The start of the new league year is nye and officially begins on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at 4 pm EST while the legal tampering period opens up on Monday, March 13.
Given that the Baltimore Ravens are still currently over the cap as a result of placing the nonexclusive franchise tag tender on their star quarterback, Lamar Jackson, they will likely be one of the quiet if not inactive teams during the first wave of unrestricted free agency even after becoming cap compliant.
While getting the former unanimous league MVP locked up for the foreseeable future on a long-term deal is the first and most pressing order of business, getting him more weapons to through to is paramount as well.
Much to the dismay of the team’s fans, Ravens’ general manager Eric DeCosta and the rest of the front office likely won’t make any splashy signings for one of the top available wide receivers or swing any big trades for an elite player at the position this offseason.
However, there are several supplementary players at both of their positions of need on the defensive side of the ball that should and probably still will be available in the second and third waves of free agency before and after the draft that the Ravens can pick from.
WR DJ Chark
The former second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars out of LSU in 2018 is three years removed from his first career Pro Bowl season and didn’t post prolific numbers with the Detroit Lions last year with just 30 receptions on 52 targets for 502 receiving yards and a touchdown per Pro Football Reference.
However, at just 26 years old, measuring in at 6-foot-4 and around 200 pounds with an average of 16.4 yards per catch and a career-high 9.7 yards per target, Clark is everything the Ravens could ask for in an outside receiver. He can stretch the field, make contested catches, and possesses a wide catch radius that gives that could give Jackson more of a target area to throw to.
According to spotrac.com, Chark is surprisingly only projected to make an annual average of $9.5 million a year which is low for a player of his age and potential. He’d be a much more affordable and realistic option compared to some of the top-of-the-market wideouts such as Allen Lazard, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Jakobi Meyers who they’ve been linked to but are expected to command anywhere between $12.5 million and $14.6 million per spotrac.
WR Marvin Jones
The 11-year veteran who spent three of the first four years of his career as a regular thorn in the Ravens’ side with their division rival Cincinnati Bengals could be a very useful and most importantly affordable pass-catching option available on the open market.
At 33 years old and coming off a down year with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he posted just 46 receptions on 81 targets for 529 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns per PFR, Jones is only projected to command an average annual salary of $3.4 million per spotrac.
While the seasoned veteran free agent wideout signing hasn’t panned out well for the Ravens in recent years, Jones proved that he can still have a role in an offense as a possession receiver that can come down with contested catches and consistently move the chains.
WR Demarcus Robinson
A younger and cheaper option at the position that possesses an identical skillset to Jones and is already familiar with the team is the 28-year-old veteran that led all Ravens wide receivers in targets (75), catches (48), and receiving yards (458) in 2022 per PFR. Robinson was the only wideout on the team that appeared in every game last season and consistently got open.
Another nuance to his game that Jones lacks is savvy route running in and out of his breaks and an underrated run-after-the-catch ability to often make the first defender miss when he catches the ball in the open field with space to maneuver.
Robinson will most likely be a second or third wave of free agency type of signing that may not return or find a new team until after the draft. In whichever case, the Ravens can probably sign him for around the veteran minimum with few performance escalators that could lead to a slight pay raise if he produces.
WR Mack Hollins
The six-year veteran is coming off his best season to date and is essentially a discount version of Lazard who possesses a similar size and skillset but adds more value as a high-level special teams contributor. Both receivers are 6-foot-4 or taller, weigh over 220 pounds, consistently make contested grabs, and are excellent blockers in the run game.
The biggest difference between the two of them is that Hollins is only expected to garner a fraction of the price it will take to sign Lazard. According to spotrac, he is only projected to command an average annual salary of $2.4 million.
In 17 games with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022, Hollins recorded career-highs across the board with 57 receptions on 94 targets for 690 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns per PFR.
WR Darius Slayton
In addition to a big-bodied possession receiver, the Ravens could use more speed at the position as well, especially on the perimeter. Slayton can provide just that and has solid potential as a No. 2 or No. 3 option on the depth chart depending on what the team does in the draft as well.
He can take the top off opposing defenses with impressive vertical speed and has been consistently productive with over 720 receiving yards and an average of 15 or more yards in three of his first four years in the league according to PFR.
Slayton is only slated to command an average annual salary of just $3.5 million per spotrac which is a solid bargain for what he brings to the table and the potential impact he can have for the foreseeable future at just 26 years old.
WR Parris Campbell
After struggling mightily to get and stay on the field due to injuries in his first three seasons, the former second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts finally managed to play a full season and showed some flashes of the playmaking threat he was envisioned to be coming into the league.
In 2022, Campbell appeared in all 17 games, made 16 starts, and set new career highs in targets (91), receptions (63), receiving yards (623), and touchdowns (3) according to PFR.
Like Slayton, he also possesses blazing speed that he can use to stretch the field vertically yet is only expected to garner an average annual salary of just $2.5 million per spotrac. That would look like a great value signing if he were to be signed and continue to stay healthy,
RB Justice Hill
Despite coming off his best season to date where he set career highs in both rushing yards (262) and yards per attempt (5.3), the Ravens’ fourth-round pick in 2019 likely won’t have a robust market or command much more than the veteran minimum.
He may decide to go elsewhere to be a part of a regular rotation but he is likely very valuable to the Ravens as a nice change of pace back that runs with underrated power as well as a core special teams contributor. His vision, footwork, and burst looked very well last season for a player coming off a torn Achilles that knocked him out of commission for all of 2021.
RB Kenyan Drake
The seven-year veteran stepped up and performed well when the Ravens called his number and made him their bell cow when their top two backs were out or ailing. He had a pair of 100-plus yard games from scrimmage that included a season-high 119 yards on the ground against the Giants.
Luckily for the Ravens, he also won’t likely command a hefty asking price on the open market and could probably be had for a contract under $2 million given his position, age, and lack of eye-popping production.
RB Samaje Perine
The six-year veteran hasn’t had a featured role in an offense since his rookie year with the Washington Commanders in 2017 but has managed to make a name and find a niche for himself as one of the best third-down backs in the league.
Whether it’s as a receiver out of the backfield or staying behind to pick up a blitzer, Perine is a nice asset that can be had for just a mere average annual salary of just $3 million per spotrac.
According to PFR, in 2022 with the Bengals, he recorded his most scrimmage yards since his rookie season with 681 and 6 total touchdowns.
OG Will Hernandez
The 27-year-old former second pick of the Giants who most recently played for the Arizona Cardinals is one of many solid replacement-level options that the Ravens can and probably will bring in to compete with 2021 third-rounder Ben Cleveland for the starting left guard spot. Hernadez has started 69 of his 75 career games including all 13 that he appeared in with the Cardinals in 2022 per PFR. The team will likely add a rookie or two in the draft and undrafted free agency to the mix as well.