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The folks out in Owings Mills are a little restless these days after an abrupt end to the 2006 season and there’s little doubt that Ravens’ management will have plenty on their minds.
Adalius Thomasâ€™ contract status will be a hotly debated topic until it is resolved. Both sides have valid arguments to present during the negotiations. AD and his agent Bus Cook could point to ADâ€™s value over the past three seasons and to his status as not just a Pro Bowler, but that of an All-Pro as well.
They could make the claim and with reason, that AD is arguably the most vital piece to an athletic and highly dynamic defense. Just ask Rex Ryan:
"Adalius has the flexibility to play defensive tackle sometimes, defensive end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, a dime back, so you know he can line up all over the place and I think that’s something that very few people in the league have –that flexibility and we’re fortunate to have him obviously."
Clearly AD is still in his prime. The question is, â€œFor how long?â€
Just as clear is what side in the discussions holds the upper hand â€“ Ozzie Newsome. While the Ravens are reluctant to use the franchise tag on any player, particularly the exemplary player that AD is both on and off the field, the NFL is a business. Just ask the players, their agents and NFL executives who remind us of this fact more than we care to hear it.
But if at the end of the protracted negotiating sessions the Ravens somehow decide that for the long-term benefit of the team AD is no longer the "right player, right price", how good will AD be elsewhere?
Conventional thinking is that the 49ers are a great match for AD given their ample cap space (roughly $40 million) and Mike Nolanâ€™s familiarity with the multi-dimensional backer. But is that enough for Thomas to produce the same results on the field at Old Candlestick as heâ€™s done here in Baltimore? Is ADâ€™s effectiveness a product of the Ravensâ€™ system? Are his talents simply the complementary match to the others that are part of the Ravensâ€™ defense?
Could the whole be that much greater than the sum of the parts?
Rex Ryan, the director of â€œthe wholeâ€ and conductor of the orchestra also known as the NFLâ€™s number one defense hasnâ€™t had a sniff at another head coaching vacancy. Ryan has pedigree, heâ€™s produced in a defensive system that has graduated other NFL coaches who have had success (Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Mike Nolan) and he is well liked and respected by players.
Why is it that Chicagoâ€™s Ron Rivera is any better, judging from the interest in him? What about Minnesotaâ€™s Mike Tomlin who is heading to Pittsburgh to take over for the recently departed Bill Cowher? What does he bring that Rex Ryan doesnâ€™t bring?
Might other GMâ€™s be concerned that Ryanâ€™s success has more to do with the athletes available to him here in Baltimore that are not part of the landscape in any other NFL city?
The silence surrounding Ryanâ€™s candidacy if not deafening is certainly puzzling.
Another puzzling situation in Ravensâ€™ camp centers on the future status of Jonathan Ogden. Most would say that the Ravens are just too close to being a Super Bowl Champion given the teamâ€™s current composition and as a result, the conclusion is that Ogden will return.
I wouldnâ€™t be too sure.
Ogden feels a strong patriarchal responsibility to his family given the loss of his Dad in the summer of 2006. He no longer needs football to sustain his standard of living. He has achieved just about everything that an NFL player could hope to achieve.
Does Ogdenâ€™s desire to compete and take another shot at a second ring place his feeling of duty aside temporarily?
Word is that Ogden could lean that way if a couple of his teammates with whom he is close, stick around for another season. It is the opinion of some that should the Ravens part ways with either Edwin Mulitalo or Mike Flynn, it could sway Ogden to hang up his spikes once and for all.
Another Raven they may have worn the purple and black for the last time is Jamal Lewis. Lewisâ€™ play has dropped off markedly since 2003 and it will be an offseason priority for the Ravens to revitalize the running game. Lewis averaged 3.5 yards per carry over the past two seasons and heâ€™s only had 6 runs of more than 20 yards during that time despite 583 attempts.
Some believe that Lewis still can be a serviceable back in a reduced role.
Clearly the Ravens need to strike fear in opponents much more than they do today offensively. Lewis, once a home run threat, is no longer the explosive player that he was. Couple this with the Ravens apparent unwillingness to take vertical shots in the air and defenses compress the area within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage when the Ravens have the football. Thereâ€™s little margin for error and this could help to explain their troubles in the red zone where Lewisâ€™ average falls to 3.1 yards per carry.
The Ravens ranked 28th in the league in red zone offense ahead of only the 49ers, Lions, Packers and Raiders. Of all the other playoff teams, only the Jets (21) ranked lower than 18th in the league. Two of the top 5 in red zone efficiency were still standing during championship weekend (Indianapolis and New England).
Certainly Lewis is not the only culprit or even the main culprit in the Ravens red zone woes. Yet there are some other alarming numbers from Lewis that place the Ravens at a distinct disadvantage.
Lewis has the reputation of wearing down opponents yet the statistics tell a different story. Lewis averaged only 2.9 yards per carry between his 21st and 30th attempts. Overall in the fourth quarter he averaged 3.1 yards per carry and that number falls to 2.6 yards per carry when the gameâ€™s outcome is within 7 points. On third down Lewis averaged only 1.9 yards per carry.
The tread has worn thin and it now appears that itâ€™s time for Lewis to carry on or become the teamâ€™s spare tire.
It will be some time before the Ravens’ nest settles.