At this time last year, the Ravens were still basking in the glow of their Super Bowl XLVII championship while formulating a game plan aimed at keep them among the league’s elite.
The biggest item on their to-do list was to re-sign quarterback Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, a feat that they accomplished relatively early in the offseason. Next, they wanted to retool the defense, and that started with the rebuilding of their defensive line.
Sick of watching their defensive line get pushed around, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and company prioritized adding size and depth along the defensive front. To that end, they signed veteran defensive end Chris Canty and veteran defensive tackle Marcus Spears. They then used a third-round pick on Brandon Williams.
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Canty had an uneven first season with the Ravens. An ineffective Spears was cut less than two months into the regular season, while Williams battled a toe injury and was mostly a nonfactor, suiting up for just seven games.
Throw in the fact that starting defensive end Arthur Jones, probably the Ravens' most consistent defensive lineman in 2013, and reserve nose tackle Terrence Cody are both free agents and are unlikely to return, and it’s clear that the organization will again have to address the defensive line this offseason.
It probably won’t be as big of a priority as last year. The Ravens have too many other needs. They’ll need to upgrade at wide receiver and tight end, along the offensive line, at middle linebacker, if free agent Daryl Smith departs, and at safety. A case could be made that all those positions should be prioritized over the defensive line.
But for a team that prides itself on playing physical football and winning the battles along the line of scrimmage, the defensive line certainly can’t be ignored.
Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata, the longtime anchor of that group, is 30 years old and eight seasons in the trenches and countless double teams have taken their toll on his body. He also has just two years left on his contract, which includes a $16 million salary cap hit for the 2014 campaign, though the Ravens would like to sign him to a contract extension that would lower his cap number for the coming season.
Canty is 31, and the Ravens could use some depth behind him, while they’ll also likely need to find a replacement for Jones, who has started 44 games over the previous three seasons. Jones and the Ravens have mutual interest in him returning, but the reality is that the 27-year-old is in line for a big payday, and he’s a luxury that the salary cap-challenged Ravens likely can’t afford.
Third-year defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, who was a bit of a revelation with two sacks and an interception this past season, will likely take on a bigger role. With another year to gain familiarity with the defensive playbook and get stronger and fitter, Williams should become a contributor. And the wildcard of the group is end Kapron Lewis-Moore, a sixth-round pick last year who missed the entire 2013 season while rehabbing a knee injury sustained in his final game for Notre Dame.
Lewis-Moore sat in on meetings all year and also practiced with the team for several weeks, so he won’t be totally starting from scratch when the organized team activities and various minicamps begin.
But still, there remain a lot of unknowns with the defensive line group. While it hasn’t been mentioned much as one of the Ravens’ needs, the defensive line is certainly something that the Ravens can’t and likely won’t ignore.