One of the major stories to watch this Ravens offseason — other than the ongoing Orlando Brown Jr. play-me-at-left-tackle-or-trade-me situation — is whether general manager Eric DeCosta can work out a contract extension with MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson or Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews. DeCosta has said he would like to get deals done with both.
At the same time, though, there are other, lower-profile candidates for contract extensions who could garner DeCosta’s attention this spring and summer.
Since succeeding Ozzie Newsome as general manager two years ago, DeCosta has made good on his pledge to retain as many key Ravens players as possible. DeCosta has re-signed or worked out contract extensions with more than 15 Ravens, opting to stick with known quantities whom he has identified as good organizational fits.
That has included top-of-market deals with tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and kicker Justin Tucker, but also less costly extensions with players such as fullback Patrick Ricard, tight end Nick Boyle and safety Chuck Clark.
“We want to keep our good, young players,” DeCosta said at his season-ending news conference last month. “We like them. We know them. They really fit us, and we want our fans to be able to reap the enjoyment of these players … based on the parameters of the salary cap. So, we will continue to engage in talks with all of our good, young players, and try and sign as many guys as we can.”
The price almost always rises as free agency nears, so working out a long-term deal in advance can be beneficial to the team, but also to the player, who more quickly gains a measure of financial security. Of course, there are risks on both sides. The player might be leaving money on the table, but the team has to hope the player remains healthy. Cornerback Tavon Young has played in two games since signing a three-year, $25.8 million extension in 2019.
While any contract talks with Jackson or Andrews will generate headlines, here are three other extensions that the Ravens could consider this offseason:
G Bradley Bozeman
The former sixth-round pick will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2021 and has become a reliable starter for one of the best running attacks in NFL history. Among guards this year, Pro Football Focus ranked Bozeman No. 40 overall and No. 32 in run blocking.
With the Proven Performance Escalator — a CBA-crafted salary-bump for lower-round draft picks who have seen significant playing time in their first three years — Bozeman is expected to have a salary and cap charge of roughly $2.2 million this coming season.
The Ravens face a lot of uncertainty in the interior of their offensive line, with questions at center and at right guard. At center, Matt Skura is a pending free agent and is not expected to return. Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon-Castillo, an undrafted rookie this past year, are in the mix, but the Ravens might look to upgrade via free agency. Bozeman had played center at Alabama, and he could be a candidate to shift from left guard to center if the Ravens find a guard in free agency or the draft.
Regardless, Bozeman has shown to be a capable starter and is a known quantity on a line that — especially given Brown’s situation — faces a lot of uncertainty. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also the Ravens’ reigning NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for his civic contributions.
RB Gus Edwards
Edwards is a restricted free agent, and the Ravens are likely to give Edwards a second-round tender. That means Edwards can entertain free-agent offers, but the Ravens would have the chance to match any offer, and if they chose not to, they would receive a second-round draft pick in return.
Although the tender values aren’t yet set, a second-round tender is expected to be about $3.3 million, which would be fully charged to this year’s cap. The Ravens could opt for a right-of-first-refusal tender, at a cost of about $2.1 million. That would save them $1 million, but since Edwards was undrafted, the Ravens would get no draft-pick compensation in return should Edwards sign elsewhere.
Edwards, who turns 26 in April, has proved to be a good match for the Ravens’ run-first offense, and this past year he showed he was more than just a 238-pound between-the-tackles bulldozer. Edwards set career highs this year with 144 carries for 723 yards and six touchdowns and demonstrated more lateral range and burst than in his first two seasons. He also became more of a factor as a receiver late in the year, and he and rookie J.K. Dobbins increasingly were on the field together in two-back sets.
A contract extension presumably would lower Edwards’ cap hit this year but would push more money into future years. Working against that idea: The league is never short on running backs, and the Ravens could opt to find the next Edwards in next year’s draft, or in the rookie free agent pool, at a significant discount compared to a second Edwards contract.
S DeShon Elliott
Elliott (6-foot-1, 210) might be pound-for-pound the hardest hitter in the league, and the Ravens love his physicality. After missing nearly all of his first two seasons, Elliott stayed healthy this year and started all 16 games, giving the Ravens a huge boost after safety Earl Thomas was abruptly released during a tumultuous training camp.
Elliott, like Bozeman, was drafted in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, so he is set to hit free agency next year. Elliott ranked fourth on the team with 80 tackles and finished with 2.5 sacks, but he is still looking for his first career interception.
The Ravens don’t have a lot of depth at safety. Special teamer Jordan Richards has been re-signed to an extension, and veteran Anthony Levine is a pending free agent. Former Vikings and Lions safety Jayron Kearse spent the final part of the season on the practice squad and remains in the organization, and veteran Jimmy Smith could transition to safety as well, something he had begun to do last year before being pressed back into cornerback duty.
The Ravens signed their other starting safety, Chuck Clark — like Elliott, a sixth-round pick — to a three-year, $15.3 million extension in 2020, although Clark by then had already established himself as a de facto defensive captain. The Ravens might want to see another full season from Elliott, who played just six games in his first two seasons, but his physicality and swagger seem to be a good fit.
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