The decline of the Baltimore Ravens defense this season obviously hasn't gone unnoticed. Despite 20 players being on injured reserve for the Ravens, only two starters (outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive Chris Canty) on defense were put on injured reserve in the 2015 season. For the most part, the defense was healthy, but they still didn't play with the levels of expectations associated with a Ravens defense which played a large role in the Ravens 5-11 season.
Ravens defense just wasn't good enough during 2015 season
Yes, players on defense weren't disciplined like they needed to be whether it was in the first quarter or in the fourth quarter of games. Yes, the defense lacks playmakers. The Ravens defense only had six interceptions all year. Coaches can't make players catch the ball. All of those things are true, but Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees shoulders at least some of the responsibility for the struggles on defense. Pees calls the shots on defense. Pees creates the game plan. Players follow it.
The game plan wasn't very good enough as the Ravens allowed 25.1 points a game. Now, to his credit, Pees did help turn this defense around in the second half of the season as they finished the year ranked eighth in the NFL in yards allowed, 10th in pass defense and 12th in run defense. But stats can be deceiving and people can turn numbers into whatever they like.
This defense has not passed the eye test or even the smell test since Pees became the defensive coordinator in 2012. Baltimore's defense is a, "Bend but don't break defense" by philosophy but they end up bending and breaking more times than you want to see especially in late game situations. Since 2012, the Ravens have lost 12 games in which they had the lead in the fourth quarter.
Is Pees returning for the 2016 season? And if he is, what does that mean for John Harbaugh's future?
The status on whether or not Pees will return to the Ravens has not been confirmed, but I would guess he's most certainly coming back for the 2016 season. So if that is the case, there are risks involved that go on simultaneously with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and his status with the Ravens organization going forward.
Harbaugh has two years left on his contract so if the Ravens defense falls short again under Pees during the 2016 season and the Ravens miss the playoffs again, Harbaugh could be entering the 2017 season with one year left on his contract on the hot seat.
Now if that happens, the Ravens probably let Pees go after the 2016 season but a lot of people including myself would be wondering why the Ravens didn't just let him go after the 2015 season. The Ravens at that point would basically be admitting that they let him go a year too late. There are more negatives than positives in keeping Pees at this point in my opinion.
At least for Harbaugh's sake, if the Ravens have another down year in 2016, Pees being let go right now puts less pressure on Harbaugh because the new defensive coordinator may need a season to get his defense going.
This is a very critical time for the Ravens and Harbaugh. If Harbaugh is the guy the Ravens want (and there is nothing that says he isn't) then they need to discuss a contract extension with him now and not later.
It's hard to talk about contract extensions with a head coach to some degree with a 5-11 season just finishing up, but Harbaugh has proved himself from 2008-2014 that he is a Super Bowl champion and a winner. Even in this down season filled with injuries, the Ravens never gave up under Harbaugh and set an NFL record by having their first-twelve games of the season decided by eight points or less.
If the Ravens are serious about having Harbaugh in their future, there isn't much to talk about in terms of a contract extension. Get it done now. The Ravens run a risk of allowing Harbaugh to play out the last year of his contract as well. Not re-signing him before then could be seen as disrespect. Harbaugh with one year left in 2017, could decide to end negotiations during that year and go to coach somewhere else.
Philadelphia Eagles want John Harbaugh as their head coach
My colleague Chuck Mills discussed Harbaugh turning down any discussion of being with the Eagles. My other colleague Chris Brown discussed what it would take for the Eagles to get Harbaugh.
The Eagles being involved in this situation makes things even more interesting because according to ProFootballTalk, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome isn't interested in letting Harbaugh go. So one could conclude that Harbaugh isn't going anywhere anytime soon which means it wouldn't make sense for Harbaugh not to be the head coach of the Ravens after the 2017 season if Ozzie really wants him in Baltimore.
However, with what Chris Brown was discussing, there is value for a quality head coach like Harbaugh and the market is set based on history. The Ravens should get a lot in return if there was ever a discussion between the Ravens and the Eagles on this subject.
I personally believe Harbaugh should stay and again, there is nothing stating that the Ravens want to let him go. But at the end of the day, the Ravens front office calls the shots. So if there is ever a change of heart about Harbaugh in the near future from the Ravens (From now through the 2017 season) and the Ravens turn down any offer from the Eagles or any other NFL team in regards to Harbaugh during that time frame, the Ravens will regret it. It's better to get something for Harbaugh than to let him walk and get nothing if you are not sold on him going forward.
The decision on whether or not Pees stays has a lot of moving parts to it. Harbaugh plays a big role in who stays and who goes in this organization from the assistant coaches to the players including Pees. I think Harbaugh is the coach for the future of the Ravens franchise but that doesn't mean it will end that way.
I've been scanning some Ravens forums and there are Ravens fans saying that it is a crazy idea to even entertain a topic on Harbaugh going to the Eagles because he is a great coach. I certainly get that and I would agree that they shouldn't let him go if everyone involved is happy in Baltimore. But at the same time, some of those fans will be the ones who will be ready to run Harbaugh out of town if things don't get better in Baltimore in the near future.
I highly doubt an exchange between the Ravens and the Eagles will happen on this subject. But in sports, everyone has a price. There's always an offer that someone can't refuse. It only takes two sides to make a deal.
This is a critical time for the Ravens and whatever is decided right now could impact the franchise for a while. It's better to be decisive than indecisive right now.