Time to look ahead....

...to free agency and the draft. However, you can still write off the draft for now, until free agency fleshes out who's signing with whom. The draft boards will change significantly based on the free agent signings over the next couple of months. This goes for the Ravens as perhaps one of the best examples.

The Ravens have so many needs, including QB, OL, DL, CB. They figure to make a bunch of moves that will affect their roster and needs, mostly due to salary cap issues. I fully expect them to release all or most of the following, although I expect LT Jon Ogden to return for one more year:

Steve McNair
Mike Flynn (may retire)
Derrick Mason
Samari Rolle
Trevor Pryce
Terrell Suggs (either re-signed or lost to free agency)

This will create holes and opportunities for many players. Left guard Jason Brown may move to center and Ben Grubbs would move from right guard to left. Marshall Yanda would move to right guard and Adam Terry would take over at right tackle, especially if Ogden returns. Mark Clayton would take over Derrick Martin's role as the possession receiver. Defensively, the line will need pass rushing ends to complement the tackles, Ngata and Gregg. Whatever happens with both Suggs and Pryce may determine where the Ravens look for answers. They will definitely need secondary help. Not only will they need a starting cornerback, but their backups stunk from day one and never improved, so they'll need to load up on reserves.

What would I like to see. Releasing most of the guys on the above list should free up a decent amount of cap room. I'd like to see the Ravens go into free agency and come out with two big signings. First I'd open up the checkbook for cornerback Assante Samuel to complement Chris McAlister. Next I'd sign Steelers guard Alan Fanaca to form a great blind side tandum with Ogden. I would also make it clear to Kyle Boller that he is going to be a very capable backup QB, but has proved he is not the starter for this team. I would make Troy Smith the starter for 2008. If he can prove over the season that he is the future, then great. If not, then we can go after a franchise QB in the 2009 draft (or free agency). With the three aforementioned positions addressed prior to the draft, then where do we go with the 8th pick? We could go for a DL position, or my choice after those free agency signings would be to trade down in the first round and get back a third as well (remember, we currently do not have a third round pick this year due to the Willis McGahee trade). With a full complement of draft picks, we could address the other needs, including the stockpiling of reserves to provide capable backups in the event of injuries (see entire 2007 season).

Give new coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron a season to get to know this team and mentor Troy Smith to see where this team needs to go. After the 2008 season, there are a bunch of more decisions to make, including Ray Lewis' situation (I love Ray and would give him whatever he wants to finish his career in Baltimore, as despite his "slowing down," is still my pick as the league's best middle LB and defensive field general). Troy Smith has shown promise and the knocks against his size are based on history, even though the list of past and current "short" QB's (6'1" or less) is pretty impressive. Smith's mechanics are excellent, he holds the ball high and releases it overhead, which totally compensates for the couple of inches the "experts" relentlessly complaining about. The Heisman "curse" usually only applies to those who are high first round picks, not fifth round gambles (see Tom Brady = sixth round pick!).

Overall, the next couple of months will define the strategy that GM Ozzie Newsome and the new coaching staff will take with them into their War Room to plot out their 2008 draft board. I never thought I'd say it, but after this past season, I can't wait for the off-season to begin!

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