LOMBARDI’S WAY: Tough decisions loom for Ravens

Lombardi's Way LOMBARDI’S WAY: Tough decisions loom for Ravens

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As the sun prematurely sets on the Ravens season, many are looking ahead to 2008.  Will the Ravens make a run at the playoffs in ’08 or will they set their sights on 2009 and beyond?  Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti has stated clearly that he does not intend on operating the Ravens in a cyclical fashion and he wants the team to be competitive year in and year out.  Yet he may have to take a mulligan in 2008.
 
Clearly the Ravens do not have efficient enough play at quarterback to make a playoff push with the current composition of the roster.  Kyle Boller while somewhat more polished than in previous seasons continues to show promising glimpses here and there yet seemingly just a few plays later, he reverts back to the same rookie-like mistakes.  His performance against the Chargers was a microcosm of his up and mostly down five year career.
 
Steve McNair is but a shadow of his former self.  Once considered a solid caretaker of the football, McNair has given away possessions like a Macy’s Store Santa Claus hands out candy canes.
 
The salary cap situation might influence the Ravens to look a bit more beyond 2008 while keeping a watchful eye on Bisciotti’s long-term plan.  Based upon numbers provided by Profootball24x7.com’s Brian McFarland, the Ravens appear to have just over $110M committed toward the 2008 Salary Cap of $116M.  That leaves just under $6M in Salary Cap space to augment the 2008 roster. 
 
What makes that figure even more alarming is that it includes only the 42 players under contract for 2008.  Not included in that number are the team’s 4 Restricted Free Agents and 5 Exclusive Rights Free Agents.  Those tenders will likely eat up that $6M in cap space, leaving the team right up against, or slightly spilling over the Salary Cap cup when the NFL’s hot stove league kicks off. 
 
Clearly the team’s front office will need to be creative in order to re-sign or franchise Terrell Suggs.   From a 2008 salary cap perspective, re-signing Suggs to a long-term deal is fiscally more attractive by leaps and bounds.  A new Suggs deal would likely hit the Ravens cap annually in the 2.5M range, while slapping the franchise tag on Suggs would slap the Ravens back with a cap hit in the $8-10M range in ’08.
 
Perhaps even more disconcerting to Ravens fans is that the projected $110 M salary cap number does not include space to sign the team’s ’08 draft picks.  More and more speculation has surfaced that the Ravens are eyeing a quarterback early in the April draft and with history as an indicator, early first round QB’s are not cheap. 
 
If the current NFL Standings hold true to form by the season’s end, it’s a safe bet that Ozzie Newsome will be on the phone calling in his pick somewhere in the top 10.  As it stands today, the Ravens would be on the clock with what looks like the draft’s eighth overall pick.
 
Teams that would pick ahead of the Ravens if the draft took place today are the Dolphins, Jets, Raiders, Panthers, Falcons, Patriots and Rams.  Of those teams perhaps only the Panthers and the Falcons would consider quarterbacks.  The Patriots will land a high pick as a result of a trade during the ’07 draft with the 49ers.  Keep in mind that the Patriots have always been a friendly draft day trading partner of the Ravens.
 
Moving forward during a season that has yielded unexpectedly poor results, the Ravens might be wise to play their younger and less experienced players.  More significant playing time could help the Ravens more accurately gauge the talent level on the current roster, particularly with some marginal and/or unproven players such as Devard Darling, David Pittman, Ronnie Prude, Antwan Barnes and Troy Smith.
 
Clearly such a strategy makes better long-term sense for the team but don’t expect Brian Billick to cave to such thinking until the team is mathematically eliminated from a playoff berth.  However sitting some of the veterans might provide Billick with a built in excuse for what could be the Ravens worst seasonal record since the Marchibroda years.
 
Many are calling for an immediate change on the Ravens’ sidelines but don’t expect Bisciotti to act on Billick’s fate before the season is out.  Insiders have taken note that Bisciotti spent more time than usual on the field prior to the Ravens v. Browns game and word is that Bisciotti will monitor closely how the Ravens play for Billick down the stretch.  A team that quits on Billick could determine if his tenure ends as the Ravens’ skipper.
 
One popular solution that could keep Billick on the shady sideline of M&T Bank Stadium is for him to relinquish complete control of an abysmal offense and allow a new coordinator to handle play calling duties.  That might be the only way for the defense to buy into the Billick administration for another season. 
 
Yet that’s easier said than done. 
 
Theoretically it could work but practically speaking, how could a new offensive coordinator function with balance and without interference while still reporting to the man formerly known as “Offensive Genius?”
 
A similar strategy hasn’t worked for the team 35 miles south on the Baltimore/Washington Parkway.
 
Why would you expect it to work any better here with a head coach whose ego is infinitely greater than the senior citizen manning the Redskins’ sideline?
 
The answer is, “It won’t!”
 
Pick your poison Mr. Bisciotti.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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