Since the 2014 league year began 12 days ago, the Ravens have avoided acting impetuously and have stayed true to who they are. They have signed or re-signed very good players at the right price. They addressed concerns by mostly retaining their own.
Keeping your own players eliminates the hassle of learning and comprehending a new playbook and verbiage. Keeping your own players provides an organization the opportunity to maintain and build upon team chemistry.
But is Baltimore being able to retain players like Eugene Monroe, Dennis Pitta and Daryl Smith a good thing in the long run? Sure the team and the players are familiar with each other now, but in terms of how the league operates and how games are mostly won, do those players give the Ravens the best chance to win?
How do teams in today’s NFL win games? Passing, converting third downs, scoring touchdowns (in the red zone), and not turning the ball over. Last year Baltimore ranked 18th, 20th, T-30th, and 22nd respectively in those categories. These are basic areas in which a seasoned team like the Ravens should excel.
How does Baltimore get back to its winning ways? How can they improve their performance in those key categories?
Re-signing Monroe (and giving him a full offseason with the team) helps the Ravens’ pass game, as, in theory, Joe Flacco will have more than two seconds to read the defense and deliver a pass. Re-signing Pitta greatly improves Baltimore’s chances of converting more than just 36 percent of its third downs and scoring more than just 26 offensive touchdowns. Re-signing Smith should help the Ravens cause more turnovers as they once again have a dependable defensive signal caller who knows their defense.
What about Baltimore’s offensive line? It did not do well at all last year. How can that unit continue to improve?
On Sunday the Ravens filled one big hole on their offensive line when they acquired Jeremy Zuttah from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2015 draft choice. According to The Sun’s Aaron Wilson, Zuttah will sign a brand new, long-term, cap-friendly deal with the Ravens. Zuttah, like Ray Rice, played at Rutgers and was a member of the 2008 NFL Draft class.
Improving the center position leaves Baltimore with two other areas to address: find a right tackle and a quick slot receiver.
Kelechi Osemele could play right tackle but the consensus opinion is that his best fit is at left guard. If it’s not broken don’t fix it, and “KO” at left guard is not broken.
Slot receiver Brandin Cooks should be available when the Ravens make the 17th selection in the first round of this year’s draft. Cooks caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns at Oregon State last year. At the NFL Combine he ran the 2nd-fastest 40-yard dash (4.33 seconds) among all participants. Cooks also won the 2013 Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation’s best receiver.
If Cooks isn’t in the Ravens plans, perhaps they might draft USC’s Marqise Lee. At Southern Cal., Lee displayed top-tier athleticism and an advanced knowledge of the game. He “gets it.”
If Baltimore chooses to select a receiver in the later rounds, keep an eye on Alabama’s Kevin Norwood. He reminds me of Anquan Boldin by how he performs in the clutch and can be counted on to make plays in tight spaces.
Even if the Ravens fulfill all of their needs this offseason, they’ll still have to win on the field. Fulfilling needs doesn’t always equal wins.
While Baltimore’s recent personnel moves has the franchise pointed in the right direction, the finish line is a long way away.
There’s a lot of work yet to be done.