The NFL scouting combine took place last week in Indianapolis. Terps excelled in drills and Ravens’ leadership addressed a potential position of need. However, nothing carried as much importance as the status of star quarterback Lamar Jackson, a common discussion topic at the combine.
Here are five things we learned:
The Ravens are ‘preparing for every contingency’ with Lamar Jackson.
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said at last year’s NFL scouting combine in regards to signing Jackson to a long-term contract that offseason: “I hope so, at some point, that we will.”
A year later, little has changed on that front. Jackson remains without a contract, the Ravens remain with plenty of questions this offseason, and DeCosta maintains confidence that a deal will get done.
“We continue to be optimistic about it,” he said last week at the combine in Indianapolis.
Jackson has been under contract with the Ravens since he was drafted in 2018, but his contract will soon expire; the team is expected to place a franchise tag on him by Tuesday, the deadline to do so.
The tag is just a temporary fix, however, and DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh said they believe a long-term deal between the dynamic playmaker and the team will get done, even as prolonged negotiations continue without overt progress. Long-term talks can continue through July 15 even after Jackson is tagged.
“He’s my quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “He’s my guy. I love him and, as a coach, I’m just looking forward to seeing it get done, but it’s not easy. It’s never easy. It’s the business part of it. But I’m really hopeful and excited, fervently hopeful and can’t wait for it to get done.”
Harbaugh said the team is not evaluating quarterbacks in the draft class any more closely than in years past. But given that a deal has still not been finalized, the team must consider the possibility of moving on from Jackson.
If the two sides are unable to come to an agreement, Jackson could be traded to one of several suitors in need of a supremely talented signal-caller. When asked if the team is plotting for the potential of moving on without Jackson, DeCosta said there are “four, five or six different plans based on what happens over the next 10 days.”
“We’re always preparing for every contingency,” he said.
The Ravens’ draft plan will likely depend on Jackson.
Jackson’s status with the Ravens is all-important. DeCosta said most of his focus is centered on getting a deal done with Jackson, who became only the second player in NFL history to be unanimously named Most Valuable Player in 2019.
“There’s no bigger question right now,” he said.
That unknown clouds the Ravens’ draft plan. The team has just five picks — which, if that holds true, would be their fewest this millennium; the Ravens traded second- and fifth-round picks for linebacker Roquan Smith this past season.
“We only have five draft picks this year, which as a drafter, as a guy who loves the draft, it’s not a lot,” DeCosta said.
If they come to an agreement with Jackson soon, the Ravens would be financially handcuffed and thus it might behoove them to fill lean positions via the draft. The Ravens are in need of a playmaking wide receiver and could select one with their No. 22 overall pick; they would benefit from cornerback depth, too, especially if pending free agent Marcus Peters is not re-signed.
The Ravens could make a trade for more draft picks. And if Jackson is dealt — a possibility that DeCosta did not want to discuss — the Ravens would net at least several picks, giving them the freedom to build up other positions. They could also, in theory, receive one of this year’s top picks and select one of four quarterbacks (Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis) expected to be taken within the first 15 selections.
The Ravens will ‘keep swinging’ on wide receivers.
Of course, if Jackson remains with the Ravens long term, picking a quarterback becomes unnecessary, but selecting a wide receiver could be more urgent.
The Ravens generally draft well, but their recent wide receiver selections have not performed particularly well. When asked in Indianapolis about evaluating receivers, DeCosta said: “If I had an answer, that means I would probably have some better receivers, I guess.”
Baltimore has selected eight wideouts since the 2018 draft. The results, however, haven’t been glowing. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2019, was traded last year, after his third season. They used another first-round pick on receiver Rashod Bateman in 2021, but he’s been sidelined with injuries, playing just six games last year before undergoing season-ending foot surgery.
“There have been some guys that have been successful players for us that were draft picks,” DeCosta said. “We’ve never really hit on that All-Pro type of guy, which is disappointing, I would say.”
Bateman, expected to be Baltimore’s top wideout this year, did not take kindly to DeCosta’s comments, writing “how [about] you play to your [players] strength” and “stop pointing the finger at us” in a since-deleted tweet.
(The tweet was one of many in a cascade of criticism last week, as former Ravens aired grievances against recently departed strength coach Steve Saunders.)
Baltimore still needs receivers, though, and many mock drafts project them to take a wideout in the first round. Southern California standout receiver Jordan Addison, a Frederick native, said at the combine it would be a “dream come true” to play for the Ravens, but he might not be available by the time Baltimore picks. Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Boston College’s Zay Flowers or Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt are also potential fits for the Ravens.
“We’re going to just keep swinging,” DeCosta said of selecting wideouts, “and hopefully at one of these points we’ll hit the ball out of the park.”
The Ravens are likely to release some veterans.
Like their draft strategy, other pieces of the Ravens’ roster depend on the big domino that is Jackson’s status. If he agrees to a deal, Baltimore will need to create some cap space, which will include some difficult cost-cutting decisions.
Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell is returning for another NFL season, but his cap hit is $9.4 million for the 2023 season and the Ravens could save $7 million by releasing him. Other players, such as safety Chuck Clark (savings: $3.5 million), running back Gus Edwards ($4.4 million) and wide receiver Devin Duvernay ($4.3 million) could also be in jeopardy of being traded or released.
“It’s not necessarily Calais,” DeCosta said when asked about Campbell’s future with the team. “It’s not necessarily other guys. But we’re always looking at: How can we get better? How can we build the best roster? Understanding that the salary cap is a real constraint. And so we’ve got to do what we think is best for the club. Those are tough decisions.”
The Terps’ draft class stood out.
Seven University of Maryland players were invited to the NFL combine, the most for the program since 1987.
“It just shows what [coach Mike Locksley] is doing back there,” said cornerback Jakorian Bennett.
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Bennett and Deonte Banks, the Terps’ two defensive backs at the combine, especially impressed at Lucas Oil Stadium. Bennett and Banks ran blistering 40-yard-dash times (4.30 and 4.35, respectively) and Banks had an excellent 42-inch vertical leap and 11-foot, 4-inch broad jump, which is the third-best mark ever by a cornerback at the combine. NFL’s Next Gen Stats compiles a players “athleticism score” and Banks and Bennett received scores of 98 and 97, becoming the first teammates at the same position to post scores above 95 in two decades.
Banks, a Baltimore native, might be a first-round selection (some mock drafts have the Ravens taking him at No. 22), while Bennett is expected to be selected, too. The Terps also have three wideouts who could be drafted: Maryland native Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr. and Jacob Copeland, who ran a 4.42 second 40-yard-dash.
St. Frances Academy product Jaelyn Duncan, an offensive tackle, is expected to be drafted, and Chad Ryland is the top-rated kicker in the draft class.
The Terps’ record for players selected in a seven-round draft is five, which could be surpassed next month.
Thursday, April 27, to Saturday, April 29
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