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Start of free agency goes how it typically does for Ravens

There were no major surprises to the start of free agency for the Ravens on Monday.

We can debate the order in which we expected a long list of free agents to begin finding new destinations, but the first day of negotiating bringing more departures than arrivals and re-signings was hardly shocking. That’s just the reality when you’re up against the salary cap at the start of the new league year and just gave Pro Bowl defensive tackle Justin Madubuike a four-year, $98 million contract to remain in Baltimore and not play on the more prohibitive $22.102 million franchise tag for 2024. On Monday, general manager Eric DeCosta acknowledged Madubuike’s signing likely being Baltimore’s biggest move of the offseason, and the deal is already aging pretty well with veteran defensive tackles Chris Jones and Christian Wilkins fetching even more lucrative contracts over the last few days.

Some of the Ravens players to depart will be missed, but these weren’t individuals who were going to make or break the 2024 team either.

Geno Stone brought excellent value as the No. 3 safety for a defense that likes to deploy All-Pro selection Kyle Hamilton in different ways, but he was seeking a starting job and more money elsewhere after leading the AFC in interceptions. The soon-to-be 25-year-old found that in Cincinnati on a two-year, $15 million contract.

Left guard John Simpson was a good story revitalizing his NFL career and playing the most offensive snaps on a 13-4 team, but he was also the fifth-best starter on an offensive line the Ravens want to rebuild this offseason. That’s not someone in which you invest a two-year deal worth up to $18 million as the New York Jets will reportedly do.

Running back Gus Edwards has been one of NFL’s most underrated players over the last six years, but he also averaged a career-low 4.1 yards per carry as the primary back filling in for the injured J.K. Dobbins last season. And while the Ravens had expressed some interest in re-signing him, Edwards was likely to find a diminished role in his age-29 season. He should be a good fit joining former Baltimore offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the Los Angeles Chargers on a two-year, $6.5 million contract.

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Wide receiver Devin Duvernay is a good special-teams player, but he was already a value concern making $4.3 million in 2023 and never found a role in Todd Monken’s offense this past season. That Jacksonville targeted him this early in free agency with a two-year, $8.5 million deal plus incentives was surprising.

Relative to expectations and roster needs, losing cornerback Ronald Darby to the Jaguars was arguably the most disappointing development of the day for the Ravens. That said, the 30-year-old carries a long injury history — Darby appeared in more than 11 games for just the second time in seven years this past season — and likely saw a clearer path to a starting job in Jacksonville, who will reportedly give him a two-year deal worth up to $10 million. His departure does make finding outside corner depth behind starters Marlon Humphrey — who missed a career-high eight games last season — and Brandon Stephens a bigger priority now.

Monday wasn’t a total loss for Baltimore as DeCosta was able to re-sign reserve linebacker Malik Harrison, who contributes on special teams and provides versatility with the ability to play inside or outside. His presence will be helpful with Pro Bowl inside linebacker Patrick Queen expected to depart and veteran outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy also hitting the open market this week.

The day also brought a surprising amount of movement on the running back market, leaving many to wonder if the Ravens still might strike a deal with 30-year-old running back and four-time Pro Bowl selection Derrick Henry. But the price still has to be right for a veteran back carrying the mileage of more than 2,000 career rushing attempts in the NFL.

We’ll see what the remainder of the week brings — nothing becomes official until Wednesday afternoon — but the first day carried a familiar feeling for a team that’s rarely active early in free agency. The Ravens were certainly appreciative of the value these departing players brought, but they were always more likely to exit this offseason.

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