The NFL’s new league year is less than a day old, and there’s already a new king in Baltimore.

The Ravens’ two-year deal for star running back Derrick Henry highlighted a busy few days of “legal tampering,” re-signings and roster resets. And the front office’s work is far from done.

Here’s what The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer, Giana Han, Paul Mancano and Kyle Goon make of the Ravens’ initial foray into free agency.

How much does the Ravens’ offense change with Derrick Henry’s signing?

Shaffer: The most profound difference might be the Ravens turning back into a run-first offense. Don’t let their league-leading rushing totals fool you; the offense ranked eighth last season in early-down pass rate, according to analytics site RBSDM.com. And, despite coordinator Todd Monken’s “air raid” background, he was happy overseeing a balanced offense at Georgia. The most important stakeholder in Baltimore, however, is Lamar Jackson. He’d surely be happy about exposing himself to fewer hits on designed runs. Would he be happy about getting fewer drop-backs, too?

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Han: Yeah, the Ravens had the league’s best rushing attack last season. Yet, when I think of the run game, I mostly think of Lamar Jackson, with some flashes of Keaton Mitchell. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill were solid backs — the Ravens wouldn’t have been No. 1 otherwise — but neither holds the star power of Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley … or Derrick Henry.

Age 30 or not, Henry will draw defenses’ attention, potentially by reputation alone. As long as he’s healthy, he’s going to open up the offense. Considering the Ravens’ multitude of weapons, their ability to switch quickly to whoever has the hot hand is scary. But Henry’s arrival is also going to force the Ravens to look to their run game in a way that they were starting to move away from. There was already outrage over the six measly running back carries in the AFC championship game. Can you imagine if the Ravens tried that with Henry in the backfield?

Mancano: The Ravens handed the ball to their running backs 364 times in 2023. Henry had 349 rushing attempts alone just a year prior. I don’t necessarily expect Henry to top 300 carries, as he has in three of the past five seasons. But make no mistake: He wasn’t signed to be an ancillary piece of the offense. We’ll get a firm answer to the question of whether Todd Monken’s pass-happy approach this past season was due more to his play-calling tendencies or the talent in the Ravens’ running back room.

Goon: In the best years of the Greg Roman era, defenses didn’t know whether to prepare for Lamar Jackson’s lightning-quick dashes or Gus Edwards’ brute force. Henry is a brute-force multiplier. He’s a big back who can level linebackers but still break off the big play — and somehow gets stronger as the game goes on. Baltimore will face a lot of stacked boxes next season, which could help pass catchers such as Zay Flowers and Mark Andrews draw more one-on-one coverage. But the biggest effect will be psychological. You may know that Baltimore is about to run, but you won’t know if the play will be Jackson vanishing out of the pocket or Henry running his shoulder through your chest.

What are reasonable expectations for Henry’s production in Baltimore?

Shaffer: That partly depends on the blocking in front of him. Hamstrung by a dreadful Titans offensive line, Henry rushed for a career-low 4.2 yards per carry last season. A better infrastructure should await in Baltimore. Jackson’s mere presence can lift a rushing attack into respectability, and Henry is still one of the NFL’s most intimidating runners. If he’s healthy and running behind an above-average offensive line, it’s not unreasonable to expect Henry to smash Mark Ingram’s 2019 totals in Baltimore: 1,018 rushing yards, 5 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns. Surprisingly, no Ravens running back has rushed for more yards in a season since.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Han: This is such a hard question because it depends on a lot of unknown factors, the first being Henry’s health. Henry’s been compared to a tractor, but he’s a tractor that’s needed a lot of tune-ups in recent years. This also depends on what the Ravens do with their offensive line. They’ve got several holes to fill, whether through the draft or free agency.

With that being said, Henry made the most of a holey Tennessee offensive line. I think he reaches 10,000 career rushing yards (he’s 498 yards away), and then some. Jackson’s carries might cut into his production, but Edwards still rushed for 810 yards last season. I would guess Henry can get closer to that 1,000-yard mark.

Mancano: Henry’s age (30) and mileage (2,030 career carries) cannot be ignored. But he was still one of the game’s best backs in 2023, despite being the focal point of Tennessee’s terrible offensive attack. Henry’s production could come down to how much daylight he’s given by a Ravens offensive line that is in flux. A running back can do only so much on his own, and if Baltimore fails to adequately replace Morgan Moses, John Simpson and free agent Kevin Zeitler, there’s a good chance Henry fails to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since his 2021 season.

