Late For Work 1/4: 10 Big Questions For Ravens Offseason

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10 Big Questions Of Ravens Offseason

As the Ravens begin the journey of turning a 5-11 team back into a Super Bowl contender, this is one of the most crucial offseasons in franchise history.

They may not be too far off from returning to form as a whopping 14 of the Ravens' 16 games were decided by one possession, despite the team enduring a franchise record 20 players on injured reserve. The defense was also ascending by season's end.

"Injuries played a part in the team's demise this season, but as it turned out, this was a flawed team with not enough playmakers," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "Ozzie Newsome and company need to change that."

Head Coach John Harbaugh and his squad played with inspiring heart and effort, but they'll want to add the pieces that will transform that effort into victories.

That work begins now.

Harbaugh will have a final team meeting Monday afternoon, the top decision makers (Owner Steve Bisciotti, Newsome, Harbaugh, President Dick Cass, and others) will hold their annual offseason meeting, free agency begins March 15 and Baltimore will have the No. 6 overall pick when the NFL Draft begins in April.

"Ozzie Newsome, you're on the clock," wrote The Sun's Ron Fritz. "This offseason is possibly the most-important one of your front-office career."

Here are 10 big questions for the crucial offseason ahead:

1) What will Joe Flacco's new negotiated contract look like? Will he return for training camp?
One of the first items on the offseason to-do list will be addressing quarterback Joe Flacco's contract, whose cap hit balloons to a reported $28.55 million. That is the third largest hit in the NFL next season. Flacco's contract is the first domino that will fall this offseason, as it will greatly impact the cap space Newsome & Co. can use to retain their own free agents or bring others in off the market.

"[T]he Ravens need to reduce that before the start of the league year on March 15," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "But it would be a major surprise if the sides can't strike a new deal."

While Flacco lets his agent and the Ravens front office worry about the contract business, the nine-year veteran will be focused on rehabbing his surgically-repaired ACL and MCL. Harbaugh reiterated that Flacco should be back for the start of training camp, provided there are no setbacks. In the meantime, Ryan Mallett did enough in his two-game audition to make him the favorite to back up Flacco in 2016.

"That's a realistic timetable given … the general recovery period is six to nine months," wrote Hensley. "But there is a level of uncertainty because Flacco has never had a significant injury in his football career. If Flacco's recovery stretches to nine months, he would be in danger of missing the season opener."

2) Who will be the left tackle? Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, other?

This one is tricky. Prior to experimenting with Kelechi Osemele at left tackle, he was almost assuredly going to be too expensive to retain. It was widely believed that Baltimore couldn't afford paying top money to another guard, in addition to Marshal Yanda. But if the Ravens feel Monroe is not reliable or durable enough (he's missed 16 games since signing a deal in 2014), they may want to move on and give that money to Osemele.

"I'm still not overly optimistic that the Ravens will be able to re-sign Osemele, but I do think their chances have improved a bit with him moving to left tackle," wrote Zrebiec. "I say that because Osemele has made it clear that he'd like to play left tackle, and that's probably where he now best fits with the Ravens with all the uncertainty about Eugene Monroe. If Osemele wasn't a priority to re-sign before, he certainly should be now."

3) Will the Ravens strike a long-term deal with Justin Tucker or be forced to use the franchise tag?The media consensus here is that the Ravens don't let kicker Justin Tucker out of Baltimore. Either he signs a long-term deal, or Baltimore uses the franchise tag on him.

4) Who will be the cap causalities?

It's inevitable in this league; there are cap casualties every year. We'll dive deeper into these at a later date, but here is Hensley's list of candidates:

LT Eugene Monroe: $2.1 million in cap savings
DE Chris Canty: $2.15 million
RB Justin Forsett: $2.3 million
LB Daryl Smith: $2.625 million
CB Kyle Arrington: $1.43 million
TE Dennis Pitta: $5 million in cap space with a post-June 1 release

5) Will Upshaw find a payday on the market the Ravens won't be able to match?

Outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw insists he hasn't thought much about free agency, and all he's focused on is improving as a player. Known for his edge-setting prowess, Upshaw doesn't have the big sack numbers to command a huge payday on the market.

6) Who will the Ravens target in the draft?

As of Sunday morning, the Ravens had the eighth pick of the draft. By Sunday evening, they moved up to the sixth spot. That means Newsome will enjoy his highest pick in 16 years. Back then, he used the fifth-overall pick on running back Jamal Lewis. Get ready for non-stop speculation on what the "Wizard of Oz" will do with such a valuable asset. Will he nab a corner to pair with Jimmy Smith, add more pass-rush weapons, bring in another receiver or secure Flacco's blindside at left tackle?

One thing's for sure:* *the Ravens need to nail it.

"Rookie first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman didn't play a down," wrote CSNMidatlantic's Bo Smolka. "Neither did 2013 first-round draft pick Matt Elam. Arthur Brown, a second-rounder in 2013, hardly saw the field on defense. The Ravens can and should expect more production from lofty draft picks, and whiffing on high picks has long-term ramifications."

7) What is the future of the wide receiver position with Perriman and Smith Sr. returning from injury?The Ravens will already have plenty of competition at the wide receiver position after so many players got an opportunity with injuries taking a toll on first-round pick Perriman, veteran Steve Smith Sr., Michael Campanaro, rookie Darren Waller and more. With nearly the entire receiving corps set to return (Kamar Aiken is expected to receive a tender offer), will Baltimore learn its lesson from 2015 and add another top weapon to the group?* *

"After letting Torrey Smith walk away in free agency, the Ravens banked on the ageless Smith and the rookie Perriman being the anchors of the passing attack, with players such as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown filling supporting roles," wrote Smolka. "They obviously hoped that Michael Campanaro could stay healthy and contribute. But when first Perriman and then Campanaro and Smith went down for the season, they were ill-prepared. Brown's regression from his rookie season continued, and the Ravens were left to scrape together a receiver corps from the likes of Chris Givens, Chris Matthews, Jeremy Butler and Daniel Brown. In short, those receivers were just good enough for this team to go 5-11."

8) Will Webb move to safety permanently? How would that affect the secondary?

While he said he just wants to help anywhere on the defense, cornerback Lardarius Webb also indicated that his future is at safety. That is where he played for the majority of Sunday's loss to the Bengals. The Ravens already have four safeties under contract next season, including Kendrick Lewis, Will Hill, Terrence Brooks and Matt Elam.

"A permanent move of Webb to safety would make cornerback an even more pressing need this offseason," wrote Zrebiec. "But [Jimmy] Smith's improved play has at least eased some of the angst."

9) Can injured players pick up where they left off?

It will be nice to see key figures like Flacco, Smith, Terrell Suggs, Forsett, Perriman and others return from injury. But it might take some time to knock off the rust. Just yesterday, Jimmy Smith admitted it took him eight or nine games to feel like he was back to his normal self after undergoing foot surgery last offseason.

10) Who will be the playmakers added on each side of the ball?

You can't blame the Ravens' 5-11 record entirely on injuries.

"Find playmakers," wrote Hensley. "The knee-jerk reaction is to blame this dismal season on injuries. But the Ravens were struggling long before eight starters were placed on injured reserve. Baltimore's biggest problem is the lack of players who can change games. On offense, the Ravens produced just six touchdowns of more than 20 yards. On defense, Baltimore forced a team-record low 14 turnovers – eight fewer (22) than any of the 19 previous seasons."

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