Now that we are almost a month removed from the Super Bowl, we are officially in the 2021 NFL offseason. Yesterday, February 23rd, marks the first day for teams to opt in and designate a franchise tag for any player with an expiring contract – according to NBC Sports
With the pandemic still wreaking havoc, the minimum salary cap is set to increase to $180 million (a $5 million increase from last year) – which can be considered a setback for the projected $198.2 million cap agreed between team owners and the NFLPA.
The Baltimore Ravens still have some work to do, as they fell short with another early playoff exit after acquiring key veterans last offseason, such as: Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, and Derek Wolfe. Some fans may consider this year a win since Lamar Jackson won his first playoff game. For all you hardcore Ravens fans, like myself, our team has faced unbelievable scrutiny since the beginning of the season.
But the ultimate goal still remains clear every year: Win a Super Bowl.
The 2020 season began with the release of former All-Pro free safety, Earl Thomas, after an altercation with fellow teammate, Chuck Clark. The team deemed his removal was necessary as Thomas’ lackluster leadership was apparent during his tenure with the Ravens, consistently missing practices and showing up late to team meetings.
”Guys have been frustrated about this situation since last year and it was only getting worse. He had to go. Earl was the most disliked guy in that locker room,” said one unnamed team member (via CBS).
At the start of last season, the Ravens started out 5-1 before entering their bye week in Week 7. It seemed like the Ravens could make a legitimate run for the Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, their plans began to collapse between Week 8 and Week 12. The Ravens lost 4 of their next 5 games before heading into a primetime matchup against their notorious rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When it came to that matchup, the Ravens encountered one of the most bizarre outbreaks of the coronavirus. 22 players were officially out for the “triple rescheduled” primetime game against their longtime rival. When the game concluded, many were impressed by the second and third string players who stepped up to almost defeat the then-undefeated Steelers. Since then, the team was fined $250,000 for violating the NFL’s new wellness policy implemented for the coronavirus outbreak, ensuring health and safety for all members of each team during this pandemic.
It seemed like the Ravens were suddenly out of playoff contention after that crucial loss, having a record of 6-5 with the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders creeping up in the AFC playoff hunt. But as we all know, the Ravens regrouped and won their last 5 games of the regular season, ending their campaign on a high note.
The Ravens went on to defeat their newly-formed rival, the Tennessee Titans, in their first playoff game of the postseason. Their victory silenced critics, dethroning the narratives alleging Lamar Jackson’s inability to win a playoff game.
Their next task was to go up against a gritty opponent in the divisional round, the Buffalo Bills, who were considered as “dark horse contenders” for the Super Bowl. In that game, the Ravens offensive line was blown to shreds and Lamar’s key receivers, Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews, seemed nonexistent throughout the game. In the second half, Lamar was taken into concussion protocol after taking a late hit after a bad snap from backup center Patrick Mekari. The team’s morale was hit just as hard by his diagnosis, as Jackson failed to return to the game. The Ravens lost 17-3.
Even though the season ended abruptly (or at least felt like it did), we can say this season is considered a success during the early stages of the Lamar Jackson era in Baltimore. Also in part, let’s also consider the fact that this team made a deep run into the playoffs with the pandemic weighing down on the shoulders of the NFL. Besides, let’s thank the fans of the Buffalo Bills for making the Ravens’ season end on a positive note – contributing to Lamar’s charity back in Louisville.
Jeff Dominguez is the communications director for The Sting.