Lamar Jackson provides more freedom in building Ravens' offense

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens believe Lamar Jackson will take the necessary steps to improve this offseason, whether it's tossing the ball around with receivers on his own or working with a throwing coach.

Still, the biggest work this offseason will come from the front office and new general manager Eric DeCosta. Their challenge is building an offense around Jackson's unique skill set.

"This is a really, really fun, exciting offseason, because we get a chance to look at other teams, and maybe even have the chance to draft some players or add some players that maybe other teams don’t like as much as we do because we’re doing something different," DeCosta said. "So, we may be able to find or exploit that situation a little bit."

The key word is flexibility when looking at how the Ravens will assemble Jackson's supporting cast. Baltimore will be searching for different players than other teams -- wide receivers who can block, for example -- because the Ravens will be one of the few run-first offenses in the NFL with Jackson. The Ravens also will have more cap space to acquire receivers, running backs and interior offensive linemen by going with Jackson and parting ways with Joe Flacco, who is expected to be traded or released.

The Ravens' three-year cap commitment with Flacco would've been $78.9 million. With Jackson, it's a total of $7.8 million.

This year, Baltimore is transitioning from Flacco, whose $26.5 million cap number ranks No. 7 among quarterbacks, to Jackson, whose $2.152 million cap figure is 39th.

"One of the things that we want to do is put ourselves in a really good salary cap situation now and also moving forward," DeCosta said. "That’s the goal, that’s the challenge. I think we can get there. I think we’ll make strides this year. I think we’ll make more strides next year. Moving forward, that’s our plan. So, having a quarterback on a rookie deal is a big part of that."

Flacco will count against this year's cap (either $16 million this season or $8 million in 2019 and 2020), but the additional cap space will give more resources to invest in the offense. The Ravens are one of 10 teams that don't have a wide receiver, running back or tight end who ranks among the top-10 highest paid at his position in 2019.

The latest trend in the NFL is drafting a quarterback and trying to capitalize on bargain cap numbers in his first four years. Teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys have spent big because Jared Goff and Dak Prescott, respectively, are currently cheap.

DeCosta isn't expected to go binge shopping, but Baltimore can allocate more to its offensive skill positions. According to Spotrac, the Ravens ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in cap dollars at running back (No. 25), wide receiver (No. 22) and tight end (No. 18).

"I think what we really want is just good players," DeCosta said. "We want guys that can make plays -- playmakers, guys that have the chance to help us win a football game in crunch time. We also want big, physical, tough, aggressive, nasty, mean offensive linemen who can protect Lamar and help open up some running holes. We want tight ends who can make plays. We want running backs who can take the tough yard; we want running backs who can break big gainers."

The changes on the Ravens' offense already started with Greg Roman replacing Marty Mornhinweg as coordinator. The only certainties are Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and a young core that includes Jackson, tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst and offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown.

At wide receiver, John Brown probably will leave as a free agent and Michael Crabtree could get cut (although it wouldn't be a surprise if he remains). At running back, the Ravens will probably want to find someone more explosive and versatile in the passing game than Gus Edwards and Alex Collins (who might not be retained as a restricted free agent). On the offensive line, Baltimore needs to solidify itself at left guard and center.

"I think what we really want is a guy that when you watch them, you watch 10 plays and you say, ‘You know what? This guy is good,'" DeCosta said. "You don’t have to watch five games to watch a guy to say, ‘This is the type of guy we want.’"

Baltimore wants more explosive players. The Ravens produced 57 plays of 20 or more yards (ninth-fewest in the league), and eight of those came on Jackson runs.

One reason why Baltimore lacks playmakers is because it hasn't used draft picks on them. Over the past 10 drafts, the Ravens have selected a wide receiver or running back three times in the first three rounds (Torrey Smith in 2011, Bernard Pierce in 2012 and Breshad Perriman in 2015).

Baltimore will have to add through free agency, too. The Ravens believe Jackson will lure available playmakers to Baltimore.

"I think players respect talent," DeCosta said. "I think players respect athletes and competitors. Anyone can watch Lamar Jackson and see how talented he is and what kind of a competitor he is. Players also want to win, and I think that’s something that drives every professional athlete -- winning games. I think they’ll recognize that about us. When they watch us play, they’ll want to play here."