Ozzie Newsome - Ravens GM and Executive VP
The offseason for the Baltimore Ravens officially started after their devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Saturday, and the team has already begun to make major changes for the better.
Shortly after Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison landed at the University of Michigan with the same coaching title, Baltimore’s current defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano was promoted to Mattison’s newly vacated position.
Pagano served two seasons in Oakland as the Raiders defensive backs coach from 2005-2006 before making the move to Baltimore.
Pagano is known for his aggressive style of coaching, so many Ravens fans hope he will be able to inject some fierceness back into a defensive unit that has had its share of setbacks in 2010.
Coaching moves are only the first part of what must be a highly successful offseason for the Ravens if they want to make a run at the Super Bowl in the 2011-12 NFL season.
Together, we will look at the challenges Baltimore faces entering the free agent period, and examine several roster moves that should benefit the team going forward, making the Ravens more competitive with teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Follow Todd's work on Twitter! Twitter.com/ravens023
Ravens FB Le'Ron McClain
Le’Ron McClain’s future in Baltimore became a big question mark immediately following the Ravens defeat in Pittsburgh last Saturday.
Throughout the 2010 season, McClain was one of the more vocal players in the Baltimore offense, often voicing his displeasure with his shrinking role at the fullback position.
McClain’s numbers took a hit from 2008 to 2010, as the Ravens veered away from the three-headed rushing attack that made the team so successful just over two years ago. McClain managed just 85 yards on the ground in 2010 and never saw the end zone. Last Saturday in Pittsburgh, McClain never even touched the football, but instead, remained the primary blocker in the Ravens backfield.
With McClain desiring to see more action as a runner rather than a blocker, it would be in Baltimore’s best interest to part ways with the talented fullback.
When asked about his future with the Ravens, McClain said, “Wherever I end up, man, I ain’t got no control over that with my situation. I had a great four years in Baltimore. Wherever I end up, I don’t regret any of the four years here.”
The Ravens remain interested in retaining McClain, however, with severe salary cap constraints and the fact McClain is demanding a much higher salary, the team will likely release the four-year Pro in order to address other pressing issues at different skill positions.
Ravens NT Haloti Ngata putting the hit on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
According to the Baltimore Ravens front office, in order to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league, they need to re-sign roughly half of the 17 free agents listed on Baltimore’s roster.
Immediately following Baltimore’s loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday, the Ravens made it clear that re-signing DT Haloti Ngata was a top priority in the clubhouse, possibly making Ngata one of the highest paid defensive tackles in NFL history.
Ngata, a former No. 1 draft pick (12th overall) back in 2006, has been named to the Pro Bowl three straight years, and remains an integral part of the Ravens run defense.
Several rumors continue to swirl around the NFL about the Oakland Raiders and their deep interest in the All-Pro tackle Ngata. However, these rumors should be put to rest quickly as soon as the Ravens re-sign this all-important piece to their defensive puzzle.
Look for Ngata to remain part of the Ravens in 2011 and possibly play in an expanded role if Baltimore’s base defense switches from the 3-4 to the 4-3 under newly hired defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
Ravens second-string QB Marc Bulger
Marc Bulger is one of the best free agent quarterbacks on the market in 2011 and he fits the type of offense Baltimore has become this past season.
Bulger could easily play the role of a starter for several NFL teams, but the 10-year Pro is content mentoring QB Joe Flacco from the second-string position.
Over the course of his career, Bulger has found himself in nearly every scenario you would expect to see an NFL quarterback in, and he’s quite capable to step in for Flacco if the situation arises.
Bulger is a two-time Pro Bowler who won MVP honors in the 2003 Pro Bowl. Along with these accolades, Bulger set many other impressive records during his career with the St. Louis Rams, including fifth fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach 20,000 yards and 10 come-from-behind wins.
It’s obvious Flacco is “the guy” in Baltimore, and for many good reasons. However, competition is a good thing, and the Ravens front office must evaluate which signal-caller gives them the best opportunity to win games down the stretch.
It would be a big mistake on the part of the Ravens if they allow Bulger to become a casualty of free agency.
Ravens CB Fabian Washington (31)
One of the toughest areas for the Baltimore Ravens in this year’s free agency period is addressing the need to revamp their entire secondary during the offseason.
