isn’t he paid to be [Kansas City Chiefs star] Patrick Mahomes?’ Because they haven’t given him a chance to be Patrick Mahomes. So until they do, Lamar Jackson’s damned because of what the Ravens are doing, not because of Lamar Jackson,” ESPN analyst Steve Young said before the season, as Jackson’s contract talks dragged on.
Now the Ravens will have to find Roman’s replacement without any guarantee that Jackson will be back next season. The team’s next play-caller will be the seventh under Harbaugh, who’s coached in Baltimore for 15 years.
Nine other teams have offensive coordinator vacancies, as of Wednesday, but the Ravens’ job could be among the most attractive. Even if Jackson’s return leads to cost-cutting moves elsewhere, the 2023 offense should feature one of the NFL’s deepest tight end rooms and best offensive lines. And despite battling injuries over the past two years, wide receiver Rashod Bateman and Dobbins have flashed star potential.
“We’re going to come back stronger,” tight end Mark Andrews, one of Roman’s biggest supporters, said Monday, “and that’s what we’re going to be focused on.”