Tag Archive | "ozzie newsome"

talib

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Denver’s path reminds Ravens of NFL’s slim margin for error

Posted on 07 February 2016 by Luke Jones

As Denver prepared for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday, it was difficult not to think back to the Ravens’ season-opening 19-13 loss to the Broncos last September and remember the high expectations entering 2015.

An interception returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Aqib Talib was the difference as the Ravens owned the lead late in the third quarter before a Joe Flacco pass intended for Steve Smith was returned 51 yards in the other direction. Perhaps the season plays out differently if John Harbaugh’s team holds on to steal a difficult road win to kick off 2015 on a high note.

Some have pointed to that narrow Week 1 defeat as reason why Baltimore isn’t far from again being a contender despite its worst season since 2007. And, yes, there was some symmetry in the Super Bowl champions having 12 of their 16 regular-season games decided by a single possession while the Ravens saw 14 of their 16 contests decided by eight or fewer points this season.

But that’s life in the NFL as only six teams — Carolina, New England, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the plus side and San Francisco and Cleveland on the negative side — owned a scoring margin of more than eight points points per game in either direction in 2015. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and are close.

Excruciatingly close.

And that margin of victory — or defeat — is typically decided by the game-changing players on either side of the ball. For all the discussion about Peyton Manning’s decline, the Broncos still have a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball, ranging from outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Talib to receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Those are the types of players that separate the winning teams from the losing ones in an otherwise fairly even talent pool from team to team. Denver’s plus-59 point differential during the regular season ranked just sixth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL, but Gary Kubiak’s team figured out ways to win close games while the Ravens consistently fell short in crunch time in 2015.

For years, Baltimore had a number of dynamic players, but most have either departed or have aged too much since Super Bowl XLVII three years ago. The well-documented list of injuries in 2015 merely amplified what was already a flawed roster.

Great players were on display for Denver in Santa Clara on Sunday night.

It will be up to general manager Ozzie Newsome this offseason to find at least a couple game-changers to close that narrow but all-important gap between winning and losing teams.

Otherwise, the Ravens will probably find themselves watching playoff games from their couches again next January.

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tucker

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Ranking the Ravens’ special teams needs for 2016

Posted on 23 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Special teams are cut and dry for the Ravens this offseason.

They don’t need to mess with a good thing when they were the consensus choice as the best special-teams unit in the NFL in 2015. Keeping the group together will be the challenge.

With free agency set to begin in less than two months — March 9 at 4 p.m. — and the draft set for April 28-30, the Ravens are currently evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the finale of a three-part series — we’ve already looked at the offense and defense — I offer my thoughts on the special teams and rank the greatest needs.

1. Re-sign Justin Tucker

The 2013 Pro Bowl kicker isn’t going anywhere despite going only 4-for-10 from 50 or more yards this past season. Tucker missed only one field goal inside 50 all year and that came when the turf at Levi’s Stadium swallowed his plant foot on a 45-yard attempt in Week 6.

It will simply be a matter of whether the Ravens can sign the 26-year-old to a long-term contract or they’ll be forced to use the franchise tag, which was $4.126 million for kickers in 2015.

New England’s Stephen Gostkowski received just over $10 million guaranteed last year, so you’d have to think Tucker is looking for something in that neighborhood. We’ll see if general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens are willing to give it to him.

2. Long snapper

To be clear, longtime snapper Morgan Cox remains the Ravens’ top choice, but they were able to re-sign the veteran to a small one-year deal this past offseason as he was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Of course, long snappers don’t make lucrative money, but Cox’s $665,000 salary cap figure for 2015 tied for 22nd among NFL snappers, according to Spotrac.com. If Cox is looking for a substantial raise after making his first Pro Bowl, you wonder if the Ravens would consider going with a younger and cheaper option due to their tight cap situation.

But you’d hate to test the chemistry of a superb trio that also includes Pro Bowl punter Sam Koch.

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Ranking the Ravens’ defensive needs for 2016

Posted on 22 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens defense needs some work.

