Upcoming Events:  Lil Ravens Camp      Training Camp Stadium Practices      Movie Night   

Late For Work 3/26: Holes That Could Still Be Filled

Don’t underestimate moves. McClain heir apparent to Lewis? 2000 Ravens hold edge in tourney.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Monday, March 26th, 2012 at 8:59 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Holes That Could Still Be Filled

Even after signing four players last week, the Ravens would still like to fill as many remaining holes as possible between now and the draft.

Baltimore was reportedly $4.79 million under the salary cap prior to Friday’s announced deals with starting linebacker Jameel McClain (three years for a reported $10.5 million) and three special-teams standouts in linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (three years for a reported $3.2 million) and defensive backs Corey Graham (two years for a reported $2 million per year)  and Sean Considine (one year).

The Ravens are “up against the cap” right now, says The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec, who added that there are certainly ways to find financial flexibility if needed.

For example, Ravens brass could create room by signing Joe Flacco ($8 million reported salary-cap figure), Ray Rice ($7.742 million from franchise tag) and Lardarius Webb ($2.742 million from first-round tender) to long-term contract extensions.

With additional cap space, here are four areas the Ravens could still look to improve either through free agency or the draft, according to Zrebiec and CSNBaltimore.com’s Bo Smolka:

Return Specialist: Three of the Ravens’ four moves Friday were specifically aimed to help bolster a 2011 special-teams coverage unit that gave up an average of 11.9 yards on punt returns (9th-worst in NFL) and 29.2 yards on kickoffs (2nd worst).  “But even after these signings, there remains a major void on special teams: a return specialist,” wrote Smolka.

The Ravens reportedly made a run at Ted Ginn Jr., but he decided to return to the 49ers. David Reed could start the season on the physically unable to perform list as he works back from a torn ACL, and the team may not want to continue to risk injury to Lardarius Webb. Other options currently on the roster include LaQuan Williams, Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss, but “it’s probably time for the Ravens to find a solid return man who will not only protect the ball, but has the ability to break one from time-to-time,” wrote Zrebiec.

One More Downfield Threat: Look for this need to be addressed in the draft. The Ravens made it clear they weren’t going to spend a lot of money on a receiver in free agency. But analysts believe getting more speed opposite Smith would open up the passing game more. “Even if it’s not in the first round, it would be surprising if the Ravens didn’t take a wide receiver at some point relatively early in the draft,” wrote Zrebiec. “They still have high hopes for LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss, but they want to add one more guy.”

Left Guard, Offensive-Line Depth: Turns out, the starting offensive line may look a lot like last year’s unit – minus Ben Grubbs. Head Coach John Harbaugh said the vacated left guard spot is second-year tackle Jah Reid’s right now, but he’ll also have to earn it going forward. With a lot of youngsters on the line without much NFL experience (guard Howard Barbieri, guard Justin Boren, tackle Ramon Harewood and center Cecil Newton), Zrebiec says the Ravens will still need veteran experience on the depth chart, including someone who can work as an insurance policy if Reid isn’t satisfactory at guard.

“I still think the there’s a good chance that the Ravens use their first-round pick on a tackle or on Wisconsin center Peter Konz because they don’t have long-term answers at either position,” he wrote. “But in the short term, they still need to add at least two NFL-ready offensive linemen to their roster.”

Another Pass Rusher: General Manager Ozzie Newsome said before free agency that he is always looking for more pass rushers. With Cory Redding (4.5 sacks) leaving for the Colts, there is one fewer on the roster than before Newsome made that statement, so it appears to still be a need. Ravens brass reportedly brought in free agent Mark Anderson, but he opted to go to Buffalo. Wrote Zrebiec: “Where do the Ravens turn now? That’s not exactly clear. The free agent market – or what remains of it – isn’t exactly overflowing with feared pass rushers. There are a couple of marquee rushers in the draft, but it would be surprising if one of them falls to pick 29. At this point, the Ravens’ best bet might just be making sure that Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee, who showed the ability to get to the quarterback at times last season, are on the field more.”

Moves Didn’t Make National Headlines, But Were Necessary

It’s important not to underestimate the Ravens’ four signings Friday.

While they didn’t drive national headlines, the moves were “necessary,” says ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, especially in a division like the AFC North where the Ravens coverage unit was “vulnerable” twice a season against Pro Bowl returners in the Browns’ Josh Cribbs and the Steelers’ Antonio Brown.

