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Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and others leave for the Senior Bowl on Monday.
The day after the Ravens’ tough-to-swallow 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship, the team turned the page to next year.
With that will come a host of tough decisions that need to be made. Here are 10 big questions:
1) Who’s retiring?
We know Ray Lewis is sticking around. Beyond him, there are a couple question marks. Center Matt Birk said he’s going to step away and consider hanging it up after talking with his family. Safety Ed Reed did not speak to the media, so his status is up in the air. Reed, 33, played in all 16 games this year and was only limited at the tail end by a shoulder injury.
2) What will happen with Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron?
Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron’s contract is set to expire, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. The Ravens and Cameron will have to decide whether he will be back in 2012. Baltimore’s offense faced some of the toughest defenses in the NFL and finished fourth in the AFC in points per game. It performed well in the AFC championship, putting up 398 total yards to the Patriots’ 330.
3) What’s Joe Flacco’s future?
Owner Steve Bisciotti said last offseason that he would imagine the Ravens starting negotiations with Flacco so that entering the 2012 season he won’t be playing in the final year of his rookie contract. After throwing for 306 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the AFC championship, Flacco ended the season on a high note.
4) Give Ray Rice the franchise tag?
Rice played in the final year of his four-year contract this season, but has made it clear that he wants to stay. ESPN’s Adam Schefter previously reported that the Ravens will use the franchise tag on him, which would pay Rice the average of the top five running backs in the league. The two-time Pro Bowler will put a dent in Baltimore’s salary cap.
5) Will Ben Grubbs and/or Jarret Johnson be back?
Grubbs, who was added to the Pro Bowl with New England’s Logan Mankins headed to the Super Bowl, was playing in the final year of his five-year rookie contract. The Ravens signed guard Marshal Yanda to a reported five-year deal this past offseason. Will they be able to afford to keep two Pro Bowl guards? Long seen as one of the team’s most underrated defensive stars, veteran outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, 30, is also set to become an unrestricted free agent.
6) Any other cuts?
Last year, the Ravens parted ways with higher-priced veterans such as wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, running back Willis McGahee and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg this past offseason. With Flacco and Rice potentially getting big raises, the Ravens will have to find room under the salary cap. This is what Ravens Vice President of Football Administration Pat Moriarty specializes in.
7) What free agents do the Ravens pursue?
Baltimore has made some prudent free-agent moves – and even some splashes – the past couple offseasons. They got Pro Bowl fullback in Vonta Leach and starting left tackle in Bryant McKinnie this past offseason. Before that, they traded for and signed wide receiver Anquan Boldin. With Flacco and Rice on the docket, there may not be too much money to play with.
8) Who do the Ravens draft in the first round?
Perhaps the most fun part of the offseason, the Ravens will enter the 2012 draft with the 29th pick in the first round. Obviously, it will depend on who they opt to bring back in free agency and who retires, but the offensive line could be an area of need. Baltimore has found gems late in the first round, including last year with cornerback Jimmy Smith at No. 27.
9) How much better does this young team get?
The Ravens had a cast of young players make big contributions this past season – from rookies Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee to second-year players Terrence Cody and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Without a lockout this year, they’ll have a full offseason to be in the weight training program and camps. It could make a huge difference.
10) How do the Ravens get over the hump?
The Ravens have been knocking on the Super Bowl’s door for four years. This time, they were seconds, one dropped pass and perhaps one missed field goal away from it. How Baltimore’s players respond to the loss over the offseason will be essential in how they come back for the 2012 season. The Ravens got over their Steelers hump from last year. Now they have to learn to finish in the playoffs.