The Baltimore Ravens have the NFL’s second-ranked defense, partly because of a deal general manager Eric DeCosta agreed to about 24 hours before last year’s trade deadline. DeCosta traded 2023 second- and fifth-round picks and veteran linebacker A.J. Klein to the Chicago Bears for star middle linebacker Roquan Smith.
Smith has fit in perfectly, bolstering the middle of Baltimore’s defense with All-Pro-caliber play and quickly becoming a locker room leader. The Ravens signed Smith to a contract extension a little more than two months after the trade, further solidifying the deal as a home run for DeCosta.
For the Ravens, however, not all pre-deadline deals have worked out as well as Smith and the Marcus Peters trade in 2019.
They’ve made seven in-season trades in franchise history, and a majority of them were forgettable. The acquisitions of running back Ty Montgomery, wide receiver Chris Givens and cornerback Will Davis didn’t move the needle. Surprisingly, neither did acquiring outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue from the Minnesota Vikings before the 2020 deadline. Ngakoue made minimal impact and never seemed to fit with Baltimore.
Trading for offensive tackle Eugene Monroe before the 2013 deadline worked in the short term. Yet, the extension the Ravens gave Monroe after the season became one of the more regrettable contracts in team history.
The past, though, probably won’t have much impact on DeCosta’s desire to augment a team that is 5-2 and seems to be hitting its stride. He loves to be in the mix when quality football players become available, and he’s been one of the more active general managers in making deals during his tenure.
NFL trade deadline: Why have teams been so much more aggressive lately?
DeCosta’s challenge is finding a deal that not only works within the team’s tight salary-cap situation — the Ravens are sitting on just $2.6 million of space, according to the NFL Players Association’s Salary Cap Report — but doesn’t bleed them of too much draft capital.
There’s also the matter of settling on a target. When the Ravens acquired Peters and Smith before previous deadlines, they didn’t necessarily fill their biggest positional needs at the time. Nonetheless, DeCosta decided that they were the most impactful players the Ravens could realistically get, and both would make the team better.
Will those efforts this year lead the Ravens to add a game-breaking running back after the season-ending Achilles injury to J.K. Dobbins? Could Baltimore possibly target another starting-caliber offensive lineman? Will the fact the Ravens lead the league in sacks prevent them from adding another pass rusher, or will DeCosta decide that you can never have enough?
Let’s break down potential trade targets for the Ravens into three categories. “Right player, right price?” are realistic trade targets who would make the most sense if the Ravens can make the compensation and financials work. The “Available, but enough of an upgrade?” category includes players who are speculated to be on the trade block but may not be much better than what the Ravens already have. And “Doesn’t hurt to dream” are players who either may not be available, would likely cost too much in trade compensation if they were or would require a lucrative contract extension that Baltimore would struggle to give out.
Right player, right price?
Denico Autry, DE, Titans
If the trade of standout safety Kevin Byard to Philadelphia on Monday is any indication, Tennessee is open for business. Autry, a pending free agent, should be a guy every team is asking about, including the Ravens. Baltimore loves versatile and physical defensive linemen. Autry can line up on the edge or inside, and he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He has four sacks in six games this year and totaled 24.5 over the previous three seasons. He also probably won’t cost as much to acquire as guys such as Danielle Hunter and Brian Burns.
Brian Burns, Jerry Jeudy and potential trade candidates for every NFL team
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
It would be some story if Henry, a Ravens nemesis, wound up joining the team for its playoff push. Team officials have downplayed the need for an established No. 1 running back, but the thought of Henry lining up behind Lamar Jackson has to intrigue the Ravens and concern Baltimore opponents who would have to figure out a way to contain two of the league’s most dynamic players. Henry is a pending free agent and has a decent chunk of change left on his 2023 contract, but the Ravens could make it work if they were motivated to do so.
Danielle Hunter, edge, Vikings
The Ravens lead the league in sacks, and edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Kyle Van Noy and Odafe Oweh are playing well. David Ojabo is due back soon. Why pay what would be a significant price for another pass rusher? Well, imagine how dangerous the defense would be with another guy who demands attention and gets to the quarterback. Hunter, who is in a contract year, leads the league with nine sacks and would give the Ravens their own version of Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt or Trey Hendrickson. The Vikings improved to 3-4 by beating the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night and have a soft schedule for the next month and a half. They may not be sellers, but DeCosta should at least pick up the phone and find out.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders
There has been very little noise that Jacobs is available, but after they were throttled by the Bears on Sunday, there’s also very little evidence that the Raiders are legitimate playoff contenders. They couldn’t agree to an extension with Jacobs before the season, and now the 25-year-old is in the midst of his worst year as a pro, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Jacobs, who is very good out of the backfield, would diversify the Ravens’ running back group and add major juice and toughness.
Courtland Sutton, WR, Broncos
The Ravens don’t necessarily need a receiver. They’re having a hard enough time utilizing all of the pass catchers they already have. However, they could use another big and physical red zone threat, and Sutton, who is 6 foot 4 and 216 pounds, fits that mold. He already has five touchdown receptions this year. The Ravens were in talks to acquire him during the offseason, and the Broncos balked. Has a 2-5 start and a roster clearly in need of more talent changed their minds? Sutton has a big salary-cap number for the next two years, and that could be a deterrent.
Available, but enough of an upgrade?
Kendrick Bourne, WR, Patriots
Bourne is having a solid season and has 16 catches on 18 targets over his past two games. He’s a legitimate complementary receiver, but he wouldn’t do a whole lot to change the look of Baltimore’s receiver room. This isn’t last season when the Ravens were desperate for competent wideouts.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Chiefs
The 2020 first-round pick is getting very little opportunity behind Isiah Pacheco. He has only 38 touches all year. He does have some quickness and plenty of big-game experience. He’d be more of a depth add and certainly wouldn’t answer the call for a bell-cow No. 1 back.
Antonio Gibson, RB, Commanders
Gibson’s value would come as a receiving threat. He’s averaged 41 receptions over his first three NFL seasons and also has experience as a returner. The Ravens still haven’t consistently shown an ability to get their backs involved in the passing game. However, Gibson is a fumbler, and Baltimore is doing enough of that as is.
Carl Lawson, edge, Jets
Lawson is a nice player and coming off a seven-sack season in 2022. He’s buried on the Jets’ depth chart, and it wouldn’t cost much to pry him loose. At this point, though, the Ravens feel good about their top three edge guys, and Ojabo will likely re-enter the mix soon. If they’re going to make an acquisition outside, it figures to be a bona fide double-digit sack guy — and that’s not Lawson.
Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, Panthers
Unhappy with his role in Carolina, Marshall has been given permission to shop his services around the league. He’s a buy-low candidate with some upside. Yet, he really doesn’t address any specific need for the Ravens beyond pacifying their fans’ insatiable desire to be in on every receiver available.
Cody Whitehair, OL, Bears
Left guard John Simpson has held his own, so the Ravens probably don’t feel a ton of urgency to add an interior lineman. But that doesn’t mean they won’t and shouldn’t consider opportunities to upgrade. Baltimore is an injury away from having major questions on the interior of its offensive line. Whitehair can play center, too.
Doesn’t hurt to dream
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Not only has Barkley indicated that he doesn’t want to be traded, but there have been numerous reports that the 2-5 Giants have no plans to move the pending free agent. Could the Ravens convince general manager Joe Schoen to change his mind? Maybe, but it seems unlikely that DeCosta would make a wow offer for a rental running back who has had injury issues.
Giants’ Barkley: ‘Everyone knows I don’t want to get traded’
Brian Burns, edge, Panthers
The Panthers have maintained that they have zero interest in trading Burns, but they’re 0-6 and Burns has a few months left on his rookie contract. If the Panthers are pessimistic about re-signing him, why wouldn’t they entertain a trade? The Ravens loved Burns coming out of the 2019 draft, and all he’s done is notch 42 sacks and eight forced fumbles in his first 70 games. The combination of Carolina’s potential asking price and what it would take to keep Burns long term make the Ravens pulling off a deal feel unlikely.
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Broncos
Jackson loves his South Florida receivers, and Jeudy is a talented pass catcher. He also is under contract through 2024, so he’s not a rental, and that could be attractive to a team with a number of receivers in contract years. Denver’s asking price for Jeudy, though, has been extremely high in the past, and it’s hard to imagine Baltimore will be especially motivated to use an asset at the receiver position.
Pat Surtain II, CB, Broncos
Time and time again, the Ravens have shown they are willing to invest in their secondary. In his third season, Surtain is already one of the top cornerbacks in football. He’ll also essentially be under contract for two more seasons. That probably makes it unlikely the Broncos will trade him despite speculation otherwise. If they do, the cost in draft capital and on a Surtain extension would be immense and probably out of Baltimore’s range.
Chase Young, edge, Commanders
There has been talk since the offseason that the Ravens and Commanders could come together on a Young deal, with little evidence of action. Young is a Maryland native, has several tight relationships with Ravens players and is having a very nice season. But does anybody really believe Washington is going to send one of its best players down the road to assist a playoff push for a Ravens team that it competes with for fan interest and support? The same probably could be said for Montez Sweat.
(Top photo of Derrick Henry: Vincent Mignott / DeFodi Images via Getty Images)