Obviously when setting the tone for the Ravens’ off-season, everything takes a back seat to resolving the Joe Flacco contract situation. The importance thereof is only magnified by the realization that there are so many questions still to be answered, so many decisions still to be made; but until the Ravens know for sure what their quarterback’s financial future may hold, everything else is essentially on hold. That however doesn’t diminish the fact that there are important decisions outside the QB position to be made before the Ravens begin their title defense and prepare for the 2013 campaign.
Conceding that the importance of Flacco’s deal is paramount to everything else, here are the next 5 major points of consideration for the Ravens to deal with this off-season in order to have hopes of a 6th straight post-season trip.
#1 – Suring Up the Left Tackle Situation
If Flacco was the biggest difference maker for the Ravens in the playoffs, then further investigation is merited in determining what helped him turn his season, and his reputation, around. For my money, it began with the offensive line. After a season in the proverbial “dog house” Bryant McKinnie was finally given a chance to show and prove, and from there the offense never seemed to look back.
In the lead up to the Broncos game, no one seemed to have any concerns about the Denver secondary. Hindsight might suggest that to have been a result of the constant quarterback pressure the Broncos were able to count on from Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Without that pressure however, the Ravens found and readily exploited cracks in the Broncos secondary that no one seemed to know were there in the first place.
McKinnie and the Ravens began this season on unceremonious terms, and pretty much kept things that way until the end. Having proven his value, albeit over a 4-game stretch, there’s still no real assurance that the Ravens will or should trust McKinneie enough to agree to terms on a multi-year deal. On the other side of that coin, there’s no good reason to think McKinnie will feel any special brand of loyalty to the Ravens when others come calling on the open market.
What’s undeniable about the whole episode is that by replacing Michael Oher with McKinnie at LT, the Ravens were able to move Oher to his natural RT position where he represented an improvement over Kelechi Osemele. Osemele then moved to the LG position that the Ravens struggled to find an answer for all season too. This three-fold improvement made the Ravens line exponentially better; and no matter how they address LT going forward, any “solution” involving moving Oher and Osemele back to the positions they played for the majority of 2012 has to be considered multiple steps backward.
#2 – Replacing Jim Caldwell
Continuing with the theme of what was different for the Ravens offense at the end, the departure of Cam Cameron and the elevation of Jim Caldwell to the offensive coordinator position would seem to be the other major factor. The performance of Caldwell’s offense has been celebrated widely within the fan base, and certainly hasn’t been lost on the league at large either.
In an off-season where everyone seems dissatisfied with the impact of the Rooney Rule and the lack of minority hires made in filling head coaching vacancies, Caldwell will all but surely be a hot head coaching candidate at the end of next season. Even getting to the Super Bowl again, and therefore delaying the process for teams interested in Caldwell might not be enough to slow his roll.
In what looks to be a lame duck season for Caldwell with the Ravens, it’s important to figure out if the next guy in line is someone already on staff, or how the team can look to groom a next guy in line, potentially by hiring him as a quarterback coach / OC in waiting.