The silence from the Ravens has been almost eerie in recent weeks.
That’s not to say that general manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office haven’t been hard at work behind the scenes, but the Ravens are playing their hand even closer to the vest than normal, which is saying something for a franchise that makes it a point to rarely pull back the curtain. Even the most logical of salary cap-related cuts have yet to be executed a few days before the start of the new league year, leaving outsiders to continue to speculate and wonder about the future of a franchise at a crossroads.
The Ravens haven’t missed the playoffs in three straight years in this millennium, which is both a testament to their success for the better part of two decades and a reflection of how their recent fortunes have veered south. Owner Steve Bisciotti has shown patience over the last couple years, but that can only go so far, quite possibly making this a franchise-defining week in one way or another for the Ravens.
Head coach John Harbaugh said in Indianapolis last week that there was no doubt in his mind that the Ravens will contend for a championship in 2017, but those words ring more hollow based on the amount of work that needs to be done to the roster this offseason.
The argument can be made for more substantial changes, but selling a youth movement to Harbaugh and the rest of a coaching staff that may be fighting for their jobs this coming season isn’t easy. Is Newsome willing to be bold with an aging roster that hasn’t been good enough or will we see moves more reflective of tweaking than major revamping? Has Bisciotti declared 2017 to be a playoff-or-bust campaign internally or has he assured and instructed the brass and coaching staff to do what’s best for the long-term viability of the franchise?
Improving from last year’s 8-8 campaign won’t be easy with limited cap space — they have just $13.801 million in space before tendering any of their restricted free agents or exclusive-rights players — and above-average contributors such as Brandon Williams, Rick Wagner, and Kyle Juszczyk poised to officially hit the free-agent market this week. Going all out to re-sign these players makes it more difficult to improve other roster weaknesses that need to be addressed, but losing them creates even more holes to fill.
We know Baltimore needs to have a home run of a draft in April, but several busts in the first few rounds in recent years have contributed to this current purgatory and have created a decreased level of confidence in a front office and scouting department that used to make their money through the draft. It’s true that the Ravens have only one losing season to their name since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but they also have just one winning campaign over that time, leaving them stuck in the middle.
Escaping the vice grip of mediocrity is the obvious goal, but the margin for error is small when you have one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL who hasn’t performed up to previous levels — no matter who’s at fault — in the last two years. Putting all the blame on Joe Flacco is unfair, but your franchise quarterback has to be much more of a solution than a concern, regardless of other variables at work. His renaissance would go a long way toward quelling concerns and minimizing other roster weaknesses.
Even without knowing how this offseason will play out, one can easily envision this week being a turning point for the franchise.
Some savvy additions and a strong draft could not only have the Ravens back in the playoffs in 2017, but such a haul could put them back on the road to being a Super Bowl contender sooner than later. A mediocre offseason, however, could all but seal the fate of figures who’ve been a key part of past glories.
The time for speculation is almost over after the extended silence in Owings Mills.
Now it’s time to see what the Ravens have up their sleeve to try to get back on track.