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Liars’ Luncheon Light: What Did We Learn from EDC’s Pre-Combine Presser?

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By: Nikhil Mehta

While we know all about the Ravens’ annual Liar’s Luncheon, a term that’s been around for a couple decades now, that describes the team’s pre-draft press conference. Occasionally joined by head coach John Harbaugh in these pressers, Eric DeCosta offers a glimpse into Baltimore’s offseason plans, particularly their draft approach, but every answer needs to be taken with a generous pinch of salt on top.

For example, both DeCosta and Harbaugh mentioned a list of 10 cornerbacks they saw as potential first-year starters ahead of the 2023 draft, but the team waited until the fifth round to address the position with Kyu Kelly, who didn’t make the team out of training camp. However, the year prior, DeCosta mentioned Tyler Linderbaum in the same breath as projected top-10 picks Evan Neal and Charles Cross, somewhat betraying his lofty evaluation of his future center.

On Tuesday, ahead of the NFL Combine, we got while I’m going to call a “Liar’s Luncheon Light,” of sorts. Knowing what we know about the team’s approach to media interactions, let’s sort through the facts and fiction of what we heard the other day to try to figure out Baltimore’s true intentions this offseason.

Salary Cap and Free Agency Approach

DeCosta: It was nice to see [the cap increase]. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to just open up the books and go shopping. That’s not really the Ravens’ Way, but to have that buffer, so to speak, and to give us a little bit more flexibility along the way.

Of course, no NFL GM is going to be disappointed by having more money to spend, but the cap increase is especially important for teams like the Ravens who came into the offseason with little room to spare. It won’t make DeCosta open up the checkbook for one of the top available free agents, but it will allow him to tag Justin Madubuike with minimal cap casualties and restructures elsewhere on the roster.

Speaking of…

Justin Madubuike

DeCosta: “We’ve had discussions with Justin. He’s a guy that obviously has put himself in a fortuitous position this year by the way that he played…He’s a valued player on the team, and we’re hopeful that we can get a long-term deal done.”

On if he will place the franchise tag on DT Justin Madubuike if they can’t come to terms on a long-term deal:”I probably will, yes.”

The tag has felt like a foregone conclusion for Madubuike since the end of his stellar 2023 season, with career-highs in sacks, pressures and tackles for loss. His 2024 franchise tag would be $22.1 million, while a second tag in 2025 would rise to $26.5 million, so he’s probably looking for an extension in the range of $24-25 million per year, a top-three iDL figure. The Ravens would prefer that number to be in the $20-22.5 million range, among the top 10 players at the position.

Running Backs

DeCosta: We need more than two running backs, so certainly I think you’ll see us make a couple acquisitions along the way…We’ve looked at the draft class. [It’s] probably not as deep as some other positions that we’ll see in this year’s draft class. There are some UFAs [unrestricted free agents] this year in free agency. [There’s] some talented [free agent] players that we will look at as well, but I think it’s probably safe to say that we’ll have more than two running backs on our roster at some point. We will definitely have a plan for that position.”

Harbs: It’s up in the air. We don’t have a lot of guys under contract right now…We would love to get Gus [Edwards] back. J.K. [Dobbins] is floating around out there.

Nothing surprising here: it is a relatively weak running back draft class with zero projected for the first round – and only a handful in the top 100 – and a set of talented free agents hitting the market as well. We know the Ravens were an owner’s veto away from acquiring Derrick Henry at the deadline, so they could renew that pursuit or wait for the class to thin and see who’s still looking for a home. As for the draft, the position doesn’t seem to be a priority, but a Day 3 pick wouldn’t be a surprise with just one RB under contract in 2025.

Wide Receivers

DeCosta: That’s a critical position; the data supports that. And that’s a position, too, where some of these guys are like race cars; they break down at times. And so, having depth at that position is critical, [and] we saw that this year. We think we built the room out pretty well this year and were able to sustain some injuries along the way. So, we will look at that. I think it’s a very, very deep year in the draft. This draft class is pretty impressive from a receiver standpoint. We’ll assess that talent and see what kind of falls our way and then look at the free agency crop, as well.”

The Ravens have drafted seven receivers in the last five drafts, and with yet another deep, talented draft class, they’re well-positioned to make at least one more addition to their wideout room. However, the propensity of receivers to shoot up the first round draft boards in March and April may leave the Ravens without any of their desired targets by the time their 30th overall pick rolls around on draft night. There is a ton of depth into Day 2 of this receiver class, though, so spending a top 100 pick on a wideout feels like a distinct possibility.

