I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to start writing a football column.
With the NFL offseason officially slated to open…well…any moment now, the Baltimore Ravens can finally go to work where they left off following the NFL Draft.
The Ravens (as well as all 31 other NFL teams) will have a frantic 10-14 days ahead of them. They’ll need to make decisions on their own free agents, as well as consider players they may want to let go of in order to create salary cap space (this year’s cap will reportedly be $120 million). They’ll have to take a look at Unrestricted Free Agents elsewhere around the league, as well as potential trades. They’ll also have to sign undrafted free agents to fill a 90 man roster and then work on contracts with their own draft picks.
As far as the Ravens are concerned, they’ll have to do all of this while also opening Training Camp (scheduled to begin Wednesday per NFL Network) and preparing for a preseason opener Thursday, August 11th at the Philadelphia Eagles.
As General Manager Ozzie Newsome and company go to work, I’ve identified seven major issues the team faces in this crazy offseason period.
In some particular order…
1-Someway, somehow, the pass rush MUST be upgraded
New Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano inherits a unit that tallied just 27 sacks in 2010. Only three teams had a lower total (the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished with 26 sacks each, the Denver Broncos finished with 23) last season. The Ravens posted the disappointing total number despite 11 sacks alone from LB Terrell Suggs.
The easiest way the Ravens can upgrade this area is by adding a Rush End. Amongst defensive linemen a season ago, only DT Haloti Ngata (5.5) and Cory Redding (three) posted multiple sacks.
The Ravens have in-house options to anchor their defensive line, although none are ideal. Redding could again be asked to take on rush responsibilities, but only once in his career (2006 with the Detroit Lions) has he tallied more than three sacks in a season (eight).
Third year DE Paul Kruger finally got into the sack column last year, but through two seasons that one sack remains the only he has posted.
Another option is DE Pernell McPhee, the team’s 5th round pick out of Mississippi State. McPhee’s chances are less likely due to the shortened offseason, as coaches will be less likely to trust a player immediately after getting little to no time with him in the offseason.
The Ravens can look to free agency to get rush end help. Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins, Carolina’s Charles Johnson, Minnesota’s Ray Edwards and Tennessee’s Jason Babin headline a group of available rushers off the edge. All will be pricey for a team that still needs to get Ngata signed to a long term deal.
Battling injuries throughout the season, LB Jarret Johnson finished with just 1.5 sacks in 2010. The Ravens are hoping 2010 second round pick Sergio Kindle can spell him at the SAM position, presenting some heat opposite Suggs. It’s hard to count on production from Kindle considering he’s still working his way back from a fractured skull that forced him to miss what would have been his rookie season, but Kindle has maintained this offseason that he has been cleared to return to football.
On the inside, the Ravens can potentially produce a more consistent rush from within. Releasing DT Kelly Gregg could provide the team roughly $3 million in cap savings, and could pave the way for one of the team’s younger interior linemen to get time on the field. DT’s Terrence Cody, Brandon McKinney, Arthur Jones, Lamar Divens and Kelly Talavou could all be options and could all provide a little more ability to reach the backfield.