12-4 Regular Season.
Beat the Steelers twice.
AFC North Championship.
8-0 Home Record.
NFL Final Four.
Lost in AFC Championship Game.
Why do I feel so cheated?
I think the answer to that question is that as a Raven fan, I very much think we were good enough to do better. I have often heard the expression that professional sports can be a game of inches. Wow, isn’t that true? I cannot escape the feeling that winning the Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis was our destiny and that destiny was robbed from us. Maybe time will heal this wound, maybe not.
At this point of the calendar all Ravens fans have turned to what will our roster look like next year. Ray Lewis has said he will be back and Ray Rice is a free agent that NEEDS to be back. Joe Flacco wants his contract extended and free agent Ben Grubbs wants a contract. Lots of off season moves to discuss and the draft is still 3 months away.
First a list of the most important Raven Free Agents include Ray Rice, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Andre Gurode, Brandon Mckinney, Cory Redding, Jamel McClain, Jaret Johnson, Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zibbokowski. That’s one heck of a list and includes several starters, but let’s be honest………this list is all about Ray Rice. Ray Rice is the most dynamic player on our offense and needs to be locked up so that he can play the next 5 or 6 years with the Ravens. I want Ray Rice to be the best Raven running back ever and I one day want to passionately argue about his Hall of Fame chances. I also think that Ray Rice being a Raven the next 5 or 6 years is our best chance of fielding a competitive team with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Players like Ray Rice do NOT grow on trees and we NEED to keep him, Period.
That is not to say that we don’t have a lot of other free agents to sign or find players to fill their roles.
Back up safety can be addressed in either the draft, not the first round, and the free agent market. I don’t see either Haruki or Zibby returning.
I think Paul Krueger will replace Jaret Johnson. In the NFL you have to go with the guy going into the fourth year in the league instead of the guy going into his tenth. I think Sergio Kindle has 1 more season to prove to the Ravens that he has what it takes to be an impactful NFL outside linebacker. I don’t know the outcome to Sergio Kindles journey is going to be, but I, and I hope the Ravens, should give the kid 1 more year to prove himself.
I think inside linebacker is where the Ravens have to spend their top draft pick this year. Between Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe and Albert McClellan, the Ravens urgently need a high impact ILB ready to come in and play right away.
I think our defensive line has 4 really good players in Haloti Ngata, Terrance Cody, Art Jones and Pernell McPhee. I think the Ravens really like rookie Michael McAdoo and he will come into camp with a real good chance to make this team. We have 1 more position available on the defensive line, but this cannot be our top priority. We are looking real good at defensive line.
The offensive line is a real problem. There is a good chance the Ravens could lose Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk and Andre Gurode. The Ravens have to spend a high draft pick, probably not their first pick, on an interior lineman. I think the Ravens will draft at least 2 interior lineman, preferably someone who can play both Guard and Center. The top priority with their second round pick should be to draft the best interior lineman available. I would love to re-sign Ben Grubbs but he is a lower priority than Ray Rice.
I think WR is fine. I think they will cut Lee Evans to save some money. I have high hopes for rookies Torrey Smith, LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss. I think with and entire off season to spend with the Ravens that these 3 will make for an excellent group of wide receivers behind Anquon. As a quick side not I find it inexcusable that the TD pass to Lee Evans in the final seconds of the AFC Championship game went to anyone but Anquon. INEXCUSABLE!!!!!!
The Ravens have 2 restricted free agents at cornerback, Carey Williams and Lardarius Webb. With rookie Jimmy Smith on the roster I can easily argue that the Ravens are the best and deepest team in the NFL at CB. My hope is they assign 2 first round draft picks to protect Lardarius. I could understand if the Ravens assign a second round draft pick for Carey Williams. It would be a shame to loss him but with 2 potential all pro cornerbacks in Webb and Smith, and the Ravens having so many holes to fill, they could certainly use another high draft pick. If they don’t, I love that we have at CB too much depth and very high quality.
These are my first thoughts and I’m sure I have spelled some names wrong. I don’t care. I just wanted to capture my post Championship loss into some thoughts about moving forward.