Free agency starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday, and the Ravens will be saying some difficult goodbyes.

With a long list of free agents filled with key contributors and a hefty franchise tag for Justin Madubuike, the Ravens are going to see a decent amount of turnover from 2023 to 2024 as they strive to build a team that can go farther than the AFC championship game.

Madubuike’s contract extension, announced Friday, makes things easier for the Ravens next season because it reduces his salary cap hit — but it also tightens their window because his cap hit will jump in coming years (read more on the cap situation here).

Looking at the free agents’ performances and projected next contracts, along with the Ravens’ needs and the market, here is how we would categorize each one.

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DL Justin Madubuike: General manager Eric DeCosta made it clear at the NFL combine that he never planned to let the defensive lineman hit free agency. While the Ravens were still looking for a longer contract, he said plainly that he wouldn’t hesitate to use the franchise tag if they didn’t come to an agreement in time. Sure enough, the morning of the deadline, the Ravens tagged Madubuike and then announced a four-year extension Friday.

This wasn’t a surprising move considering the growing importance of pass rushers. Some of the Ravens’ best defensive games came against top quarterbacks because their pass rush shook them up. And Madubuike had a historic season, tying an NFL record for most consecutive games with at least half a sack (11) and leading all NFL interior linemen in sacks.

It’s been real

(thank you for your service, go thrive)

LB Patrick Queen: Queen was always going to be difficult to keep once the Ravens declined to pick up his fifth-year option. The Ravens awarded massive contracts to quarterback Lamar Jackson and fellow linebacker Roquan Smith. Even before this season, it seemed as if Queen was due for a bigger payday than the Ravens could award him.

But the results of the season made it even more unlikely Queen comes back. In addition to his own stellar performance, which earned him a Pro Bowl nod, the Ravens had paid Madubuike. There’s no space in the cap, and it seemed clear Queen understood that in his exit interview that was missing any sort of commitment to returning.

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Queen is a homegrown talent the Ravens can always be proud of. After up-and-down performances, he found consistency over the last year and a half. With his hard-hitting, intense performances, he helped set the tone for the defense. It’s a bittersweet farewell, but Queen has more than earned the rewards only another team can pay him — which could be $18 million to $20 million a year, according to projections.

S Geno Stone: Standing next to Queen at locker cleanout, Stone struck a similar tone in his exit interview. After a series of cheap, one-year contracts with the Ravens, Stone has earned a longer, heftier contract and a shot at a starting job.

The Ravens can give him neither. They don’t have room in the cap. They also have starting safeties in Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton. DeCosta was upfront about Stone’s chances of returning — slim to none despite the fact he’s the “best seventh rounder” the Ravens have ever had. This is a good safety free agent class, and there are four ahead of Stone in Pro Football Focus’ rankings, but top five is still better than the Ravens can probably afford.

Stone finished second in the NFL in interceptions (7), and he finished with 68 tackles, fifth most on the team. Stone has shown loyalty and faith, returning to the Ravens time after time. Now he has bloomed, and he will most likely be flourishing in a different environment next season.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (24) runs onto the field for the AFC divisional playoff game against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.
Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney took a gamble by signing a one-year deal with the Ravens, and he won the bet. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

OLB Jadeveon Clowney: Clowney signed with the Ravens after agreeing to a one-year, $2.5 million contract Aug. 18. It was later than most elite free agents sign and for less. Now he’s projected to make at least $9 million a year, according to PFF, and is ranked ahead of his former teammate Za’Darius Smith on the list of free agents.

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Clowney thrived in the Ravens’ defense, with the hard-nosed play and the complex defensive fronts. He gained increased opportunities with David Ojabo and Odafe Oweh out with injury, and he became a starter in the outside linebacker rotation. He also added veteran experience to an otherwise young room, prior to Kyle Van Noy’s arrival. Clowney concluded a career year with numbers that ranked among the top 15 in the NFL (14th in quarterback pressures and fifth in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate). Both the Ravens and the player won by betting on Clowney, but now he is too expensive to return, despite his wishes.

RG Kevin Zeitler: The right guard was adamant at locker cleanout that he wanted to be in Baltimore. But the deadline for the Ravens to extend him came and went, accelerating Zeitler’s $4.268 million in dead money onto the 2024 salary cap and making it unlikely the Pro Bowler will return.

