Ten things we learned about the Ravens and NFL at annual owners meetings

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PHOENIX — The annual NFL owners meetings feature the who’s who of pro football, from team and league officials to the media that covers them. It’s the place to see and be seen, gather intel and simply reconnect in a relatively schmoozy environment, with the swanky Arizona Biltmore hotel and its expansive lawns and pools and banquet halls having served as the backdrop this year.

Even Odell Beckham Jr. made an appearance. A current player showing up is well outside the norm, but the flashy free agent wide receiver has a house nearby and popped in to reportedly meet with multiple teams about his services, including the Ravens.


But the real scene was Monday morning, at 7:48 a.m. local time, when star quarterback Lamar Jackson dropped his bombshell tweet about his trade request. It happened just as Ravens coach John Harbaugh was making his way over to sit down at a roundtable that initially had about 10 reporters already waiting for him but suddenly swelled with a throng of media as word quickly spread inside the already-packed ballroom that had a table for each of the 16 AFC coaches. Harbaugh was unaware of the tweet — and said he didn’t think Jackson was aware of the timing of the meeting — but he proceeded to answer 46 questions in all, with 36 of them about Jackson.

The other busy table that morning was that of New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, who, like Harbaugh, has his own quarterback dilemma until a deal for Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers gets done. Whether things shake out similarly for the Ravens and Jackson, we’ll see. But there were plenty of other takeaways from Harbaugh, the Ravens and the rest of the NFL.


Left guard competition

There will again be a competition to be the Ravens’ starting left guard thanks to the departure of Ben Powers, whose play last season made him too expensive for Baltimore to keep as he bolted for the Denver Broncos and their four-year, $52 million deal.

“Pat Mekari’s going to be in the mix for sure; Pat can start at any time, anywhere,” Harbaugh said. “Ben Cleveland is obviously a young guy that we’re bringing along. We got a veteran guy we brought in at the end of the year, John Simpson, who I think is going to surprise some people. … We can move Daniel Faalele in there, too. Those are all possibilities.”

There’s not an obvious starter among that group, but the way Harbaugh positioned Simpson, who the Ravens re-signed this offseason after adding him to the practice squad, certainly merits watching.

Ben Cleveland will be one of the players vying for the starting left guard spot this season for the Ravens.

What the new offense will look like

Last season, the Ravens had seven delay-of-game penalties, the third-highest total in the NFL. New offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who replaces Greg Roman, said when he was hired in February that Baltimore will play at a faster pace this season. Harbaugh reiterated that this week.

“It’s 100% likely that it will be different,” Harbaugh said of the offense. “I think we’re going to be exciting, we’re going to be fun. We’re going to still run the ball, but we’re going to throw the ball. We’re going to be up-tempo probably even more than we’ve been. Maybe a little more no-huddle. We’re going to be living in a lot of different worlds with our offense, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Of course, how different will likely depend on who’s playing quarterback, but Harbaugh and Monken are clearly determined to up the pace.

Will the Ravens add a veteran quarterback?

With Jackson’s situation uncertain and the only other options on the roster being Tyler Huntley (a restricted free agent whom the Ravens tendered, meaning another team is free to sign him to an offer sheet without having to give up any compensation) and Anthony Brown, the Ravens have been in the market for a veteran backup. But the pickings are slim two weeks into free agency — Teddy Bridgewater, Carson Wentz and Joe Flacco, to name a few.

Still, Harbaugh would like to try to get a veteran arm if he can.


“That’s a possibility,” he said. “You try to build your team as deep as you can. I think that would be something we would be thinking about if the opportunity came around.”

J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards will carry load

While Harbaugh and Monken have been bullish about a new offense and a faster pace, Harbaugh did note this week that the team still plans to run the ball a good amount. He’s encouraged by what he saw last season out of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, both of whom returned from major knee injuries and performed well.

Dobbins, who missed six games in the middle of the season after undergoing surgery to remove scar tissue from a previous ACL injury that cost him all of 2021, rushed for 397 yards on just 57 carries over a four-week stretch at the end of the season. Edwards, who didn’t return until Week 7 after suffering a torn ACL just before the 2021 season, netted 433 yards on 87 carries across nine games.

“They’re another year removed from major knee injuries and they both have had subsequent surgeries to clean out the cartilage and they both told me what a difference that made,” Harbaugh said. “I think those guys are going to be ready to shock the world.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he's encouraged by what he saw last season out of running backs J.K. Dobbins (27) and Gus Edwards (35).

