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Fifth-year option decisions will reveal how Ravens truly feel about Bateman, Oweh 

The annual pre-draft press conference is one of the more performative events on the NFL calendar. 

There’s a reason why the Ravens’ version of the event was tabbed the “Liars’ Luncheon” years ago. You don’t expect general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh — or any other team’s brass — to discuss their specific intentions regarding this month’s draft, but the question of whether Baltimore will exercise its fifth-year options for 2021 first-round picks Rashod Bateman and Odafe Oweh also went unanswered this week. 

“I think we’re about a month away from that decision,” said DeCosta, citing the May 2 deadline. “That’s probably when we’ll make that decision I would think, but we’ll have more to say about that probably after the draft.” 

Ideally, such calls are easy as they were for the likes of Lamar Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, and Ronnie Stanley, who blossomed into top-shelf players long before the organization had to ponder the fifth-year option. On the flip side, true first-round busts such as Matt Elam and Breshad Perriman didn’t garner a moment of consideration for the extra year. But such extremes don’t fit the cases of Bateman and Oweh, who have at least shown potential despite facing their share of challenges over three seasons. 

If Bateman were more like the first three wide receivers — Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith — drafted in 2021, we’d be discussing the structure of a lucrative long-term contract right now while viewing the $14.345 million option for 2025 as a relative bargain in a booming receiver market. If Oweh’s career sack total (13) were closer to those of fellow 2021 first-round picks Jaelan Phillips (22), Kwity Paye (18 1/2), or even Gregory Rousseau (17), there’d be little debating a $13.251 million salary for a fifth season.

In other words, it’s complicated, especially considering the increasing lucrative salaries at these premium positions overall and Baltimore’s projected roster needs for 2025. It was easier to decline the fifth-year option for Patrick Queen a year ago because of the $100 million extension signed by Roquan Smith months earlier and the understanding that the Ravens couldn’t pump more money into the off-ball linebacker position. 

Considering their seemingly annual needs at both wide receiver and outside linebacker, the Ravens would embrace a fixed cost for the right player, but DeCosta doesn’t have a crystal ball revealing whether this will finally be that big year for Bateman or Oweh. There’s also the reality of guaranteeing more than $27.5 million in combined salary for a 2025 season in which Jackson’s salary cap number alone is set to rise above $43 million. 

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That’s a lot of money to bet on two young players finally breaking out — no matter how much conviction you feel about their chances. 

This offseason, DeCosta has said Bateman “is going to have a great season” while Harbaugh has predicted the receiver will “take a big step” after playing in all but one game in 2023 and finishing the season healthy. Still, the University of Minnesota product caught just 32 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown in 16 games last season, which didn’t match the 46 receptions for 515 yards and a touchdown he collected in 12 games as a rookie or the more lucrative pace he showed to open 2022 — 226 receiving yards and two touchdowns over three games — before suffering a foot injury in Week 4 that eventually ended his season. 

“Rashod is going to get opportunities this year,” Harbaugh said in late February. “He ran routes really well. He worked super hard. He was healthy for the first time. Even as the year went on, he got healthier, and you could see it in his play. The ball got to him, [and] when it did, he made some great plays. The ball is going to get to him a lot more next year. He’s going to be ready to go.” 

There’s still much to like about Bateman’s potential despite the underwhelming production, but there’s also the question of his on-field chemistry with Jackson as the two struggled to get on the same page last year. The Ravens hope a full spring and summer together on the practice field will remedy that, but it’s not as though they were total strangers last year either. The departure of Odell Beckham Jr. frees up 64 targets from a year ago, but how many of those figure to go to No. 1 wide receiver Zay Flowers in his second season?

If — and that’s a colossal if — everything falls into place for Bateman, a little over $14 million for the 2025 season would be less than what Baltimore spent on Beckham last year. As the market currently stands, 21 NFL wide receivers are making more than that in terms of average annual value. It’s also fair to note that Flowers is the only wide receiver currently under contract for the Ravens beyond 2024.

Still, that’s a significant bet to make for an unproven wideout who’s missed a full season’s worth of games in his three-year career. 

The needed 2024 jump for Oweh to justify a $13.251 million fifth-year price tag wouldn’t be as substantial after he shook off a disappointing second season to match his career high with five sacks and set a new career high with 54 pressures — which ranked third on the Ravens behind only Jadeveon Clowney (78) and Justin Madubuike (77) — as counted by Pro Football Focus. That spike came despite Oweh missing four full games and parts of two others with an ankle injury that limited him to a career-low 437 defensive snaps.  

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According to PFF, Oweh also finished 14th among edge rushers in pass-rush win rate last season, something the Ravens noticed despite his modest sack total. 

“We were really happy with his game [last] year,” DeCosta said at the NFL scouting combine. “I think sometimes people get really caught up in the number of sacks that people get. We prefer to look at pressures and disruptions and their ability to affect the game. Odafe’s probably one of the hardest-working players we have on our defense. He has a great motor, plays with a passion. He’s an exciting young prospect. He has battled back from some injuries, and we think that this is going to be a great season for him.

“We’re very, very excited about what he brings to the table this year as one of our primary edge-rush guys.” 

Of course, turning more of those pressures into sacks remains a priority as Oweh will spend another spring and summer working with outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith, who was pivotal in helping Baltimore lead the NFL in sacks last year. The Ravens will also be leaning on Oweh to step into an expanded role with Clowney now in Carolina and the returning Kyle Van Noy entering his 11th NFL season. 

After expressing plenty of optimism about Bateman and Oweh this offseason, the Ravens will reveal how they truly feel in deciding whether to guarantee real money to either player for 2025. Based on the body of work to this point, Oweh appears to be the more likely of the two to have the fifth-year option exercised, but a breakout season from either 2021 first-round pick would make that fifth-year price tag look more reasonable. On the flip side, the Ravens don’t want to be stuck paying premium money for another year of pedestrian production.

There’s certainly risk involved either way. 

How the draft plays out will certainly have an impact. After all, the writing was on the wall for Queen last April after the Ravens drafted his projected replacement, Trenton Simpson, in the third round. The decline of the fifth-year option followed. 

We’ll learn soon enough how strongly the Ravens truly believe in Bateman and Oweh. 

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