As the NFL offseason cranks into high gear with free agency opening next week and the countdown to the draft beginning now that the NFL Scouting Combine is over, plenty of questions about the Ravens are circulating.
Can they get Joe Flacco to agree to a cap-friendlier contract extension? Can they get Justin Tucker signed to a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline for franchise-tagged players? Will they make salary cap cuts? Is Kelechi Osemele or someone else their future left tackle? How much can they count on their veterans returning from injuries?
Those are important questions everyone is asking. But there are also important questions no one is asking. For instance:
- Could the Ravens make a splash in free agency?
It isn't their style to be active when the window first opens and prices are high. And as usual, they've been dealing with an oh-so-tight salary cap situation. But did you see the cap is rising by $12 million in 2016? That and the expected Flacco extension, which could produce $8 million in cap savings, could actually give them the room to pounce.
- Could Dennis Pitta play in 2016 … for the Ravens?
It has been deemed a foregone conclusion that the veteran tight end, who has only played three games since the Super Bowl because of hip injuries, will either retire or become a cap casualty. But that was before Nick Boyle was suspended for the first 10 games of 2016, and before GM Ozzie Newsome revealed Crockett Gillmore has undergone "surgeries" (plural) and probably will miss spring practices. Suddenly, Maxx Williams is the only tight end who is a sure-fire go to start the 2016 season. So the Ravens could use a tight end. And Pitta is on the roster and under contract. If he is cleared by doctors and decides to keep playing, he's potentially an option.
- Who will replace Osemele at left guard?
Regardless if Osemele stays or goes, it's a virtual certainty someone else will man the position he occupied for most of 2015. One option is John Urschel, who has made 10 starts at guard and center in his first two seasons. But Ryan Jensen actually started at left guard over the last month of 2015 and drew praise from the coaches, who were pleased to see him hold up nicely and display a nasty streak. A competition looms.
- Could Shareece Wright start opposite Jimmy Smith in 2016?
The veteran cornerback had a brutal debut with the Ravens; he was beaten for a pair of touchdowns in a loss to San Francisco. But the rest of his season was a study in steadiness, to the point that Pro Football Focus rated him the No. 32 cornerback in the league (out of 100) for the season. He's an unrestricted free agent, but has said he wants to continue to play with Smith, his close childhood friend and high school teammate. He could be an affordable option.
- If Ohio State linebacker Joey Bosa is available when the Ravens make the sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft, will they injure themselves hurrying to get the pick announced?
When the chatter about this draft began, Bosa was a consensus choice to go No. 1 overall, meaning the Ravens seemingly had no shot at using him to bolster their pass rush. But now there's talk he might slide just enough to be available when the Ravens pick. I'll believe it when I see it, but if it happens, his selection would represent a best-case-scenario for the Ravens. Even though he hasn't played in a 3-4 defense and would need to adjust, he's just what the Ravens need and want, an explosive defensive playmaker.
- Do Lardarius Webb's hands make him part of the solution?
The veteran defensive back has taken heat in recent years because injuries have slowed him and his performance hasn't matched his salary. That normally spells trouble for a player's future, but cutting him would incur a sizable dead-money charge, so he's going to be on the team, now as a safety. And last week, for the second time since the end of the season, Newsome mentioned "ball skills" as a reason the move could work. The Ravens believe their inability to create turnovers doomed them in 2015, and a big part of that problem was their failure to take advantage of easy opportunities, i.e., the picks that practically hit them in the hands. Webb could change that; his hands are so sure and dependable he returns punts.