What had become all but inevitable in the final weeks of the 2020 season became official Tuesday afternoon when the Ravens waived former starting running back Mark Ingram.
The 31-year-old had been a healthy scratch in four of Baltimore’s final five games with rookie J.K. Dobbins and third-year back Gus Edwards assuming the leading backfield roles for the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack. Ingram was scheduled to make $5 million in base salary in 2021, which all but guaranteed he wouldn’t return for the final season of a three-year, $15.5 million contract signed in March of 2019.
General manager Eric DeCosta described it as a “difficult business decision” in a statement released by the team.
“Mark is a talented winner who brought passion, toughness, leadership, and chemistry to the Ravens,” DeCosta said. “He contributed in so many meaningful ways on and off the field, and we wish him the very best as he continues his career.”
A Pro Bowl selection who rushed for 1,018 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry as part of a record-setting running game and franchise-best 14-2 season in 2019, Ingram appeared to be on borrowed time with the Ravens from the moment they selected Dobbins in the second round of the 2020 draft last April. Ingram didn’t look like the same explosive back in his second season with Baltimore, averaging just 4.2 yards per carry and hurting his ankle in the Week 6 win at Philadelphia. During his two-game absence with the injury, Dobbins and Edwards took on larger roles, leaving the veteran with fewer and fewer opportunities as quarterback Lamar Jackson also began running the ball more frequently down the stretch.
After playing just one snap in the Week 14 win at Cleveland, Ingram was a healthy scratch against Jacksonville the following week and appeared in only one more game the rest of the way — the regular-season finale at Cincinnati in which he carried nine times for 39 yards in a blowout victory. Ingram rushed for 299 yards and two touchdowns and caught six passes for 50 yards in 11 games this season after tying a franchise record with 15 touchdowns scored in 2019.
Popular in the locker room and serving as the “hype man” for Jackson’s 2019 MVP campaign — making his press conferences appointment viewing — Ingram continued to receive praise from teammates and coaches about how he handled his diminished on-field role in the final weeks of the 2020 season. The three-time Pro Bowl back and Alabama product has rushed for 7,324 yards and scored 72 touchdowns in a 10-year NFL career that began with New Orleans.
“Mark is an unbelievable guy, a big brother to me,” Dobbins said in late December. “He’s going to be a guy who I’m still going to have a tight relationship with [after football] because he’s such a great guy. He still texts me every day. He’s still happy for me every day. He actually helped me with the process mentally, teaching me things to do to help me be mentally prepared to stay locked in.”
Baltimore’s running back room remains strong with Dobbins entering his second year after leading all NFL running backs with a 6.0 yards per carry average. Edwards is scheduled to become a restricted free agent in March, but the Ravens seem highly unlikely to let the physical back get away after he averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry for a third straight season. Of course, their elite running game continues to be driven by Jackson, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Still, Ingram’s departure is a reminder of more changes on the way for the Ravens, who were unable to advance beyond the divisional round for the second straight season. With 16 scheduled unrestricted free agents who saw game action in 2020, DeCosta will be faced with a number of difficult decisions, especially as a young foundation of stars continues to become more expensive and salary cap space dwindles.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on league revenue, the cap itself could be drastically lower than it was in 2020 ($198.2 million), which would impact roster plans around the NFL. The league and NFL Players Association agreed over the summer that the 2021 salary cap would be no lower than $175 million, but the players and many teams certainly hope for a smaller decrease.
The Ravens’ list of pending unrestricted free agents includes outside linebackers Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, and Jihad Ward as well as defensive linemen Derek Wolfe and Justin Ellis. All seven played at least 271 snaps for Wink Martindale’s second-ranked scoring defense this season.
Other unrestricted free agents include offensive linemen D.J. Fluker and Matt Skura, wide receivers Willie Snead and Dez Bryant, long snapper Morgan Cox, blocking tight end Eric Tomlinson, and special-teams standouts Anthony Levine, Jordan Richards, and Chris Moore.
“They do a great job of drafting and [with] free agency and picking players up,” said Judon, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who received the franchise tag in 2020. “As an organization, they’re going to have to step back, look at the roster, look [at] how they want to go with the roster.
“But for me personally, I have no clue. I don’t really know. I’m not in those meetings. I’m not the higher-ups. If they want me here, this is home.”
Changes to the roster will only be part of the story as the Ravens have already lost two defensive assistants and are bracing for the possibility of more coaching departures. Linebackers coach Mike Macdonald was hired by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh to be the new defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor while defensive backs coach Jesse Minter will reportedly become Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt, defensive line coach Joe Cullen, and wide receivers coach and pass coordinator David Culley have been linked to jobs elsewhere.
After both interviewed for head coach openings last January, Martindale and offensive coordinator Greg Roman haven’t been publicly linked to any this time around.
Inside linebacker Patrick Queen and punt returner James Proche were voted to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team for 2020. A first-round pick from LSU, Queen led the Ravens with 105 tackles and added three sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. Proche, a sixth-round selection from SMU, averaged 8.6 yards per punt return before being replaced by fellow rookie Devin Duvernay in Week 16 and being a healthy scratch over the final four games.
Kicker Justin Tucker was named to the PFWA All-NFL and All-AFC teams on Monday.