Reassessing Baltimore Ravens' Offseason Plan and What's Next
With the offseason slowing down between free agency and the NFL draft, now is the time for the Baltimore Ravens to step back and reassess what they've been able to accomplish thus far, and what they should do going forward.
To recap their offseason thus far, Baltimore entered free agency with around $28 million in cap space. They went on to re-sign receiver Jacoby Jones, offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta and linebacker Daryl Smith to long-term deals.
That left them with enough cash to pursue a few more free agents, and the first one they signed was former Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith. They also went on to sign former Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels and former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Justin Forsett.
The Ravens also traded a 2015 fifth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for center Jeremy Zuttah this offseason.
All of these moves should help lead to the 2014 Ravens being better than the 2013 club that finished 8-8 and missed the postseason.
But what should the Ravens' plan moving forward be? With the NFL draft still to come, a lot of work this offseason has yet to be done, and here's a look at what's next for the Ravens.
Continue Upgrading the Offense
As mentioned before, the Ravens stumbled to an 8-8 record last year, and much of that had to do with an offense that ranked 29th in total yards and 25th in scoring in 2013.
One could argue that the Ravens' biggest offseason acquisition was former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who will serve as the offensive coordinator in 2014.
Viewed as an offensive mastermind, Kubiak won his first Super Bowl as the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
He joined the Denver Broncos in 1995 as their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. There, Kubiak helped lead Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Kubiak would eventually become the head coach of the Texans in 2006 following their 2-14 season. He went on to lead Houston to a 10-6 regular-season record and the franchise’s first division crown, playoff berth and playoff win in 2011.
Kubiak did all of this with an offense that routinely ranked among the NFL's best, and it was built on a strong running game. Houston had a franchise-record 153.0 yards per game in 2011, which also ranked second in the NFL.
Just getting him will upgrade the offense, but the Ravens have to keep adding pieces to upgrade that side of the ball.
They need to upgrade the offensive line that allowed 48 sacks last year. That was tied with the Buffalo Bills for the fourth-most allowed in the NFL in 2013. They also failed to get much push in the running game, and Baltimore ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards per game (83.3).
As good of an offensive mind as Kubiak is, poor offensive line play will derail any offense. He and the Ravens need to find a way to upgrade it further, whether that's through free agency or the NFL draft.
Sign Torrey Smith to Extension
Wide receiver was another area the Ravens struggled to get good production from in 2013, but it wasn't because of Torrey Smith's play.
A second-round pick out of Maryland in the 2011 draft, Smith has slowly risen in the NFL to become one of the league's best receivers still on their rookie contracts.
Entering his fourth and final year of his rookie deal, extending smith's contract is a must for the Ravens before the 2014 season opens.
Smith is coming off a career-best 65 catches for 1,128 yards. He also added four touchdown catches.
Outside of Smith, no other Raven had more than 524 receiving yards. Baltimore receivers also only caught 13 touchdowns, and 11 of them were between Torrey and Marlon Brown.
Needles to say, he's a very valuable player to the Ravens, but the longer they wait, the more his stock could rise, making him harder to re-sign.
It should help that Smith has already said he wants to stay in Baltimore, according to Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com, so a new deal appears to be what both sides want:
This is where I want to be, everybody knows that, so I’m not really worried about that. I know I’m going to be here next season, so that’s the only thing I worry about. I’m trying to be the best I can be for the Ravens, and hopefully down the road that’s something that will be addressed and I’ll still be right here.
According to Matt Zenitz of the Carroll County Times, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti indicated that he wants to get a new deal done with Smith—and preferably before the draft.
Both sides clearly want to make this happen. Now, it's just a case of them sitting down and hammering out a new deal.
Upgrade Cornerback Depth
There's thin, and then there's the Ravens' defensive backfield. Asa Jackson, Chykie Brown, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb are the only cornerbacks on the roster right now. Webb is a Pro Bowler, and Smith has slowly grown into a solid starter.
However, Brown and Jackson combined to play just 39 defensive snaps in 2013. The NFL draft is still a month away, so adding a cornerback in free agency is not out of the question yet. That being said, it might be smarter at this point to wait until the draft.
If they can't land any cornerbacks they feel are ready to contribute in 2014, they can go back to the free-agent market and see who's available.
At pick No. 17 in the first round, some of the top CB prospects who could be on the board are Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett out of TCU.
Even if they are able to draft someone they like, it still wouldn't hurt to have another veteran corner on the roster. Asante Samuel and Jabari Greer are arguably the two best corners still on the market.
Samuel was cut this offseason by the Falcons after missing five games due to injury in 2013, and he's 33, so his skills will only diminish further.
Greer is coming off a torn ACL that cost him the final six games in '13, and the Saints later cut the 32-year-old veteran.
Neither of these players is going to come in and make a significant impact on the field, but they could provide an upgrade in veteran leadership off the field the Ravens need more of.