As the end of the NFL regular season nears for the Baltimore Ravens with playoff hopes very much alive, we can begin to see the impact players young and old are having on the team.
Baltimore’s 53-man roster is built for long-term success in a tough AFC North division, but there’s little doubt that major improvements can be made in the current roster which will benefit the team as soon as the 2011 season rolls around.
With serious questions still surfacing about the quality of Baltimore’s defense, we will explore several options the Ravens front office might want to look into before the start of next year’s season.
In addition to the defense, we will examine the Ravens improving offense and suggest several roster changes that should be beneficial to the team going forward.
Will TE Todd Heap finally land in Arizona, and will Baltimore get a fair asking price if RB Willis McGahee is sent elsewhere?
Let’s take a look at changes the Ravens can make to their roster and still remain competitive at the same time.
The Ravens stand to gain the most from an upgrade at cornerback and Fabian Washington might be the right person to deal to another team.
Washington has been on and off the Ravens official injury report with a thigh injury and CB Josh Wilson was airlifted in from Seattle to replace Washington on the depth chart.
The “breakdown in fundamentals” Washington suffered from in Week 7 against Buffalo is still fresh in the minds of many Baltimore fans, but this is a player that still holds a high value to most NFL teams that could improve at the cornerback position too.
It would benefit the Ravens to trade Washington and draft another cornerback in 2011.
Haruki Nakamura, in his third year out of the University of Cincinnati, is mainly used in nickel and dime situations in Baltimore’s defense.
Listed at 5'10", Nakamura packs a punch for a smaller athlete. However, in a league that favors tall, physical receivers, Nakamura will always struggle to compete.
Nakamura had a great college career, but we have yet to see the same flashes of brilliance in his three years with Baltimore.
The Ravens can safely release Nakamura in 2011 and pick up a proven veteran through free agency.
It’s inevitable that Baltimore will have to deal with the departure of LB Ray Lewis at some point in the near future.
When you look at the Ravens roster, it’s hard to find a player that has the potential to be half has productive as Lewis was (yes, there will never be another Ray Lewis).
With Terrell Suggs getting up there in age, Baltimore is in desperate need of finding a suitable, long-term replacement for No. 52.
Prescott Burgess has never started a game in Baltimore and has only appeared in 26 games over the course of his short career.
Burgess landed in New England in 2009, but came back to Baltimore at the start of the season.
At this point, it’s clear the Ravens don’t see the full potential Burgess has as an NFL starter, even though he’s capable of playing at a high level.
There’s never a shortage of linebackers in free agency and Baltimore has displayed interest in acquiring another high-profile linebacker in recent years.
Burgess could be dealt to another team for a high draft pick—something Baltimore needs in 2011.
It’s not far-fetched to believe Baltimore’s star TE Todd Heap might find another home in 2011. With plenty of trade rumors surrounding Heap in 2010, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens make a big move involving Heap.
Given the fact that Baltimore desperately needs a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive back, Heap could serve as a platform to land such a player on the Ravens roster.
With tight ends Dennis Pitts and Ed Dickson waiting for their chances at a starting role, look for Heap to make room for these highly sought after players by finding a starting job of his own with the Arizona Cardinals.
Willis McGahee is an intriguing player for so many reasons. In 2010, the Ravens wavered in their commitment to use McGahee in an expanded role behind starter Ray Rice, and head coach John Harbaugh was responsible for most of the non-commitment on the part of McGahee.
With trade rumors circling McGahee up until the Week 6 of this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the Ravens front office uses McGahee in a trade with a team that could help bring a much-needed cornerback to Baltimore.
Of course, all of this is pure speculation, but the Ravens have been sending mixed signals about McGahee for a while.
The deal would be great for both parties involved, because McGahee would be happier as a starter elsewhere, and with the value he still holds, Baltimore can get a solid cornerback in return.
WR Marcus Smith (#11)
Marcus Smith, who mainly served as a backup to WR Mark Clayton before he was traded to St. Louis earlier in the year, has not recorded a single stat for the Ravens in the 2010 season.
Smith was always thought of as a special teams player, but with the addition of rookie WR David Reed, there’s no need for Smith on the Ravens roster.
Smith’s value was damaged even more when Baltimore went out and loaded up on talented receivers before the start of the season.
Time will only tell what the Ravens will do with Smith, but he will likely be another roster change for the Ravens come time for the 2011 season.
RB Jalen Parmele is another young player that has mainly served on special teams as a kick returner for the Ravens over the course of his young career.
With WR David Reed appearing to be a future special teams star, Parmele’s value automatically takes a big hit.
After all, Reed finally halted the carousel of kick returners in Baltimore as of late, with his blazing speed and ability to elude defenders.
Baltimore might release Parmele and look for a solid running back that is able to perform if Ray Rice were to go down with an injury.
QB Marc Bulger, a 10-year veteran who came to the Ravens from St. Louis in 2010, is yet another player that could become a journeyman at the end of this season.
Bulger is a solid quarterback who brings a lot of knowledge with him and still has starter potential for several NFL teams.
Baltimore might look beyond Bulger in 2011 for a quarterback that brings some serious postseason experience to the table.
The main reason for a move like this would be to find a proven backup who can serve as a mentor to QB Joe Flacco.
Flacco has playoff experience of his own, but instinct says Baltimore might bring in another quarterback from a team who has been there more than the Ravens.
Baltimore Ravens VP Ozzie Newsome
All of the potential moves the Ravens might make with the players listed in this presentation are purely speculative.
With that said, every one of the roster changes mentioned earlier can only help Baltimore at this point.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has demonstrated with great success that it is possible to build a championship team mainly through the NFL Draft, and with Baltimore Ravens VP Ozzie Newsome at the helm, the Ravens can do the same.
It’s still not clear which path the Ravens will take in 2011, but you can bet Newsome and Co. will continue to pursue the best players available in order to build another Super Bowl contending team for the next decade.
Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist here on BleacherReport.com
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