Yes, the unit finished eighth in total defense and surrendered the fewest passing yards in the NFL over the second half of the season, but five of the Ravens’ final eight games came against passing attacks ranked 19th or worse and another came against an AJ McCarron-led Cincinnati attack in the season finale.

The improvement was encouraging, but it wasn’t enough to just assume everything is fine, especially after the defense finished with just 14 takeaways, shattering the worst mark in team history. The hiring of former NFL head coach Leslie Frazier to coach the secondary highlights the Ravens’ desire to improve against the pass.

With free agency set to begin in less than two months — March 9 at 4 p.m. — and the draft set for April 28-30, the Ravens are currently evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the second of a three-part series — we’ve already looked at the offense and special teams will follow — I offer my thoughts on the defensive side of the football and rank the positions of greatest need.

1. Cornerback

Some will argue that improving the pass rush is a bigger need than cornerback, but with Shareece Wright scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and Lardarius Webb moving to safety, who will start opposite top cornerback Jimmy Smith?

Even if they’re able to re-sign Wright — who shook off a nightmare debut against San Francisco to play quite well the rest of the way — the Ravens would benefit from having another high-end cornerback. In addition to hoping that Smith is finally over the effects of his 2014 foot surgery, they need another playmaker in the secondary.

That’s the biggest reason why the Ravens have been linked to top cornerback prospects such as Jalen Ramsey from Florida State or Vernon Hargreaves from Florida with the sixth overall pick in this spring’s draft.

Baltimore has some internal options such as Will Davis who carry intrigue, but none have a body of work suggesting you could pencil them into the starting lineup with any great level of confidence.

2. Outside linebacker

Owner Steve Bisciotti spoke at length at the season-ending press conference about how much the Ravens missed Terrell Suggs after he was lost for the year in the 2015 opener, but the six-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker will be 34 in October and coming off his second Achilles injury in four years.

Further complicating matters is the pending free agency of Courtney Upshaw, who lacks pass-rushing skills but is effective setting the edge against the run. The Ravens saw promising development from 2015 fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith late in the year, but they’d love to add another outside linebacker to ease the workload of the 32-year-old Elvis Dumervil, who wore down late in the year as a three-down player.

The defense needs a young outside linebacker who can get after the quarterback, but the top options in the draft beyond Ohio State’s Joey Bosa — Myles Jack of UCLA and Leonard Floyd of Georgia — would likely be considered a reach where the Ravens are picking in the first round.

There’s a lot of uncertainty at this position for 2016 and beyond when your top two options are both well over 30.

3. Safety

Since the departure of Ed Reed, the Ravens have pumped so many resources into improving this position with very underwhelming results.

Though not quite as consistent as you’d probably like, Will Hill has emerged as a solid starter at strong safety, but the free safety position remains a different story. Kendrick Lewis just doesn’t show enough ability to make high-impact plays, and Lardarius Webb’s $9.5 million salary cap figure for 2016 will need to be addressed if he’s even to remain on the team.

Terrence Brooks has flashed his athleticism when given opportunities, but the 2014 third-round pick has battled injuries and has yet to earn the trust of the coaching staff from a mental standpoint.

Unless you draft Ramsey and move him to safety, there doesn’t appear to be a safety in this year’s draft who can bring the type of impact the Ravens are seeking. This could mean another year of hoping an internal option such as Brooks finally emerges as more of a ball-hawking threat.

4. Inside linebacker

Daryl Smith will be 34 and is no guarantee to return, meaning the Ravens should be looking for the inside linebacker of the future next to 2014 Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley.

Former undrafted free agent Zach Orr showed solid coverage skills while replacing Smith in the nickel package late last season, but it remains to be seen whether he can be a viable three-down linebacker. And 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown is more likely to be cut then to suddenly become a starter after three disappointing seasons in Baltimore.

Considering Mosley has struggled in pass coverage, the Ravens would benefit greatly from having another inside linebacker who can stick with running backs or tight ends in routes.

Whether it’s for 2016 or beyond, general manager Ozzie Newsome would probably be wise to be on the lookout for an inside backer with upside in the middle rounds of the draft.

