By: Ashley Anderson
It is no secret the Baltimore Ravens struggled in their passing attack during the 2020 season. After a prolific 2019, they took a big step backward, finishing dead last in the NFL in pass attempts and yards. Certainly, the Covid-19 pandemic played a role, but there were internal issues as well. Following a brutal loss to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, General Manager Eric DeCosta knew he had his work cut out for him, and it did not take long for him to make a move.
Hours before the official start of free agency, the Ravens inked former New York Giants guard Kevin Zeitler to a three-year, $22 million deal. For Baltimore, Zeitler perfectly fits their “right player, right price” mentality, as he does not count against the compensatory pick formula after being cut by the Giants.
The former first-round pick is an instant upgrade over the pairing of Tyre Phillips and D.J. Fluker who were part of the patchwork 2020 offensive line. Fans were certainly excited to see their franchise quarterback get some better protection, however, many still had one thing on their mind: a big-name wide receiver.
To the fans’ dismay, things instead got eerily quiet in Baltimore after Zeitler came on board. As one major wideout after another popped in for a visit only to sign elsewhere, Ravens Flock became restless. DeCosta finally addressed their concerns (sort-of) by signing former Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins to a one-year, $6 million contract.
The oft-injured wideout was a bit of a consolation prize to those who had their sites set on Allen Robinson or Kenny Golladay, but DeCosta worked his magic in the NFL Draft, nabbing Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman in round one and Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace in round four. Still, some fans are adamant the Ravens should pursue Julio Jones.
Missing the Point
At this point, those fans are failing to see the bigger picture. Having a star receiver is great, but not even the best quarterbacks of all time can complete passes while laying on their backs. Look no further than Super Bowl LV where Patrick Mahomes spent so much time running for his life that the Chiefs’ high-powered offense was held to just nine points. Games are won and lost in the trenches, which is why the upgraded offensive line is actually what will propel the Ravens to success in 2021.
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DeCosta prioritized the offensive line from the word go this off-season, and he made some bold moves to bolster the unit. Adding Zeitler was the first piece of the puzzle, then DeCosta executed a trade that sent Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs. Kansas City is known to be a formidable foe to the Ravens, leaving some pundits scratching their heads as to why Baltimore would send an important, young player to a rival. However, DeCosta was able to deal an unhappy player, who already made it clear he wanted out, for significantly more capital than the comp pick Brown Jr. would have represented had he left in free agency.
The NFL Draft saw Baltimore come away with a steal in Georgia guard Ben Cleveland. Head Coach John Harbaugh is so high on the kid that he pleaded with DeCosta to move up and select him. Having stood pat, the Ravens still got their guy who figures to win the starting left guard job. As a result, last year’s starting left guard, Bradley Bozeman, will shift back over to his natural center position. A two-year starter and captain at Alabama, Bozeman will look to eliminate the snap issues that plagued the Ravens last year, particularly in the playoffs.
As for the gaping hole at right tackle, DeCosta patiently waited until after the Draft to lure former Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva to Baltimore. Locking Villanueva into a $14 million deal over two years allows the Ravens to rely on a savvy veteran while looking to develop Phillips for the future. All-in-all, only left tackle Ronnie Stanley figures to remain in his role from last season.
Ravens offensive line 2021 Outlook
At this point, the projected offensive line from left to right is Stanley, Cleveland, Bozeman, Zeitler, and Villanueva. In pounds, that is 315, 357, 325, 315, and 277, for a total of 1,589. In other words, the Ravens now have a massive wall in front of Lamar Jackson to help keep him upright and healthy. Not only should this help improve the passing game, it should also allow Baltimore to continue dominating the ground game for which they are so well known.
Ravens bottom line:
A top free agent wide receiver may have been the shiny new toy Ravens fans wanted, but the fleet of Hummers they got instead will prove more valuable. Baltimore has always emphasized their rushing attack, and that was not going to change for the sake of adding a player like Robinson or Jones.
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Thanks to masterful drafting by Eric DeCosta and Co., the cupboard is hardly bare as far as receiving weapons go. Now, Jackson can focus on taking the next step in his development rather than protecting himself from opposing defenders. DeCosta did all of this on team-friendly, low-cost deals, and the future is bright in Charm City.
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