The Ravens rolled through the regular season, surging late with dominant wins against San Francisco and Miami. Widely seen as the No. 1 team in the league entering the playoffs, they rested during a bye week and then dismantled the Houston Texans.
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs turned out to be too much for them to handle in the first AFC championship game ever hosted at M&T Bank Stadium, though. The Ravens turned the ball over three times — one a fumble at the goal line, another an interception in the end zone — and were whistled eight times for 95 yards’ worth of penalties, many of them at pivotal moments.
Now the Ravens face a long offseason full of questions as they work to make a return run next season.
How many big-name free agents can they keep?
The list of pending free agents is long and notable:
- Quarterback Tyler Huntley
- Running back Gus Edwards
- Running back J.K. Dobbins
- Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
- Wide receiver Nelson Agholor
- Wide receiver Devin Duvernay
- Left guard John Simpson
- Right guard Kevin Zeitler
- Defensive lineman Justin Madubuike
- Defensive lineman Brent Urban
- Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney
- Outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy
- Inside linebacker Patrick Queen
- Inside linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips
- Linebacker Malik Harrison
- Cornerback Arthur Maulet
- Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin
- Cornerback Ronald Darby
- Safety Geno Stone
That’s a lot of snaps and a lot of starts and a handful of stars. Madubuike and Queen earned All-Pro honors. Zeitler just missed them. Clowney was one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Stone finished second in the league in interceptions. There’s not enough salary cap space to re-sign every top-tier free agent, much less every middle-tier free agent.
According to Russell Street Report, the Ravens are projected to have about $16 million in cap space this offseason. After accounting for the rookie class, 2024 practice squad and in-season replacements, there will be even less money to spend. The Ravens have cap relief levers they can pull — more on that later — but Jackson’s megadeal has effectively consigned them to years of free-agent austerity.
Madubuike, who led all NFL interior defensive linemen in 2023 with 13 sacks, is expected to be the Ravens’ top target. He turned down contract extension offers from general manager Eric DeCosta last offseason, and now the front office’s best hope of keeping him from the open market might be the franchise tag.
It wouldn’t be cheap. According to CBS Sports, the value of the tag for defensive tackles is expected to be about $21 million. But a one-year tender would give the Ravens an All-Pro player at each level of their defense in 2024 — Madubuike, inside linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton — and grant DeCosta more time to work out a long-term deal.
It would also leave DeCosta with less flexibility to retain longtime contributors such as Edwards, Zeitler, Urban and Stone. Queen is expected to leave in free agency, and Clowney and Van Noy will be tough to re-sign, but the Ravens could be rewarded with compensatory draft picks in 2025 for big-ticket departures this offseason.
Which high-priced veterans will the Ravens move on from?
Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser is the obvious candidate. He spent the entire season on the non-football injury list with a knee injury, and the Ravens could save $5.5 million in cap space if they release him.
The Ravens’ starting tackles could also be cap casualties. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who struggled this season with knee and ankle injuries, has a $26.2 million cap hit in 2024, but the Ravens would incur a $17.8 million dead-cap charge if he’s released. A renegotiated contract for Stanley, who’s under contract through 2025, could be a sensible middle ground.
Right tackle Morgan Moses, meanwhile, has a $7 million cap hit in 2024, the final year of his contract, and releasing him would trigger only a $1.5 million charge. Daniel Faalele is on a team-friendly rookie contract, but the 32-year-old Moses has been one of the NFL’s better right tackles over the past two seasons when healthy.
Among the other well-paid Ravens who could be in line for restructured deals: safety Marcus Williams ($18.7 million cap hit in 2024), who’s missed 13 games over the past two seasons; swing tackle Patrick Mekari ($6.4 million), who’s entering the final year of his deal; and fullback Patrick Ricard ($5.2 million), who’s also entering the last year of his deal.
Will the coaching staff be plundered?
The Ravens retained all three of their coordinators after their 14-win 2019 season. Could they enjoy similar continuity this offseason?
Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has reportedly interviewed for five head coaching positions, offensive coordinator Todd Monken for two, and associate head coach and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver for two, but open spots on the coaching carousel are running out. With the Las Vegas Raiders keeping Antonio Pierce as head coach, just two jobs remain unfilled: the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders’. Macdonald has been linked to Seattle but has not officially interviewed yet.
Even if the Ravens keep their coordinators, they could lose assistant coaches from their well-regarded staff. Passing game coordinator and secondary coach Chris Hewitt has interviewed for the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator position, and defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson on Saturday reportedly interviewed for coordinator positions with the New York Giants, Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams.
Quarterbacks coach Tee Martin and inside linebackers coach Zachary Orr, meanwhile, have helped develop All-Pro performers and could also draw interest.
How will the team approach free agency and the draft?
Wide receiver Rashod Bateman and outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, the team’s two first-round picks in 2021, are a year away from free agency. But the Ravens will have to make key decisions on their future, with DeCosta facing a May 2 deadline to pick up their fifth-year options.
Neither would be cheap. Oweh, who has a $3.6 million cap hit in 2024, would count a projected $12.2 million against the cap in 2025. The former No. 31 overall pick tied a career high with five sacks this season but finished with a 17.7% win rate, according to Pro Football Focus, No. 14 among qualifying edge rushers.
Bateman’s cap hit would rise from $4 million to $13.8 million in 2025 if his option is exercised. The former No. 28 overall pick has flashed his ability when healthy, but injuries limited him to 18 games over his first two seasons. This year, he had 32 catches on 56 targets for 367 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens, as usual, will be patient in free agency. Mindful of the NFL’s compensatory-pick process, they waited until May to sign Ya-Sin, until July to sign Maulet, until August to sign Clowney and until September to sign Van Noy.
In the draft, the Ravens will likely be linked to running back, offensive tackle, defensive line and defensive back prospects, but they’ll be guided by their best-player-available approach throughout. They currently have six picks — one in each round but the sixth — but are expected to receive a compensatory pick for last offseason’s departure of guard Ben Powers.
How will Lamar Jackson and Todd Monken build on Year 1 together?
The first year of their partnership couldn’t have gone much better. Jackson is the presumptive favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player honors, Monken is a finalist for Assistant Coach of the Year honors, and the offense evolved into a juggernaut at the end of the regular season.
But Jackson won MVP honors in his first season with offensive coordinator Greg Roman, too, only for the offense to grow stale over the next three seasons, hamstrung by injuries, inconsistency and a lack of innovation.
The Ravens’ next step will depend, in part, on Jackson’s running mates on offense. But there are clear areas of improvement: the team’s hit-or-miss downfield passing game, its inconsistent screen game and an occasional overreliance on Jackson’s out-of-structure brilliance.
“This offseason, we’re going to get right, get better, grind and try to be in this position again,” Jackson said after Sunday’s loss, “but on the other side of victory.”