The NFL offseason is underway and the Ravens brass is already three weeks behind most teams in the planning for 2013 and beyond.
Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome have already said they will not revisit the mass contract extensions and restructuring of veterans that happened after Super Bowl XXXV. Fans will remember after the 2001 season that the Owings Mills complex looked like a slaughter house, as so many veterans had to be cut to get under the salary cap that the Ravens were left with only 34 players remaining under contract.
But this year I think they can restructure contracts in isolated cases. A lot of tough decisions have to be made and this offseason might make winning the Super Bowl look easy by comparison.
It all starts with the no-brainer of the bunch, Joe Flacco. We need him signed to a long term deal as soon as it is advantageous to the Ravens. Other high-priced quarterbacks may have their contracts lowered to meet the cap realities of their own teams, so it may pay the Ravens to wait until the last minute to apply the tag to Joe.
But either franchise tag that doesn’t turn into a long-term deal is disastrous for the future of the Ravens.
Nothing I’m about to write makes sense if the Ravens give Joe the franchise tag, especially the exclusive variety, and then can’t get him signed. The Ravens will start dropping players like flies to make the cap number. It is going to be hard enough as it is.
Free Agents to Re-sign
Dannell Ellerbe: Ray Lewis has left the building and the return of Jameel McClain from a neck injury is problematic. We need a reliable replacement. Dannell is everything that Ray used to be….an inside force that is big, fast, a sure tackler, and is comfortable in pass coverage, defending the run, and rushing the passer. The Ravens will miss Ray’s passion and presence, but surely not his play.
Bryant McKinnie: He showed his value once he got out John Harbaugh’s doghouse. But his re-signing is also problematic for three reasons: His game day checks were garnished all year and he’s definitely looking to get paid next season. Second, his play during the postseason may have priced him out of the Ravens’ budget. Third, he may eat his way out of shape like he did this year.
I wouldn’t mind having Ed Reed back for another year- or two. He doesn’t tackle anymore and he freelances too much, but he retains that unbelievable nose for the ball. However…..to stay in Baltimore he’s finally going to have to obey the Law of Ozzie: Right Player, Right Price.
It’s the latter that has me worried since, with Ed, it’s always been about the money.
Anquan Boldin must stay. Redo his contract, extend it, or whatever. The brass said they were not going to make the mistakes of 2001 contracts but I would make the exception for Anquan and for Jacoby Jones (see below). Fans talk about the connection between Joe and Torrey Smith and Jones and they are legitimate long ball threats, but it was “Q” who made the clutch catches in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl games.
Jacoby Jones gained 290 all-purpose yards and one could make a legitimate argument that the Super Bowl MVP trophy went to the wrong player. He’s simply too valuable both as a returner and wideout.
Dennis Pitta, Arthur Jones, and Morgan Cox are all restricted free agents this year. Pitta, in particular, had a strong year and is another one of Flacco’s “go to” guys. The Ravens must take care that they don’t low ball Pitta in making an offer. Jones is a rising force on the defensive line which has turned out to be a position of need.
Restructure the Deal
In addition to Boldin and Jones, players such as Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Marshall Yanda, Michael Oher and Jameel McClain are candidates for restructured deals.
I know, I know….just say’in.
Let ‘Em Walk
Cary Williams turned down a 3-year 15 million dollar contract back in the fall. While his play improved during the course of the year his practice of playing off receivers and keeping his back to the ball cost the Ravens too much easy yardage. We have enough assets at the cornerback position to worry about keeping him. Enjoy free agency, Cary.
His play this year guarantees that Paul Kruger will make a lot of money for himself in 2013 and beyond. Unfortunately, we can’t keep both Kruger and Ellerbe. Paul deserves to be paid and he will be, but it won’t be by the Ravens.
Vonta Leach, Matt Birk, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Jameel McClain and Terrence Cody.
Leach is a beast, but the fullback position is slowly disappearing in the NFL.
After 14 years of play, six Pro Bowls, and finally a Super Bowl ring, Matt Birk is now in a position to retire and enjoy life. The Ravens should make that happen.
Brendan Ayanbadejo is a liability at linebacker and is no longer a special teams ace.
Jameel McClain is tough player but his medical prognosis is not sounding good. An injury settlement might be in the best interest of the Ravens.
Terrence Cody is turning out to be one of Newsome’s rare mistakes. Together with Sergio Kindle, the 2010 draft of Cody and Kindle might be viewed as a total wipeout except for the contributions of the lower round selections of Pitta, Dickson, and Arthur Jones, all of whom contributed in various degrees to the Ravens’ success this year.
This is all uninformed speculation on my part. I’m pretty sure most of my projections (or maybe eve none of them) will be addressed in the way I outlined them above. No doubt the Ravens have projected several models of what the squad will look like based on when and for how much Flacco is signed for.
Once again I will trust in Ozzie and this anxious fan will impatiently wait for mid-March to see how all this falls out.