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Marchibroda bridged gap from old to new in Baltimore

Posted on 17 January 2016 by Luke Jones

I never met Ted Marchibroda.

I don’t have any special insight into his coaching ability or personality that you haven’t already seen or heard about the man who received his first head-coaching gig with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 and finished his career as the first head coach of the Ravens from 1996-1998.

Praised for his innovative “K-Gun” offense in Buffalo but also criticized for being too conservative as Colts fans used to lament, “Hey, diddle, diddle; it’s Lydell up the middle,” Marchibroda led Baltimore to three straight AFC East titles from 1975-1977, but his Colts were eliminated in the first round in each of those seasons. He wouldn’t win his first playoff game as a head coach until he guided Indianapolis all the way to the 1995 AFC championship game when he was 64 years old.

His Ravens teams weren’t very good and lacked the talent to be a real factor in the AFC Central, but Marchibroda was the man who bridged the gap from the old Colts to the new Ravens. For young Baltimoreans who had never enjoyed their own NFL team, he provided living, breathing context to the stories our fathers and grandfathers told of Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell, and the Sack Pack.

It was great seeing legendary Colts such as Johnny Unitas and Lenny Moore hanging out on the sideline during Ravens games, but their playing days had long since ended. There was something special about Marchibroda serving in the same capacity with the Ravens as he had with the Colts 20 years earlier. And, yes, part of that experience even included complaining about an explosive Ravens offense in 1996 being too conservative in the second half of games in a way not terribly different from the gripes of Baltimore fans 20 years before.

Any coach would tell you that’s just life in the NFL.

Hearing the reactions of many former players — Colts and Ravens — upon learning of his death on Saturday, it was evident that Marchibroda’s impeccable character eclipsed a good coaching career that spanned nearly four decades. He wasn’t the greatest coach in the history of either Baltimore franchise, but Marchibroda was a man the city was lucky to have at two pivotal times. He led the Colts in their final glory days in Baltimore and later helped us remember what it was like to have the NFL.

“In a way, he set the Ravens’ path,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “He wanted players who owned what he called ‘a football temperament.’ Those are players who love all aspects of the game — the mental part, lifting weights, practice, and the physicality.

“That eventually became what we now call ‘playing like a Raven.'”

The Ravens have thrived with that mindset to the tune of two Super Bowl championships, four division titles, and 10 playoff appearances in the 17 seasons since he departed Baltimore.

Marchibroda deserves a special place in Baltimore football lore.

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Pondering the Ravens’ potential 2016 salary cap cuts

Posted on 12 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are facing their most critical offseason of the John Harbaugh era, but revamping a 5-11 team won’t be easy with a salary cap lacking flexibility.

Having entered the offseason with an estimated 2016 commitment of just under $146 million to 47 players, general manager Ozzie Newsome can only hope that the salary cap will rise to the highest reported estimate of $153.4 million, an increase of $10 million from this past season. However, that would still leave little room to sign some of their own free agents, let alone try to make other additions.

The direction of the offseason hinges on Baltimore’s ability to adjust quarterback Joe Flacco’s $28.55 million salary cap figure for the 2016 season, but additional cap-related moves will likely still need to be made. The Ravens may not have an extensive list of high-priority free agents, but standing pat after missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons won’t sit well with the fan base — or owner Steve Bisciotti.

And after last week’s revelation that Harbaugh doesn’t plan to make any changes to his coaching staff, the Ravens are signaling that the roster was the bigger problem in 2015.

In evaluating cap space and potential cuts, it’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player is offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $450,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.55 million savings on the salary cap.

Below is a list of veteran candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses):

CB Kyle Arrington ($1.433 million)
Skinnny: Signed last spring to serve as Baltimore’s No. 3 corner, Arrington struggled and saw his playing time dwindle dramatically until the late-season move of Lardarius Webb to safety. With younger options such as Will Davis and Tray Walker already on the roster and the Ravens mentioning cornerback as a need to address this offseason, Arrington’s roster spot would appear to be in serious jeopardy.

