Eisenberg: What Are Ravens' Biggest Questions?


After methodically addressing their most pressing needs during the offseason and then tying up some loose ends recently, the Ravens aren't staring at a long list of unanswered questions.

But while the coaches and players take it easy for a few weeks before training camp begins later this month, there are still some uncertainties hanging in the muggy summertime air.

Such as ...

– Can they get Justin Tucker's signature on a contract extension before the season?

There's no doubt they want to lock up their kicker, whose first three seasons have been sensational. There's also no doubt Tucker wants to cash in after entering the league as an undrafted free agent.

The time for the two sides to find common ground is now, a year before Tucker could potentially become a free agent. That's when the Ravens like to secure their premier players, as they did with cornerback Jimmy Smith several months ago.

The price-point for a kicker, even a superb one, isn't astronomical compared to players at other positions, and the Ravens do have some salary cap space – not a ton, but enough. So there are reasons to believe a deal could get done in time to keep the issue from hanging over Tucker all season, which no one wants. But the clock is ticking.

– Along the same lines, can they sign Marshal Yanda to an extension?

The Ravens like and trust their 30-year-old guard so much that he didn't really need anything to enhance his bargaining position as he enters a contract year. But then the Pro Football Focus website rated him as the NFL's best offensive lineman in 2014 … by a wide margin. So, yes, he's in an especially great position to bargain.

That could be one explanation for the lack of a deal so far. Also, while there's no doubt whatsoever that the Ravens want Yanda as the centerpiece of their line going forward, they do have another highly-regarded guard, Kelechi Osemele, who is four years younger.

With Osemele also set to become a free agent after the 2015 season, there is speculation that the team won't be able to afford both. We'll see. Regardless, Yanda didn't sound concerned about his situation when he spoke to reporters at the mandatory minicamp last month.

"We'll get it done when we get it done. I'm not too worried about it," he said.

But again, the clock is ticking.

– Are certain key players coming back from injuries/surgeries going to be 100 percent from the get-go?

The Ravens' list of players coming back from physical setbacks is lengthy, headed by Jimmy Smith (foot), linebacker C.J. Mosley (wrist), tackle Rick Wagner (foot) and center Jeremy Zuttah (hip). Smith was on the field at times during mandatory minicamp, an encouraging sign, but he exhibited caution. Mosley was limited, Wagner and Zuttah unseen.

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh has expressed optimism about them and others making comebacks, but training camp will offer a clearer indication of their various prognoses.

– Is there a starting tight end in the house?

The Ravens are deep in possibilities at the position with Crockett Gillmore, a 2014 third-round pick; Maxx Williams, a 2015 second-round pick; Nick Boyle, a 2015 fifth-round pick; and Dennis Pitta, a former prime target trying to come back from a back-to-back hip surgeries.

But Pitta's status is unclear, Williams and Boyle are rookies, and while Gillmore came on strong at the end of last season, he is known more for his blocking. It remains to be seen if one steps forward and becomes the productive target the team needs.

– Is the secondary really fixed?

The organization worked hard to patch its biggest hole, signing safety Kendrick Lewis and cornerback Kyle Arrington. Those additions, Jimmy Smith's return and renewed health for Lardarius Webb and Asa Jackson are expected to produce better results, along with hoped-for improvement from Matt Elam and other younger players such as cornerbacks Tray Walker and Rashaan Melvin providing depth.

It all looks good on paper and sounds good in theory, but at the risk of being a killjoy, the Ravens felt good about signing veteran safety Michael Huff to fill a hole a few years ago and that didn't pan out. And of course, any injuries would test the unit's depth.

My two cents is GM Ozzie Newsome stacked the unit with enough capable players to withstand injuries and/or disappointing performances, but as Harbaugh often says, we'll learn more "when the pads come on."

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