As my colleague Peter Schmuck pointed out in a column earlier this week, you often have to read between the lines at the “State of the Ravens” address to learn more about the front office’s offseason intentions. I’ll attempt to do that below:
General manager Ozzie Newsome offering the reminder that the organization is not afraid to let go of good football players when asked about rush linebacker Terrell Suggs’ status confirms what most people have long expected: It’s going to be pretty much impossible for the Ravens to keep Suggs at his current contract, which carries with it a $12.4 million salary cap hit for the 2014 season. The Ravens are hoping that they can get Suggs to agree to a contract extension that would give him a little more long-term security – he’s eligible for free agency after next season – in exchange for his salary lowering significantly in the coming year. Who knows what it will take for Suggs and his agent to agree to this. However, I do know that Suggs values spending his entire career in one place. During an interview I did with him a couple of days before the start of the 2013 season, Suggs mentioned how great it was that players like Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware spent their entire careers in Ravens uniforms. He said that he wanted to be part of that group when his career ends. The contract talks over the next couple of months will probably determine if that happens.
Newsome’s prioritizing the acquisition of a play-making, free safety doesn’t bode well for the return of free agent James Ihedigbo. While team officials have generally downplayed the effect of having rookie Matt Elam essentially play out of position at free safety this season with Ihedigbo starting at strong safety, Newsome’s comments suggest that the organization doesn’t want that to happen again. So, it seems likely that Elam will move to strong safety next year, where he’s most comfortable, and the Ravens will bring in – either via the draft or free agency – an athletic, ball-hawking free safety that can create turnovers. Ihedigbo had a solid year for the Ravens and he’s highly regarded for his leadership, physicality and steady play. He’ll deservedly get a solid contract this offseason but it likely won’t come from the Ravens.
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The Ravens haven’t figured out yet if Kelechi Osemele, when he’s fully healthy, will slot back in at left guard or he’ll go back to playing right tackle, which he did for most of his rookie year. That will likely depend on who else the Ravens are able to acquire along the offensive line. Team officials made it clear that they have to get bigger along the interior. Right guard Marshal Yanda remains the team’s best offensive linemen so he isn’t going anywhere. That leaves guard and center as the interior spots in question. If the Ravens are able to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe and that’s certainly the goal, they are only going to have so much money to spend on the rest of the offensive line. It might prove cheaper and easier to find a physical left guard than an athletic right tackle, which is one reason Osemele could find himself back at right tackle.
I got a lot of questions about what head coach John Harbaugh meant when he blamed himself for some of the criticism that run game coordinator Juan Castillo has gotten, and attributed some of it to Castillo’s title of run game coordinator. When the run game sunk to unthinkable levels, it was only natural to point the finger at the newly-appointed “run game” coordinator. However, I’m not sure if the criticism would have lessened if Castillo’s title was offensive line coach, which is essentially the role that he occupied. Harbaugh gave that title to Castillo because it was a way to bring in another talented and highly thought of coach while not stripping the incumbent offensive line coach Andy Moeller of his title after Moeller’s group performed so well during the playoffs. It was apparent from the first day of training camp that Moeller’s role had diminished and Castillo had taken the coaching lead. Both men, along with assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington, handled the situation as best as they could. But as it turned out, the structure never worked. To put it in simple terms, there were just too many cooks in the kitchen, and that made things difficult. With Harbaugh announcing Castillo will be back with the title of offensive line coach, it seems inevitable that Moeller will be elsewhere.
It was interesting to hear Harbaugh say that he expects Arthur Brown to compete and to win the starting weak-side linebacker job next year. Harbaugh loves to challenge his players and of all the young players that need to have a huge offseason and step up next season, Brown is high on the list. His first order of business will be to put on more weight and muscle and then he has to get more comfortable with the team’s various defensive schemes. Brown certainly has the physical skills and the Ravens remain high on him. But a full offseason in the weight room and in the playbook will be crucial.
Nothing that was said Wednesday changed my opinion on which of their own 13 free agents the Ravens will prioritize re-signing. I believe the three that they will focus on will be Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta and middle linebacker Daryl Smith. Two more that they’d like to re-sign if the price is right are wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones and cornerback Corey Graham. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones is another guy that the Ravens would love to have back, but I think team officials are realistic in knowing that he probably priced himself out of their plans with his breakout 2013 season. As for the rest of the group, it would be surprising if running back Bernard Scott, tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark, offensive tackle Michael Oher, nose tackle Terrence Cody and safeties Ihedigbo and Jeromy Miles return. But free agency doesn’t start until March 11, so a lot could happen from now until then.