DE Chris Canty ($2.15 million)
Skinny: The 33-year-old is still a useful player when healthy, but injuries and the presence of Lawrence Guy and Brent Urban for the 5-technique spot make it likely that the Ravens will elect to cut Canty this winter. The organization decided to bring the veteran back after terminating his contract a year ago, but you wonder if either side would have interest in doing that again.

S Matt Elam ($1.328 million)
Skinny: The Ravens would still like to salvage some production out of the worst defensive first-round pick in franchise history, but Elam is making enough money now to wonder if it’s worth it. With Will Hill manning the strong safety spot, where does the University of Florida product even fit? Elam would be an expensive backup and special-teams player at a crowded position.

RB Justin Forsett ($2.3 million)
Skinny: The Ravens have three young running backs behind him on the depth chart, but Lorenzo Taliaferro hasn’t been able to stay healthy, Buck Allen had ball-security issues late in the season, and Terrance West wore out his welcome with two other NFL teams in less than two years. Forsett may not be a home-run hitter, but his $3.7 million cap figure is reasonable and Allen didn’t quite show enough for the Ravens to sign off on him being ready to be a No. 1 running back just yet.

S Kendrick Lewis ($933,333)
Skinny: Though Lewis didn’t bring the impact to the free safety position that the Ravens hoped when they signed him last offseason, his release wouldn’t bring much in the way of cap savings. That being said, if the Ravens truly intend to make Webb their starting free safety, cutting Lewis might be a football move more than one related to the salary cap.

OT Eugene Monroe ($2.1 million)
Skinny: This could be the most complicated decision of the offseason as Monroe has started only 16 games since signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract two years ago. Cutting Monroe leaves $6.6 million in dead money on the 2016 cap, and re-signing Kelechi Osemele won’t be an easy task. If Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss or Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley falls into their laps in the first round, the Ravens could wave goodbye to Monroe. Otherwise, they may look to draft a tackle in the second or third round and hold their breath that Monroe bounces back in 2016.

TE Dennis Pitta ($600,000)
Skinny: The veteran tight end said at the end of the season that nothing has changed in terms of his hopes to play again, but things have changed for the Ravens as his 2016 base salary ($5 million) is not guaranteed like it was this past year. There’s always a chance that Pitta agrees to an incentive-laden deal with no guaranteed money to continue with a potential comeback, but he is more likely to be released or to retire. The question will be whether the Ravens want $6.6 million in dead money to be absorbed in 2016 or to give him a post-June 1 designation to push $4.4 million of that to 2017. Either way, Pitta’s exit isn’t going to be of great assistance when it comes to making moves this offseason.

LB Daryl Smith ($2.625 million)
Skinny: The veteran has done a fine job stepping into the position once held by Ray Lewis, but he wore down as 2015 progressed and was being replaced by Zach Orr in nickel situations late in the season. There isn’t an obvious every-down replacement waiting in the wings, but Smith will be 34 and carries a $4.375 million cap figure for 2016. In a perfect world, 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown already would have stepped into the spot next to C.J. Mosley, but we know how that story has played out.

CB Lardarius Webb ($3.5 million)
Skinny: Newsome spoke with conviction at the season-ending press conference about the Ravens moving Webb to free safety, but his $9.5 million cap figure for 2016 would make him one of the most expensive safeties in the league despite his inexperience there. Webb accepted a pay cut a year ago and will likely need to take another one unless the Ravens are that blindly confident in him being a Pro Bowl-caliber safety. The fact that Webb already proclaimed himself to be a safety moving forward probably won’t help his cause in negotiating with the Ravens or on the open market if he’s let go.

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Newsome expecting Suggs back for 2016 season

Posted on 08 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Uncertainty has surrounded Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs since he suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in the 2015 opener, but Ozzie Newsome brought clarity on Thursday.

The general manager said he’s had numerous conversations with the six-time Pro Bowl selection and expects him to return for his 14th season. Suggs will be attempting to come back from his second Achilles injury — one to each heel — in less than four years.

