For the players, the NFL scouting combine is the most intense job interview on the planet but for Baltimore Ravens fans it’s a chance to dream about which prospects will end up wearing purple and black.
In many ways, the combine can be a sensory overload. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the numbers, results and news coming out of Lucas Oil Stadium, so this slideshow is an attempt to parse through all the (mis)information and bring you the relevant Ravens news that has broken since the combine started.
Some of it is combine-related but most of it is to do with free agency. While it would be lovely to hear about which players the Ravens are leaning toward, the fact of the matter is that we’re not going to know—if we ever truly know—the state of Baltimore’s draft board until much later in the process.
So while you may be disappointed to not get a sneak peek at which rookies will debut at M&T Bank Stadium in 2014, all of the upcoming information is important for the Ravens' offseason and climb back to championship contention.
Let’s start with some news that is possibly draft-related. It’s not particularly high on the Ravens’ offseason “To Do” list, but general manager Ozzie Newsome is going to add one—if not two—running back(s) to the roster.
Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com reported what head coach John Harbaugh had to say on the matter during an interview at the combine:
We’re looking for more backs, we’re going to add some backs. I just don’t feel like two runners [last season] was enough. The circumstances kind of led us to that with our roster. We never felt like we wanted just two runners. We definitely need three, and it could be four of them. It doesn’t have to be a certain big guy, little guy, fast guy, slow guy. It’s all kinds of different types of backs. We want to get a good guy with good vision, who will run hard and protect the football.
Harbaugh made it clear that Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are still the workhorses of the Ravens ground game but injuries affected both of them last year and Baltimore didn’t have enough depth to compensate for the hindered backs.
There are a few intriguing names on the market but recent history has shown that it’s possible to find extremely talented backs late in the draft—especially the less heralded backs from smaller schools.
What Harbaugh also pointed out is that there isn’t a particular type of back in mind but a situational back would be ideal—regardless of what that situation is.
The offense could use a big, powerful, bruising back in the mold of LeGarrette Blount (currently an unrestricted free agent) to pick up crucial yards in short-yardage situations and on the goal line.
On the contrary, the Ravens could also use a smaller, shifty runner with the blazing speed to create big plays out of nothing—sort of like what Giovani Bernard added to the Cincinnati Bengals in his rookie year.
We don’t know what type of back will join the Ravens roster, and we don’t know where he will come from—college or the free-agent market—but be sure that he’s coming soon to televisions near you.
After Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported that the Ravens and Dennis Pitta were “far apart” in ongoing negotiations, the temperature in the pressure cooker was cranked up a notch as the impending franchise tag deadline—Mar. 3—drew nearer.
As such, NFL.com’s Marc Sessler reported that Pitta’s contract situation was on Ozzie Newsome’s mind at the combine:
Ozzie: Ravens 'concentrating' on getting a deal done with Dennis Pitta before considering franchise tag.— Marc Sessler (@MarcSesslerNFL) February 22, 2014
Fortunately, since that point there have been reports that progress has been made in the contract discussions, courtesy of NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
#Ravens and TE Dennis Pitta are making progress to a new deal, per sources. Nothing imminent. Sides have until March 3 before he gets tagged— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 24, 2014
Note that Rapoport says “nothing imminent” but any progress is good at this stage of the discussions—especially because the franchise tag may not, in fact, keep Pitta in Baltimore.
If Pitta files a grievance and wishes to be tagged as a wide receiver, a third-party arbitrator could rule that the tag was used improperly, causing Pitta to become a free agent.
The entire situation deserves monitoring, as further developments are sure to keep rolling in throughout the week.
There has been plenty of commentary about how awful the Ravens' offensive line was in 2013 and upgrades are necessary to be sure. In addition to external help, however, will be the return of Kelechi Osemele.
Osemele excelled at left guard during Baltimore’s Super Bowl run, and he was affected by a troublesome back injury last year.
Consequently, it’s important for the O-line that Osemele returns in time for the offseason. Fortunately, everything appears to be on track:
Kelechi Osemele: (Back) Should Be Ready For Offseason Program: Kelechi Osemele: Ravens head coach John Harbaug... http://t.co/YdTMdMy0af— NFL Injury Report (@nflinjuryscoop) February 22, 2014
K.O., we expect him to start the offseason program. He's in there working out. K.O. is way far along in his training. He's doing great. He's in there every day.
Furthermore, Harbaugh revealed an interesting tidbit when asked about where Osemele will be playing:
We have started thinking about that, I don't think we know yet. The good thing about K.O. is he's got versatility. He gives you some options and then you can see where he best fits on the offensive line.
Lastly, here’s what the big man himself told Wilson about his injury and subsequent recovery:
It's going well, I feel great. I'm trying to get in as good a shape as possible for next year and work on the things I need to work on to get back on the field. I'm feeling pretty good about it as far as the strength in my legs is returning. The symptoms going down my leg is gone. The surgery was a success.
Osemele’s versatility could affect how the Ravens draft because they could flip him to tackle and draft a guard, so his status is a critical piece to Baltimore’s offseason jigsaw puzzle.
So far, so good.
Despite being arguably the most indispensable Raven last season, Daryl Smith’s position and age have caused him to fall down Ozzie Newsome’s priority list—behind the likes of Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta.
That is no reflection of his on-field importance, and the Ravens will be in trouble if they have to replace Smith next season.
Luckily, that might not be necessary, at least not if you go by the word of Mike Preston (The Baltimore Sun):
Ravens working hard to re-sign their own free agents. LB Daryl Smith might be done in a day or two. No promises.— Mike Preston (@MikePrestonSun) February 24, 2014
During his combine press conference (via BaltimoreRavens.com), Newsome revealed that he has “engaged in some conversations with his representative,” and added that “Daryl did a great job for us.”
The feeling is mutual based on what Smith stated earlier in the offseason to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
Most definitely [I want to return]. I love it here and would love to be back. We’ll see how it goes, though.
Any progress is a good sign for the Ravens, who really can’t afford to lose Smith unless the asking price gets way too high.
Retaining Eugene Monroe has been the most important goal of Baltimore’s offseason, and it was widely assumed that the Ravens wouldn’t be able to keep both of their starting tackles from last year.
That may no longer be the case, however.
The 2014 salary cap was set at $130 million—higher than anybody expected—which opens up more cap space for the front office to work with.
As a result, Coach Harbaugh talked to Garrett Downing of the team website about how he wants both Monroe AND Oher back:
I think there's a way. It just depends on the numbers. It all comes down to the math. We've got more salary-cap space, I think we found out yesterday, so that makes it a little brighter situation. As a coach, I would love to do that. I would love to see that happen.
It’s certainly an unexpected piece of news—something that not all Ravens fans will be happy about—but keeping Oher won’t be the worst thing in the world.
His 2013 performance left a lot to be desired, but he can still be a solid starter—especially with more talent around him on the O-line.