The Baltimore Ravens had a “decent” season in 2014. They ended the season with a winning record (10-6) and they made the playoffs. But despite the seemingly “good” year, the Ravens showed some disturbing weaknesses that were exposed by the Bengals, Colts, Chargers and Texans.
Eight of the Ravens’ 10 wins were against opponents with losing records. One win came against the Miami Dolphins, a .500 team in 2014 and their other win was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only losing opponent with a winning record.
The Ravens will have a more difficult schedule in 2015. They will be facing the NFC and AFC West with the Dolphins and Jaguars thrown in for good measure. The team will have 9 games against opponents that finished 2014 with winning records. Two of their games will be against teams with .500 records and the rest (5 games) will be against teams with losing records, so the Ravens have their work “cut out” for them.
“Ozzie Newsome and his staff will have little choice; make the tough decisions or perish”
In preparing for the 2015 season, the Ravens are faced with a number of player personnel issues. Many of their decisions will be difficult but General Manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff will have little choice; make the tough decisions or perish.
Many of the decisions the Ravens must make involve the defensive side of the ball. Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata, although he is not a Free Agent, is carrying an enormous “cap” number ($16 Million)? Ngata is arguably the best defensive player on the Ravens’ roster but the team cannot afford to carry him with that high “cap” number. They must find a way to negotiate a “cap friendly” extension to the 31 years old Defensive Tackle’s contract or watch him sign with another team.
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Pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were a potent force in 2014 but age is catching up with them. Suggs, whose contract runs out at the end of 2018, turned 32 last Fall and Dumerville, who is under contract until the end of 2017, became 31 in January. Together the two pass rush specialists account for 12.575 Million in cap money. Will the cap hit for these two Linebackers hamstring the Ravens is trying to get help in the Secondary?
Outside Linebacker Pernell McPhee, another pass rusher, had 7 Quarterback sacks in a limited role. McPhee is an Unrestricted Free Agent. Will there be enough cap space to keep McPhee? Will some team offer him a “sweetheart” deal like the Colts offered Arthur Jones last year? Chances are good that McPhee will be in another uniform next year.
“The Ravens need a Cornerback that has size, durability, athleticism, outstanding cover skills (in “press”, off-man and zone) and superior ball skills. “
Starting Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb were both injured last season. Smith was coming into his own when he went down half way through the season. Webb could not begin the season because of back problems, missing 3 games and 5 starts. Although both are starters with the Ravens, neither is a true No. 1 Cornerback. The Ravens need a Cornerback that has size, durability, athleticism, outstanding cover skills (in “press”, off-man and zone) and superior ball skills. That kind of Corner is not currently on their roster and is very difficult to find.
Webb will be carrying a $12 Million cap number in 2015. There is no doubt that the Ravens will ask Webb to renegotiate his contract in the form of an extension. If the Ravens and Webb cannot reach an agreement, Webb might be playing elsewhere in 2015. The Ravens must plan for that contingency.
Three of the Cornerbacks on the Raven’s 2014 roster are Unrestricted Free Agents (Danny Gorrer, Aaron Ross and Antoine Cason). Thirty two years old Aaron Ross spent 2014 on IR with an injured back and Gorrer, who has been cut by a half dozen teams in his 6 NFL seasons, proved to be just as ineffective as he was in 2012 when the Ravens cut him. So, don’t expect the Ravens to show any interest in either of them.
Eight years veteran Antoine Cason was a late season signing who did well in the two games he played. Given his rather good track record with the San Diego Chargers and his better than average ball skills (he averages 8 pass defenses per year and has had at least 2 interceptions in each year of his career), the 28 years old Cason might fit into the Ravens’ plans if the price is right.
Rookie Cornerback Rashaan Melvin showed promise in the 3 games he played. He is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent who will probably remain with the Ravens; at least through training camp, and with a good showing, might make the 53 Man roster.
Safety is another source of concern. Second year man Matt Elam didn’t live up to expectations and is a question mark going into 2015. Starting Free Safety Will Hill (also a UFA) played well but was not available for the first 6 games due to a league suspension. I am sure Hill’s off-the-field issues (3 suspensions in three years and an arrest warrant for failing to pay child support) gives Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens pause.
Rookie Terrance Brooks, the only Safety other than Matt Elam who is under contract for 2015, played in 11 games (primarily on special teams) and was not a significant factor. He is another question mark going into 2015.
Six years veteran Darian Stewart (who only has 4 career pass defenses and 2 career interceptions) and Jeremy Miles (1 pass defense and 1 interception during his 6 years career) are both Unrestricted Free Agents. These players are career back-ups who are far from being an upgrade to the Ravens’ secondary.
Expect the Ravens to draft a Cornerback in the first or second round, possibly Marcus Peters
Restricted Free Agent Safety Anthony Levin might return to the Ravens but it would be surprising if he contends for a starting role. Levin appears to have some “up side” but only as a back-up, not a starter.
This past week, most of the Ravens’ decision makers met in Florida to review last season and develop an action plan for the new season. The situation on Defense has to be at the top of their list.
Expect the Ravens to draft a Cornerback in the first or second round, possibly Marcus Peters (if he’s available), Quinten Rollins or P. J. Williams. They might also attempt to sign a free agent like Byron Maxwell, Chris Culliver, Kareem Jackson, Brandon Flowers or Parrish Cox . Regardless of what the Ravens do, they need to sign at least two Cornerbacks and a Safety. They might “take a flier” on Buffalo Safety Da’Norris Searcy or Stevie Brown of the Giants. With the unimpressive crop of Safeties in this year’s draft, it would be surprising if the Raven’s draft a Safety but if they do, it will probably be a player like Anthony Harris from the University of Virginia.
The Ravens will probably watch the waiver wire closely this year. Their best bet of filling some of these holes is to grab a “cap casualty “or two. With the challenges the Ravens are facing this year, they should be more active in free agency and in the draft.