“In my last conversation with him, his answer to me was, ‘I don’t want to leave the game the way I left it out in Denver,'” Newsome said. “I think he is using that as motivation. He’s had that injury before, so he knows what it takes to get back. I’m just looking forward to him getting back in here when he does, being involved in the [organized team activities], going through training camp, and just seeing where he is.”

While coaches, teammates, and fans tried to respond to his loss with the “next man up” mantra at the time of the injury, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he found new appreciation for Suggs over the course of the 2015 season. In his absence, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had to step into an every-down role after defensive coordinator Dean Pees was previously able to maximize his pass-rush ability as a platoon player with Courtney Upshaw. The injury also increased the workload of rookie Za’Darius Smith, who was drafted in the fourth round to replace situational rusher Pernell McPhee.

The trickle-down effect of the Suggs injury extended beyond the pass rush, according to the Baltimore owner.

“You start to create pressure, you start blitzing linebackers and then you get exposed in the underneath routes and they take advantage of that and it makes our linebackers look bad,” Bisciotti said. “Then, the corners and the safeties have to hold on a second longer, and they get exposed. It was the biggest domino effect of losing one guy.

“If anybody in this league said, ‘If we lost Joe Flacco in Week 1, where would we be?’ We’d say, ‘Not good.’ If you had said, ‘What one guy can’t you afford to lose on defense?’ I think most of you would have said Suggs.”

The loss of Suggs had a sizable impact on the defense, but it’s also concerning that the unit was so dependent on a 13th-year linebacker who turned 33 in October. The Ravens cannot afford to lean so heavily on the veteran again as he will be another year older and coming off a major injury.

For that reason, adding a high-impact pass rusher could be Baltimore’s biggest priority this offseason. After collecting 49 sacks in 2014, the Ravens managed just 37 this season with Dumervil’s total dropping from a franchise-record 17 to only six.

“Pass rush is really important,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You lose Terrell Suggs, you lose Pernell McPhee, [and] you try to replace them, move guys into those spots, and you work with them. Elvis Dumervil, I’ll tell you what, he was bringing it week in and week out. But he was getting a lot of attention, too. That made it a little bit tougher for him.”

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Perriman expected to be fully recovered for offseason program

Posted on 08 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was excited watching 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman on the first day of training camp on July 30.

Little did he know that would be the final time he’d see the wide receiver practice fully in his rookie season.

“He made an incredible catch on the right sideline, and he went to the ground and the knee hit first,” Newsome said. “I was excited about, ‘Oh, he’s made another great play down the field; that’s what we needed for him to do.’ From that point on, you see a guy go to the ground and you really don’t think anything happened, but I noticed it took some time for him to get back up.”

A partially-torn posterior cruciate ligament followed by a late-September setback cost the 6-foot-2 Central Florida product the chance to contribute to a passing game that lacked a high-impact vertical threat throughout a 5-11 season.

The Ravens training staff and renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews told Newsome on Wednesday that Perriman should be ready to go for the offseason training program beginning in April. Of course, fans won’t believe that until they see the speedy receiver on the field after an injury initially diagnosed to sideline him for only a few days cost him the entire season.

“They expect him to be fully recovered and ready to start this offseason,” Newsome said. “Hopefully, he can pick up from where he was that first day of training camp. I really had a smile on my face that first day. I guess he lasted for three-quarters of the day. But I had seen a lot of him during the [organized team activities in the spring].”

Assuming the Ravens re-sign restricted free agent Kamar Aiken, they would have the returning Steve Smith, Aiken, and Perriman at the top of the depth chart, but two of those three would be coming off season-ending injuries and facing question marks. Other receivers such as Jeremy Butler, Michael Campanaro, Darren Waller, Daniel Brown, and Chris Matthews would be competing for roster spots.

With Smith turning 37 next spring and coming off an Achilles injury and Perriman yet to complete as much as a full padded practice in the NFL, do the Ravens still need to add another wide receiver in free agency or the early rounds of the draft?

