With the NFL offseason continuing to drag on, it is time to look at three potential extensions that the Baltimore Ravens will be working on in the coming weeks and months.
Had this article been written earlier in the offseason, the three choices would be blatantly obvious as the Ravens selected three Pro Bowlers in the 2018 NFL Draft, all of whom would be valid extension candidates. Two of the names remain, but Orlando Brown was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. Beyond the two obvious extensions, Baltimore must decide whom to prioritize between two later picks in the 2018 class.
Extension No.1: Lamar Jackson
This is simple. Lamar Jackson has started 41 total games for the Ravens. He has led Baltimore to 31 wins to just 10 defeats including a ridiculous 30-7 record in the regular season. Even with the playoff struggles, the playoffs do not matter if Jackson struggles in the regular season.
Jackson is a consensus top-10 quarterback who has the upside to secure another MVP award. He is one of the most unique assets in NFL history as he is simultaneously one of the more efficient passers in the NFL while being perhaps the most elusive ball carrier in recent NFL history. Jackson has tossed 62 touchdowns in his last 30 starts en route to a 106.6 passer rating. Only Aaron Rodgers has made more starts and had a higher passer rating in that stretch.
Jackson has also accumulated more than 1,000 rushing yards in both 2019 and 2020. Factor in his seven rushing touchdowns in both seasons, and he is one of six players to have 1,000 rushing and seven touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. He is averaging 6.60 yards per carry in that stretch.
Jackson’s playoff shortcomings have been well documented. While he has run for 91 yards per game in the playoffs, he has a measly 68.3 passer rating and more interceptions than total touchdowns. As mentioned earlier, the playoffs do not matter if Jackson was not spectacular in the regular season, but it is a stain on Jackson’s first three seasons. Coupling Jackson’s lack of playoff success with the potential over-reliance on Jackson to drive the offense puts the Ravens in an unenviable position. Jackson is worth every penny the Ravens could give him, but the question must be asked if Jackson limits the Super Bowl ceiling of the Ravens. There is value in winning double-digit games every season and making the playoffs, but the ultimate goal is winning a Super Bowl.
Jackson is a near-lock to be extended, and it will likely be worth north of $40 million per season. The length is up in the air as Baltimore could opt for a shorter, more lucrative deal or a longer, more team-friendly deal. Either way, Jackson will be the long-term quarterback for the Ravens for better or worse.
Extension No.2: Mark Andrews
Mark Andrews has put together three solid seasons in the NFL, earning a 2019 Pro Bowl nod. He likely would have been the third AFC Pro Bowl tight end in 2020, but the roster only included Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. He has more than 2,000 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns in three seasons, peaking with 800 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019. Andrews is one of just nine players (and the only tight end) to have 700 yards and seven touchdowns in both 2019 and 2020.
Andrews is not a perfect receiver; PFF notes him for 19 drops in his three seasons including six in just four playoff games. Andrews has a multi-drop game in all three seasons with three drops against the 2019 Seattle Seahawks and 2020 Kansas City Chiefs. While this technically means Andrews has 27 games (out of 29) without multiple drops over the last two seasons, he seems to shrink in big moments.
While Andrews has notably inconsistent hands as a receiver, he is becoming one of the better blocking tight ends in football. For most teams, this is not a necessary skill for star tight ends, but with Baltimore’s propensity to run the football, having a good blocker that is also an elite receiver is helpful. With a midseason injury to Nick Boyle, Andrews stepped up hugely. Andrews was tasked with 265 run-blocking snaps, almost as many as 2018 and 2019 combined, but he posted a career-high 68.5 PFF grade. He is not as Boyle, but it allows Andrews to not be a liability when run-blocking.
Teams can be skeptical about paying tight ends. After all, they tend to be a jack of all trades rather than a specialist. Passes thrown to wide receivers are more efficient than those too tight ends. Offensive linemen are more effective blocking than tight ends. However, a tight end like Andrews often blurs the line between wide receiver and tight end because of his volume in the passing game.
Andrews may be in the market for a deal with an average annual value of $13-15 million. A deal at $13 million per year would put Andrews behind just George Kittle and Kelce in terms of average annual value. New England made a pair of $12.5 AAV splashes in the form of Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry in March, and the Browns paid Austin Hooper $10.5 million AAY in 2020. Andrews is better than those contemporaries, so expect Andrews to have a contract around a four-year, $52-60 million value as Baltimore locks up their No.1 weapon.
Extension No.3: Either Bradley Bozeman or DeShon Elliott
These extensions are not as imperative as Jackson or Andrews, these are more of a choice than the other two. Bradley Bozeman will be a first-year starter at center, so his absolute value has yet to be seen. DeShon Elliott will start the season at free safety once again, but he profiles as more of a strong safety. Bozeman likely has the advantage as recent Ravens history at center has not been kind since the departure of Ryan Jensen. If Bozeman is remotely competent at snapping the football, he will likely earn an extension with Elliott on the outside looking in.
Elliott had a solid-but-unspectacular season as the starting free safety for the Ravens. He had two forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks, and four pass deflections across more than 1,000 snaps in 2020. PFF graded Elliott with a 66.6 overall defensive, strengthened by his 69.3 run defense grade. Elliott posted league-average grades in tackling (66.3) and coverage (66.2) while being a generally ineffective pass-rusher (55.7). While he did have nine pressures on 61 pass-rush snaps in 2020, these often came unblocked or against running backs. However, Elliott was one of Baltimore’s best players in the playoffs, posting a pair of grades in the 70s and earning an overall 77.3 grade.
Bozeman’s career has been average to below-average. Out of 16 games in 2020, he had a PFF grade above 70 three times and a grade below 50 once. His career-high season grade of 64.3 (63.3 run-blocking, 62.5 pass-blocking) illustrates how painfully average he played at left guard. ESPN’s pass-block and run-block win rates paint a more positive picture for Bozeman as he ranked 10th in pass-block win rate among guards and sixth in run-block win rate, winning reps at a rate comparable to All-Pro Brandon Scherff.
Bozeman does have the inside track by being the right fit for his position (Elliott is essentially a strong safety pretending to be a free safety), but these extensions likely will not be secured until later in the season. Bozeman will have limited competition at center while Elliott will have to fend off two draft picks: Brandon Stephens and Shaun Wade.
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