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Mike Preston

Mike Preston’s Ravens mailbag on possible life after QB Lamar Jackson, offseason needs and more | COMMENTARY

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer fans’ questions throughout the Ravens season. After Baltimore’s season ended Sunday night with a 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, plenty of questions remain as the team heads into a crucial offseason.

Here’s Preston’s take:

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(Editor’s note: Questions have been edited for length and clarity.)

I was a Ray Lewis fan but mostly remember him in his later years. What are the similarities and differences between him and Roquan Smith when Ray was 25? Thanks.

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— Bill Reid from North East

Both are every-down linebackers who can cover running backs or tight ends all over the field. I don’t know Smith well and have only studied him for about half a season. I was a first-year NFL beat writer when Lewis was a rookie, so I kind of grew up with him in the NFL. You can compare some of the physical characteristics and the athleticism, but Ray’s work ethic and training regimen were incredible. I haven’t been able to watch Smith practice yet because NFL rules limit the time media can watch practices once the regular season starts.

Ray went hard in practice all the time, just like it was a game. Whenever he stepped on the field, he was so intense. I like Smith’s intensity as well and he is relentless in pursuit, but the one thing that made Ray truly special was his ability to take away an opponent’s desire to play against him. I will never forget when Bengals running back Corey Dillon told coach Bruce Coslet he wasn’t going back out on the field late in a game during the 2000 season, and I believe it was because Ray was just destroying him and the Bengals offense. The next day, Coslett either resigned or was fired, depending on which report you believed.

A lot of Ravens fans want to compare Smith with Lewis, but it’s way too early. As a youngster, I saw middle linebackers like Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke and Willie Lanier play, but none could run like Ray. Smith is in the same mold but when he was in his prime Ray had an extra gear. I have watched him run down running backs from behind. I don’t think Smith is in that league as far as total speed.

Mike, the NFL “talking heads” are now talking in full force. In your opinion, do you think Lamar Jackson is pulling a method similar to his buddy Marquise Brown to get traded out of Baltimore? Thank you.

— Bob in North Carolina

Bob, I have no clue as to what Jackson is thinking and can’t imagine what goes on in his head. I have advocated that the Ravens try to trade him if the value is right. Maybe the team’s front office and Jackson think their relationship is salvageable but it seems like it’s time to move on. The five-year relationship didn’t work out and resulted in one playoff win. The Ravens have waited for Jackson to grow up and it hasn’t happened. He has waited for them to offer a lucrative fully-guaranteed multi-year contract, and that hasn’t happened, either.

The time is right to part ways — if the trade value is right.

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What are your thoughts on Lamar staying home from the playoff in Cincinnati? Shouldn’t a quarterback be a team leader on the sidelines, offering support and encouragement to his team? It gave the impression that he isn’t invested in the Ravens and he’s done with Baltimore.

— Jane Riley

There have been reports that the Ravens don’t require or want injured players to travel with the team, which is understandable, but as a leader, I think he should have been there, even if he needed to pay his own expenses. He could have been a big help to backup Tyler Huntley and No. 3 Anthony Brown. You can have an injury or a disagreement with the front office over a contract, but these were the same guys that started training camp with Jackson in late July, the same bunch who started out with the same goal of winning a Super Bowl.

I’m old-school. I had a middle school coach who once told me that the only group of people closer than a football team were your family and men at war. I still believe in that philosophy.

The Ravens dominated Sunday night’s game in almost every statistical category. Performed poorly in the red zone and lost the game. Is this a coaching issue? Is it time to start planning for life after Lamar? Is it time to start planning for life after Harbaugh?

— Carl Wright

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I have already written about Lamar. I actually think it’s time to gut this offensive system and use one that requires more balance. The Ravens have had a strong running game for years but they aren’t productive throwing down the field. If they fall behind, they struggle to win and we’ve seen that consistently through the years, including Sunday against the Bengals. It’s a quarterback-driven league and signals-callers earn their greatness in the postseason. I think this offensive system is good enough to win 10 or 11 games a year because the NFL is so mediocre, but this system is counterproductive in the playoffs when most teams have a quick-strike offense led by big-armed quarterbacks.

One could look at the Ravens and the AFC and make the argument that there are only three teams clearly superior — Kansas City, Cincinnati and Buffalo. On the other hand, playoff game included, the Ravens went 10-8 this year, essentially a .500 team, and the win-loss record of all the teams they played comes in at 117-118-1. Thus, they were a .500 team against teams that overall played at a .500 level. Do you see the Ravens as one of the top 3-4 teams in the AFC or not, and either way, as plans are made for next season, what are the key two or three steps that you feel really have to be taken to be elite next year, including coaching and personnel changes, the draft, free agency, trades, etc.?

— Mike Stefanek

I’ve written this before, probably about a month ago, that the Ravens are the best of the average teams in the NFL. To get to the next level, or at least attempt to get there, they need to hire a new offensive coordinator, trade Jackson if possible, find a big-time receiver who can contribute immediately, get another young pass rusher and find a good cornerback or two. Don’t be fooled by the Ravens defense. The Bengals were missing two starters on the offensive line and a third went down and had to be removed in the first half Sunday. That forced the Bengals to play small ball with the passing game, and the Ravens took advantage.

Overall, it sounds like a lot of work, but it’s the NFL. The Ravens need to take these final steps to climb into the top echelon.

If Lamar and the Ravens cannot get a deal done and the franchise tag is used, but Lamar decides to hold out, would a trade with the Bears for Justin Fields, Chase Claypool and a second-round pick (to get back the one used in the Roquan Smith trade) be a feasible option?

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— Anthony Reeves

I don’t understand why the Bears would give up on Fields. They might trade down to get out of the No. 1 overall position in the draft but that would be to get more picks in the first round. The Jets are already talking about their need for a franchise-caliber quarterback, and the Dolphins might be in the same situation depending on the health of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

As for Jackson, the Ravens aren’t going to say anything negative about him at this time because it would only hurt his trade value. But there will be some coach who will think he can turn Jackson into a top-notch thrower, and maybe he can. This will be the Ravens’ most interesting offseason since 2012 when they parted ways with Lewis, safeties Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard and receiver Anquan Boldin.

And, one last thing: Just a quick thank you to all the fans who participated in this forum during the season.


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