“Yes, I think we do. And if possible, two, whether it’s by the draft and/or free agency,” Newsome said. “I think we need to continue to improve the depth of our receivers on this roster.”

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Ravens better hope losing doesn’t stick with continuity

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Owner Steve Bisciotti’s description of his reaction to the 2015 season best summarizes the reaction to Thursday’s “State of the Ravens” press conference.

“Disappointed, yes. Mad, no.”

Any Ravens fan demanding a pound of flesh was probably going to be unhappy. Successful organizations don’t panic, and it would have been wrong for Bisciotti to do anything drastic in response to eighth-year coach John Harbaugh’s first losing season and the organization’s first since 2007.

But that doesn’t mean the Ravens are only a couple minor tweaks away from being back in the playoffs a year from now, either, and that’s where the tone of the decision-makers fell a little flat after a nightmare season that began with lofty expectations.

“I don’t really think that a lot has to be done,” Bisciotti said. “One thing that I’m proud of is that we all view continuity as a strength. Continuity doesn’t stem from laziness. It comes from confidence, and I believe in these guys. I have a lot of faith that we’ll get it straightened out. I hope we don’t have as many injuries, and I hope we have a whole lot more turnovers. I think those kind of differences would get us back to where we want to be.”

Going 8-8 is one thing, but seasons of double-digit losses don’t just happen without some issues stretching beyond injuries and that shortage of takeaways that has been a trend for several seasons now. The Ravens lacked play-makers at key positions long before an absurd run of injuries midway through the season cost them quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and others. Baltimore was 1-6 at a time when the only missing players of great significance were linebacker Terrell Suggs and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

Those injuries certainly hurt, but they shouldn’t bring a free fall in the standings for a balanced and talented football team.

Harbaugh said Thursday that he does not plan to make any changes to his coaching staff beyond the departure of linebackers coach Ted Monachino to Indianapolis. Of course, some tweaks could always be made in the coming weeks, but it was fair to wonder whether some different voices needed to be injected after a disappointing 5-11 season.

Instead, the status quo will prevail.

Asked about his secondary, general manager Ozzie Newsome spoke about the impact the move of Lardarius Webb to safety could have without mentioning his $9.5 million salary cap figure next year, which would make him one of the most expensive — and unproven — safeties in the game. The lack of  play-making safeties has been one of the organization’s biggest weaknesses since the departure of Ed Reed three years ago, and pointing to Webb as the answer seems shaky at best.

Bisciotti discussed the dramatic impact of Suggs’ absence on the defense, but the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year will be 34 in October and is coming off his second Achilles injury in less than four years. The collapse of the unit without him is a compliment to his talents over the years, but the Ravens banking on him to be the Suggs of old would be unwise, if not reckless.

Left tackle, cornerback, pass rusher, and wide receiver were all mentioned as positions to address, but the Ravens’ cap situation will hinge on the potential reworking of Flacco’s contract and there are only so many high draft picks to go around.

Those four positions are arguably the most critical ones on the field after the quarterback in today’s NFL, and the Ravens are either lacking options or have substantial question marks at all of them.

That sounds like a lot that needs to be done.

“We need to augment our team, but John and his staff do a very good job of developing players, and we depend on that,” Newsome said. “You need to have some players that when the game is on the line, they have the ability to make a play. We will be trying to add some of that to our team, but a lot of that can be done through development.”

Harbaugh’s decision to keep his coaching staff intact reflects that confidence, but it will be up to Newsome to find high-impact talent starting with the sixth overall choice of the draft, Baltimore’s earliest pick since 2000. The Ravens will see special play-makers like Antonio Brown and A.J. Green on display when AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati face off in the postseason while they watch the playoffs from home for the second time in three years.

The Bengals in particular have been a problem as they’ve won five straight over the Ravens.

“If we get all of our players back, I think we’ll close that gap,” Bisciotti said. “If we have a good draft, if we do well in free agency, we can compete with them. But that’s a stain — Cincinnati beating us as frequently as they have recently.”

Plenty of ifs.

