In early January, as the Ravens’ offseason began, a bit sooner than they wanted, GM Ozzie Newsome was asked what the team needed going forward. He listed these priorities – a wide receiver who could move the chains; an athletic free safety; getting bigger in the interior of the offensive line.
A lot has happened since then. Newsome has added some guys and let others go, the majority of the moves coming since free agency started last month. Reviews of his maneuverings have been positive. But while some of his priorities have been addressed, others remain.
In the wake of all that, what do the Ravens now need going forward? Here’s what I see as their reconfigured priorities, listed in order of importance:
1. Offensive tackle. A lot of uncertainty has been cleared up with the signing of left tackle Eugene Monroe and the trade for center Jeremy Zuttah. But as I recently wrote, the mantra for this offseason should be “the line, the line, the line,” given that unit’s crucial falloff in 2013, and that means getting every slot settled. Right tackle remains a question mark. There are internal candidates such as Rick Wagner and Jah Reid, but a solid acquisition, possibly with a high draft pick, would lock things down going into the season.
2. Safety. Newsome said in January that he wanted a ball hawk who could make plays, i.e., a prototypical center fielder to twin with Matt Elam. I think he’s still looking for that guy. Darian Stewart, signed from the St. Louis Rams, is more of a strong safety, a hard hitter who excels in the box. But he only has one career interception. Danieal Manning, cut Monday by Houston, is a thought. But thinking out loud, since most of the top safeties on the open market are gone, this could be a spot where Newsome gets creative and brings in a veteran cornerback with the idea of moving him to the back end.
3. Running back. This was a low priority when the offseason began, but given Ray Rice’s uncertain status and Bernard Pierce’s shoulder surgery, an obvious need has arisen. Cap casualties are always coming and going on the market, but I don’t know that a great solution lies there. (I have read some fan speculation about Chris Johnson. Not going to happen.) I could see the Ravens drafting a running back as high as in the third round.
4. Cornerback. The Ravens are set for starters with Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, but the third cornerback is essentially a starter since so many teams deploy three wide receivers on many plays. When Corey Graham signed with the Bills, it left a hole. The internal candidates to replace him are Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson. Brown has come a long way since he was a fifth-round pick, but is he ready to play as much as Graham? That’s not clear. This is a spot where a veteran addition would be preferable to a rookie, who might not be ready.
5. Tight end. Dennis Pitta’s signing cleared up a lot of uncertainty, but new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak loves to throw to his tight end – more than one. The Ravens have expressed some interest in free agent Owen Daniels, and have been linked to North Carolina’s Eric Ebron in mock drafts. But Ebron likely will be gone when they pick in the first round. And let’s not forget, the team needs a blocking tight end, too.
6. Inside linebacker. Right now, the penciled-in starters are Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown, with Josh Bynes and Albert McClellan backing up. That’s solid enough, but questions persist. Is Brown ready to become a starter in his second season? If not, can Bynes or McClellan take on a major role? This is a spot that could use more depth.
7. Receiver. This was a large concern when the offseason began, but it has fallen down the list. Newsome found his chain-mover when he signed Steve Smith, and that move, coupled with the re-signing of Jacoby Jones, gives the Ravens four productive wideouts (Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Steve Smith and Jones) with a variety of skills. It would be nice to add another, but the move is no longer a must.