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While much of the attention on the Ravens’ future has centered on their attempts to secure franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson to an extension, time is running out to retain two of the other most important contributors to their unique offense.
The Ravens have been seeking new deals with center Bradley Bozeman and fullback/tight end Patrick Ricard, league sources said, but have been unable to get close on new contracts as both head toward potential unrestricted free agency in 2022. Both are having excellent seasons and have become critical members of an offense that is unlike many in the NFL, especially with what is asked of linemen and blockers up front given the multitude of zone and run elements they employ to maximize Jackson’s skill set. They are also well-liked figures in the locker room — Bozeman is arguably more active in the community than any current Baltimore athlete and was the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2021 — and fit the mold of the kind of homegrown players general manager Eric DeCosta said he wanted to retain when he took over for legendary GM Ozzie Newsome.
But there are also several factors that make that tricky. The Ravens have virtually no cap room this season, both players are excelling, the team does not have cost-certainty with Jackson yet, and a franchise tag is a nonstarter for either. Even the transition tag for an offensive lineman projects at around $15M for 2022 (it is not a position-specific designation with tackle salaries factored in), while Ricard would be prohibitive whether he was classified as a running back ($10M transition tag) while a tight end transition tag will likely come in at close to $10M as well.
Bozeman, who has been very durable, emerged as a stalwart left guard after being selected in the sixth round in 2018 out of Alabama, where he played center. Baltimore’s center play was suspect in 2020, with poor snaps ultimately helping undermine their season, and Bozeman has made a smooth transition to center this year, settling down an important position. His ability to pull and move are key to Baltimore’s system, and the price tag for interior offensive lineman has been soaring in recent years. The Ravens have let centers leave in the past to earn big money elsewhere, and the cost of a quality center on the free agent market is likely to be in excess of $10M a season, perhaps well in excess.
Ricard has been asked to play essentially at least four positions this season for Baltimore, with the former Pro Bowler’s role expanded beyond what it already was. Ricard, an undrafted former defensive lineman out of Maine in 2017, is a rare athlete at over 300 pounds, with agile hands and feet and a powerful blocking style. Besides fullback he plays multiple tight end positions and what amounts to H-back duties as well, taking on even more with blocking tight end Nick Boyle out since last year due to injury (he returns today) and with Baltimore’s tackle play suspect at times this season.
Ricard, nearing the end of a two-year/$7.3M deal, ranks 10th in offensive snaps among any running back in the NFL, per PFF (they classify fullbacks as running backs). The Ravens consistently put him in motion to help trigger the run and pass game, and aid a struggling offensive line. Ricard has played 46.2% of his snaps at tight end, per PFF, and lines up in the slot 14% of the time, indicative of his versatility. The Ravens utilize a fullback 58% of the time; San Francisco is next highest at 43%, while the league average is 12%. Ricard is invaluable, and with the Ravens paying Boyle about $6M a year, it’s difficult to envision any scenario in which Ricard would not command more, whether in Baltimore or on the open market given his unique traits.
Replacing either will not be easy, leaving the Ravens with some difficult decisions in the coming weeks as they try to secure more of their core before the season ends, and free agency beckons.