With offseason drama behind them, Ravens excited to finally unveil new-look offense

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Five months ago might as well feel like five years for the Ravens as they prepare to kick off the 2023 season against Houston on Sunday. 

Three weeks into the start of free agency, superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson still wasn’t close to a long-term contract agreement and had made his March 2 trade request known to the rest of the world. Baltimore had hired Todd Monken to replace Greg Roman as offensive coordinator, but the most notable offensive addition at that point was former first-round pick Nelson Agholor, a move that prompted familiar groans from those frustrated with the organization’s approach at wide receiver for years.  

Yes, the Ravens were at a crossroads unlike any they’d faced in years. The potential ramifications on and off the field were immense.

An act of desperation or not, owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Eric DeCosta guaranteed $15 million to three-time Pro Bowl selection Odell Beckham Jr. — who sat out all of 2022 recovering from a second ACL reconstruction surgery in three years — to play wide receiver and demonstrate to Jackson just how serious the Ravens were about improving their passing game. After Super Bowl runner-up quarterback Jalen Hurts signed an extension with Philadelphia in mid-April — the latest data point showing Deshaun Watson’s fully-guaranteed contract would remain an outlier — Jackson and the Ravens finally reached a five-year, $260 million agreement hours before the start of the 2023 draft. 

DeCosta celebrated that night by selecting speedy wide receiver Zay Flowers with the 22nd overall pick, and it’s been all smiles for Jackson and the Ravens offense ever since. 

“Last year was a challenging year for a lot of reasons, obviously, [and] just where he was with his contract,” said DeCosta about the 26-year-old Jackson. “This year, it’s just [his] attitude, his enthusiasm have been fantastic. He’s throwing the ball very, very well. He’s been able to build a great rapport with the receivers very, very quickly. He’s taking care of his body. He seems really into the offense. He’s excited about it. He has an awesome relationship with his coaches, and he worked very hard this offseason with some of the receivers that we brought in, which is awesome to see. I think it’s showing off, and it’s going to pay dividends for us.” 

Of course, Jackson and this new offense have yet to play in a game with few notable contributors taking a single snap in the preseason. Still, expectations have never been higher with Roman — who did oversee the greatest offensive season in franchise history and Jackson’s historic MVP campaign in 2019 — out of the picture, all but one starter returning on the offensive line, the running back room healthy, and the combined talent at wide receiver and tight end much better than it’s looked in a very long time. 

Despite Monken’s occasional efforts to temper expectations over the summer, there are no more excuses for this offense, which enjoyed a high floor with its run-heavy approach. There’s no more blaming Roman or a lack of wide receiver talent if the Ravens struggle inside the red zone or Jackson’s performance dips over the course of the season as it did the last two years before he got hurt. Jackson has embraced finally receiving “the keys to the offense,” whether it’s making pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage or simply passing the ball more frequently. 

But with that comes greater responsibility and risk.

“We never know where we are until we’re out there actually in a real game, but we’ll just keep getting better with that,” said Jackson about the state of the offense in mid-August. “As far as what I see at practice, each and every day, we’re getting better.” 

On Sunday, we’ll begin to see more clearly whether Roman’s system was holding Jackson back or merely trying to accentuate his strengths and mask his relative weaknesses. It was definitely time for a change at offensive coordinator and upgrades at wide receiver, but it’s not as though Roman had full autonomy over Baltimore’s offensive philosophy either, making the organization’s shift that much more interesting. 

Monken intends to spread the field more after three-receiver sets had all but vanished from Roman’s offense, and head coach John Harbaugh wants the Ravens to play with a quicker tempo after dealing with so many play-clock problems in recent years. We certainly expect to see more passing after the investments made at wide receiver, but Monken’s success utilizing the running game and tight ends at the University of Georgia should serve as a reminder about his willingness to adapt. With bruising tailback Gus Edwards, four-time Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard, and an offensive line used to a run-first offense, Baltimore remains equipped to return to “bully ball” if necessary.

With Jackson’s contract drama in the rearview mirror and J.K. Dobbins’ summer “hold-in” having minimal impact, all focus is on the field as intrigue and optimism surround this Ravens offense. Beckham has looked healthy, Flowers has generated plenty of buzz, and Agholor has looked the part of a formidable No. 3 or No. 4 receiver despite the reaction to his signing in March. Adding such pieces to an offense that already included three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews and the talented Rashod Bateman gives Jackson an abundance of weapons. 

The talent is there at every position for this offense to take the next step toward greatness. We’ll get our first glimpse against Houston. 

“There’s an element of, ‘We don’t know,’” Harbaugh said. “We haven’t seen it yet at all in a game situation. I’m as excited as everybody else is to see it happen.” 

That kind of unknown sure beats what the Ravens were facing five months ago. 

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