Which players should stay and who should go? That’s the question head coach John Harbaugh and his assistants should be entertaining right now.
Players like CB Josh Wilson, who came over from Seattle, filled in well for a secondary that was mangled by injuries for the greater portion of the 2010 season.
On the flipside, CB Fabian Washington lost his starting job after a horrendous performance against the Buffalo Bills and never seemed to regain his footing after that.
It’s hard to tell if Washington has completely lost his grasp for the game of football, but one thing is certain, the Ravens don’t have the luxury to take a gamble with him next year.
With dozens of talented cornerbacks set to become free agents by the end of this season, the Ravens should be able to do much better than Washington when they look deep into the free agent pool.
CB Brent Grimes from Atlanta or Antonio Cromartie from the Jets are just two names that can possibly land in Baltimore for the 2011 season.
Ravens CB Josh Wilson (37)
When CB Domonique Foxworth went down early in 2010 with a season-ending injury, CB Josh Wilson was signed to a one-year deal in order to fill the void in Baltimore’s secondary.
It took Wilson several games to adjust to his new surroundings in Baltimore, but once he did, Wilson became a very able coverage corner.
Wilson’s biggest moment as a Raven came in Houston, when he snagged a pick-six off Texans QB Matt Schaub in overtime to win the game.
Since then, Wilson displayed brilliant athleticism in covering some of the NFL’s top receivers, not getting beat deep as some younger Baltimore corners did throughout 2010.
Despite the solid play from Wilson all year, the Ravens brought him in to be used as a filler—not a long-term solution to a bigger problem.
With many talented cornerbacks in the free agent pool, once again, the Ravens will likely look in that direction and release Wilson in the near future, which should be to their benefit.
Ravens LT Jared Gaither
LT Jared Gaither suffered a ruptured disc in his back during Baltimore’s visit to New England in Week 6, a 23-20 loss. After the game, many fans attributed Baltimore’s defeat in New England to the loss of Jared Gaither at tackle.
Unfortunately, for the Ravens, the injury to Gaither’s back landed him on season-ending IR, and at that point, inconsistency with the Baltimore offensive line became a chronic problem.
Gaither has been an injury-prone tackle, which is a cause for concern, especially for a Ravens team that has dealt with a makeshift offensive line for several years.
In 2009, Gaither suffered from neck and foot injuries, but had one of his more productive years as a Pro in helping the running game flourish. During the 2009 season, Gaither contributed to the Ravens posting their second-highest total yardage season in franchise history (5,619).
Gaither was a “diamond in the rough” back in the 2007 NFL Draft. Gaither wound up on the Ravens squad by way of a supplemental pick in the fifth round of the Draft—yet another great find by team VP Ozzie Newsome.
Tackles Oniel Cousins, Marshal Yanda and Tony Moll all rotated through Gaither’s normal position at some point during the 2010 season, however, never had the success Gaither did when healthy.
The loss of Gaither to IR in 2010 was bigger than most analysts had first predicted, as the Ravens rushing attack was at its weakest in several seasons, and the sack count on QB Joe Flacco continuously increased from 2008-2010.
It’s evident that LT Michael Oher isn’t ready to fill Gaither’s shoes just yet. Baltimore’s front office must take into account how the Ravens offensive line performed with Gaither healthy and Oher over at right tackle (his more natural position).
Gaither should be a top priority in Baltimore’s quest to re-sign their free agents.
Ravens WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh
T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s 2010 campaign with the Baltimore Ravens was highly disappointing, given the fact that the 10-year veteran from Oregon State is regarded to be one of the NFL’s smartest receivers—a receiver who has the ability to run excellent routes and exploit holes in opposing defenses.
Many fans in Baltimore figured the combination of Houshmandzadeh and WR Anquan Boldin would present unbeatable mismatches for opposing teams. Instead, the new tandem in Baltimore did more harm than good to a team looking to reach new heights in the passing game.
Part of the problem many overlooked when Houshmandzadeh was brought onboard with Boldin, was the simple fact both receivers presented the same style of playmaking ability on the field. Both receivers are good possession route-runners, but fail to stretch the field because they lack blazing, game-changing speed.
In other words, neither Houshmandzadeh nor Boldin complimented each other on the field. They were (and are) one in the same type of receiver.
Houshmandzadeh, for one reason or another, never earned the trust of QB Joe Flacco throughout 2010. To put this in perspective, RB Ray Rice had over twice the amount of catches (63) Houshmandzadeh had.
In addition, as the 2010 season progressed, Houshmandzadeh became more vocal about his lack of touches in the Ravens offense, and his displeasure was seen on the field many times.
No one can doubt the excellent career Houshmandzadeh has had up until today. Having said that, it’ll be beneficial for both parties involved if they part ways in the offseason.
Ravens punter Sam Koch didn’t earn a trip to the Pro Bowl this year, but he had one of his best seasons with Baltimore, helping the team to win the all-important battle for field position in nearly every game during the 2010 season.
Koch’s amazing ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory undeniably won games for the Ravens this year, especially when Baltimore had difficulty winning games by large margins.
Out of Koch’s 81 punts, only 34 were returnable, and nearly half of those punts landed inside the opponent’s 20.
Even more amazing, only four of Koch’s 81 regular season punts went for touchbacks.
Koch’s pinpoint accuracy, combined with power, is a weapon the Ravens will want to have around for a long time. Look for the Ravens to make re-signing Koch a top priority during the offseason and reward the punter with a long-term contract.
Ravens SS Dawan Landry
In his fifth season with the Baltimore Ravens, strong safety Dawan Landry had the most productive season of his relatively short career.
While Landry failed to record a single interception, his combined tackles reached an all-time best of 111, 22 better than his 2009 campaign.
Landry did manage four interceptions in 2009, and he owns tremendous play-making ability, which should account for more interceptions in the near future—obviously the most important category for any strong safety.
With Landry possibly being the best strong safety free agent on the market, it would be wise for the Ravens to reward Landry’s performance with a meaningful contract in 2011.
Ravens WR Donte' Stallworth
Finally, the Baltimore Ravens need to find a speedy receiver that will fit what the team is trying to accomplish on offense.
WR Donte’ Stallworth simply wasn’t the answer Baltimore was looking for when it came to a true deep threat receiver.
Stallworth missed half of the 2010 season with a broken foot, and Baltimore was excited to see him return from the PUP list in Week 9. However, Stallworth’s production after returning to competition was completely nonexistent—something that came as a surprise to many people. He was merely a name on Baltimore’s roster, and nothing else.
Stallworth has the speed to be a true deep threat in the NFL, and the Ravens had the opportunity to use him as such. Nevertheless, Stallworth mainly saw action on a few end-around plays which netted the Ravens little yardage.
Stallworth would finish the regular season with two catches for 82 yards and no touchdowns.
With receivers Sidney Rice, Santonio Holmes, Jacoby Jones and Malcom Floyd, all available as top receivers in free agency (just to name a few), look for the Ravens to replace Stallworth with a another receiver who has a proven track record—and speed to boot.
Of course, any changes Baltimore makes to their receiving corps hinges on what the team decides to do with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Head coach John Harbaugh insists he will stand behind his coordinator, but we’ve all heard this type of talk before.
If enough pressure mounts for more change from the Ravens front office, Cameron could be the next coaching casualty. A change like this will play a great deal, into how the team retools their offense before the start of the 2011 season.
Many of the predictions made in this presentation should come true. In addition, all of these possible changes mentioned, should be for the better of the team.
A lot is riding on this offseason for the Baltimore Ravens, and it’s already becoming clear just how much the front office understands this, just with the changes they’ve already made to the coaching staff.
We know what the Ravens are capable of when it comes to the NFL Draft. In order to build a successful team, however, you must remain aggressive in free agency and grab the best players money can buy. This is the only way a team can stay competitive with top division rivals. In Baltimore’s case, this will obviously be the Steelers for many years to come.
The Ravens have a quality front office than can make these crucial decisions during the offseason. Only time will tell if hard work during the offseason ends up paying off in the end.
For the Ravens, the only way they can measure their offseason success is by topping Pittsburgh in 2011, winning the AFC North, and ultimately, the Super Bowl.
Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Follow Todd's work on Twitter! Twitter.com/ravens023