The Baltimore Ravens endured their first non-winning season in 2013 since John Harbaugh became their head coach in 2008. This, after winning the Super Bowl the previous year. With a good offseason, Baltimore may be able to become a championship contender again in 2014.
What really hurt the Ravens last year was the lack of salary cap space that ultimately led to cornerback Cary Williams, safety Ed Reed and linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe leaving in free agency. Receiver Anquan Boldin was also traded after he wouldn't take a pay cut.
Those were all key players for the Ravens, yet all went on to sign deals with other teams that Baltimore couldn't afford to match. That's not the case this year.
To recap a few of the transactions the Ravens have made this offseason, they've cut linebacker Jameel McClain and fullback Vonta Leach and re-signed linebacker Terrell Suggs to a new four-year extension.
All of those moves in total will save the Ravens about $9 million in 2014, according to Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. According to Over the Cap, the Ravens had $28 million of salary cap space to work with following those moves.
After those moves were made, the Ravens then began focusing on their impending free agents and signed Pro Bowl tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million deal. Pitta missed most of the 2013-14 season due to a torn hip labrum suffered in training camp. Prior to that, he caught 149 passes for 1,074 yards and 10 touchdowns in the previous two seasons.
Getting him signed to a long-term deal was one of the team's biggest goals this offseason. They now have just one priority free agent needing to be re-signed, and that's left tackle Eugene Monroe. The Ravens continue to make re-signing Monroe a priority, but they likely won't use the franchise tag on him.
Monroe joined the team in October of last year after trading a fourth-round and fifth-round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire him. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Monroe's plus-24.0 grade was the highest any Ravens offensive lineman received in 2013. As the blindside protector for quarterback Joe Flacco, Monroe is extremely valuable to the Ravens, and losing him would be a big setback.
After Monroe, middle linebacker Daryl Smith is the next key free agent that needs to be re-signed. He finished the season with 123 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and 19 passes defended and was a leader on the defense.
Though the team wants Smith back, a deal may not get done before that start of free agency:
Ravens also making Daryl Smith a priority to retain although no deal imminent according to a source— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 1, 2014
Starting strong safety James Ihedigbo is also a free agent after leading the team in tackles (103) in 2013 to go with three interceptions, so re-signing him would also seem like something Baltimore wants to do.
Starting right tackle Michael Oher didn't have a great year in 2013, and his negative-12.6 grade by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was one of the worst by a starting tackle. The Ravens may want to look for a better option for next year.
As of now, there hasn't been much news on how much Baltimore values Oher and Ihedigbo, and it's likely they're waiting to see what Monroe and Smith do before trying to re-sign anyone else.
Once they get their free agents re-signed, the only key player on the roster who needs to get a long-term extension is wide receiver Torrey Smith. He finished 2013 with 65 catches for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns, and getting him to signed to a long-term should be one of the team's biggest priorities this offseason.
As far as who the team could target in free agency, they probably won't be in the market for any big-name free agents. They'll need to use most of their available salary cap to re-sign their own players and sign their draft picks from May's NFL draft.
If Monroe does leave, they may target a number of free-agent left tackles. Some names to keep track of include Anthony Collins from the Bengals, Zach Strief from the Saints or Branden Albert from the Chiefs. They could also draft a tackle high in the draft if they lose either Monroe or Oher in free agency.
Once free agency opens for the Ravens, they'll have about $22 million to work with once the Pitta deal becomes official, as his 2014 cap hit is projected to be around $6 million. Their primary goal needs to be re-signing their own players, and once they do that, they can begin adding quality players through the draft and value free agents to fill out the roster.