Like any NFL team in the salary cap era the Baltimore Ravens head into the off season with questions looming on who to keep, how to keep them and what they can do to get better before next season.
Ozzie Newsome gave fans a glimpse of what the team is thinking in the "State Of The Ravens" Address last week. He said that Baltimore will have a new starting center next season and that the Ravens will be looking to get better at the receiver position. Which I guess is not really saying much because the team is always looking to get better at every position and Matt Birk has all but retired.
First and foremost Baltimore will look to retain Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Flacco still has one more year on his contract I believe but the under appreciated quarterback has made it no secret that he wants a deal done ASAP. Rice has become one of the leagues most elite and consistent players and will cost the team a lot. The Ravens must sign Rice, as he is almost half the team's offense.
Number three on the list is Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs. Grubbs would be a luxury for Baltimore but one they can not afford unfortunately. They ponied up good money for Marshall Yanda last year and not too many teams in the NFL can afford to pay two guards elite money. In Yanda's case I think he was willing to take a bit less money to stay here in Baltimore. I'm not sure the team would have the same luck with Grubbs. There is a possibility that they could franchise Grubbs but that would only prolong the problem.
So if we lose Grubbs and Matt Birk and we only have Bryant McKinnie signed for one more season that leaves us with a glaring need for some linemen in the very near future. Some say that Jah Reid may be a suitable option for the right guard spot next season. Maybe he could be. The problem is we just have no idea. No one has seen him play there. Andre Gurode could be a good option for center but even then you are talking about a stop-gap of only a year or two. The Ravens will need to find some linemen this off season and they will most likely look that way early in the draft.
Another area of need is wide receiver. They have two legitimate NFL receivers in Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Lee Evans will not be brought back on his current contract but may choose the Ravens at a reduced rate since his stock is not on the rise after this season. The question is will Baltimore want him back. I would love to see something out of Tandon Doss or LaQuan Williams but I think the team is one dynamic wide out short of the next level on offense and neither of those guys fit the bill. The Ravens need a legitimate threat and Torrey Smith may be that guy. He has the talent but he still needs some work. Boldin is still a very good NFL receiver but he is not as good as he used to be.
Many NFL drat guru's are saying that this will be the year that Baltimore drafts Ray Lewis' successor. With guys like Vontaze Burfict and Donta' Hightower in the draft many think the team will make a move to sure up the middle of their defense for when Ray is gone. Ozzie and company have not tipped their hand yet when expected to find a replacement for Lewis. Every off season for the past few years they always say the Ravens are going to look for his successor and every season they say they are fine with the guys they have. It wouldn't surprise me if they stayed away again this year.
The one area that we know this team needs improvement is on special teams and the NFL draft is a great place to find special teamers. Look for the Ravens to draft a kick returner in the third or fourth rounds. They normally wait till later to find these types of guys but I think they will try and get a game breaker this season. It is hard to use that early of a pick on a guy that doesn't play much offense or defense but they have a glaring need. If they do not find someone in the draft they will most likely make a play for someone in free agency. Kind of like they did for Chris Carr a few years back. Carr went on to be more of a contributor on defense than the team expected as well