Baltimore Ravens: 3 Most Positive Developments of Ravens' Offseason
Baltimore erupted in joy Monday when news of Ray Rice's new contract broke. While that is one of the biggest feel-good stories of Baltimore football this offseason, it certainly isn't the only one.
The Ravens had a rough offseason by most accounts, losing multiple key contributors, dealing with contract negotiations and constantly dealing with Ed Reed's distractions.
These negatives have generally received more press, but ultimately, the Ravens have used this offseason to set themselves up well for the future.
They've done this through shrewd roster moves and player development, and with the exception of Rice's new contract, these developments have been largely silent.
While these positive developments have fallen under the radar, they will ultimately be more important to the Ravens' well-being as a franchise in the long term.
With this in mind, here are three positive developments from the Ravens' offseason.
Development of a Young Corps of Offensive Linemen
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The Ravens offensive line is generally considered a weakness heading into this season, and rightly so.
The reason that the offensive line has fallen on such hard times is because the Ravens were struggling to stock young talent to replace their aging stars.
Fortunately, the Ravens are getting back into the swing of stocking young, offensive line talent.
The Ravens currently have four players who look to be future starters, including Jah Reid, Gino Gradkowski, Justin Boren and Kelechi Osemele.
Each of these players is either a rookie or a second-year player.
These players offer the Ravens depth and hope for the future. As they grow into starting roles, the Ravens offensive line will solidify, likely over the long term.
At the very least, the Ravens expect Gradkowski to be the center of the future and Osemele to start somewhere along the offensive line early in his career.
Regardless, the Ravens finally have solid young depth along the offensive line, and this is one of the biggest positive developments out of Baltimore this offseason.
Improved Special Teams Play
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Upgrading the special teams units was one of the major goals for the Ravens this offseason, and they can consider that mission accomplished.
In 2011, the Ravens struggled in nearly every phase of special teams. Their returners were ordinary, their coverage units were weak and Billy Cundiff struggled throughout the season.
This led to the effort to upgrade the special teams, and the Ravens made several shrewd moves to do just that.
First of all, the Ravens upgraded their coverage units by adding Corey Graham and Sean Considine. They should help immensely in improving the Ravens special teams.
The Ravens also added Jacoby Jones, who can be a dynamic returner when he's on his game.
They even added a rookie kicker to compete with Billy Cundiff in Justin Tucker.
The Ravens really left no stone unturned in addressing the special teams, and that should pay dividends in 2012.
New Contracts for Lardarius Webb and Ray Rice
The Ravens had many expiring contracts to deal with, and none were more critical to address than Lardarius Webb's and Ray Rice's.
Signing both to fair deals was a difficult task, but the Ravens were up to the challenge, locking both up to five-year deals while still preserving precious cap space.
In Webb, the Ravens have a shutdown-caliber cornerback who can shadow opponent's top receivers. His performance against Wes Welker in the AFC Championship game was extraordinary, and he has earned a big contract.
The Ravens defense, meanwhile, will benefit from having a steady presence like Webb, who improves the entire defense with his excellent cover skills.
Rice's contract negotiations attracted even more attention than Webb's, as they came down to the wire on Monday.
Ultimately, though, the Ravens got Rice's deal done, and that means that Rice will continue to lead the Ravens offense for years to come.
Everyone on the offense, from Cam Cameron to Joe Flacco to the offensive line, can rest a little easier knowing that the Ravens can rely on Rice for a few more years.