Each week, Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston will answer questions from readers about the Ravens. You can submit questions during every game to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are this week's questions and answers:
For the last five years, the Ravens made the playoffs. And last year, they won a Super Bowl. Who do you believe deserves more credit for that success -- John Harbaugh or former players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard? Forcing Joe Flacco as a leader, I thought, took away the fire and passion that we come to love from the Ravens. Even Terrell Suggs quit this year. Harbaugh is making the Ravens soft. The Ravens were once the bullies and had teams scared. Now they get smacked around. -- Michael W.
Michael, saying the Ravens are a soft team is pretty harsh. The NFL does not allow hard hits any more, and receivers and running backs are no longer scared to play anyone. The hit by James Ihedigbo that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Bengals highlights this problem. It was a hard, legal hit in which Ihedigbo led with his shoulder and jarred the receiver. Instant flag. It is a watered-down league, and the league is watering down the toughness, too.
As for who deserves more credit, Lewis and Reed were not winning multiple Super Bowls prior to John Harbaugh arriving in Baltimore. I think you can divvy up the credit 50-50. And for the thousandth time, we know Flacco cannot carry a team and does not lead with the fire and brimstone like Lewis. But you don’t always need to be a screamer to be a leader. If you want to lead, make plays. This season, the Ravens lacked playmakers. The only playmaker on the offense for the entire season was Flacco. His style of leadership, though, is different.
Could the Ravens get anything in a trade for Ray Rice? I don’t completely blame him for the season he had, but unless we fix our offensive line, I don’t see him doing much better next year. Loss of his salary might allow the Ravens to spend some money to fix the offensive line before Flacco has a career-ending injury. -- Stuart D., Jacksonville, Fla.
Stuart, generally you try to sell high when making a trade. The trade value for Rice is not high after being injured all season. And as you suggest getting rid of Rice’s high salary, you would have to find someone willing to take a running back approaching 30 years old with a high salary. It’s probably not going to happen.
Part of leadership is taking the heat off your comrades by taking a large part of the heat when things go wrong. Harbaugh tries to do this. I notice in Flacco's interviews that he seldom does. He makes sure to spread the blame over the entire unit. When you occasionally see the Broncos, Patriots, or Saints lay an offensive egg, their quarterbacks lay it on their shoulders -- either for playing poorly or for not stepping up with the right leadership. Flacco does not do this. He doesn't want the blame on his shoulders alone and seems blind to how poorly he plays at times. With his contract, shouldn't he get the message that it is his team and he should be stepping up with much better leadership? -- Scott, N.C.
Scott, Flacco is who he is at this point. He is going to stand at the podium after a game, pick at his nails, bite his lip, and give you the same answers every week. He does not take all of the credit when they win, and he does not take all of the blame when they lose. He is a quiet team leader, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as the team continues to win games. As for his contract, there are two years left until it has be addressed again. After the pounding he took this season, Flacco’s eyes might have been opened to see that the team might need more cap room to get him some help. Flacco cashed in on the Super Bowl victory, but the Ravens will eventually have to cash out.
Why are all columnists intimidated by Harbaugh? This team has no heart. It was built by Harbaugh in his image, which is without intensity and heart. I hear all radio hosts and columnists talk about releasing so many of the coaches, but accountability must start at the top. Hiring "Friends of Harbaugh" needs to stop. Releasing any player who has intensity and fire needs to stop. A successful team has many forms, but this team lacked heart, fire, intensity and the drive to succeed. What do you think? -- Tony H.
Tony, I’m coming out of the closet. I admit it. Harbaugh intimidates me. I lay awake at night quivering about what he will say if I write bad things about him. In fact, I will just say it. I am a homer. My best friends know me as “Homer Preston” because I bleed purple and black. I drink the Purple Kool-Aid. I cry after every Ravens loss and leap with joy after every Ravens victory. And for all those thousands of fans who have sent me nasty emails calling me names and a hater because you thought I bashed the Ravens, you were all wrong.
Tony, great work. I didn’t think anyone would ever find out that I was “Homer Preston” after all of these years. You will go down in history with Sherlock Holmes as one of the greatest detectives in the world.
Now with all of that said, how dare you question my best friend John Harbaugh about intensity or heart? Johnny might make a bonehead decision or two during the game that will make you scratch your head, but he coaches with heart and intensity.
I believe this team lacked a lot of things in terms of talent, but not heart. How dare you? Anyway, you have unmasked me, Tony, and I will always be appreciative. I can now live my new life forever as “Homer Preston.”
