"I don't really think that a lot has to be done. I think one thing that I am proud of is that we all view continuity as a strength..." said Baltimore Ravens team owner Steve Biscotti at the end of season press conference in early January. At this State of the Ravens press conference, the leaders of the franchise made it clear that they believed the poor 2015 season was a result of unfortunate injuries and bad bounces more than bad decisions from the front office and coaching staff. This viewpoint has shaped every facet of the offseason.
The first major decision of the offseason was to grant coordinator Dean Pees another chance to call the defensive plays. Many fans believed Pees would be replaced after overseeing a defense that allowed 30 passing touchdowns countered by only six interceptions, and allowed the opposition to overcome second half leads in seven of the eleven losses. Instead of challenging the status quo, the Ravens brass doubled down with Dean Pees, and hired Leslie Frazier to coach the secondary, a coach who shares Pees conservative defensive philosophy.
When the Ravens entered the salary cap management phase of the offseason, they did not waiver from their principles. They decided to extend the contract of franchise quarterback Joe Flacco after he posted a 14-to-12 touchdown to interception ratio in 2015 and his ironman streak was snapped. Instead of allowing him to play under his original mega contract in 2016 and then renegotiating an extension next offseason when the team might have had more leverage, the Ravens tacked on three seasons to his contract at more than $22 million per season.
Ravens 'cap-ologist' Pat Moriarty continues to bank on large annual salary cap increases, as evidenced by the restructuring the contracts of Marshal Yanda and Jimmy Smith this offseason. Some have criticized the Ravens recent history of backloading the biggest contracts on their payroll, but they doubled down on this practice when they reworked Yanda and Smith's deals that previously had a relatively flat structure, essentially creating more cap space for 2016 in exchange for bigger cap hits and less flexibility in the future.
General manager Ozzie Newsome's approach to free agency so far in 2016 has been similar to recent offseasons. After allowing Pernell McPhee and Torrey Smith to get away last offseason, the Ravens refused to pay what was necessary to retain another of their best players in Kelechi Osemele. Newsome absolutely refuses to pay more than what he believes a player is worth, regardless of market forces that are making above average players in their prime years very costly.
The Ravens doubled down on their strategy of valuing older players who are regarded as locker room leaders instead of younger players with athletic upside. They did make a bigger splash in free agency than they have lately with the additions of former Pro Bowlers Eric Weddle and Mike Wallace, but those two along with Benjamin Watson, the other notable free agent signing, will all be on the wrong side of 30 years old by the start of the regular season.
Finally, the 2016 draft shows the team still prescribes to their best player available mantra. Most expected the Ravens to select a couple of immediate impact playmakers with their unusually high draft slot. Instead, the Ravens took an offensive lineman and two developmental pass rushers with their first three picks. Ronnie Stanley, Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi are all considered 'red star' players who epitomize the character and work ethic that the Ravens desire from their players. Despite the 2015 five win campaign, the Ravens did not take risks on players with off the field or injury concerns early in the draft. The Ravens stayed true to their big board and decided against parting with the picks it would have cost to trade up, which resulted in the fifth consecutive draft class that did not address the cornerback position in the first three rounds.
Throughout the offseason, the Ravens leaders have displayed supreme confidence in their traditional coaching philosophy, salary cap management, free agency strategy and draft ideals. Their streak of three consecutive season finishing third in the AFC North and combined losing record over this stretch has not caused them to change their standard operating procedure in any phase of the offseason.
At this point in the offseason, it is unclear if the Ravens have improved their chances for success in 2016. Most of the players they added directly replace players they lost. Better health would certainly benefit their prospects for the upcoming season, but there are no guarantees they will be able to stay healthy with more than a handful of important players returning from injury and others who are categorized as injury prone or in the twilight of their careers.
If the Ravens return to the playoffs in 2016, they will be lauded for their vision and stubbornness. If they find themselves picking in the top ten again in 2017, it could force Biscotti to reconsider his faith in continuity and mandate major changes next offseason. 2016 is shaping up to be a potentially pivotal season for the franchise.
Remaining conservative can be risky too.