All eyes are on the Ravens offense heading into the offseason. That’s certainly no surprise, considering that they ranked near the bottom of the league in just about every category.
The offensive product the 2013 Ravens put on the field was, in all honesty, quite offensive. The run game lacked, the protection of the franchise quarterback was putrid and the lack of production in the red zone was mind numbing.
But what about on the defensive side of the football?
The NFL has become an offense-driven league and it’s certainly not breaking news that teams are focusing on that side of the football more nowadays then ever before.
2014 could be an interesting year for a Ravens team that devoted much of last year’s offseason to shoring up the defense. But did they do enough?
Of the Ravens’ top ten tacklers in 2013 it is possible – depending the decisions made – that the team could potentially be without seven of them in 2014 due to free agency or salary cap casualties.
Daryl Smith (123 total tackles), James Ihedigbo (98), Corey Graham (67) and Arthur Jones (52) are all pending free agents.
Terrell Suggs (80), Haloti Ngata (53) and Jameel McClain (52) could all find themselves as cap casualties this offseason if the Ravens choose to do so.
The Ravens have long held on to the manta of “next man up,” and if the above rings true, they could find themselves with gaping holes on the defense in those positions. Lets face it – no one is waiting in the wings ready to light it up.
The most concerning and toughest loss the Ravens will most likely incur will be that of of Arthur Jones. The Syracuse product turned in one of his best seasons for the purple and black and it’s likely the team won’t be able to afford to keep him.
According to the 2013 depth chart, behind Jones was rookie Brandon Williams, who played just 121 snaps all season and recorded just six total tackles. However, DeAngelo Tyson was a pleasant surprise working himself into the defensive line rotation in his second season. He picked up two sacks and an interception, and will likely be counted on along with Williams to help the team absorb Jones’ loss.
Mike linebacker Daryl Smith is a must re-sign for the Ravens in 2014. Smith, the Ravens’ leading tackler, provided a smooth transition in 2013 in the team’s first year without Ray Lewis. His veteran experience helped out tremendously. Back-up Albert McClellan – who himself is a restricted free agent in 2014 – played just five defensive snaps last season; however, he is a strong presence on special teams where he played 336 snaps.
When asked about the Ravens’ biggest needs entering the offseason, one of the things general manager Ozzie Newsome said was “I think we need to have a more athletic safety.”
That statement alone spells trouble for strong safety James Ihedigbo. It looks as if the team will opt to go with Elam at the position, which is his natural spot. The free safety spot is in question however and it will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle it due to the fact that both of Elam’s back-ups – Omar Brown and Brynden Trawick – are exclusive rights free agents.
Corey Graham had a pretty decent year for the Ravens’ ever improving secondary. His four interceptions led the team and his 67 tackles were sixth on the team. With Webb and Jimmy Smith locked in, the Ravens would love to have Graham back but he may draw bigger money from another team. Reserves Chykie Brown (38 defensive snaps) and Asa Jackson (0 defensive snaps) are both under contract and could find themselves with big shoes to fill if Graham doesn’t return.
The Ravens appear to be in active discussions with linebacker Terrell Suggs regarding his contract situation. While the team made it clear they will not restructure player contracts they are open to contract extensions. If Suggs doesn’t agree to the extension the Ravens could once again be facing pass rush issues. Suggs finished 2013 with 10 sacks and 80 total tackles. The team could opt for an increased role for back-up Pernell McPhee who played 304 defensive snaps in 2013 and 21 tackles.
Haloti Ngata could face the same fate as Suggs; however, it’s highly unlikely the Ravens part ways with him. Releasing Ngata prior to June 1 would provide only $1M in Salary Cap savings, but would cause $15M in dead money to hit against the Cap. With back-up Terrence Cody a free agent (bon voyage), expect to see Haloti back again in 2014.
Finally, rounding out the Ravens top ten tacklers is linebacker Jameel McClain. McClain is likely to be a casualty in the offseason due to the high base salary he is due to make ($3.2 M). Coming back from a severe spinal injury McClain played admirable 369 snaps. While they may decide to keep McClain, 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown is waiting in the wings. Brown had a up and down season and by all accounts had trouble earning his way on the field, playing just 207 snaps and recording 11 total tackles. No doubt the team will expect a marked improvement from him in his second season.
Obviously the Ravens have a plan for both sides of the ball this offseason and it’s likely that some – not all – of the above mentioned players will not return. The Ravens defense played hard in 2013 but the one hang up was getting stops late in the game when it mattered the most. Now we can make excuse for them about the offense having too many three and outs and they were tired or they missed Ray and Ed etc… but they weren’t infallible.
While all signs point to the offense being a key focal point this offseason, the Ravens can’t lose sight of securing their defense. After all what good is it if you can score 30 points but give up 31? Those of us who were fans of the Ravens in the early days can certainly answer that one!
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