Top 5 Questions After Ravens' Coaching Shakeup
The Ravens jumped into the coaching carousel Thursday, and they'll need to take a few more laps on the ride as they fill some vacant spots.
To sum up the moves, the Ravens hired former Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman. The Bills turned around and reportedly plucked two Ravens assistants in Secondary Coach Leslie Frazier and Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo.
That leaves the Ravens likely looking to fill three coaching roles: quarterbacks, offensive line and secondary coaches.
Let's take a look at five questions after what The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec called Thursday's "modest staff shakeup."
*1) What will Roman's role be if he's not the run-game coordinator?
Roman was hired as the team's senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach, which was not expected or reported. It was widely believed he would be the run-game coordinator, but that doesn't mean he still won't have an impact on the run game.
The depth of his responsibilities aren't completely known, but he can, and probably will, still influence the rushing attack. But it will happen from a larger role that incorporates more duties, including game planning. In Roman's five seasons as an offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers and Bills, his units have never ranked lower than eighth in rushing.
"Roman … is expected to play a significant role in the design and execution of the team's running schemes," wrote Zrebiec.
While Roman brings plenty of game-planning experience, which will help both in the rushing and passing games, that should not be confused with play calling. Roman will help shape the game plan, with Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg leading the way and calling the plays.
"The Ravens were too pass-happy last year," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown. "That is not in] Roman’s DNA. His [belief] in the running game should help the Ravens [achieve the play-calling balance they sorely need."
2) What led to Castillo's reported departure?
The Ravens nor Bills have confirmed the news, but The Sun reports Castillo will join Head Coach Sean McDermott's staff in Buffalo after the two worked together in Philadelphia. Castillo will essentially have the same role he's had in Baltimore as the offensive line coach, and also the run-game coordinator in 2013.
Fan questions immediately surfaced as to why Castillo is reportedly leaving. Was he fired? Did he leave on his own?
"T]he [primary reason behind Castillo’s departure [isn't] immediately clear," Zrebiec wrote.
However, earlier in the day, before Castillo was rumored to be leaving, Zrebiec wondered whether the presence of three (and maybe four) strong minds in Mornhinweg, Roman, Castillo and a quarterbacks coach would create "too many voices" in the game-planning process. We don't know if that was the motivation for either Castillo or the Ravens to move on.
3) Now that Dennison is free, could the Ravens scoop him up?
Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison will not be retained by Vance Joseph, the Broncos' new head coach, according to The Denver Post. That frees him up for a new post.
Since the season ended, the media has speculated about Dennison returning to Baltimore in a variety of roles. At first, some thought he could be the offensive coordinator. When the Ravens retained Mornhinweg, the new idea was for him to become the quarterbacks coach again, a post he held in 2014 when Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator.
"Dennison worked really well with Flacco in 2014," wrote Zrebiec yesterday morning. "Such a move could take a little while. Dennison has other things on his mind as his father, George, passed away last week."
Now, the new idea is to bring Dennison in to replace Castillo.
4) Frazier is a big loss; who can replace him?
ESPN's reported departure of Frazier is looked upon as a big loss for the Ravens, but it was hardly a surprise given his resume as a three-time defensive coordinator.
His emphasis on ball-hawking seemed to hit home as the Ravens went from having a franchise-low six interceptions in 2015 to a league-high 18 picks in 2016.
"Frazier's work with the Ravens secondary in 2016 was a key reason for that unit’s improvement," added Brown. "Frazier worked extensively with rookie cornerback Tavon Young, who became an immediate contributor. During games, Frazier's experience in the coaching box upstairs made Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees comfortable enough to coach from the sidelines, where he could communicate directly with players."
Zrebiec noted that Frazier's role could be filled by an in-house candidate. A logical choice could be Chris Hewitt, who has been the team's defensive backs coach for the last two seasons.
5) Will any more Ravens assistants leave?
While the Ravens are looking to add quarterbacks, offensive line and secondary coaches, even more spots could open up.
Newly-hired head coaches around the league are still putting together their staffs, and the San Francisco 49ers will get into the mix once they name their next head coach. Don't be surprised if another Ravens assistant gets a promotion elsewhere.
"I]t wouldn’t surprise me if Linebackers Coach Don Martindale [garners some interest for a vacant defensive coordinator post," wrote Zrebiec. "Martindale, the Broncos defensive coordinator in 2010 under Josh McDaniels, is a widely-respected coach and a potential successor to Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr getting All-Pro recognition is a testament to the job Martindale did this past season."
Williams, Wagner On Top-25 Free Agents List
It's nice for players to be named in lists like this, but for the organization that hopes to retain them, it's not so nice.
Defensive tackle Brandon Williams and right tackle Rick Wagner were named as two of the top-25 players scheduled to hit the free market in March, coming in at No. 9 and No. 24, respectively.
"Williams is a one-man solution to your favorite team's run-stopping problems," wrote NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal. "Damon Harrison paved the way last season for nose tackles to get paid like pass rushers."
Harrison's deal was reportedly worth $30 million over the first three years with $24 million guaranteed and an average of $9.25 million per year. If Williams commands dollars like that, it will be very difficult for the Ravens to retain him.
"Only time and God can tell if I will return to the Ravens," Williams told The Sun when the season ended. "I appreciate what the Ravens have done for me, especially Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh. We'll just see how it goes."
Meanwhile,* *Rosenthal believes a "consistent, quality" player like Wagner could be worth north of $10 million per season in this market.
One of the Ravens' priorities this offseason is to bulk up the offensive line. They already have several key pieces in rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley, rookie left guard Alex Lewis and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.
The Ravens will likely try to retain Wagner, but they may have to find a new right tackle and it's speculated they want to get bigger at center too.
Don't Read Too Much Into Ozzie Not Saying Pass Rusher Is A Priority
General Manager Ozzie Newsome surprised a lot of people when he answered a question at the season-review press conference Tuesday about what he sees as the top roster needs this offseason.
He left pass rusher off the list.
He named three other needs: improved depth in the secondary, a bigger and stronger offensive line and a complementary wide receiver.
"I wouldn’t make too much out of [his answer]," wrote Zrebiec. "He later talked about the team's interest in adding a pass rusher. Newsome surely saw the same thing everybody else saw with the team's inability to get to the quarterback down the stretch.
"However, Newsome has to be realistic. There's not a ton of impact pass rushers that will hit the free agent market because teams recognize the importance of the role and don't often let stud pass rushers get away. The top pass rushers also figure to go pretty early in this year's draft. We'll see how things unfold, but it's hard to foresee the Ravens not making a meaningful addition at outside linebacker."