Will the Ravens play an international game?

While the NFL continues to expand its international presence, the Ravens have still played just one overseas game, against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London in 2017. Will that change this year?

“We don’t have any indication yet as to whether we’ll be [over] there, but we do know that two of the home teams obviously are on our schedule and we had a couple last year,” team president Sashi Brown said. “We’re very focused on being in Baltimore and playing all of our games at M&T Bank Stadium, where we love our home-field advantage, but we certainly will be ready to go overseas when we are called to play there.”


The two opponents scheduled to host a game overseas are the Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

Addressing a poor NFLPA grade

While the Ravens ranked 17th out of the 32 teams in terms of working conditions in an NFL Players Association survey that was released earlier this month, the organization notably got an F-minus in strength and conditioning, with just 38% of player respondents feeling they got an individualized plan for strength training and many complaining the training room was understaffed.

The Ravens addressed that before the survey was even released, parting ways with head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders in late February and promoting former assistant strength and conditioning coach Scott Elliott into the role. The Ravens also got a C for the training room and a pair of C-pluses for the weight room and treatment of families.

“Sometimes that transparency can open your eyes,” Brown said. “I give John [Harbaugh] a ton of credit. I’ve seen him engage with our veterans and our rookies, to have that feedback to make sure our program is not resting on our status quo.”

Thursday night flex scheduling proposal fails

New York Giants co-owner John Mara blasted a proposal that would have allowed the NFL to flex Sunday games to Thursday night this season, telling reporters in the lobby of the Biltmore that doing so “is just abusive,” and that he is “adamantly” opposed to it. He also said “doing so would be inconsiderate to our season-ticket holders and the people who fill our stadiums every week.”

The owners rejected the proposal in a close vote, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is in favor of it, despite criticism from his sport’s biggest star, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.


“I don’t think we are putting Amazon over our players,” Goodell said this week. “We’ve always been looking at data with respect to injuries and the impact on players. That drove our decisions throughout the first 12 or so years of ‘Thursday Night Football’ and how it’s evolved. I think the data is very clear: It doesn’t show a higher injury rate. But we recognize shorter weeks. We went through this with COVID, too. We had to have a lot of flexibility. Those are obviously different circumstances, but we work very closely on that.

“I hear from a lot of players directly, too. They love the 10 days afterward. In fact, they call it a mini-bye, so there are benefits on that. You have different views. We want to consider all of them. Players have their views. Coaches have their views. We have to try to balance all of that.”

Neutral site conference championship games

When the Buffalo Bills’ regular-season game against the Cincinnati Bengals was canceled after safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field, it led to the possibility of a neutral site AFC championship game between Buffalo and Kansas City. Owners voted for the game to be held in Atlanta, though the Bills lost in the divisional round and that was that.

Still, the idea of neutral site conference championships started to percolate in some circles. Not in Goodell’s, though.

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“We have not looked at that,” he said. “I haven’t heard that as a proposal, either internally or from our clubs.”

Washington Commanders co-owner Dan Snyder is being investigated by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White for operating a toxic workplace culture and withholding security deposits from season ticket holders that should have been refunded.

Dan Snyder, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and Jerry Jones

The saga surrounding the Washington Commanders and its possible sale by disgraced owner Dan Snyder was enflamed this week when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he already knows everything within U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White’s investigation report.


But Goodell pushed back on that notion, saying “that would be impossible because the only person I know of who knows everything in the investigation is Mary Jo White and her counterparts. So I don’t know any of those things. Mary Jo White is a professional. She’s incredibly thorough. She’s not giving access to anybody. So, I’m comfortable on that point.”

White was hired by the NFL in February 2022 to investigate claims that Snyder operated a toxic workplace culture and withheld security deposits from season-ticket holders that should have been refunded. Stay tuned.

Rules changes

There were nine rules changes for 2023 that were approved at the meetings. One that caught the attention of many: Players now being allowed to wear No. 0, which the Philadelphia Eagles proposed.

Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley almost immediately announced he would be switching to that number. Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who wore No. 0 during his final college season at Minnesota, teased the possibility before recommitting to No. 7.

Two rules that didn’t get passed: roughing the passer being subject to replay assist and/or reviewable by a coach’s challenge and moving touchbacks on punts from the 20-yard line to the 25.