Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson met Wednesday with Ravens officials at the Under Armour Performance Center, a visit that will only increase the speculation that the team could select the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner with the 16th overall pick in next week's NFL draft.
Look, the Ravens are as protective and secretive about their draft plans as any team in the league. It's both fair and wise to be skeptical about any information you hear about the Ravens this time of year.
But count me among those who aren't buying the fact that the team will take Jackson at 16 if he is indeed available. That's not to say that the Ravens don't like Jackson or that I have any information about where he or any of the other top quarterbacks in the draft rank on the Ravens' board. Frankly, I do not.
But consider what the Ravens have said and done this offseason: Team owner Steve Bisciotti maintained that the Ravens are a ways away from worrying about finding Joe Flacco's successor. The Ravens have spent much of the free-agent period trying to add veteran pass catchers, a pursuit that is continuing. Team officials make it clear that they do not believe the team is far from returning to the playoffs.
Quality quarterbacks are hard to find and all teams have to consider every opportunity to grab one who would solidify the position. But the Ravens have been clear throughout that they're in win-now mode and barring an injury to Flacco, Jackson wouldn't likely enter that equation. General manager Ozzie Newsome surely isn't consumed by 2019 and beyond as he enters his final year calling the shots. Coach John Harbaugh and so many other members of the organization, whose jobs could be in jeopardy if the team doesn't return to the postseason this year, probably aren't concerned about who the team's quarterback of the future is.
That's not to say the Ravens won't pick a quarterback at some point next week. However, given that their entire offseason has been about building as strong of a roster as possible for 2018, it's hard to believe they'd use their top asset in the draft on a player who will start the season on the sideline. I'm guessing it's far more likely the Ravens trade out of 16 to a team that wants to move up and take Jackson than it is that the Ravens stay where they are and take Jackson for themselves.
Finding the right balance
Managing training camp was already going to be a challenge for Harbaugh and his staff because of the Ravens' inclusion in the Hall of Fame Game exhibition. Ravens players will start camp a week earlier than usual, and they'll have five preseason games instead of four. But the team's early-season schedule adds another wrinkle to that challenge.
The Ravens will play their first two regular-season games in a five-day span. They're on the road for four of their first six and five of their first eight. Three of those road games are against AFC North teams. It's a daunting stretch that will go a long way in determining the Ravens' fate.
The Ravens will need to be in good form to start the season, and they'll need to be as healthy as possible. Therein lies the challenge. If you are Harbaugh, do you play your frontline guys a bit more in the preseason to make sure they're as sharp as possible for Week 1 or do you play them even less to reduce the chance of injuries? The Ravens will have about eight weeks from the time they report to training camp to their Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills. How the coaching staff monitors the game and practice participation of the veterans will be a bigger storyline than usual this summer.
Ten quick thoughts
1) Sure, it stinks for fans that the Ravens don't have any home prime-time games and have just two prime-time games total when every team is guaranteed at least one. But it's naive to think that it doesn't have something to do with the team being mostly mediocre since the Super Bowl and lacking in star power at premium positions.
2) I don't know whether the Ravens are interested in veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was released by the New York Giants on Thursday. However, I do know that the Ravens felt pretty good about their chances of landing Marshall last offseason before the Giants became involved.
3) No, I regrettably don't have an update on the Ravens' pursuit of free-agent receiver Dez Bryant. Both the Ravens and Bryant and his agency have been mum about the situation. All along, I've been skeptical about how interested Bryant is in the Ravens, but it's not as if there have been many other suitors to emerge.
4) Former Ravens wide receiver Michael Campanaro signed a one-year, $880,000 deal with the Tennessee Titans last week. That deal is a little north of the veteran minimum. The Ravens had an offer on the table to Campanaro for more money than that, but it sounds as if Campanaro, as much as he enjoyed his time in Baltimore, was ready for a new opportunity.
5) The Ravens surely didn't need to see the Minnesota Vikings sign linebacker Eric Kendricks to a five-year, $50 million deal to conclude that their own linebacker, C.J. Mosley, is going to cost an awful lot to sign to an extension. Top middle linebacker money is north of $10 million per year, and Mosley has certainly established himself as a top middle linebacker. I get the skepticism of committing that kind of money to a middle linebacker in a passing league, but I'm of the opinion that the Ravens don't have much of a choice. I think Mosley has been the team's most indispensable player on defense the past two years.
6) That guard Marshal Yanda is taking part in the team's offensive workout program is a great sign. Yanda typically hasn't partaken in voluntary activities in recent years, but the more he's around the Ravens' younger players, the better for the team.
7) There were some questions about whether Newsome and the front office's reputation could take a bit of a hit after the team backed out of a much-maligned deal with free-agent wide receiver Ryan Grant because of concerns about his physical examination. We can probably put those questions to bed. USA Today polled agents who listed Newsome as the NFL decision-maker they respected the most.
8) The Ravens have only 65 players on their roster. That means they are set up to have a huge undrafted free-agent class.
9) Ravens defensive players were complimentary and supportive of defensive coordinator Dean Pees throughout his time in Baltimore, specifically after his retirement, which turned out to be short-lived. However, safety Eric Weddle's comments this week that the defensive players are looking forward to having more freedom and the defense not being so rigid certainly were notable.
10) That the Ravens reportedly didn't bring in Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley for a pre-draft visit doesn't mean much. They traditionally bring in players they want to learn more about. With the number of connections Newsome and other members of the organization have to the Crimson Tide program, I bet that there isn't much the Ravens don't know about Ridley.