Goon: I doubt, with so many mouths to feed, that Henry will reach 280 carries as he did last season. A mix of Henry and Jackson is the magic that should keep defenses guessing. But I would peg him to improve on his 4.2 yards per attempt, owing in part to a better offensive line (and overall blocking if Pat Ricard is on the field), as well as more efficient usage. If Henry can fit into the option packages as the Ravens hope, he should be a 1,000-yard back again and probably surpass the 12 touchdowns he got last season (Edwards got 13 last year as a goal-line specialist). The Ravens also could use him to boost the screen attack, which hit a lot of snags last year; 300-plus yards as a receiver could be really helpful to the offense.

The Ravens kept Ronnie Stanley and traded Morgan Moses. Surprised?

Shaffer: Considering the rocketing cost of even above-average guards in free agency, Moses’ $5.5 million base salary in 2024 seemed like a bargain. With Stanley reportedly agreeing to a restructured contract that will lower his salary cap hit, the Ravens appeared to have a good succession plan in place: Keep the bookend tackles around for another (hopefully healthy) year, find an heir apparent in the draft and figure out the future next offseason. But there’s an imperative around the organization to give young players a chance, and Daniel Faalele might be ready for a starting job by September. If he’s not, the Ravens would be asking a lot of Patrick Mekari to step into a full-time role.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Han: I wouldn’t say I’m shocked, but I really could have seen it going the other way. Yes, Moses dealt with injury and might have had surgery on his shoulder in the offseason — he told reporters after the season that he still had to make the decision. And, yes, Moses is older. But, before his injury last season, Moses had an impressive iron-man streak going. That means he’d been healthy and sturdy through his career until last season. He’s also a difference maker. The Ravens were significantly better with him on the field.

Stanley is younger and has been a Pro Bowler. However, he’s dealt with many more injuries than Moses — he’s never played a full season in eight years in Baltimore. Stanley’s contract is also a lot bigger. He reportedly took a pay cut, but the amount is not yet known, so he could still cost more than Moses. Stanley worked hard to stay in the lineup this past season. He took maintenance days to rest his body and played 13 games, his most since 2019. The deciding factor — and this is pure speculation — might have been his relationship with Jackson. He is the only offensive lineman who has been with Jackson since he arrived in Baltimore. I always expected the Ravens to keep only one of the two, but I could have seen it going either way.

Baltimore Ravens guard Patrick Mekari (65) against Indianapolis Colts defensive end Tyquan Lewis (94) during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023.  Ravens lost the game 22-19 on OT.
Exits on the offensive line could create an opportunity for guard Patrick Mekari. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Mancano: I was floored, only because they created just $4.7 million in cap space by trading him. Patrick Mekari was a solid swing tackle in 2023, and maybe there’s more juice to be squeezed from Daniel Faalele, but right tackle now becomes a major question. General manager Eric DeCosta could find his answer in the draft, where Georgia’s Amarius Mims or Oklahoma’s Tyler Guyton might be available at No. 30 overall.

Goon: The decision, to me, comes down to positional value. It’s harder to find a good left tackle than a good right tackle. At his peak, Stanley had more upside, and he’s a few years younger. Facing a money crunch, the Ravens made the gamble to trust Stanley to bounce back and cut a position with a little more churn. Moses was fairly reliable and a great locker room presence, but there are simply more ways to find someone close to his performance level for less money. It’s business, folks.

Which departure would be more significant: Patrick Queen or Jadeveon Clowney?

Shaffer: With Clowney, a South Carolina native and former Gamecocks star, reportedly checking out the Carolina Panthers on a free agent visit, the Ravens might lose another defensive star this week. And it’s unlikely they’ll find a replacement pass rusher as disruptive as Clowney. Fellow outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is a boomerang candidate after a nine-sack season, but Clowney played at a Pro Bowl level in 2023. The Ravens have a potential replacement for Queen in Trenton Simpson, and Roquan Smith is a force multiplier next to him. The outside options at edge rusher aren’t as promising. There’s not a run-the-card-in prospect in the Ravens’ draft range, and later in free agency there are usually more Jason Pierre-Pauls than Justin Houstons or Clowneys available.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Han: Clowney was a huge reason the Ravens overcame so many injuries on defense. He made the unit more dynamic. His versatility allowed the Ravens to run complex schemes. His ability to get to the passer opened lanes for other players.

