By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
8:00 AM EST, January 2, 2014
Most of the attention has been on rush linebacker Terrell Suggs' future because he'll cost the Ravens more than $12 million against the salary cap next season. However, there are probably other Ravens whose futures in purple are a bit more tenuous than Suggs'.
It would be extremely surprising if Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, who would count $2.3 million against the cap and had a limited role this season, is back next year. Weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain ($4.4 million) and punter Sam Koch ($2.8 million) may also be in jeopardy.
Defensive end Chris Canty ($3.2 million) is another question mark, though if the Ravens lose free agent Arthur Jones, It would be tough to replace both Jones and Canty.
Speaking of Jones, I know a lot of people consider him a must re-sign for the Ravens, but I just can’t see it happening.
After having the best season of his career, Jones is in line for a nice payday this year, and he’ll have earned every bit of it. He’s improved every year and made himself into a real solid player. However, with the money the Ravens owe nose tackle Haloti Ngata and their other financial commitments, I don’t see how they’ll win a bidding war for Jones.
I think it will play out a lot like Dannell Ellerbe’s free agency last year or Cory Redding’s from a couple of years ago. The Ravens will maintain interest and consider re-signing Jones a priority, but they’ll realize pretty quickly that their offer won’t be competitive with what Jones will get elsewhere.
I hope I’m wrong, because Jones is one of the classiest and most accountable athletes I’ve ever covered.
With limited flexibility under the salary cap, the Ravens are only going to be able to devote so much money to fixing their struggling offensive line.
Even if they re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe – and both sides seem to want to make that happen – they are still going to have questions at center, where Gino Gradkowski has yet to prove that he’s the long-term answer; at left guard, where Kelechi Osemele is coming off back surgery; and at right tackle, where free agent Michael Oher isn’t expected to return.
So, it seems inevitable that they are going to need one of their young offensive linemen to step up next season and prove themselves capable of handling a starting role.
Rick Wagner, a fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin, played in all 16 games as a rookie, mostly limited to special teams and the “jumbo” package. There’s a long offseason ahead but with it unlikely that the Ravens can afford to sign two free agent offensive tackles, Wagner may well be the favorite to start at right tackle next season.
Getting back to Oher -- I know I’m going to get ripped for this -- but I’m still surprised how much vitriol the mere mention of his name stirs up among Ravens’ fans.
Sure, he never developed into the dominant left tackle that the organization had hoped for when they selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft, and his weekly false start penalties were frustrating.
But he was also a guy who has started every game of his Ravens career, his 80 consecutive starts representing the third-longest streak in franchise history.
He moved from right tackle to left, back to right, back to left and then back to right without complaint. And though he struggled this year, he played extremely well during the Super Bowl run last year against some really good pass rushers.
He was dominant against Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil in the AFC divisional playoff game last year. That should count for something.
It’s unclear at this point how serious a candidate Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is for the head coaching openings with the Detroit Lions and the Washington Redskins, or if he’ll ultimately emerge as a candidate at Penn State as well.
But you can bet that like most coaches, Harbaugh already has an extensive list put together about potential assistants that he’d like to hire given an opening.
I’m not privy to that list, but I’d be surprised if the Ravens didn’t at least check in on Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s availability. Turner is still under contract with the Browns, but he reportedly questioned Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner after this week’s firing of head coach Rob Chudzinski.
It still would be hard to imagine the Browns letting Turner go, though it can’t be ruled out because their new head coach may want to bring in his own offensive coordinator.
If that happens and Ravens had an opening at offensive coordinator, Turner would be a great fit. The Ravens have long had a tremendous amount of respect for Turner, his offensive mind and his skills as a play caller.
While Harbaugh said Monday that there were no imminent plans for coaching changes, I’d still be surprised if run game coordinator Juan Castillo is back next year. It sounds like both sides could be ready for a parting at this point and Castillo, who has a really good reputation around the league regardless of what happened this year, shouldn’t have a huge problem finding another job.
That would be ideal for the Ravens and prevent Harbaugh from having to fire a good friend, though he’s done it before with Cam Cameron.
One more coaching observation: it will be interesting to see if senior defensive assistant Steve Spagnuolo gets some feelers with the number of defensive coordinator jobs that might open.
The New York Giants would be one potential match if they decide to dump Perry Fewell or Fewell surprisingly gets the Redskins head coaching job. Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator when the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007, and he’s extremely well liked and respected by that organization.
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