Through choice and necessity, the 2010 Baltimore Ravens are expected to closely mirror the 2009 edition.
The Ravens advanced to the playoffs for the second consecutive year under coach John Harbaugh, falling 20-3 in the AFC division round to the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts.
By making it that far, the Ravens are headed toward an offseason where holding together the roster is the most likely scenario.
“I don’t think there needs to be drastic change,” cornerback Chris Carr said. “I think if you improve on a couple of little things, it would make you a much better football team. If we were better on a couple of little things, we would have beaten the Colts. But we weren’t and they were a better team.
“So, if we improved and everybody keeps the mentality like, ‘Hey, we need to get better,’ and everybody’s hungry, I think we’ll be even better than we were this year. If we do that, I think we can be another Super Bowl contender.”
An overhaul isn’t in the offing, but there will be some tweaks here and there.
The Ravens could use upgrades in the form of an impact wide receiver, a pass rusher and more help in the secondary.
Under the constraints of an uncapped year due to the NFL owners and the players union’s expected inability to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement by the start of the league fiscal year in March, the Ravens are part of the “Final Eight” plan.
According to the rules, divisional playoff teams like the Ravens can sign only one player with a salary of $4.925 million or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no higher than $3.2 million with annual increases of no higher than 30-percent increments in subsequent years. The Ravens would be limited to signing only one unrestricted free agent for every one of their own unrestricted free agents that signs with another team.
Plus, they can’t spend more money on a free agent than what the departed free agent signed for with another franchise.
The Ravens’ unrestricted free agents are wide receivers Derrick Mason, Kelley Washington and David Tyree, tight end L.J. Smith, defensive tackle Justin Bannan and defensive end Dwan Edwards.
And their restricted free agents are wide receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, tackles Adam Terry and Tony Moll, cornerback Fabian Washington, guards Chris Chester and Marshal Yanda, tight end Quinn Sypniewski, kicker Billy Cundiff, punter Sam Koch, quarterback Troy Smith, fullback Le’Ron McClain, safety Dawan Landry, linebacker Antwan Barnes and tackle Jared Gaither.
The Ravens traditionally hold onto the majority of their restricted free agents with various tender levels, granting them the right to match any competing offer sheets.
“The guys who will be back next year will be one year better and one year smarter,” cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “This experience definitely won’t hurt us. It’s not easy to say that right now coming off a loss.”
Free safety Ed Reed and Mason have said they’ll contemplate retirement, but coach John Harbaugh said he has spoken to both players and expects them to return.
Because of the uncapped year, the Ravens are probably inclined to retain two expensive backups: running back Willis McGahee ($3.6 million) and defensive end Trevor Pryce ($4.5 million).
The Ravens own the 25th overall pick of the first round in the April draft and might have to use that pick to improve at receiver.
The Ravens could also use a tight end as well as interior offensive and defensive linemen.
As far as the pass rush, the Ravens are hoping that an increased commitment from $62.5-million man Terrell Suggs will improve his stamina and quickness.
The Ravens need more out of quarterback Joe Flacco. During the final four games of the season, Flacco faltered with two touchdowns and four interceptions after beginning the season with a string of 300-yard passing games. A hip contusion and thigh bruise seemed to affect his late-season play.
“I think obviously your second year, you grew,” Flacco said. “I think in the second year as an offense, I think we grew as an offense and we took our next step. We just need to make sure we do all the right things in the offseason and come back and take that next step next year.”
Overall, the outlook seems to be bright provided the team can continue to improve in key areas while maintaining the building blocks of a strong running game headlined by Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice and the third-ranked defense led by Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
“I really like the makeup of our team,” Harbaugh said. “If you look at where we’re at going forward, I like the foundation we have on our football team. I like the kind of guys we have, our organization, our front office, our personnel department, our coaching staff, our ownership.
“We’ve said before that it’s our goal to build something here that will be remembered for a long time to come, and that means winning championships. Multiple championships.”