“That’s why the Ravens went after Graham, a Pro Bowl special teams player last season for the Bears. That’s why the Ravens re-signed Ayanbadejo, a three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player. And that’s why they brought in Considine, who played special teams for three years with Harbaugh in Philadelphia,” he wrote.

“These signings won’t make national headlines, but these are signings that the Ravens needed to make.”

McClain The Heir Apparent To Lewis?

Over the past few drafts, pundits have routinely talked about potential picks that could become linebacker Ray Lewis’ successor.

Mel Kiper doesn’t see any options this year for the Ravens, but that may not matter because the person to ultimately fill those shoes may have already been on the roster the past few seasons and now he’s been locked up for three more.

CSNBaltimore.com’s John Eisenberg called McClain the “heir apparent” to Lewis, which is why fellow writer Jeff Seidel believes re-signing the former rookie free agent could eventually “wind up as being one of the team’s biggest off-season moves.”

Lewis is entering his 17th season in the NFL and may only have a few years left. The Ravens got a glimpse of what life could be like without him when he had to sit four games with a turf toe injury in 2011. McClain took over his role during the span, and the Ravens won all four games.

“One day, the Ravens’ defense could very well revolve around McClain the way it does with Lewis now,” wrote Seidel. “That’s why this signing could prove crucial. McClain’s been here for a while, knows the system and understands his role. 

“Now everything’s perfectly set up for McClain to grow into that job. The Ravens just needed to make sure they signed him up again. Mission accomplished.”

Vote 2000 Ravens

 

2000 Ravens vs. 1998 Broncos

You have until 5 p.m. today to vote for the 2000 Ravens in NFL.com’s “The Greatest Team of All Time” bracket contest.

In the quarterfinals, Lewis and Trent Dilfer are taking on John Elway and the 1998 Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos.

As of this morning, the Ravens hold a slim 51 to 49-percent lead.

But it seems that the “bracketology analysts” are against seeing the Ravens continue on.

Apologies to the mean streets of Baltimore, but this feels like the end for the Ravens, unless that defense plans on posting 14-plus,” wrote Marc Slesser. “Ray Lewis and friends were a sight to behold in Y2K, surrendering just 165 points all season (a jaw-dropping 10.3 points per game, including four shutouts). Ray Ray alongside Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams equal big problems for Denver running back Terrell Davis, but this Broncos team had a wise-old Elway playing out of mind and body — a man of destiny. …

“Bottom line: If we’re still talking about Dilfer a week from today, nothing in this world makes sense.”

In the video to the right, Warren Sapp advocates for the Broncos too.

Quick Hits

  • Hensley on how long the Ravens’ championship window will remain open before being forced to rebuild: “The Ravens’ window won’t necessarily close if young offensive players like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith continue developing. The Ravens are also building the defense around Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. So, there might be seasons where they won’t be as strong as previous ones but I don’t see the window closing. But it will hurt when they have to say goodbye to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.” [ESPN]
  • The Ravens were ranked fifth in ESPN’s pre-draft power rankings. “Don’t have a problem with this ranking especially after the Ravens lost more than they have gained in free agency,” wrote Hensley. “The Ravens are behind the Super Bowl champion Giants, Patriots (who added receiver Brandon Lloyd), Packers and 49ers (who upgraded their wide receiver group). Baltimore brings back its core from a team that was one catch away from going to the Super Bowl, but it has holes at left guard and outside linebacker.” [ESPN]
  • “Signing Pro Bowl special teams player Corey Graham from the Chicago Bears is a classic Baltimore Ravens move: He bolsters a major weakness for the Ravens, can also play nickel back and likely came at the right price,” wrote Ron Fritz. “Think Haruki Nakamura and Chris Carr, but only better.” [The Baltimore Sun]
  • OJBrigance: I need u! Fiesta 5k on May 5th! Come get ur run/walk/waddle/roll on. brigancebrigade.Org to sign up for Team BB and order BB race gear. [Twitter]
  • TeamFlacco: Joe’s official facebook page has a new address facebook.com/JoeFlacco please “like” and “share” the new page. Thank you Team Flacco [Twitter]
  • Chad Ochocinco has re-worked his contract to try to remain with the Patriots, according Jason La Canfora.Description: http://stats.wordpress.com/b.gif?host=blogs.nfl.com&blog=3888753&post=98406&subd=nfldotcom&ref=&feed=1 [NFL.com]

Tags: , , , , ,