No, Bisciotti, Newsome, and Harbaugh didn’t flinch or show panic on Thursday, but you hope that there’s more urgency beneath the surface than they expressed publicly after a 5-11 campaign.

There’s a fine line between confidence and complacency in what you do.

Their actions in the coming months and the results in 2016 will determine which one it was for the Ravens brass on Thursday.

After all, success on the field is far more important than winning a press conference.

Even if the message wasn’t all that inspiring on Thursday.

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Flacco not thinking about contract during rehab process

Posted on 04 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It will be anything but a normal offseason for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco as he prepares for his ninth season in Baltimore.

Currently rehabbing his surgically-repaired left knee, Flacco knows his contract will be a hot topic for discussion as he enters the fourth season of a six-year, $120.6 million agreement signed just a few weeks after winning Super Bowl XLVII. General manager Ozzie Newsome and Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, negotiated the deal in the winter of 2013 with the understanding that it would be revisited after he earned a total of $62 million over the first three years.

“I haven’t thought about it too much,” Flacco said. “I know that it’s obviously out there, and it’s probably going to be somewhat of an issue. I guess I haven’t thought about it too much, haven’t talked to anybody about it. I do know that it’s sitting there.”

Flacco is set to carry a $28.55 million salary cap figure for the 2016 season, which is close to the total cap space he accounted for in 2014 ($14.8 million) and 2015 ($14.55 million) combined. With the Ravens trying to address a plethora of needs in the aftermath of their first losing season since 2007, restructuring the deal to level off his future cap figures is a must.

A renegotiation won’t solve all of the Ravens’ cap woes as the realistic scenario is adjusting his cap numbers closer to the $20.1 million average annual value of the original deal. With Flacco scheduled to make base salaries of $18 million in 2016, $20.6 million in 2017, and $20 million in 2018 — his cap figures are $31.15 million in 2017 and $24.75 million in 2018 — the Ravens will likely attempt to turn a large portion of those scheduled salaries into a bonus while tacking on two or three additional years and more money to the contract.

But Flacco says he will leave the details up to the Ravens and Linta with a realistic deadline of early March to get something worked out before the new league years begins and teams must be under the cap.

“The first few years of my deal, the cap number wasn’t very big, so you don’t really have any other way around it [but] to have a monster one at the end of it,” Flacco said. “You know it’s coming unless the salary cap makes some kind of enormous jump, but it’s really kind of out of my control. It’s just an issue that these guys are used to dealing with day in and day out.”

Head coach John Harbaugh has said that Flacco is expected to be 100 percent for the start of training camp in late July, but he hasn’t been given any definitive timetable as he continues to rehab on a daily basis. Flacco tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in the closing moments of Baltimore’s Nov. 22 win over St. Louis.

Turning 31 later this month, Flacco had not missed a game in his career before missing the final six weeks of a 5-11 season.

“By August, I’ll be like eight months out of surgery,” Flacco said. “I don’t know what the timeline is on these things, but I’m in there doing the work. I’m expecting I’ll be ready to go. I really have no idea though.”

Monroe not dwelling on future

Many have speculated about the future of Eugene Monroe, but the left tackle isn’t focusing on whether he’ll be back for the third season of a five-year, $37.5 million contract that included $17.5 million guaranteed.

“That’s not something I’m concerned with at all,” said Monroe, who has started just 17 of the Ravens’ last 34 games counting the postseason. “I’m focused on getting healthy and getting back to ball.”

After missing action due to knee surgery and an ankle injury in 2014, Monroe missed three games with a concussion at the beginning of the season and six more contests with a shoulder injury that eventually required season-ending surgery last month. Starting left guard Kelechi Osemele moved to left tackle for the final four games of the season, and many believe he played well enough for the Ravens to consider re-signing him to play the position permanently and releasing Monroe.

A 2009 first-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Monroe had missed just four games in his first five NFL seasons and is scheduled to make $6.5 million in base salary and carry an $8.7 million cap figure next year.

“Frustration isn’t going to do me any good,” Monroe said. “No one likes to be hurt and not on the field, but it is what it is, and I’ve had some things happen that just were unfortunate. But I’ll make sure I continue to work my ass off and continue to get better.”

