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BaltimoreRavens.com asked 10 questions heading into the offseason that needed to be answered, and nearly two months later with an uncertain collective bargaining agreement, some have been answered and some still linger.
Here’s a list of what could be fleshed out over the next few weeks:
1. Who (among the free agents) will be back?
Partially answered: The Ravens have signed punter Sam Koch and kicker Billy Cundiff to contracts, and given out several tenders to all their restricted free agents, according to reports. Josh Wilson, Marshal Yanda, Chris Chester, Tom Zbikowski, Jameel McClain, Tavares Gooden, Lamar Divens, Jalen Parmele, Sergio Kindle, Marcus Smith, Haruki Nakamura, Dannell Ellerbe and Kelly Talavou have all received tenders at some level, which – at this point under the 2010 collective bargaining agreement – would keep them in Baltimore unless a team wants to give up something to sign them. Once the new CBA is reached, expect the Ravens to quickly pinpoint which unrestricted free agents they want to keep. That group includes Marc Bulger, Fabian Washington, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth.
2. Who will retire?
Answered: Whether center Matt Birk and wideout Derrick Mason would retire at the end of the year was in question. Neither Pro Bowler was sure of his status at the end of the season, but both have said they’re coming back for the 2011 campaign. “I haven’t really given that much thought,” Mason told WBAL Radio. “Business as usual.” Birk told BaltimoreRavens.com that he “thinks [he'll] be good to go.”
3. What changes are on the coaching front?
Answered: Not long after the original 10 questions blog ran, the Ravens made their coaching changes known. Quarterbacks Coach Jim Zorn was jettisoned, and the Ravens opted to add more quarterback-focused duties on Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron’s plate, in addition to Offensive Assistant Craig Ver Steeg’s. Offensive Line Coach John Matsko was released, which resulted in a promotion for Andy Moeller and the hiring of Todd Washington as Moeller’s assistant. And in perhaps the biggest adjustment, Greg Mattison took a job at the University of Michigan, prompting Head Coach John Harbaugh to elevate Chuck Pagano as his defensive coordinator and add Teryl Austin as his secondary coach.
4. Will there even be a season in 2011?
Partially answered: The good news is that both sides – NFL owners and the NFL Players Association – are actively meeting and have been doing so for nearly two weeks. They might still be far apart on some key issues, but New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft recently told Comcast Sports New England that he believes a deal could get done. We’re doing everything we can to get a deal consummated,” Kraft said Monday. “I personally believe it’s possible.” The groups currently have a Friday deadline to come to terms.
5. How much is Haloti valued?
Partially answered: The Ravens have made defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s contract extension a priority, but the current CBA makes things difficult to figure out from a monetary standpoint. But, they took the first step by assigning the franchise tag to the two-time Pro Bowler in order to buy more time. Ngata will reportedly make $12.5 million with his status, but he could command a huge salary as one of the top players at his position in the near future.
6. Who do the Ravens go after in the draft?
Unanswered: Obviously, the draft still has to take place and pro days will continue to add to the portfolio of prospects, but after the NFL Scouting Combine, some of the smoke has cleared. Most draft analysts have tabbed wide receiver, pass rusher, cornerback and offensive tackle as their need positions, so the Ravens will likely fill those spots early if certain prospects fit their “best player available” model. Some standouts from the combine include Maryland wideout Torrey Smith, Boise State’s Titus Young and the four big offensive tackles – Nate Solder (Colorado), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), and Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State).
7. What to do with Sergio?
Unanswered: Kindle said he is optimistic that he will be cleared for contact soon after meeting with specialists about his head injury over the last few weeks. But, official word from the team is still absent. Kindle said he’s working hard at a training facility in Dallas and competing in all football activities except contact. That is the next step for the second-round draft pick’s recovery.
8. What will the receiving corps look like?
Partially answered: Houshmandzadeh and Stallworth are both slated to become unrestricted free agents, and there is a good chance the Ravens will add one receiver in the draft who can take the top off a defense. But with Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, David Reed, Justin Harper, James Hardy and Brandon Jones, the Ravens at least will have a full complement of wideouts heading into the offseason. Reed showed promise in practices as a rookie last year, and Harper is a big body who could help the Ravens if he can take the next step from practice squadder.
9. Where does Flacco go from here?
Unanswered: Quarterback Joe Flacco set personal bests in yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) and is still considered “elite” by respected NFL voices like ESPN’s John Clayton. Flacco, who will be dealing most closely with Cameron, saw his leadership and playmaking ability take another step last year. If the Ravens can shore up their offensive line and continue to develop weapons around Flacco, his fourth season could be even bigger.
10. How do you beat the Steelers?
Unanswered: Of course, this one won’t have a solution until the rivals lock horns again, but Harbaugh said one of his priorities in taking a more-active role with the offense will be to get the run game back on track. As the Steelers – who have ousted the Ravens from the playoffs in two of the past three years – and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have gone to more of a pass-happy mode, the Ravens could potentially counter with a grind-it-out attack. Keep the defense’s high standard in Baltimore and perhaps bring in the speedy deep threat for which many analysts have clamored, and the Ravens will have an even better chance to surpass their AFC North enemy in the postseason.