As the Ravens crank up their offseason workouts and continue to put together their 2016 team, here are some outside-the-box questions:
What if Dennis Pitta can really contribute?
In a video from the team's first offseason workout Monday, the veteran tight end was prominently featured, running hard. It was widely assumed he would never play again when he couldn't come back from a second hip injury last season, and the Ravens have moved beyond him with Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and free agent Benjamin Watson. So why are they going to lengths to indulge his desire to keep playing? One, they like him and respect his passion. Two, with his contract restructured, he could take a smaller bite out of the salary cap. But most importantly, if Pitta, 30, actually is healthy and able to play, he could have quite an impact. Joe Flacco used to love throwing to his close friend and surely would again. Pitta has played so little recently that it's only right to remain skeptical, but if he defies the odds, he would take significant snaps and catches from the others.
Could the Ravens actually make good on ESPN guru Mel Kiper's prediction and draft running back Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 6 pick?
I don't think the chances are great; at least one elite defensive playmaker should still be available when the Ravens pick. But I can make a case for this being a good idea. There's no doubt the Ravens need more game-breakers on both sides of the ball, and Elliott is the top skill-position prospect in this draft. Yes, the Ravens are already deeper at running back than just about any position, so his selection would be a surprise. But using a high pick to take a high-end offensive playmaker is hardly a disastrous idea.
What if Steve Smith Sr. and Terrell Suggs aren't able to perform at the same levels after coming back from the injuries that ended their 2015 seasons?
The Ravens obviously hope this doesn't happen, but Smith turns 37 next month and came out of retirement to keep playing, and Suggs turns 34 in October and is coming back from a second Achilles tear, so the possibility can't be discounted. The Ravens took out an insurance policy of sorts at receiver by signing free agent Mike Wallace. Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman and Wallace are expected to carry the load along with Smith. It would ease the pressure on Smith if Perriman finally does become a factor. If Suggs isn't the same, the job of replacing him, or at least his sacks, would fall to Za'Darius Smith, whose rookie season was such an under-the-radar success that the Ravens let Courtney Upshaw go. Others would have to chip in with sacks, including their first-round pick if he's a front-seven guy.
Does the cornerback they're probably going to take with the No. 36 overall pick immediately start?
It's no certainty that they'll take a cornerback in the second round, but Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta predicted a run on starting-caliber corners between the No. 20 and No. 45 slots, and between that assessment and the secondary's struggles, it seems like the influx of new blood makes sense. It would be a useful pick considering how often the Ravens line up now with five or six defensive backs to offset pass-happy offenses. Yes, the Ravens just signed 2015 starter Shareece Wright to a four-year deal, which provides security in case they don't draft a starting corner, but I'm thinking they would love to pair Jimmy Smith with a new, young guy. Between that and the addition of safety Eric Weddle, they could call their secondary reinvented.
How are the Ravens going to replace linebacker Daryl Smith?
OK, this is more of an inside-the-box question, but I don't hear it being asked, the answer isn't clear, and I think it's a big issue. Smith was a valuable guy. He played more snaps in 2015 than anyone on defense other than C.J. Mosley and Jimmy Smith, and he led the team in tackles, barely leaving the field until Zach Orr started replacing him in nickel packages late in the season. A salary-cap squeeze cost him his job, and now Orr, a former undrafted free agent, is the leading internal candidate to replace him. Orr's star is rising, but I see the Ravens making a move, either with a draft pick or free agent signing.