Zeitler was another veteran the Ravens took a chance on who saw his career revitalized in Baltimore. He allowed just two sacks and one hit while protecting Jackson over the course of 574 pass-block snaps played and 982 overall snaps played. Now that Zeitler can speak with other teams, it’s unlikely the Ravens will be able to match the offers.

Driving a hard bargain

(only if you can get them for a good price)

WR Odell Beckham Jr.: The veteran wide receiver did not have an outstanding season, and he is extremely expensive. For those reasons, it would make sense to move on from him, especially because this is a strong wide receiver draft. But Beckham is more than his stats, and that makes him hard to replace with a rookie. He’s a brand, which brings in more fans and helps the bottom line. He’s also a leader, a guy others mimic and listen to. We catch glimpses of that from press conferences, availabilities and television, but the Ravens see his full impact day to day, and there seems to be something there that has DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh openly sharing their wish for him to return.

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The only way this happens is if Beckham agrees to a cheap deal. That makes him an unlikely return — but it’s not impossible. Beckham already made a team-friendly move when he restructured his contract to give them more time to negotiate and to keep his cap hit from accelerating onto the 2024 season.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Kyle Van Noy (50) hypes up the crowd during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy could come back if he prioritizes a chance at a Super Bowl ring over maxing out his value in free agency. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

OLB Kyle Van Noy: Van Noy’s story is similar to Clowney’s. He signed late and turned out to be a steal. He was a big part of the Ravens’ defensive success, and, as a result, played his way into a better contract. At 32, he showed he’s still got it.

Bringing Van Noy back would add consistency to a defense that could see a lot of turnover. In addition to his play (he had 9.0 sacks in 14 games), he has experience that none of the other outside linebackers can bring, especially with Clowney on his way out. His price tag is projected to be lower than Clowney’s. Even the projected $3.33 million could prove to be too much for the Ravens, but now that they’ve signed Madubuike to an extension, they could fit him with some maneuvering. Van Noy is also at the age when, if he wants another Super Bowl ring, he might take a discount to play for a team he thinks has a chance.

LG John Simpson: Simpson wasn’t even a guaranteed starter heading into the season. Now PFF has him projected to sign a two-year, $10.5 million ($5.25 million per year) in free agency. Again, that’s a lot for the cash-strapped Ravens, and at 26 Simpson is probably looking for the contract over the Super Bowl ring.

There’s not much benefit for Simpson to stay with the Ravens. But, depending on how the market shakes out and how convincing DeCosta can be, it might be worth bringing him back to add consistency and experience on an offensive line that could lose everyone but its center. For all the good he did, Simpson also had the second-most penalties in the league, allowed 26 pressures and graded out at just 56.5, according to PFF, so there’s a chance his price drops.

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RB JK Dobbins: If it gets late into free agency and other teams aren’t going after Dobbins, it might be worth bringing him back because he’ll come cheap. But the Ravens have had their difficulties with Dobbins (he held out from training camp), and they got little for their efforts after he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. The Ravens need more than the two running backs they have on the roster, especially because Keaton Mitchell is also recovering from a season-ending injury, and this isn’t a great running back draft. However, there are intriguing free agent options. It would be great for them to take a chance on someone new, but if Dobbins is cheap, he might make sense.

QB Josh Johnson: Johnson was a valuable member of the team for his experience, but he did not play in a single game. Part of that was because Jackson and Tyler Huntley remained healthy, but it’s also because he was on the inactive list as the third quarterback for most games. He could continue to be a veteran voice in the room that the Ravens won’t get from Jackson or Malik Cunningham, but the Ravens could also find another veteran backup. The questions are whether they could find someone as cheap and how much will they have to spend on the position with Jackson’s cap hit going up and how much they have to pay to replace Huntley. The Ravens don’t need four quarterbacks, but they carried four last season, and if they have the money, they might say why not.

Baltimore Ravens defensive end Brent Urban (97) and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Malik Harrison (40) celebrate after tackling Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.
Brent Urban (left) and Malik Harrison proved their value to the Ravens in 2023. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Stocking staples

(keeping valuable depth players)

DE Brent Urban: As PFF put it in Van Noy’s breakdown — basically every Ravens defender played well this season. Urban wasn’t a star (other than for his smelling salts video), but he was certainly part of the success. As a member of the rotation at defensive end, he was more than competent, with three sacks and an impressive fumble recovery. He won’t be expensive, and he’s a known quantity. And it might be easy to convince him to come back. He’d play on a familiar team in a familiar city. At 32, going on 33, he’d be on a competitive team — and he’d be playing with his good friend, Michael Pierce, who signed an extension at the end of the season.

