The 2009 offseason for the Baltimore Ravens could prove to be one of Ozzie Newsome’s most memorable and add significantly to his illustrious tenure as the Ravens’ general manager. It could also add an undesirable black eye to a relatively unblemished resume. That’s what happens after a team knocks on the door of a Super Bowl berth and then is forced to deal with the threat of losing marquee franchise players such as Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.
Clearly the pressure is on the Ravens’ front office to produce. Time will tell if they do.
Until such time, we ponder some of the questions and challenges facing the Ravens leading up to and during the free agency period which begins on February 26, 2009.
1. Borrowing from the injury report terminology, label each of the Ravens’ key free agents probable, questionable, doubtful or out for the ’09 season (Probable is 75 percent, Questionable is 50 percent, Doubtful is 25 percent)
Ray Lewis: Questionable
Terrell Suggs: Probable
Jason Brown: Questionable/Probable
Bart Scott: Doubtful/out
Jim Leonhard: Probable
Matt Stover: Probable
2. Some Ravens that are under contract for the ’09 season could be released anyway. Using the injury report scale again what are the chances that the following players will return?
Todd Heap: Probable
Chris McAlister: Out/Doubtful
Samari Rolle: Doubtful/Out
Willis McGahee: Probable
Frank Walker: Probable/Questionable
Willie Anderson: Probable
Yamon Figurs: Questionable/Doubtful
Daniel Wilcox: Out
3. Is there any scenario in which you could see Kyle Boller returning to the Ravens in 2009 and if not do you think they could make a play for a veteran quarterback to serve as Joe Flacco’s back up?
I don’t see it happening since Kyle Boller would like a fresh start even though he has a lot of good friends on the team and likes it here in Baltimore. I’ve heard they were happy with Todd Bouman’s work as a mentor, but wouldn’t mind adding a younger veteran to work with Joe Flacco.
4. Have we seen the last of the Suggs Package?
Not necessarily, but I don’t think it will ever be used very often again. Its effectiveness diminished greatly as more defenses adjusted to the basics of the scheme, which is Troy Smith running a quarterback keeper or executing an option play.
5. With the departure of Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine, what noticeable differences will we see from the Ravens defense?
I am still learning about Greg Mattison’s tendencies and I’m under the impression right now that he may blitz as much if not more than Ryan. He’s very aggressive by nature. I think he’ll try to work the edges with more outside pressure because that was a tenet of the Florida Gators’ defense, utilizing the speed of their defensive ends and outside linebackers. Losing Pettine takes away a cerebral element to the Ravens, but new linebackers coach Vic Fangio is a very sharp cookie, too.
6. We often hear that Ray Lewis brings intangibles that are hard to quantify. We see him encouraging and rallying his teammates on TV and in NFL highlights. Clearly that seems to rally the fans but do you think that really inspires Ray’s teammates, particularly the seasoned ones or do they just brush it aside as Ray being Ray?
I think a lot of the Ravens are genuinely admiring of Ray Lewis. However, there have been a few over the years with an independent nature that have tuned him out a bit. Adalius Thomas fits into that category. Ed Hartwell was another prime example of that.
7. Do you expect the Ravens to be an aggressive player in free agency or do you think the approach will be to seek second tier value picks like they did in ’08 with players like Leonhard, Walker, Anderson and Lorenzo Neal?
I think they may have enough salary-cap space to do more than just retain the majority of their own guys. However, they may not find this market worth spending big money on once the franchise tags and re-signings start later this month and the free agent class diminishes. To borrow a Ray Lewis catch phrase, bottom line, I think they are relegated to wisely retaining their own and perhaps making a few bargain signings.
8. Do you expect the Ravens to use the franchise tag and if so, who is the most likely target?
I expect Terrell Suggs to be the franchise player if they use the tag at all. There are scenarios where they may not use the tag at all if they can re-sign Suggs and decide to let Ray Lewis test free agency or move on.
9. If Jason Brown leaves, do you think the Ravens hand the center position to Chris Chester or might they look elsewhere?
I think Chris Chester would inherit the job for at least one season. They were impressed with his work after initial skepticism when Marshal Yanda tore up his knee. If Brown demands top dollar, I could see the Ravens making a tough decision and letting him go.
10. Do you expect Ed Reed to be at 100% by opening day ’09?
No. I think the nerve impingement issue will linger barring some sort of breakthrough in his rehabilitation and exercises. I’m taking him at his word that a surgery would potentially be career-ending. Of course, it’s possible that Reed could continue to improve with rest throughout the offseason while maintaining his conditioning standards.
11. What is Dan Cody up to these days and will he ever play again in your opinion?
I haven’t heard anything recently about Dan Cody, but he wasn’t signed or brought in to try out for any teams. If he wants to pursue it, I think his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, could line up at least an invitation to training camp and one more chance to prove that he can stay healthy and realize his potential. It’s a true shame what happened to Cody, but he just couldn’t do one of the most important things in football: stay healthy.
12. How are some of the injured Ravens rehabilitating?
Gregg: According to Gregg, he’s on target for training camp. His microfracture surgery was a successful one. He said it "bled well," meaning the scar tissue has a chance to fill in and simulate the cartilage that he had lost.
Edwards: Recovered from back surgery, said he’s on target to play next season.
Landry: Hopeful of playing again, but hasn’t been cleared for contact due to lingering tingling sensations in his neck following his scary spinal cord concussion. This is a concern and makes retaining Jim Leonhard a priority. I’ve heard they plan to have Leonhard, if he’s back, compete with Landry in training camp for the starting job.
McAlister: Off crutches, recovering well from a successful knee surgery performed by a leading orthopedic surgeon and should be able to play for his new team next season.
Sypniewski: Had major reconstructive surgery to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament; rehabbing like crazy to be ready for next season and should be able to participate in some way during minicamps, probably just individual drills.
Martin: Had a good surgery to repair his torn labrum. Said he should be back by minicamps. No longer wearing a sling and has been strengthening his shoulder.
Williams: About six weeks out from running again after having bone spurs removed from his heel and work done on his Achilles’ tendon. He says he should be ready by minicamps for at least individual drills.
Burgess: Was healthy enough that he could have played by the end of the season if he hadn’t been placed on injured reserve. Not sure if he’s in the plans, though.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.