NFL Wild Card Round Care/Don't Care: What's the offseason plan for Ravens, other eliminated teams?

Things I care about

It’s time for changes in Baltimore

There is an NFL universe where the situation surrounding Lamar Jackson isn’t nearly as weird as it seems.

In that reality, Jackson is just another injured star player. The seemingly strained mid-week comments from John Harbaugh over the last month are just a reflection of a frustrated coach who knows he is at a disadvantage without his quarterback. There’s no secret meaning to Jackson not traveling with the Ravens for this game, just as there isn’t one when guys like Tua Tagovailoa or Mike Williams don’t travel with their teams. His absence has nothing to do with his contract, he’s just too hurt to play, as some of his teammates seem to believe:

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Truth be told, I don’t know if that’s the real world or not. But let’s live in that reality for a moment.

Whether Jackson was holding himself back or was just truly, severely compromised has no bearing on the genuine fact that there need to be changes made to Baltimore’s offensive philosophy.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Their first approach to building an offense around Jackson has provided a hard ceiling for the Ravens. It’s been proven every year.

Greg Roman did some phenomenal work crafting an early incubator of an offense for Jackson in his first few seasons. It’s time to move past that. I’m not necessarily advocating for the man to be tossed out of the building but at the very least, bring in someone to design a different passing game. Rolling out the same thing just can’t be an option going forward.

A handful of young offensive minds like Scott Turner and Mike LaFleur surprisingly hit the market last week. It’s worth a call to see if someone like that can bring fresh ideas to this passing game.

It would also be organizational malpractice to run out a receiver corps close to what they planned for even in an ideal 2022 scenario. I am a huge Rashod Bateman fan and believed he was going to have a monster breakout season. The problem was No. 2 receiver and beyond on the roster. Once Bateman went down, they were no longer running out a serious receiver room. Whether you have to overpay a veteran or swing a trade, you can’t do that again.

If Jackson has gripes with the Ravens, I understand them. This offense is over-reliant on his particular set of skills to just be functional. The proof is in the pudding. When he doesn’t play, they don’t score 20 points. If you don’t score 20 points consistently in today’s NFL, congrats — your ceiling is hard and set at “average at best.” That’s where Baltimore finds itself among real contenders right now; just good enough to always be in the mix, never where it needs to be to go the distance.

Baltimore Ravens NFL quarterback Lamar Jackson looks on from the sideline during the home finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Ravens don't look like a serious NFL offense without Lamar Jackson. (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

The Ravens have tried one approach — a single system around Jackson. I don’t know how you could seriously conclude that he’s the reason they can’t evolve, considering we’ve never seen him in a different set of circumstances.

It would be best for all parties involved to mend any sort of contract fences and stay together. As long as the Ravens are willing to meet Jackson halfway when it comes to some of the on-field and personnel changes that are desperately needed.

The Seahawks bringing Geno Smith back

As you saw in the section above, there will be quarterback drama this offseason. What started with Tom Brady going to Tampa Bay and continued with Matthew Stafford to L.A. and Russell Wilson to Denver is not a fluke. Massive quarterback dominoes falling on an annual basis is now a trend.

The Seahawks need to make sure they aren’t part of any theater this time around. Find a way to bring Geno Smith back in the fold and be done with it.

Smith wasn’t as efficient in the back half of the season as he was in the first. It’s hard to lay all the blame at his feet, however, considering the running game also slumped. On film, Smith was still drilling quality passes like he had all year.

We saw that in the playoff loss to the 49ers. Smith showed no fear in throwing into the teeth of the best defense in the NFL. He consistently nailed high-degree-of-difficulty passes to DK Metcalf in tight outside coverage. He wasn’t mistake-free but Smith was far from the reason they lost. Seattle simply got overwhelmed by a more talented opponent.

The Seahawks are a young, growing team. Smith doesn’t fit that youth mold but he gives them a calming central figure as the rest of the roster grows around him. While those younger units, like the offensive line and defense, figure it out, the passing big three of Smith, Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are more than good enough to win big games.

Seattle has the bones in place for a quality team build over the next few years. Smith just needs to be a part of it.

