The Ravens had one of the best secondaries in the NFL this year, in part because they also had the most resources committed to it.
This offseason, with much of the secondary in place and a young nucleus on offense, Baltimore will turn its focus to improving its front seven – the defensive line and linebackers – even with some top players scheduled to hit free agency.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said adding specific positions and skillsets in the front seven will be "really critical."
"We're not going to try to weaken ourselves in the secondary, but we can focus on the front seven," Harbaugh said.
"We know with our scheme and the way that we get attacked, we know the kind of player that we want. So, it'll narrow the focus even more, both in free agency and the draft, and we'll try to get two or three guys, maybe four."
There could be a fair amount of turnover for a second straight year. The Ravens' prospective unrestricted free agents include outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who led the team in sacks (9.5), defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who is a premier run-stopper, defensive end Jihad Ward, who highly impressed after signing midway through the year, and veteran inside linebacker Josh Bynes, who stabilized the unit on the fly.
Last year, Baltimore lost four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, all-time franchise sack leader Terrell Suggs and up-and-coming pass rushing standout Za'Darius Smith in free agency.
The Ravens more than got by with their replacements, but it wasn't easy. Baltimore patched it up on the fly, signing Bynes and L.J. Fort, Ward, and defensive tackles Domata Peko and Justin Ellis all midseason.
At outside linebacker, Tim Williams didn't pan out and was released in early October. Fellow third-year pass rusher Tyus Bowser stepped up with five sacks, and rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson was thrust into a starting role.
All in all, the Ravens were still stout up front. The defense ranked fifth-overall against the run. But the monster playoff showing from Titans running back Derrick Henry, as well as some other outbursts allowed this season, did show there's room to upgrade.
The bigger issue was in getting to the quarterback. The Ravens blitzed more than any other team in the league, yet ranked 21st in sacks (37). Baltimore had just five sacks from its defensive linemen.
"We have to get better just to stay the same, start with that. And then we do want to get better," Harbaugh said. "We want to improve that part of it. That's really something that's going to be a target for us. We're very specific."
The Ravens were interested in bolstering the unit last offseason. For example, Baltimore hosted Pro Bowl veteran Gerald McCoy, but he ultimately chose the Carolina Panthers. Baltimore could not only use more prowess coming off the edge but would benefit greatly from more interior pressure.
It sounded like Harbaugh would be very interested in bringing Ward back after the Ravens inked him midseason.
"This guy is a great fit in our defense," Harbaugh said. "We liked him coming out of the draft. I remember our scouts liked him and our coaches liked him. I liked him. And then all of a sudden from a turn of events, he's sitting there staring you in the face, and then you're like, 'Well, is he going to work for us?' Man, he came up aces.
"All the players up front did a great job. You can go to Jihad and L.J., and Matt Judon had his best season. Brandon Williams was dominant, so was Michael Pierce. But all of those guys have different situations and statuses going forward. So we have to get better just to stay the same, start with that."