John Harbaugh's team will be hard pressed to hold the Super Bowl trophy next season.
It seems like only yesterday when the purple and black confetti rained down on the Baltimore Ravens after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. In the NFL, there is no yesterday—only today and tomorrow. And the Ravens have much to do to get ready for that tomorrow.
After trading Anquan Boldin to those same 49ers for a sixth-round pick, the Ravens now have needs at a variety of positions which include wide receiver, inside and outside linebacker, defensive tackle, safety and left tackle. Some of the best solutions are for the Ravens to simply re-sign their own players or stand pat and promote their own. Here is a look at how the Ravens should or could fill those needs.
Boldin will be difficult to replace.
The news that star receiver Anquan Boldin had been traded to the 49ers no doubt shook the Baltimore Ravens' fan base. Boldin could be considered to be the most reliable of the Ravens' wide receivers. He is not as fast as speedster Torrey Smith or Jacoby Jones, but he had a knack for getting open, catching the ball and making plays with his physical play.
The Ravens will hope that players such as Smith, Jones or perhaps Tandon Doss will step up and fill the hole left by Boldin.
The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson speculates that the Ravens could turn to St. Louis Rams free agent Danny Amendola. He is significantly younger than Boldin and possesses more speed and quickness. He also has excellent hands to go along with the aforementioned abilities. There are two issues with Amendola—one is that he will be sought after by other teams with more cap space than the Ravens, and also he has a history of injury problems.
My prediction is the Ravens stand pat and hope that their younger players step up, or they attempt to fill the need in the draft. Another free agent that could fit the bill is Boldin's former teammate, Steve Breaston. Breaston is another physical receiver that has good hands and could possibly be had at a cheaper price, compared to Amendola.
Ellerbe may cash in thanks to his solid play in the Super Bowl and playoffs.
Joe Flacco is not the only one who may cash in because of his postseason play. Dannell Ellerbe had a solid 2012 season, despite having to fight injuries throughout the year. He collected a combined 92 tackles during the regular season and another 32 tackles in the postseason.
With Ray Lewis retiring and fellow linebacker Jameel McClain's health a concern, re-signing Ellerbe makes the most sense and is considered the Ravens' top offseason priority now that Flacco has been signed to a long-term contract. Ellerbe is expected to receive a contract of $25-30 million, and it is said that the Browns have interest in the Georgia product as well.
If the Ravens are unable to retain Ellerbe, they could turn to young linebacker Nigel Carr if they are unable to fill the need through the draft or pick up another veteran player. Perhaps a reunion with the "Mad 'Backer" Bart Scott would make sense, too. The former Jet and Raven would fill the positional need, is familiar with the defense and some of the players and perhaps he could help fill the veteran leadership void left by the retired Lewis.
Kruger's value may prove to be too costly to keep in purple and black.
The Baltimore Ravens' tight salary-cap situation may keep them from re-signing their former second-round pick, Paul Kruger. Kruger had an excellent season as a pass-rusher in 2012, when he collected 9.5 sacks and another 4.5 sacks in the postseason, which includes two in the Super Bowl.
Pass-rushers are always sought after, especially young ones, and Kruger certainly fits that bill. Kruger has many suitors that are likely to outbid the Ravens. Those suitors include division rivals Cleveland and Indianapolis. If Kruger signs with the Colts, he would be reunited with former coordinator Chuck Pagano.
All that said, it is unlikely that the Ravens will be able to keep Kruger. One player who would make sense to replace him, besides the Ravens' own Courtney Upshaw, would be former rival James Harrison.
Harrison, who was on the Ravens' practice squad earlier in his career, would be a nice option when trying to fill the void left by Kruger. He is older and his production fell last season, but rotating with Upshaw and lining up on the opposite end of Terrell Suggs could bode well for both Harrison and Kruger. His agent certainly thinks so.
The Ravens need to find another defensive tackle to pair with Haloti Ngata.
When someone says Baltimore Ravens and defensive tackle, All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata usually comes to mind. Despite his lofty resume, Ngata came into camp overweight this past offseason and there were questions about his conditioning. Despite that, Ngata is still one of the best defensive tackles in football, and when he was injured in the Super Bowl, one could see the drop-off in play on the defensive line when the 49ers suddenly found their running game.
Finding someone else to pair with Ngata could help shore up a run defense that was not up to the Ravens' standard this past season. According to the Baltimore Sun and Pro Football Focus, fellow defensive tackles Terrance Cody and veteran Ma'ake Kemoeatu were some of the worst defensive tackles in football. Pro Football Focus issued Cody a grade of -6.5 and Kemoeatu a grade of -5.7.
The Ravens could stand pat and hope for the mostly-disappointing play of the former second-round pick Cody to improve and for younger players such as DeAngelo Tyson to improve their games. But GM Ozzie Newsome has gone on record to say that improving the defense is his biggest priority this offseason.
If the Ravens are to fill the need at defensive tackle via free agency, they will need to sort through the bargain bin. Another reunion with defensive tackle Justin Bannan could be an option, and Shaun Cody could also be had at a fair price.
Future Hall of Famer Ed Reed should remain in Baltimore.
As mentioned before, GM Ozzie Newsome has gone on record to say that improving the middle of the defense is the top priority. The middle of the defense would include defensive tackle, linebacker and safety.
Last season the safety position was a fairly solid area. These positions were manned by the physical Bernard Pollard at strong safety and the future Hall of Famer Ed Reed.
Reed's play has diminished slightly. Father Time is undefeated still, but Reed still plays the position at a high level and it would be a big challenge to replace the veteran safety with anyone.
Re-signing Reed should be high on the list of offseason priorities for the Ravens, just behind re-signing Dannell Ellerbe. With Ray Lewis moving on, the Ravens will need his veteran presence alone, not to mention his still stellar football IQ. Re-signing Reed is the Ravens' only option in free agency concerning safety.
The Ravens should try to keep McKinnie in purple and black.
There were many turning points in the Baltimore Ravens' 2012-2013 season which resulted in a Super Bowl title. Many will cite the firing of Cam Cameron as the biggest reason for the offensive turnaround. But the insertion of Bryant McKinnie into the starting lineup may have been the best adjustment made all season.
Once McKinnie became the starting left tackle, the Ravens were able to shift Michael Oher to right tackle and Kelechi Osemle over to left guard. This move solidified the line and improved the run game and resulted in giving Flacco enough time in the passing game. The rest is history.
With the salary cap issues of the Ravens, they need to be thrifty where they can. This puts them out of the market for the blue-chip free agents at the left tackle position. Because of where they draft, the Ravens are unlikely to find a franchise left tackle that can start right away.
McKinnie has had his issues with weight and motivation. Perhaps it is in both parties' interest to come to an incentive-laden contract that both McKinnie and the Ravens can live with. Keeping McKinnie would allow the Ravens to maintain a solid line and draft a left tackle that they could groom under McKinnie for the future.