DeCosta’s reference to the free agency crop felt like an afterthought, considering they don’t have the cap space to get involved in a Mike Evans or even Calvin Ridley bidding war. Both DeCosta and Harbaugh mentioned extending Odell Beckham Jr., but he didn’t play up to his $15 million contract in 2023 and the Ravens aren’t dealing with the same Lamar Jackson situation as they were this time last year. Another year of OBJ in Baltimore would probably have to be a ‘right price’ situation, especially with Nelson Agholor already signed for a very reasonable $3.75 million.

Offensive Line

DeCosta: It’s always going to be a priority…We have to have a big, strong, imposing offensive line. So, we’ll continue to build that out. Obviously, this year, we’re going to have, probably, some change on the offensive line in different ways… I think there is a lot of depth along the way, specifically at the tackle position and the guard position, so that’s exciting…You’ve got to stay young, but you’ve also got to have [a] great veteran presence, as well, [on] your offensive line and every other position. So, it’s really a balance. You want to be as young as you can, but you also want to have a lot of veteran experience, and I think everybody feels that.

Harbaugh: “The Draft can help a lot, certainly with the offensive line…Eric tells me it’s a good O-line draft. That’s one thing, but the offensive line is where it starts. We talked about that in 2008. It’s been true forever. You win in the trenches first, so we think that we’re offensive line-centric in our philosophy, and we’ve got some question marks on our offensive line. There is going to be some rebuilding that is going to have to be done in there, and we’re getting to it already. It’s going to be probably the most important thing we do on offense.”

At the moment, both starting guard spots on the Ravens offensive line are presumably open, and neither tackle position feels especially secure for the future, either. Baltimore thinks they have at least one startable guard on the roster, whether it be Ben Cleveland, Andrew Vorhees or Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. But the present and future of Lamar Jackson’s protection unit don’t feel secure enough for the third-highest paid player in the NFL.  

There’s a few interesting tidbits in these answers about the offensive line, starting with DeCosta’s desire to have a “big, strong, imposing offensive line.” In fairness, that describes the goal of every NFL team when it comes to their OL, but there’s an argument to be made that the Ravens need to get more athletic along the line to best fit what Todd Monken wants to do offensively.

DeCosta also mentioned the importance of veteran leadership on the OL, a certain reference to Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses. Both have been mentioned as potential cap casualties, but $7 million is exceedingly reasonable for a tackle of Moses’ caliber and experience, and the Ravens do not want to take on Stanley’s $17.8 million in dead money, even if they designate him as a post-June 1 cut to spread it across 2024 and 2025.

Taken in their entirety, these comments indicate that the Ravens will be looking at some tackle prospects who could compete for a starting guard spot as a rookie before taking over for Moses or Stanley in the future.

What Wasn’t Said

Believe it or not, the word ‘cornerback’ was not mentioned once Tuesday, even though the team lacks a clear third CB at the moment. DeCosta probably didn’t mind keeping attention off a solid draft class that is full of starting talent but lacks the instantly-elite potential of the top WR and OT prospects. The Ravens haven’t spent a top-100 pick on a corner since Marlon Humphrey in 2017(!), and even with Brandon Stephens’ 2023 breakout, an infusion of talent would be warranted, and it’s probably not coming from a thin FA cornerback class.

The defensive line wasn’t discussed outside of Madubuike and a brief mention of Odafe Oweh. The interior of the line has plenty of talent and depth, but the Ravens really only have Oweh as a surefire starter on the edge. It’s hard to bet on David Ojabo as a full-time impact player, and both Jadaveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy are pending free agents looking for pay raises after outplaying their salaries in 2023. There also weren’t any questions about Tyus Bowser, who missed all of the 2023 season with a mysterious knee injury.

DeCosta has shown an uncanny ability to find impact veterans at both positions late in the summer, but adding young talent on a cheap, four-year rookie deal would reduce the stress and uncertainty inherent in that approach.

Linebacker and safety were hardly mentioned on Tuesday, with both safety spots locked down and Trenton Simpson expected to replace Patrick Queen next to Roquan Smith. Baltimore could use some safety depth if they don’t re-sign Geno Stone, which has never felt likely given the Ravens’ other needs and cap situation, but retaining Malik Harrison and/or Del’Shawn Philips would move LB even further down the list of priorities. At most, a Day 3 pick seems appropriate for either position.

All of this adds up to a premium position-heavy draft board for the Ravens, particularly at OL, WR and CB where the 2024 class is deepest. DeCosta and Harbaugh resisted giving away as much as they have in past years, with zero prospects mentioned by name, which speaks to their late draft position in each round. The Ravens don’t have the ammo (or desire) to trade up for any specific prospect and instead will let the draft come to them, as they do most years. As a result, they won’t get married to any rising prospects over the next two months and will look for value late in each round.

The post Liars’ Luncheon Light: What Did We Learn from EDC’s Pre-Combine Presser? appeared first on Russell Street Report.

Originally posted on Russell Street Report