Ravens Eric DeCosta, John Harbaugh and Joe Hortiz on this years draft picks and different draft process.
After a first-of-its-kind NFL draft that tested teams’ patience, bandwidth and resourcefulness, the Ravens are moving into the offseason’s next phase with their team-building hailed and their Super Bowl aspirations bolstered. But much of what comes next in the league’s spring and summer proceedings won’t be normal.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to warp the sports world. The NFL’s 2020 schedule will be released soon, but Week 1 could be pushed back. Offseason programs are ongoing, but players are learning remotely and working out at home. Some free agents have agreed to sign, but their deals haven’t yet been finalized.
Here’s what you need to know about the most important forces driving the Ravens’ next few months.
The league is scheduled to release its full, 17-week regular-season schedule, as well as its preseason slate, on Thursday at 8 p.m. on NFL Network.
The Ravens already know their regular-season opponents. They’ll host the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. They’ll hit the road to face the Bengals, Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, Steelers and Washington Redskins.
While the schedule includes games against four reigning division champions — the Super Bowl champion Chiefs (AFC West), Patriots (AFC East), Texans (AFC South) and Eagles (NFC East) — the combined 2019 winning percentage of the Ravens’ 13 opponents is .438. No team’s strength of schedule is lower.
Still unknown is whether the season will start on time, and under what conditions. Ravens president Dick Cass said last week that he expects the team to play all 16 games, but that the four-game preseason schedule was “up in the air.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN last week that the league is prepared to make adjustments “based on the latest guidance from our medical experts and public health officials and current and future government regulations.”
Under the agreement reached by the NFL and NFL Players Association, the Ravens and other teams with returning head coaches were allowed to start virtual, voluntary offseason programs on April 27. The three-week programs will run through May 15.
In the virtual period, teams are allowed to hold virtual meetings up to four days a week and for up to two hours a day. Nonrookie players earn $235 for each day of participation.
The Ravens are one of just seven teams also holding virtual workouts, which are also limited to two hours long. To earn workout bonuses, a player must have agreed with his team on how he can demonstrate completion of the workout requirements. If a player is injured during his virtual workout, his contract will be protected as if he were injured while working out at the club facility.
After the “virtual” period, the six-week “offseason” period — usually highlighted by organized team activities and mandatory minicamp — will run from May 18 to June 26. If all 32 NFL facilities are not open on May 18, teams can continue to hold a virtual offseason. If all facilities are able to open between May 18 and June 26, teams can hold a combination of a virtual and in-person offseason.
Players typically get about a month off before training camp starts in late July. Cass has said he doesn’t expect players to return to team facilities until then, and it’s possible that the start of camp could be delayed, too.
The Ravens drafted 10 players and have so far announced the signing of eight undrafted free agents. Given the number of returning players under contract, and the team’s pending deal with guard D.J. Fluker, the Ravens could add as many as another 13 players to their 90-man roster.
With offseason activities going online, the Ravens will hold a three-day, virtual rookie minicamp this weekend. (NFL teams are allotted as many as five hours per day on instruction and conditioning work.) Harbaugh said after the draft that teams are allowed to have “one-on-one tutorial sessions” with first-year players, and that they’ve been developing teaching tools and applications to ease their acclimation.
“It’s different, but we’re approaching it like it’s the same, in the sense we’re going to try to do as much as we can,” he said. “Our goal is that they get in the best possible shape they can. I really believe that we drafted guys that are already doing that and are in great shape. When they do come in, we don’t want them coming in and pulling muscles and all that kind of stuff. We think that’s an advantage if our guys can stay healthy when we do come back. ...
“We’re going to do as much as we can just to prepare them to be ready. Because what you want is, you want them ready to compete. We’re not drafting them to redshirt them. We’re drafting them to play them as freshmen. You want them to play, and we’re going to do everything we can to get them ready and get them on the field — even though we won’t be hand in hand, so to speak.”
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Teams can also hold rookie orientation programs five days a week over a seven-week period beginning Monday. Rookies will earn $135 for each day of participation, which is limited to one hour beyond the time allotted for the team’s offseason program.
When the Ravens officially sign their rookie class, the total salary cap hit will be about $3 million. That would leave the team with about $8 million in space, though Fluker’s signing would eat into those savings.
DeCosta can’t spend all of what’s remaining — he has to give himself some leeway for midseason acquisitions — but he should have enough space to add one or two available veterans.
The timing is right. As of April 27, free-agent signings no longer factor into the formula the NFL uses to determine compensatory draft picks. (Players cut by their team this offseason also don’t factor into the formula.)
The most obvious candidates are at outside linebacker. Pernell McPhee suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Week 7 last season but has a familiarity with the Ravens’ system and playbook. Clay Matthews, whom the Los Angeles Rams released in March, is coming off an eight-sack season. Cameron Wake turned 38 in January and had just 2½ sacks for the Tennessee Titans in an injury-shortened 2019 but could still be a valuable rotational edge rusher.