I was hoping to get the call to join the Ravens' braintrust retreat at Steve Bisciotti's home in Florida this weekend. I even got my golf clubs out. But the invitation never came. Hard to believe, I know.
Now the retreat has started without me, keeping my perfect lifetime record intact. But fear not. After years of offering unsolicited advice, I'm habitually ready to throw in my two cents on what the Ravens should do.
I'm just going to pretend I'm there in Florida, they do want my thoughts on issues they're facing, and the floor is mine. So, cough, cough, here goes:
Regarding Terrell Suggs, I would offer him a contract extension that cuts his 2014 salary cap figure. If he isn't amenable, it's time to cut ties. But I'm thinking he wants to stay and a deal can be struck.
With Ray Rice, there's really no option. Given how his contract is structured, cutting him makes no sense. That's fine. It's too soon for that. My guess is he has some good football left in him. Yes, he had a down year in 2013, but he dealt with injuries, and his idea to add power at a slightly heavier weight didn't pan out. You just have to hope he bounces back in 2014.
I would start preparing to put the franchise tag on Dennis Pitta. He recovered from his hip injury quickly enough to establish his unique value to the Ravens. Joe Flacco loves throwing to him and really missed him when he was out. Moral of the story: He can't really be replaced. The best option would be to sign him to a long-term deal, but if that doesn't happen, by all means, tag him. Whatever his price, he's worth it. He's a key part of the solution.
Eugene Monroe is another tag possibility, but as an offensive tackle, his number will be higher than he is worth. He was solid enough after coming over in a midseason trade, but the intensity of the market for him will determine whether he should be retained. If the bidding gets out of hand, it's time to go in another direction. I'm guessing it won't.
Defensively, I would rate linebacker Daryl Smith as the top priority to be retained among the unrestricted free agents on that side. He was crucial to the unit's improvement with his leadership, consistency and toughness. Just a total pro. Art Jones is going to command a lot more because he's younger, but Jones is going to cost more than the Ravens want to pay. Smith should be affordable.
After Smith, Corey Graham is the top priority for retention. Head Coach John Harbaugh said it best: If Graham is back, the Ravens are set at cornerback. He is versatile, makes plays and shouldn't cost too much. I don't see anyone on the roster who could take over his role, so if he goes, someone else will get his money. Why not stick with him?
As for Jacoby Jones, he's had a great run here, but it's time for a tough call. As a kick returner, he's special. As a receiver, he's not a load-carrier. If he's willing to get paid like a return man, whatever that is, make a deal. If he wants combo return-receiver money, that could be a problem.
James Ihedigbo was an unsung hero in 2013, but I understand the desire to pair Matt Elam with more of a playmaking free safety. And if you don't want to pursue other unrestricted free agents such as Ed Dickson, Terrence Cody and Michael Oher, that's fine, too.
My thoughts on potential cap casualties: Don't do it – Chris Canty, Marshal Yanda. OK if you do – Vonta Leach, Sam Koch, Jameel McClain. Leach is a victim of the diminishing role of fullbacks. Koch would be missed but is due a large salary for a punter. McClain becomes vulnerable if Arthur Brown is ready to start.
Finally, the draft. You can't go wrong with either an offensive lineman or a wide receiver in the first round. Both are major needs. One thought that might sway you: You can get impact receivers after the first round, but it's hard to get starting-caliber tackles after the mid-first round. The Ravens are seldom drafting that high. If a highly-regarded tackle is there, you might not want to pass him up.