This is the start of my column on the Ravens' offseason moves. I'll provide what insight I can and tell you what I think they'll do. Then I'll address the moves as they happen. And I'll even keep track of what I was right about and what I was wrong about, should be interesting!
The Ravens enter the 2009 offseason having completed an improbable season that ended in the AFC Championship Game. But that's yesterday's news, it's time to make the right moves for tomorrow. This offseason could prove to be a pivotal one in determining the future of this franchise.
There are several vital cogs of the Ravens up for free agency, moves need to be made to further the development of young Joe Flacco, and pieces need to be picked up to take this team to the next level. There are a lot of options and different routes to take.
First off, it is important that the team resigns the right players. The important names are: Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Jason Brown, Dwan Landry, Corey Ivy, Demetrius Williams, Matt Stover, and Sam Koch.
The name that jumps out on the list is Ray Lewis, the unquestioned leader of this team, basically since its inception. One would assume a nice hometown discount would be in order so he can finish out his career as a Raven, but you know what they say about assumptions.
When teammate and fellow free agent Terrell Suggs suggested a bargain on his own contract so that they could keep the stellar defense together, Lewis balked. His feelings on the discount were that if he wasn't going to be playing only part of the time, why would he take a contract only worth part of his value.
Lewis has also mentioned that he might like to play for his defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, on the New York Jets. He has also been talking about possibly playing for the Dallas Cowboys. I'd say it looks like he is yearning for a bigger stage than the Ravens have to offer.
It's impossible to overstate Lewis' importance to the defense. It goes beyond anything stats could show, but he makes everyone around him better. But any casual football fan could tell you that. Baltimore should make every possible effort to keep him, but steel themselves for his loss.
My Prediction: He finds himself out of purple and into a uniform with a star on it.
Lewis however is not the most important name on this list. In fact I'd put two others before him. Terrell Suggs is one. He is young. He is talented. He has played with Lewis and in the Baltimore defense his entire career.
His willingness to take less pay to play with more talent around him speaks volumes about his commitment to the team. Suggs should be the Ravens first priority to resign.
My Prediction: The Ravens secure him for several years down the road.
OK, so you'll give me Suggs, because he could be the future of this defense, but who else is more important than Lewis? Jason Brown.
The young center is absolutely vital to the development of Flacco. His pass protection isn't elite, but it's very good. But it's his run blocking and handling of elite defensive lineman where he shines.
He managed to contain Albert Haynesworth (ALBERT HAYNESWORTH!!!) in both games against the Titans. And he is the main reason (OK, him and Lorenzo Neal) that Le'Ron McLain's power game was so effective. If this offense is going to continue its upward trajectory, Brown is a vital piece of the puzzle that the Ravens just can't let go of.
My Prediction: This one could go either way, but I doubt he wants to leave this team, so I think he stays on.
Those are the Big Three for Baltimore this offseason. If all three of those re-signings really do happen, then Bart Scott could find himself in a precarious position this offseason.
The Mad-Backer had one elite season, and several very good seasons. But he's just not a vital enough cog to justify resigning him at the expense of one of the previous three players. That said, of the non Big Three free agents, he is the first priority.
If any of those three don't sign (especially Lewis or Suggs) he would be the first consolation prize. But if Lewis doesn't get signed (again a real possibility), he NEEDS to be here to help keep that tradition of ferocious defense alive.
My Prediction: He doesn't get resigned if both Suggs and Lewis get signed, at least not unless one or all three take a major pay cut. If he isn't back in purple, I'd look for the Lions to make a run at him.
Dwan Landry has not turned into the complement to Ed Reed that the team thought he'd become. His replacement, Jim Leonhard, however was superb when Landry went out hurt. That spells one thing for Landry. Free Agency.
My Prediction: Landry is out, predicted destination is Bengals.
The Ravens got an opportunity to look at their depth at cornerback after McCalister and Rolle. They discovered that Fabian Washington is an above average cornerback.
However they also finally figured out that Corey Ivy and Frank Walker are nothing more than mediocre. So where does that leave Ivy in terms of free agency? It means that the Ravens have to rely on him as a nickel/dime type cornerback, and hope to get some depth so that is all he'll ever be.
Demetrius Williams has long been a fan favorite for his flashes of receiving brilliance on a team with no good receivers before Derrick Mason showed up. On the other hand, that's leading to a vast overrating of him by fans.
Objectively, his ceiling is at No. 2 wide receiver. That said, there really isn't much depth at receiver in the organization and the Ravens need to hold onto what could possibly develop into a solid receiver.
With Flacco developing (Williams was hurt last year) he could tap into his potential and really break out.
My Projection: If the price is right, the Ravens sign him, but if they let him go, he's in Cinncinatti.
Finally we're down to special teams. Most fans discount them unless we're talking return men, but on a field position based team, punters and kickers are as important as your spell back.
So the Ravens find themselves in the position of having to decide if they want to keep the underpowered but always accurate (and aging) Matt Stover or go with a younger option at kicker.
And at punter Sam Koch has been nailing coffins shut in the corners his entire career, and he even took a step forward this year.
My Prediction: Stover is out, the new kid (Hauschka) is in at kicker. Koch stays around for a few more years.
So to re-cap: Lewis in Dallas, Suggs re-signs, Brown re-signs, Scott re-signs if Lewis goes (otherwise in Detroit), Landry in Cincinatti, Ivy re-signed cheap (if he asks too much, he's in New Orleans or Arizona), Williams re-signed (if not, he's in Cinncinatti), Stover retires, and Koch re-signs.