From the offensive line to the receivers to the coaches, the Baltimore Ravens have a lot of work to do to get back to being a Super Bowl contender. There are plenty of tough decisions for general manager Ozzie Newsome to make this offseason, and this slideshow captures some of the most challenging ones.
It starts with the offensive coordinator vacancy. There are plenty of intriguing candidates to choose from, but landing the wrong coordinator could have far-reaching consequences.
After that, we get to the personnel decisions, which start with the reconstruction of the offensive line. The 2014 O-line could have as many as four new starters, and figuring out the right combination will be a tall order for Newsome and the rest of the front office.
The decisions only get tougher from there, as we then get into salary cap woes and not overpaying for free agents. Read on for an in-depth breakdown of each question that will dictate the Ravens' offseason.
First of all, congratulations to Jim Caldwell for landing the head coaching job with the Detroit Lions. He reportedly had an “excellent, outstanding” interview with Lions management and was a hot commodity on the coaching market.
In reality, however, his departure may be what is best for both sides.
The former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts isn’t really an offensive coordinator. The Ravens' Super Bowl run of 2012 was his first experience calling plays, and he always had his sights set on landing another head coaching gig somewhere.
Furthermore, the Baltimore offense was putrid this season. To be clear, only a small part of that blame should go to Caldwell, who couldn’t overcome the glaring lack of talent at receiver and along the offensive line.
But Mike Preston of The Baltimore Sun noted that the Ravens offense was becoming too predictable to end the season:
According to a team source, the Ravens were so predictable on offense Sunday that the Patriots were calling out their plays at the line of scrimmage. Apparently, when the Ravens were passing, New England was using the term “airplane” and when it was a run they yelled “car.” “It was pathetic,” the source said. “It still comes down to execution, but you do need the element of surprise. Our play calling has been poor.”
Choosing Caldwell’s successor will be a critical decision—not just for the 2014 season but for the future of the franchise.
Joe Flacco has had four quarterbacks coaches in his career, and this will be his third offensive coordinator. Continuity is key in the NFL, and the new offensive coordinator will ideally be someone who can design and install an offensive philosophy that the Ravens will use moving forward.
Other candidates include Gary Kubiak (former head coach of the Houston Texans), Jim Hostler (Ravens WRs coach) and Rob Chudzinski (former Cleveland Browns head coach), among others. There are plenty of solid options, but the Ravens need to make the right choice.
Shortcomings were plentiful for the Baltimore offense in 2013, but everything can be traced back to an offensive line that frequently failed to do its job.
As such, a drastic overhaul is on the horizon. But who stays, who leaves and who will be brought in to fill in the gaps?
Both starting offensive tackles—Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher—are unrestricted free agents. Oher’s time in Baltimore is almost certainly up, but the Ravens have made it clear that they would like to re-sign Eugene Monroe if the price is right.
That’s a big “if,” though.
At only 26 years old, Monroe is still young and has shown the ability to be one of the best left tackles in the league. As such, the Ravens may not be able to afford him.
On the opposite side of the line, how will Baltimore address the right tackle position? There is a very deep draft class of tackles this year, so GM Ozzie Newsome may opt to find a rookie starter like Cyrus Kouandjio, Zack Martin, Antonio Richardson or Taylor Lewan.
In addition, there are some free-agent options like Eric Winston or Zach Strief that could provide a cheap, veteran presence instead.
Lastly, next year’s starting right tackle may already be on the roster. Kelechi Osemele started his career at right tackle before thriving inside at left guard. The coaching staff is also very high on rookie Rick Wagner, and head coach John Harbaugh told Ryan Mink of Ravens.com that he “could be starting for us next year if [he] earns the job.”
The renovation isn’t complete yet. Newsome specifically singled out getting bigger in the middle of the O-line as a priority, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
Baltimore’s offense was stuck in neutral for 2013, and getting a functional O-line will be vital to a rebound in 2014.
Along with Eugene Monroe, Dennis Pitta is a free agent that Baltimore will desperately try to sign. He’s not a good blocker, but he’s a top-notch receiving threat and is one of Joe Flacco’s best friends and go-to targets.
Despite those facts, the Ravens have been excellent at not overpaying free agents (see Ellerbe, Dannell and Kruger, Paul) and will have a maximum price in mind for Pitta.
Determining that cut-off price will be one of the most difficult aspects of the offseason for the front office.
In an attempt to give themselves more time to reach a long-term deal, the Ravens may opt to use the franchise tag on Pitta, but that could be a risky proposition. Per Sarah Ellison of The Baltimore Sun, Pitta played more than half of his snaps in the slot last year, so he actually has a case to be paid like a wide receiver on the open market instead of a tight end.
Re-signing Pitta is high on Newsome’s priority list, but the Ravens also need to know when to walk away when the asking price gets too high.
At his end of the year presser, Newsome made no secret the team will be looking to acquire an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, per Garrett Downing of Ravens.com. Newsome revealed that the Ravens have an idea of the type of receiver they’re looking for, although he would not give any names.
There are many exciting wide receiver prospects that will go off the board in the first two rounds of this year's draft, and if the team decides to go this route, Newsome will have to draft the right one.
If they’re looking for a big receiver that can win jump-balls and be a red-zone terror, they have options like Mike Evans (Texas A&M) or Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State). If they want a quicker, shiftier receiver, they can choose Marqise Lee (USC) or Brandin Cooks (Oregon State).
If a more solid route-runner with great hands is the weapon of choice, players like Allen Robinson (Penn State) or Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) fit that mold. Moreover, if the Ravens want to choose a tight end to create mismatches and work the seams, Eric Ebron (UNC) or Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) are possibilities.
Whichever receiver the Ravens select, they can’t afford to miss. The receiving corps is sorely missing playmakers, and Baltimore has the chance to add a legitimate stud in Rounds 1 or 2 to pair with Torrey Smith.
This will be one of the more intriguing storylines of the offseason, but it could end up being a non-story. Terrell Suggs is set to have a $12.4 million cap hit for 2014, and the Ravens could save close to $8 million by releasing him.
Obviously, the preferred course of action would be to sign Suggs to an extension in order to spread that money out over multiple years and give him a more manageable cap figure in the present.
Newsome tried to do the same thing with Anquan Boldin last offseason, but the veteran refused to take a pay-cut and was traded instead.
Taking that into account, you would assume that the Ravens would have no problems parting with Suggs if the numbers don’t match up. As such, the front office has to determine how much Suggs is worth to them.
Just like Dennis Pitta, figuring out when to walk away from the negotiating table will be an immensely difficult task.
Newsome highlighted three areas of the roster where an upgrade was needed. The first two, the offensive line and wide receiver, were fairly obvious to anybody that watched a Ravens game in 2013.
The last one was interesting. Newsome promised that the Ravens were going to look for a "rangy free safety," per Downing. The addition makes sense given that strong safety is Matt Elam's natural position, but how will Baltimore find that safety?
It's always possible that the Ravens pounce on the cap casualty of another team, but what if there aren't any enticing options on the market?
There are a number of athletic safeties in the draft with excellent ball skills and coverage abilities, but that would mean the last line of defense would be made up of two extremely young players. Depending on the player, it might not be a huge problem, but you know that every quarterback is going to test a young safety.
Looking to the draft might be Baltimore's best chance of adding the type of safety they have in mind, but it would come with the price of having inexperience at a key position on the defense.
For more Ravens news and analysis, follow me on Twitter!