With the Super Bowl just a little over a week away, the Baltimore Ravens know that they have a huge offseason coming up.
Several key players will become free agents including Joe Flacco, Ed Reed and Paul Kruger, and with not a whole lot of cap space, the Ravens are going to have to make several key decisions.
Here are five moves the Ravens need to make this offseason if they want to continue to be Super Bowl contenders.
If Joe Flacco has proved anything this postseason, it's that he is one of the best quarterbacks come playoff time.
It doesn't matter what you do in the regular season as long as you show up for when it really counts, and Flacco has certainly done that. Not only has he made the playoffs and won at least one game every year he has been in the league, but Flacco has also shown that he can win on the road. He set the record for most road wins in NFL playoff history with six, when he upset both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady this postseason.
Flacco may never put up the statistics of a top-five quarterback, but in the end the only thing that matters in the NFL is if you can win or not. Flacco has proven he is a winner and now has a shot of winning his first Super Bowl.
After being in the doghouse for the entire regular season, the Baltimore Ravens' unsung hero in their run to the Super Bowl has been Bryant McKinnie.
McKinnie has been an absolute stud at left tackle in the playoffs, and it has made the Ravens offensive line one of the best in the league. In their three postseason games, the Ravens have only allowed four sacks.
With McKinnie at left tackle, Michael Oher can man his natural position at right tackle, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the offensive line. The Ravens had been trying to convert Oher into a "Blind Side" left tackle, but the fact is, he is very average when lining up at that position.
When Oher lines up at right tackle, he performs at a Pro Bowl level and looks much more comfortable. Having McKinnie at left tackle also lets rookie Kelechi Osemele to play left guard, where he is much more suited than at right tackle.
The Ravens should be able to resign McKinnie at a cheap rate because he is 33 years old. They need to give him a one or two-year deal, so that Joe Flacco and Ray Rice will have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL blocking for them.
Besides Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens have a significant amount of key free agents this offseason. The two most important free agents that they need to bring back though are Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.
Kruger was by far the Ravens' best pass-rusher this season. He recorded nine sacks during the regular season, and throughout the postseason, he has already notched another 2.5 sacks.
Kruger is going to demand a big contract because he is one of the elite pass-rushers on the market, but the Ravens know that he is worth it. He's gotten better every year he has been in the NFL and without him on their defense, the Ravens will have very little of a pass-rush presence.
Ellerbe also needs to be brought back simply because Ray Lewis is no longer going to suiting up anymore and he is the second best inside linebacker on their roster. With Ray retiring, the Ravens need to keep Ellerbe because he has shown this season that he can be a very productive linebacker in the NFL.
In 13 games this season, Ellerbe has recorded 92 tackles and 4.5 sacks. If the Ravens can lock up Ellerbe to a contract, they will have him and Jameel McClain as their starting inside linebackers. These two have shown in the past that they can fill in for Lewis when he has gone down with an injury.
If the Ravens fail to bring back one of these free agents, expect them to use an early draft pick to find their replacement.
As solid as Cary Williams has been this season, the fact of the matter is the Baltimore Ravens do not have enough money to give him the contract he wants.
This past offseason, Williams turned down a three-year, $15 million deal. If Williams isn't going to come back for that price, then you have to let him walk. Williams is a solid cornerback, but he is never going to be a No.1 cornerback.
The Ravens already have a solid corp of cornerbacks in Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown. They don't need to throw that much money at a No. 2 cornerback and can look to replace Williams either through the draft or free agency.
There is no better ballhawk in NFL history than Ed Reed. He has been the centerpiece of the Baltimore Ravens secondary for the last 11 years and is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Reed is going to be a free agent this offseason and the Ravens have a very tough decision to make.
Do they bring back an aging fan favorite who is still productive or do they let him walk?
Although Reed still had four interceptions and three fumble recoveries this season, everyone can see that he is not the same player he once was. Having said that, Reed is still one of the top safeties in the NFL.
The Ravens should definitely bring him back as long as it is for a reasonable price. Reed is 34 years old and needs to understand that he is nearing the end of his career. If he demands a huge contract and the Ravens don't have the cap room to afford him, the Ravens may have to say good bye to him and look towards the future.
Another option could be to franchise tag Reed, assuming that Joe Flacco gets his long-term contract done.