What happens next with Tua Tagovailoa

The Dolphins put forth a valiant effort and had their division rivals on the ropes despite playing a third-string rookie quarterback. In the end, it wasn’t enough. As we close the chapter on the 2022 Dolphins, the question of Tua Tagovailoa’s status hangs over everything.

It always seemed like a stretch that Tua would return for the playoffs. His concussion concerns were serious after multiple major occurrences during the season. Those concerns are going to follow him into the offseason.

Mike McDaniel pushing the offense to new heights and getting the best out of Tua and the rockstar speed receivers was the story of the Dolphins' season. It’s why it felt like such a bummer when that couldn’t play a role in any sort of postseason run. As bold as their efforts were against Buffalo, the team that took the field on Sunday just felt so far from the early-season Miami crew.

Is Tua just going to come back next season despite potential long-term health worries? We’ve gotten no indication he plans to step away. Did Miami’s decision-makers do enough to commit to him as the no-doubt starter going forward? Can they realistically afford to not have a high-quality backup plan considering how murky things got when he and actual backup Teddy Bridgewater missed time?

All of that will come to define Miami’s offseason. Everything else should fall into place behind their quarterback plans.

Things I don’t care about

Name-brand value on Minnesota’s offense

Given how humiliating some of the lowlights were for the Vikings defense, both on Sunday and throughout the year, there will be some temptation to have a laser-focused offseason on that side of the ball.

That would be a mistake.

The Vikings have one of the best receivers in the NFL, a competent quarterback, a quality tight end after a mid-season trade ... and then a bunch of names. The latter group can’t allow you to be fooled into thinking the offense doesn’t need serious tweaking.

We know the offensive line needs a bit more work despite some breakout performances from young guys. Kirk Cousins was the most-hit quarterback in the NFL this year. A player like Cousins goes on the fritz in those situations. That can’t be allowed to happen again.

However, it goes beyond the line. Some of the skill-position players we’ve talked about for years are teetering on the edge of the back nine of their careers.

Guys like Adam Thielen might not be a part of this team’s 2023 plans. While K.J. Osborn has flashed a bit throughout his career, he might need to stay as a splash-play No. 3 receiver. Someone to help draw coverages and threaten defenses vertically outside would help make Justin Jefferson’s life easier, and the offense more dynamic.

Rather quietly, the Vikings also fielded one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL this year. Minnesota ranked 29th in EPA per rush this year. Some of that can be blamed on the offensive line but it’s worth wondering if Dalvin Cook’s days as an elite NFL back are coming to an end. Cook will turn 28 in August and his on-paper stats look fine but Minnesota might want to at least add some players behind him as Alexander Mattison hits free agency. Cook’s role as a receiver was quite disappointing this year, too.

The main focus of Minnesota’s offense will be on the defensive side. It has to be. They can’t go into next year with such an unserious operation. However, they also can’t afford to just bank on the same exact offensive group rolling over or even improving on their output from this season. Some tweaks need to happen there, as well.

Chargers' complacency

I think the Chargers deserve a ton of credit for pushing through a season full of injury adversity to make it into playoffs. The team brass can even use injuries as an excuse for why the team didn’t consistently reach its goals this year.

Well, right up until they blew a 27-0 lead against the Jaguars.

The Chargers executed an epic collapse in the wild-card round with almost all of their front-line players back in the mix. It’s the type of loss that haunts teams. The kind of shock that lays bare all the flaws which made the road to arrive at that moment so arduous.

The 2022 Chargers were a team held back by a poorly designed offense, a lack of vertical juice in the passing game and what were questionable and often inconsistent in-game coaching decisions. They lived as that team all year long and many of those reasons were ultimately why they found themselves soundly eliminated on Saturday night.

The Chargers can’t be complacent with what they are. Austin Ekeler mentioned it in Episode 1 of our podcast this year and many times after about the unique window this team is in with Justin Herbert. The rookie contract years are almost up but it goes far beyond that. Austin talked on our season finale about what it meant for the rest of the team to play to standard to get him into his first playoff game.

Mission accomplished, but as Austin would certainly tell you, just getting there isn’t good enough.

That’s why questions about Brandon Staley’s job will and should be asked. It’s why changes to the coaching staff must take place — no matter what.

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