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After Free Agent Exodus, Ravens Staring At Defensive Overhaul

March 12, 2019
When Ravens coaches spoke earlier this winter about rebuilding the offense "from the ground up," there was excitement and enthusiasm about the possibilities of designing a scheme around dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson.

But now it appears the Ravens are staring at a massive rebuild of their defense as well, and the mood could be quite different regarding that task. The defensive overhaul, while somewhat expected, also includes a sense of shock and disappointment.

Some change was inevitable -- in fact, the Ravens released Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle -- but the departure of franchise cornerstone Terrell Suggs and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley has significantly changed the offseason narrative for the Ravens.

In the span of 18 hours during free agency's "tampering period" -- when pending free agents can negotiate with other teams -- the Ravens lost Suggs to the Arizona Cardinals and Mosley to the New York Jets. No deals can become official until March 13. Those two, plus Weddle, represent the core of the Ravens defensive leadership, and now all three are gone. In addition, linebacker Za'Darius Smith reportedly is headed to the Green Bay Packers. 

Suggs' departure reportedly caught the Ravens by surprise, as their all-time leader in games played had stated his desire to be a "Raven for life." Instead, he will be signing with his hometown Cardinals. 

The loss of Mosley, meanwhile, is a major disappointment. At age 26 and with four Pro Bowl appearances, Mosley is in his athletic prime and was considered the Ravens' top internal free-agent priority. 

The Ravens eschewed the franchise tag at a cost of roughly $15.4 million, hoping to work out a long-term deal but also identifying a value ceiling. It appears new general manager Eric DeCosta adheres to the long-held mantra of his longtime boss Ozzie Newsome: right player, right price.

The cash-rich Jets apparently roared past that ceiling, offering Mosley a five-year, $85 million deal with a $17 million average annual value and $51 million guaranteed, according to the NFL Network.  

With the core of their defensive leadership and four starters departed -- free agent defensive end Brent Urban could become the fifth to leave -- where do the Ravens go from here?

Mosley's departure makes inside linebacker one of the Ravens' most glaring areas of need. The only retuning inside linebackers from last year's 53-man roster are Patrick Onwuasor and second-year players Kenny Young and Chris Board. The Ravens could look to free agency for a cheaper alternative to Mosley, and they could also look to the draft. Michigan's Devin Bush has been linked to the Ravens as a possibility with the No. 22 overall pick. 

This overhaul of the defense puts more pressure on young replacements such as Young, edge rushers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams and safety Chuck Clark, but the person who might face the most pressure now is Jackson. 

Jackson benefited greatly from having the league's top-rated defense on his side last season. The Ravens' ball-control, methodical offense under Jackson never topped 30 points; the Ravens' 34-point output against the Oakland Raiders in November included touchdowns on special teams and defense. However, the Ravens clamped down opponents to the tune of 17.9 points a game, second-fewest in the league.

But what happens now? Can a team that lost so much of its defensive firepower expect to play games in the teens and low-20s again?

While watching the defensive exodus, the Ravens already were looking at significant holes on the offensive side. The top two receivers from last year, John Brown and Michael Crabtree, are not expected back; Brown is a free agent and Crabtree has already been released. 

The interior of the offensive line needs upgrades, especially if the Ravens expect the running game to remain the engine of its offense. And speaking of that, the Ravens need another running back, particularly one who contributes in the passing game, to complement bruising power back Gus Edwards. 

As they have often done, the Ravens likely will look to value plays in later free agency, and that patience and bargain hunting has served them well over the years. But there are a lot of holes to fill right now on this AFC North champion roster, and the locker room -- especially those defensive meeting rooms -- will look much different next season. 

Follow Bo on Twitter @bsmolka

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox