As Offseason FINALLY Opens, Ravens Face Seven Major Issues

July 25, 2011 | Glenn Clark

4-Can the WR corps still be improved?

Over the last two offseasons, the Ravens have done significant work to improve their group of receivers. A season ago they traded for Anquan Boldin and signed free agents Donte’ Stallworth and TJ Houshmandzadeh along with drafting David Reed out of Utah.

After disappointing results from Houshmandzadeh and Stallworth in 2010, the Ravens appear set to let both walk as free agents this offseason. In preparation for their departures, the team took Maryland WR Torrey Smith (2nd round) and Indiana WR Tandon Doss (4th round) in the NFL Draft after signing free agent WR James Hardy in January.

The Ravens now have a group of Boldin, Derrick Mason, T Smith, Doss, Hardy, Reed and Marcus Smith as their top receivers. While that group may well be plenty capable of helping the Ravens reach Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, the team will absolutely take a look at outside options as well.

Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer reported recently that free agent WR Steve Smith would be interested in departing the Carolina Panthers for Baltimore. While not offering the Ravens much in the way of size (Smith is just 5’9″), Smith could give the Ravens another option to stretch the field.

While Hardy (6’5″) could give the Ravens a red zone target, his failure to establish himself in Buffalo gives the team reason to want to further pursue size at the receiver position. Vikings WR Sidney Rice, Chargers WR Malcolm Floyd and even Titans WR Randy Moss could all be size options.

Should the Ravens look outside the organization for top line receivers, it would likely mean the end of the run for Mason in Baltimore. Mason’s release would erase $4.5 million from the books for the Ravens in 2011, which could make the difference in acquiring a top notch receiver.

While the Ravens would not be likely to simply release Mason for the sake of releasing him, they found out it was difficult to find space on the field for him, Boldin and TE Todd Heap in Cam Cameron’s offense last season. If they are to make a change, it would be in hopes of adding a receiver who could use a different part of the field than those players generally take up.

5-Someone will need to join Ray Rice in the backfield

The Ravens know who their top tailback will be in the 2011 season, but have a number of questions to answer beyond that.

RB Willis McGahee is slated to make $6 million in 2011, making his impending release the worst kept secret in football. Beyond that, FB Le’Ron McClain is a free agent and has made his desire for an expanded offensive role clear.

Behind them, the Ravens backfield includes RB’s Jalen Parmele, Matt Lawrence, Curtis Steele and 7th round pick Anthony Allen (Georgia Tech), along with FB Jason McKie. That group has 40 career rushes TOTAL among them.

McGahee and McClain are not guaranteed to depart. The Ravens could well choose to pursue McGahee after releasing him should he find the market for his services to be dry. They could commit to moving McClain into a more traditional running back role and offer him good money to keep him from taking another offer.

Free agent RB options include Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Cardinals RB Tim Hightower and Dolphins RB Ricky Williams. Free agent FB options include Packers FB John Kuhn and Pro Bowl Texans FB Vonta Leach.

This might be the most unknown of all positions the Ravens are working on this offseason, as it’s hard to make assumptions with any of the names in this group.

6-Will Landry go and who will replace him?

SS Dawan Landry has been a solid producer since being drafted by the Ravens in 2006.

With a number of teams (including Tampa and Cincinnati) needing to spend money this offseason to reach the necessary 99% threshold of the salary cap, it is expected that Landry will receive a contract offer elsewhere the Ravens will be unable to match.

Should Landry depart, the Ravens are expected to look inside the organization for a replacement. Backup Haruki Nakamura could well be ready to step in and start, as could backup FS Tom Zbikowski, who played well as a starter during the first six weeks of 2010 while Ed Reed was on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Nakamura and Zbikowski are Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s), but are both expected to return.

One free agent name that has been rumored as an option in Baltimore is Eagles S Quintin Mikell, who has familiarity with Head Coach John Harbaugh from the coach’s days in Philly as Special Teams Coordinator.  Other free agents available include Saints S Roman Harper and Chargers S Eric Weddle.

7-Joe Flacco’s backup will be….?

Despite criticism from fellow NFL players and analysts during the offseason, the Ravens do NOT have a question mark at starting quarterback. Joe Flacco will be the guy and will have high expectations in 2011.

Behind Flacco, the Ravens kept just Marc Bulger on the active roster in 2010. Bulger is now a free agent and may receive interest from other NFL teams as a future starter.

Bulger could also decide that he simply wants to remain in Baltimore as a backup, which would leave 6th round pick Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech) as the team’s third QB.

If Bulger departs, the Ravens would have to stick with the rookie as their backup to Flacco (they also have practice squad QB Hunter Cantwell on the roster) or they could consider a veteran backup like free agent Dolphins QB Chad Pennington.

Certainly there are a number of issues to be addressed in a short amount of time. That being said, the Ravens are in a much better place entering this offseason than they have been in many offseasons before.

It will be interesting to see how the next two weeks play out.