Ravens sign seven players

With the 2015 regular season over, the Ravens signed seven players to reserve-future contracts, which will allow them to be with the organization during the offseason and to compete for roster spots during training camp and the preseason.

The list includes linebacker Brennen Beyer, guard Leon Brown, defensive end Nordly Capi, offensive tackle Blaine Clausell, wide receiver Chuck Jacobs, safety Nick Perry, and tight end Harold Spears, who all spent time on the Baltimore practice squad this season.

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Tough part now begins trying to improve undermanned Ravens

Posted on 03 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season is finally over for the Ravens.

Fourteen of their 16 games were decided by a single possession.

Twenty-one players finished the season on injured reserve or on the physically unable to perform list. That list included eight starters as well as 2015 first-round receiver Breshad Perriman.

Head coach John Harbaugh still called it one of his most rewarding seasons with the way his players and coaches continued to fight and show heart every week, but all of this only clouds the truth about one of the most disappointing years in the history of the franchise.

Despite plenty of preseason love, the Ravens lacked the dynamic playmakers to be a serious contender this year.

That reality was apparent before the laundry list of injuries decimated the Ravens to the point that you needed a roster sheet handy just to follow the final weeks of action. Remember that other than outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and Perriman, an unproven rookie who was the only plan for replacing speedy receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens were still a relatively-healthy football team when they entered Week 8 with a 1-6 record and their season all but shot.

And this is where general manager Ozzie Newsome could face more scrutiny this offseason than at any point during his 20 mostly-brilliant years in Baltimore.

It will be interesting to see where owner Steve Bisciotti directs his disappointment when the Ravens brass meets with the media to discuss the 2015 season and what lies ahead. While coaches and players have faced the music on a weekly basis and must shoulder their part of the blame, it’s difficult to win consistently without dynamic, game-changing players on either side of the football.

The Ravens simply lacked the speed and big-play talent at crucial positions such as wide receiver, edge rusher, and in the secondary to win in the modern NFL.

Ultimately, Newsome is responsible for putting together the roster. Many factors brought the Ravens to this point with some of those out of the general manager’s control but others falling directly on his shoulders.

To be clear, the Ravens don’t need to overhaul their entire roster as they have some good players on both sides of the ball, but they lack the special ones for which the opposition game-plans on a weekly basis in the way Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert showed on Sunday. With injured franchise quarterback Joe Flacco expected to be ready for training camp and Harbaugh showing commendable leadership in keeping the locker room together during an 11-loss season, the Ravens are in a much better position than many non-playoff teams, but they will need a strong offseason to return to the playoffs next season.

Baltimore has multiple needs including finding a ball-hawking defensive back, bolstering the pass rush, adding more speed to the wide receiver position, and potentially making their latest change at left tackle.

Choosing sixth overall in the 2016 draft should certainly help, but Newsome and the rest of the front office need to take a long look at the way they’ve done things in recent years as there were many falling dominoes that led to such a disappointing season. Recent draft history, bad contracts, and too much reliance on unproven players were all factors contributing to a 5-11 season before it ever began.

There’s been too little emphasis on speed at multiple positions, and Newsome hasn’t put enough talent around a quarterback who’s in his prime and has already proven he can win a championship with a good — not necessarily great — supporting cast around him.

Harbaugh has answered questions all year, but Newsome hasn’t addressed the media since the final day of the draft, which will make his first public comments about the 2015 season highly anticipated. Changes to the coaching staff could be coming, but improving personnel will be far more important to the Ravens’ fate in 2016 and beyond.

Injuries, questionable officiating, and tough breaks in close games may have contributed to a 5-11 record, but this was a flawed team from the start and not the Super Bowl contender that the Ravens — or outsiders — thought it was. You just hope the decision-makers acknowledge as much instead of using injuries as the primary excuse or trying to shift too much blame to Harbaugh, his coaches, and current players.

It may not have been easy watching the Ravens play out the string, but now the tough part begins.

Fixing a football team with a plethora of needs.

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