Ravens Flock Takes Major Hit

Nov 1, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (91) rushes during the second half as Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva (78) blocks at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hours before the start of the free agency tampering period, the Ravens made a splash free-agent signing. Hours into the period, the tide had turned. By the end of the day, the Ravens’ flock took a massive blow. Instead of fans rejoicing and celebrating their new player, they were left wondering what if? These next few weeks could be instrumental in the team’s future and ultimately decide what they do once April rolls around.

The Good

Five hours before the opening of the tampering window, all appeared well in Baltimore. After all, they had just signed free agent Kevin Zeitler to a three-year deal worth $22 million. The Ravens were able to get a high-quality starter in Zeitler at a price that would rank near the top 15 in terms of salary among all guards, which is certainly not an unreasonable price to pay. Zeitler looks to bring his experience and durability to an offensive line group that started three different players at the right guard position. In 2020, Zeitler surrendered only two sacks and four QB pressures. Inject him into a group that allowed Lamar Jackson to be pressured on 35% of his dropbacks, and they should improve significantly. His pass blocking will further aid in the development of Lamar, and nastiness as a run-blocker should bode well for the league’s top rushing unit. More importantly, the addition of Zeitler will be vital in case the team does decide to trade Orlando Brown Jr. This was a slam dunk signing and looked to be just the beginning of their offseason. Well, maybe not. Fast forward eight hours later, and the mood in Baltimore took a sharp turn.

The Bad

Three hours after the tampering window had opened, the news dropped. The New England Patriots had signed defensive end Matt Judon. The two parties had reached a four-year $56 million deal with $32 million guaranteed. The two-time pro bowler and former first-team all-pro will most certainly be missed. Maybe just add Judon to the list of edge rushers the Ravens have left walk in free agency. His six sacks and 32 solo tackles in 2020 will most certainly be hard to replace. Overall, Judon has been one of if not the best Ravens’ pass rusher as of recent. In the last three seasons, Judon led the team with 30.5 sacks, a double-digit average per year. Even with 2020 being a relatively down year in terms of sacks, Judon still put up 51 tackles and 21 QB hits. Numbers that only two other edge rushers were able to put up. His services in Baltimore will most certainly be missed. But wait, that’s not all.

The Ugly

On October 22nd, the Ravens dealt a 3rd round pick and a conditional 5th round pick to Minnesota in exchange for Yannick Ngakoue. Five months later, Ngakoue is out the door. Three hours after the Judon news broke, the Ravens took an even more significant blow. Yannick Ngakoue had agreed to a two-year deal for $26 million with the Las Vegas Raiders. At $13 million per year, there is no doubt the Ravens could have afforded Ngakoue if they chose to. Perhaps, Ngakoue simply did not like the fit and decided to move on. Electing not to re-sign Ngakous certainly is puzzling, considering you don’t ship over a third-round pick for a midseason rental. Perhaps, Ngakoue simply did not like the fit and decided to move on. Despite a dip in production (3 sacks in 9 games), his fit in Martindale’s defense as a stand-up pass rusher seemed to be good to pass up. Had he had an entire offseason under Don Martindale, perhaps he could have returned to his 2017 pro bowl form. The loss of Judon makes Ngakoue’s departure even more significant. To say the Ravens defensive line has a taken a major blow might just be an understatement. What started off as a perfect morning for the Ravens resulted in the team ultimately taking a step back.

Future Prognosis

After signing Zeitler this morning, it seemed as if the Ravens were poised for a tremendous offseason. Filling a massive need at RG, they could have shifted their full attention to finding WR1. Instead, the Ravens now have three enormous needs to fill. They will need to find two starting-caliber edge rushers to fill the voids left by Ngakoue and Judon. This next month might just decide how deep this Ravens squad can go in 2021. Given their history with drafting edge rushers, it would not be surprising to see the Ravens take multiple shots to find their future DE’s through the draft. But with only five scheduled picks in the 2021 draft, this might prove difficult. Still, expect the Ravens to use their resources to find a WR1 in free agency to fill one need. If not, what they do with their 27th overall pick will remain a mystery and will bear a story worth monitoring as April rolls around the corner.

For more free agency updates, check out the AFC and NFC North free agent trackers that track all signings and departures.