He’d be a huge loss, don’t get me wrong, but I think people might underestimate Queen’s impact. Many attributed his success to Roquan Smith, and I think that’s fair, to a certain extent. But Smith made everyone better, and Queen still played well in the snaps when Smith wasn’t by his side. Although Clowney’s role could fluctuate, Queen was involved in every play. He played almost every defensive snap over the past two years and never got less than 80% overall in a game in that span. He also impacts the game in multiple ways, contributing to the pass rush, the run defense and in coverage. Potential backups for both Clowney and Queen are question marks — Trenton Simpson played well as a rookie, but in limited action, and David Ojabo has been hurt — but in a vacuum, I think Queen’s departure hurts more.

View post on Twitter

Mancano: Clowney’s. Trenton Simpson is the heir apparent to Queen — a lot to place on the shoulders of a third-round pick who played well in his 46 defensive snaps last year — but there are no sure things behind Clowney on the edge. Perhaps 2024 is the season we finally see what a healthy David Ojabo can do, but DeCosta surely isn’t holding his breath. Just as the draft seems the best way to address offensive tackle, it also seems the preferred route for the Ravens to acquire a replacement if Clowney walks.

Goon: I was on record during the season that extending Queen might be more enticing, in some ways, than extending Justin Madubuike. OK, that was a hot take and, frankly, I think the Ravens did the right thing this offseason. But Queen and Roquan Smith have a special alchemy that has been the foundation of the Ravens’ defense in the last season and a half. Clowney was resurgent in a number of ways, including his 9.5 sacks, but he wasn’t on the field for as many downs and didn’t have to excel at as many skills as Queen did in 2023. You add that to the fact that Queen is going to an AFC North rival? His departure is going to be a void the Ravens struggle to account for.

Is the Ravens’ roster too reliant on its stars to make up for weaknesses elsewhere?

Shaffer: Look around the league. The Ravens, by and large, have a really good roster. There’s a star and at least decent depth at every level of their defense. On offense, there’s a potential Pro Bowl player in every position group. The biggest worry here — and it is a big one — is the offensive line. If the Ravens had spent the money they allocated for Derrick Henry on a solid starter, it would’ve been defensible, if not sexy. Now, though, they’ll likely have three starting jobs to fill upfront. Jackson is a master improviser, but he’s also prone to taking sacks. If the Ravens can’t reliably run the ball or give Jackson the time he needs in the pocket, the offense will suffer. The Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars found that out the hard way last year.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Han: This always makes me nervous, but the thing is: It worked for the Chiefs. The Ravens saw that firsthand. All season, Kansas City struggled with its weakened receiving corps. But, when the lights got brightest, the Chiefs were victorious thanks to three main players on offense: Patrick Mahomes, Rashee Rice and Travis Kelce. The Ravens have more than three impressive players on offense. They’ve got the reigning MVP in Jackson; a steady veteran in Mark Andrews; rising stars in Zay Flowers, Rashod Bateman, Keaton Mitchell and Isaiah Likely; and now a game changer in Henry.

The Ravens will depend on linebacker Roquan Smith to raise the level of other players on the defense. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The area this worries me most is on defense. It feels like it’s easier to pick apart the holes in a defense with a few stars and a smart scheme. Stars open opportunities for other players, but the Ravens are losing too many. And, of course, this all complicates the cap. With many of their defensive stars already on big contracts, the Ravens might have to be stingy with everyone else.

Mancano: Every team paying its starting quarterback top-end money faces this question, but that’s the trade-off you make for a perennial MVP candidate. In the Ravens’ case, they’re hoping their high-dollar players — Jackson, Smith, Madubuike and others — raise the level of play of those around them. Sometimes, the strategy works. Smith helped Queen become a Pro Bowl linebacker. But when it doesn’t — see: Stanley, Ronnie — these deals can become expensive shackles for their teams. If Madubuike can raise the floor of Baltimore’s defense the way Smith has, it will have been a worthwhile investment.

Goon: Yes, absolutely. I didn’t expect the Ravens to be this spendy at running back, because so many meat-and-potatoes positions are lacking. There has been a lot of focus on how Henry and Jackson feel like a “Madden”-style pairing of talent, but what about replacing three starters on the offensive line? Who are going to be the other receiving options, especially if the Ravens can’t bring back Odell Beckham Jr.? Baltimore kind of pulled a rabbit out of its hat in 2023 by getting huge sack seasons from Clowney and Van Noy — so is the strategy to find more high-level pass rushers off the street and let those vets walk? You have so much money committed to Jackson, Smith, Madubuike, Stanley and Marlon Humphrey that we’re already seeing how that cuts into other areas. Respect to the Ravens’ faith in their system, but ultimately that attrition — which extends to the coaches they’ve lost, too — will come due in cost.

More From The Banner