Mike, with a few players taking up most of the salary cap next year and leaving little room to sign free agents, what do you see the Ravens doing about their linebackers? Josh Bynes and Jameel McClain were subpar. Daryl Smith played well, but he can't do it all (and might not be back). Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are rush specialists. How does the team improve at the weakest position on defense? -- KC, White Marsh
Linebacker was the weakest position on the defense? I would have looked at the secondary first, particularly the safety position. There is no question the defense will have some moving parts this offseason. I would imagine Smith is brought back at a reasonable contract. I also think the Ravens would like to see more of Arthur Brown and Courtney Upshaw. Suggs will probably have to restructure his contract or take a pay cut this offseason if he wants to remain with the Ravens.
Mike, great job all year -- again. Who was the most disappointing Ravens player this season? You could say Flacco, but he had a lesser receiving corps this year and a poor offensive line. You could say Rice, but he played injured. I have my choice, but I don't want to unduly influence you. I'll just say, his name rhymes with "rugs." What's your view? -- Tom C., West Palm Beach, Fla.
I am not singling out a particular player. I am going after a whole unit. The offensive line was just that -- offensive. I know there were injuries, trades, and first-year starters, but at a certain point, you have to be able to rush for more than 1 yard at a time. It was terrible watching defensive linemen consistently blow up running play after running play. The pass blocking wasn’t much better.
If you were going to ask me for best vanishing act during the season, “rugs” would be a good choice. But the player’s name that rhymes with “ice” wasn’t too far behind.
Is Tyrod Taylor a real backup for Flacco? Playing Flacco the last two weeks, based on his performance, made no sense. Plus, he really got nailed several times. Not really fair to send him out there in that condition, was it? He was one bad hit away from retirement Sunday. If Taylor can't play, why is he on the team taking up a roster spot? Shouldn't the Ravens look for a real backup in the offseason (as if they don't have other holes to fill!)? Thanks. -- Mike B.
Taylor, as discussed last week, is not a real backup option, and that position does need to be addressed this offseason. However, your point of not playing Flacco doesn’t really work. He is the starting quarterback, and the Ravens were still in the playoff hunt. Why would you bench him? All players have to deal with injuries, and as a reported mild MCL sprain, that should not prevent a quarterback from playing.
You were absolutely right about when you mentioned that the Patriots knew the Ravens' offensive plays before we snapped the ball. Cincinnati did it this time as one of their linebackers turned around and motioned to the air after hearing Flacco yell a code word. And he did it multiple times and was right every time. One time was in the red zone. Is that just from them watching tape, or was our offense really that pathetic and predictable? Can we expect a whole new offensive coaching staff next year? -- Bernie, Bel Air
Unfortunately, the Ravens offense really is that predictable. The tape does not lie. There are several players tipping plays, as I mentioned last week, and the Ravens offense still lacks creativity and imagination. I would expect some changes to the coaching staff this offseason.
OK, Mike, time to play general manager. You know who the free agents are and the big contracts going into 2014. Who stays, who goes and who should be restructured? If certain guys aren't willing to restructure, should they be released? -- Andy, Hagerstown
Andy, there are a couple of factors that have to be taken into account. When you cut a player who has received a sizable signing bonus, there will be dead money issues and an impact on future years. Let’s take Haloti Ngata as an example since his contract is brought up a lot on talk radio around town. It is reported that his cap number is $16 million for the 2014 season. He received a sizable signing bonus, so his base salary for 2014 is $8.5 million with his prorated signing bonus counting for $7.5 million. If he is cut prior to June 1, the Ravens would see a $1 million cap savings and have $15 million in dead money for 2014. That can’t happen. If he is cut after June 1, the Ravens would save the $8.5 million for 2014 and have $7.5 million in dead cap money in 2014 and 2015 from his contract. Can the Ravens absorb that with players like Flacco taking up more and more cap space? I doubt it. I would expect the Ravens to try to restructure players like Ngata, Suggs, Rice, and Lardarius Webb, who are four of the five highest cap numbers this coming year.
I would expect the Ravens to attempt to re-sign Smith, Dennis Pitta and Arthur Jones. Those players should be the priority, but can the Ravens afford them? Jones played extremely well and will likely have several suitors. Pitta is a good tight end and regained value at the end of the season. Smith outplayed his contract and will probably require a reasonable raise.
As for players to be cut, Jameel McClain and Vonta Leach seem to make the most sense. Leach would reportedly provide $1.75 million, and McClain would provide $3.2 million in cap relief, while only leaving $1.8 million in total dead money.
What should be the Ravens' priority with the first-round draft pick? A wide receiver, help for the offensive line, or -- although backs are rarely, if ever, first-round picks in this age of the pass -- an heir to Rice? -- Bryan H.
I think you hit the nail on the head, Bryan. The Ravens will be drafting in the middle of the round. It will allow them to move up if a big-play wide receiver starts to slip or even fall back and still get a quality offensive lineman and an extra pick. Running back is just not a first-round position any more.