Five Key Questions And Suggestions For Ravens Offseason
As the Ravens turn the page from the 2016 season, there are plenty of questions about how the team can improve upon its 8-8 finish and return to the playoffs.
"We have to address some issues," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said after Sunday's season-finale loss. "We have to be honest with ourselves and address those issues if we don't want to be on the outside looking in."
Below are five key questions for the Ravens offseason, and some suggested answers from reporters:
1) What's the biggest change needed on offense?
ESPN's Jamison Hensley: "It's a change that occurs quite frequently in Baltimore -- offensive coordinator. If the Ravens don't keep Marty Mornhinweg, they'll be on their sixth play caller in as many seasons. Baltimore needs someone to get this offense back on track like Gary Kubiak swiftly did in 2014. The Ravens were all out of sorts this season. They abandoned the run and deep passing game."
While this is a popular sentiment around town, quarterback Joe Flacco and tight end Dennis Pitta seemed to indicate in Monday's locker room cleanout that a change at offensive coordinator is not imminent. Flacco said there isn't much uncertainty at the position and he doesn't "anticipate" a change. Pitta said he would prefer consistency; the Ravens have had five offensive coordinators in five seasons.
Head Coach John Harbaugh speaks today at 11 a.m., and will confirm it one way or the other.
Whoever is leading the offense, CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown says that person needs to help Flacco get back on track after an inconsistent 2016 campaign.
"The Flacco of 2012 and 2014 is good enough for the Ravens to do great things," he wrote. "The Flacco of 2016 was not. His decision-making and accuracy regressed this season, and his return from major knee surgery was probably tougher than he would ever admit. That's why the Ravens' choice for an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach is so important. For the next three or four years, with Flacco still in his prime, the Ravens need to get the most out of his talent."
*2) Which of these key free-agent starters are likely gone: DT Brandon Williams, RT Rick Wagner, FB Kyle Juszczyk, DE Lawrence Guy?
Hensley: "[Williams] is the one who has the least chance of coming back. He will probably get a big deal elsewhere, and Baltimore has impressive, undrafted rookie Michael Pierce waiting in the wings. The other key free agents … could all return because none will command top dollar. It might come as a surprise to project the return of Wagner, but a team isn't expected to overpay him like Kelechi Osemele last season."
There are other key players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, including wide receiver Kamar Aiken, safety Matt Elam, quarterback Ryan Mallett and guard Vladimir Ducasse. If the Ravens want them back, they could likely swing it as none of these players are expected to find big paydays on the market. However, Aiken said Monday that 2016 was probably the most frustrating season of his career, and that frustration will play into his free agency decision. He believes he's a starter in this league.*
* 3) Which players are potential cap-casualties?
Hensley: "The big turnover will come in salary-cap cuts. Baltimore can save a whopping $23.3 million in cap space by parting ways with [seven veterans]."
The seven veterans are:
LB Elvis Dumervil: $6 million in savings
S Lardarius Webb: $5.5 million
TE Ben Watson: $3 million
CB Shareece Wright: $2.6 million
C Jeremy Zuttah: $2.3 million
CB Kyle Arrington: $2.1 million
S Kendrick Lewis: $1.8 million
With plenty of moves still to come, the Ravens are currently projected to be tight against the cap and some maneuvering will be necessary to create space. Whether some or all of these players are used to open things up remains to be seen. Dumervil, whose release would create the most space, was asked after the season finale about his future. "Wherever I am, I'll be a beast," he replied.
Many have asked about the status of Pitta, who carries a high $7.7 million salary-cap figure next season. While cutting him would save $3.3 million, it would also create $4.4 million in dead money.
"This is a tough one," wrote Russell Street Report's salary-cap guru Brian McFarland. "Pitta has made an incredible recovery from his two hip injuries and has proven that he can survive an NFL season intact. However, with a $5.5M base salary due in 2017, he too appears to be vulnerable."
*4) How will the backfield look next season?
Hensley: "Terrance West earned a shot to be in the mix next season, and Dixon showed flashes of being a playmaker. But it's unlikely the Ravens will rely solely on the one-two punch of West and Dixon for another season. Both of Baltimore's offensive coordinators this season showed no confidence in them, so it makes no sense to stick with the status quo. … The biggest problems: West lacks consistent explosion (4 yards per carry), and Dixon has issues with injuries (knee twice, chest and sprained hamstring) and pass protection since being drafted in the fourth round eight months ago."
Hensley believes the Ravens could select a running back in the early rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft if a playmaker is available. But whoever is in the backfield, Brown advocates for more balance after the Ravens finished the season 28th in rushing offense while Flacco threw the second most times in the NFL, only behind New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. That lack of balance led to a No. 21 scoring ranking.
"If that happens next season, the Ravens will miss the playoffs again," wrote Brown.
*5) Will the Ravens look to address their one defensive weakness — the pass rush?
Pro Football Focus' John Kosko: "The Baltimore Ravens had a very good defense this year, but they had one glaring weakness—a lack of a consistent pass rush, ranking 30th in our grades as a unit. Outside of Terrell Suggs, the Ravens lacked another above-average pass rusher."
Even if Dumervil doesn't become a cap casualty, his presence likely wouldn't change the idea that Baltimore should try to find another young impact pass rusher. Suggs turns 35 next season and Dumervil turns 33 this month. The Ravens have young developing pass rushers in Matt Judon and Za'Darius Smith, but there could be some intriguing options when the Ravens are on the board at No. 16 in April.
"[They'll have a good opportunity to land a top-tier edge rusher, such as Alabama's Tim Williams, Auburn's Carl Lawson, or Missouri's Charles Harris," wrote Kosko. "Each have graded extremely well the past few years, with Williams generating pressure at a ridiculously high rate of every 3.7 pass rushes. As good as Baltimore's defense was this year, they lacked the finishing punch in the form of a top-tier edge rusher to force the quarterback into bad throws."
Kubiak Announces He's Getting Out Of Coaching
As a follow up to yesterday's exploration of whether the Ravens would call Gary Kubiak after he stepped down as the Broncos' head coach, we have a more definitive idea about his future.
Kubiak held a press conference in Denver Monday morning and made it clear he is getting out of coaching altogether.
Yanda Still Figuring Out Potential Surgery
Guard Marshal Yanda was voted into the Pro Bowl for the sixth time in his career, but his participation in the all-star game is in jeopardy if he has surgery to repair his shoulder. Yanda didn't confirm whether surgery is necessary during the season-ending locker cleanout.
"We don't know yet," he told reporters Monday. "We're figuring that out. We'll figure that out this week."
Yanda did confirm that he will move back to right guard next season. He switched to the left side and started there seven times this season to take advantage of his one good shoulder.
"If Yanda … does undergo an operation in the next few weeks, he would miss the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29 in Orlando," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee. "Yanda couldn't share much about his Pro Bowl plans."