OLB Malik Harrison: With Clowney and Van Noy’s career resurgences, Harrison’s success this season was quiet. He was lower in the outside linebacker rotation, and he ended the season with an injury that kept him off the field. But, when he was in, he played well. He’s young and has room for growth, especially under outside linebackers coach Chuck Clark’s tutelage. There’s a chance other teams don’t see his potential the way the Ravens do, keeping cost low.

CB Ronald Darby: Coming off an injury, Darby got better as his health returned. That means he could continue to improve, and the Ravens could get a bargain out of signing the depth defensive back. Darby played a key role in keeping the Ravens’ impressive pass coverage solid through injuries. With Marlon Humphrey out, Darby was part of the rotation that filled in. And, when Kyle Hamilton was injured, Darby’s role grew as Arthur Maulet shifted to nickel.

CB Arthur Maulet: Like Darby, Maulet was a valuable depth player, and their play was a huge reason the Ravens were successful. They slid right into the lineup when called upon, and Maulet helped at multiple positions. In addition to holding up in pass coverage, Maulet joined the rush and recorded two sacks. The Ravens have to sign someone to fill out their depth, so why not a guy they already knows fits in?

LB Del’Shawn Phillips: Playing behind two inside linebackers who never take a break, Phillips had little opportunity to show off his skills. But, in the one real opportunity he got, the season finale, Phillips looked good. Beyond that, Phillips was one of the most important special teams players. For a unit that took a while to find its footing, consistency among its biggest role players could be key heading into next season.

C Sam Mustipher: It’s not great when your offense is missing a Pro Bowl center – but Mustipher kept things rolling smoothly when he stepped in for Tyler Linderbaum at the beginning of the season. Outside of one wild snap, he played a solid game, and the Ravens finished with more than 100 rushing yards in both of the games he started. He’s also a hometown boy, so playing for the Ravens has an extra element for him.

Freshening up

(maybe it’s time to move on)

RB Gus Edwards: Although Edwards was solid, his role shrank toward the end of the season, which isn’t a great sign for his future in this offense. He was the team’s main running back through much of the season, and he plays with a power that the two running backs still on the roster don’t. The benefit is that he isn’t projected to make as much as other running backs on the market, but this could be an opportunity for the Ravens to add a new, and possibly more successful, element.

QB Tyler Huntley: He’s one of the better backups in the league, which probably means he could earn a decent price. With Jackson’s injury history (and with how many quarterbacks got hurt this year), a good backup is essential, but this is an area the Ravens could address in the draft.

LS Tyler Ott: The Ravens have another good long snapper coming back from injury, the one Ott was originally brought in to replace. With their cap situation, it doesn’t make sense to fill space by bringing another guy back at such a specialized position.

CB Rock Ya-Sin: Out of all the backup defensive backs, Ya-Sin found the least success. He saw his snaps drop over the course of the season. The Ravens are good at finding depth players, and this could be a spot they open to save cap space and find another player to bet on.

Wide receiver Devin Duvernay (left) saw more time as a returner than a regular on offense. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

WR Devin Duvernay: Duvernay’s primary role was on special teams. He was the returner, but when he was injured, Tylan Wallace smoothly stepped in. Over his four seasons with the Ravens, Duvernay made his smallest contribution to the offense this past season. He went from 20 to 30 targets to four. The Ravens have two good, young receivers and just brought back Nelson Agholor. They need more than those three, but they can find a more dynamic option — and they clearly have options at returner.

DB Daryl Worley: When he played, he was good. But Worley dealt with injuries all season, so the Ravens didn’t see how good he could truly be. He played a big role on special teams in the 12 games he played. At his peak, he played over 100 snaps, between defense and special teams, against the Indianapolis Colts and made seven tackles. He contributed at safety, when he’s normally a cornerback, a versatility that’s always valuable. If the Ravens brought him back, he could be helpful, but they could probably find younger, healthier players who bring similar qualities.

Dalvin Cook, RB: Cook’s contribution was little to none. He was around for three games and played in just one. Cook played just nine snaps, and he carried eight times for 23 yards. Additionally, he has a checkered past that would not serve the Ravens’ image well, considering the recent domestic assault investigation involving wide receiver Zay Flowers.

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