Ravens off-season begins now – get the broom out

January 18, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Two straight trips to the post-season have certainly helped the Ravens move up the “status ladder” in the NFL, but there’s a lot of work to do in Owings Mills if John Harbaugh and Company hope to be a legitimate championship contender in 2010.

The work starts now.

And so do the questions.

What to do with Derrick Mason?  Mark Clayton?

How does Ed Reed’s injury and retirement-hint affect the club’s free-agent chase and draft process?

And the big question, of course — for every team — is this:  What’s going to happen with the salary cap and the pursuit of a new CBA with the player’s association?  If 2010 is, indeed, uncapped, the Ravens might not be able to sign enough free agents to dramatically improve next season.  That’s a scary thought, but it’s true.

Let’s skip the uncapped year issue for now, because it’s just too out-of-our-pay-grade to even worry about.  My bet is that the players hold serve, stay strong, and don’t sign anything in 2010, kick-starting a public, sure-to-be-ugly public battle with the owners that will result in an uncapped season and potentially a lock out in 2011.

But the issues facing the Ravens are going to be there regardless of what happens with the CBA and the salary cap.

The good news?  The Ravens don’t need an overhaul, not in the least.  They have an outstanding offensive line, a Pro Bowl caliber running back and a quarterback who hasn’t missed a game in two seasons and will only get better.  But to win in the NFL, you need to throw the ball effectively and the Ravens – particularly against good teams – just can’t do that.

I hate to be the one to bring in the broom and start the house cleaning, but I will.

All the wide receivers who suited up Saturday in Indianapolis need to move on.

I know it’s dangerous to say that and not have any replacements in mind.  But this group of four isn’t the answer. One-by-one, they all have their own individual blemishes.

Derrick Mason is a good wide receiver who has enjoyed a VERY good 5-year run in Baltimore.  By all rights, he should be in the team’s Ring-of-Honor someday even if he doesn’t fit the loose, established criteria the club has put in place.

But at this stage in his career, Mason is a complimentary receiver at best.  And in all fairness — and honesty — his bark has always been a little worse than his bite.  He’s not quite in the Chad Johnson Diva Club, but his application and enrollment check are in the mail.  Derrick has always chirped a little too much for my liking, although I’ll be the first to admit he’s absolutely overachieved in his days in purple.  He’s not as good as he thinks he is, but he’s better than most people give him credit for.  I know, it’s weird.

Mark Clayton is the nicest guy in the locker room, perhaps, but if being a nice guy won you stuff, I’d have three Masters Green Jackets in my possession and a Claret Jug for winning The British Open.

Being nice in the NFL doesn’t get you much.

And it definitely hasn’t helped Clayton, who would probably be deemed a success by most folks had he been a 4th round pick in the draft instead of a 1st round selection.  He was the marquee wide receiver we were all going to watch blossom — and he’s never  been able to reach full bloom in five years in Baltimore.

He’ll catch on with someone in the NFL, for sure.  Miami might be a good fit.  Maybe even San Francisco or Seattle. But Clayton’s days in Baltimore are probably done and I can’t say I’d blame the Ravens one bit if they parted company with him.

Demetrius Williams might be a decent wide receiver in the league, but he can’t stay healthy long enough to develop a synergy with the quarterback and the other wide receivers.  His 4th down drop in the 3rd quarter at Indianapolis wasn’t the defining moment of his career, but it’s probably the final time the Ravens will ever count on him.

I liked what I saw of Kelley Washington all season and honestly wished they would have used him more.  A bird on the tree at Owings Mills tells me Washington isn’t the hardest worker in practice…and that’s one of the reasons why he didn’t see more playing time in 2009.

And despite the fact that I liked Washington most of the season, I’m also smart enough to know the Ravens would be just fine without him .

It’s far too early in the process to start rattling off names of players the Ravens need to go get.  I’ll save that for a February blog or two.  But this much is certain:  The Ravens need a new room of wide receivers.  The four who played in Indianapolis aren’t good enough.

There are defensive back issues that need to be sorted out in the off-season.  At least one more competent tight end would be a welcome addition too.

The draft will yield a variety of answers to some of the questions facing the Ravens.

But the team’s wide receiver quandry will be the biggest issue for Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta.  It’s one thing to need a player or two.  The Ravens need four.

And because wide receivers — good ones — are a need for just about every team, the Ravens are going to have to compete with a lot of other clubs for a handful of players who can help their offense.

The Ravens SHOULD go into the 2010 season as a pre-season playoff pick by most of the experts, but they’ll need to add a bunch of capable pass catchers before I’ll consider them title worthy next season.

We’ve seen how it works when you don’t have guys who can stretch the field, get open and catch the ball.

You’re never quite good enough.