Baltimore and Kansas City’s deal might give the New York Jets some extra clarity at the 23rd overall pick in Cleveland next weekend.
A deal between contenders could have ripple effects on a team that’s desperate to join them.
The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs swapped assets and names on Friday, six days before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will be staged in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Pro Bowl-nominated blocker Orlando Brown Jr. will join the refurbished wall in front of Patrick Mahomes while four picks, including the 31st overall choice on Thursday, move on to Baltimore. Two Raven draft picks also come over with Brown, the first of which will be a second-rounder on Friday.
One can argue that a trade between a pair of playoff teams should have little effect on the New York Jets, who are ready for a potentially franchise-changing weekend. But New York will turn in three draft cards within the first 34 selections next Thursday and Friday. The Chiefs and Ravens’ gambit could set them up for what they plan to do with the latter pair.
The Jets’ first pick, second overall on Thursday, is more than likely accounted for: unless they plan on starting James Morgan or Mike White in September, they’re taking a quarterback. But debate rages on in what they’ll do with the 23rd overall choice, obtained from Seattle last offseason. The Ravens also own their regularly scheduled pick in the 27th slot, giving them two picks before the Jets pick again at No. 34, the second pick of the second round.
This de facto Baltimore sandwich…including the 31st pick from Kansas City traditionally bestowed to the Super Bowl runner-ups…only strengthens the case that the extra metropolitan first-rounder could behoove the Jets to address their offensive issues with each of their first two selections.
Baltimore is at an interesting point on its franchise timeline. They’ve earned at least 10 wins in each of the last three seasons and won a playoff game for the first time since 2014 in the Wild Card round in January. Barring a jaw-dropping transaction, they’re set with Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Their ground game enjoyed a significant jolt with rookie JK Dobbins working with Gus Edwards (1,528 yards, 15 touchdowns combined).
With Jackson’s great power comes even greater responsibility (wrong city, we’re aware). Jackson is capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground (1,005 rushing yards). His mobile prowess, however, leaves him open to sacks and injuries. The trade of Brown, a blindside blocker, leaves a mediocre offensive line (16th in Pro Football Focus’ final 2020 rankings) in somewhat dire straights. Former All-Pro Ronnie Stanley is expected back, but he’s coming off a brutal ankle injury suffered in November.
Additionally, Baltimore may also look to surround Jackson with more weaponry. They’re set with the young pair of Dobbins and Edwards in the backfield but their receivers leave something to desired. Is there a No. 1 receiver in this bunch? Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has potential (58 receptions, 769 yards, 8 touchdowns) but even if the Ravens want to roll with him, major questions reside behind him. Second receiver Willie Snead left for Las Vegas, leaving behind the unproven Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay. Veteran Sammy Watkins was welcomed in this offseason, but he’s not somebody who’s going to be the difference in wrangling away control of the AFC from Kansas City or Buffalo.
Thus, it’s very possible that the Ravens could be going offense with each of their first two picks. From a Jets standpoint, it’s thus less likely they can afford to wait until Friday to address a non-quarterback need. Had Kansas City kept Thursday’s penultimate pick, it was more likely to see them addressing their pass rush woes. It’s quite possible Baltimore could go offense with each of their Thursday couple. Several teams between 23rd and 34th (Pittsburgh, Green Bay) already appear to be leaning toward an offensive pick as well. Baltimore’s extended prescience should at least help narrow the Jets’ choices. Several defensive talents should still be around by the time Friday’s proceedings start, but some elite blockers (Tevin Jenkins, Alex Leatherwood, Christian Darrisaw, Landon Dickerson) and weapons (Travis Etienne, Rashod Bateman) could be gone with another offense-seeker injected into the fold.
Granted, the Jets are working so far from behind that there’s almost nowhere to go but up when it comes to day one of the draft. But while the Jets will likely have to address defensive woes sooner or later, they’re about to put a big investment in one of the non-Trevor Lawrence passing talents of a strong 2021 passing class. Whether it’s Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or an unknown party, they can’t lead the Jets’ resurrection on their own. They need help, namely on the offensive line after not doing too much to upgrade over the offseason.
Secondary and edge help will be around in the second round. Thursday should be a day dedicated to the new quarterback and getting him as comfortable as possible before the hard part begins. Giving him a more attractive offensive depth chart to look at before he makes his Florham Park entrance requires an offensive mindset in the earliest stages in Cleveland next week.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags