We'll give the Ravens the benefit of the doubt, and assume they quit Sunday in Chicago. Because if they actually were trying as they fell behind 24-0 to the hapless Bears, their problems are even bigger than any of us imagined.
Coach Ted Marchibroda deserves much of the blame for the team's sorry 5-10 record, but not all of it. There are still too many losers on this team, too many has-beens, too many never-weres.
Indeed, the list of Ravens who must go is longer than a spoiled little rich kid's Christmas list, longer than the Republicans' list of grievances with President Clinton.
It is highly tempting to push the delete button on the entire offense, save for Jonathan Ogden, Jermaine Lewis and Jeff Blackshear. But given the spirit of the season, we'll limit our nominations to a select and deserving few.
The defense won't require as drastic an overhaul, but the Ravens face difficult decisions on several aging veterans, particularly in their forever-suspect secondary.
Their unrestricted free agents include defensive tackle James Jones, center Wally Williams, right tackle Orlando Brown, tight end Eric Green, running back Errict Rhett, fullback Roosevelt Potts and receiver Floyd Turner.
Their restricted free agents include cornerback DeRon Jenkins, defensive back Donny Brady, tight end A. J. Ofodile and receiver James Roe. The club can retain such players by matching rival offers.
Keep in mind, the Ravens must expose five players under contract to the expansion draft, as well as restricted free agents. They can pull back one player after one is selected, but lose no more than two to the new Cleveland Browns.
Without further ado, here are the candidates for the Gone Squad, a list that ultimately will be shaped by the new head coach. Players who object, call your agents.
Wally Williams or Orlando Brown. The Ravens probably could afford to keep both under the cap, but that would restrict them in other areas while rewarding their most disappointing unit.
Normally, teams try to protect the edges, knowing it's more difficult to replace a tackle than a center. But Williams is coming off a better season, is more of a leader and doesn't have Brown's ankle problems.
What's scary is that Brown could return to form once he gets his money, and the Ravens' offensive line might be worse off without him.
Jim Harbaugh or Eric Zeier. Another difficult call. Harbaugh's salary next season ($3.25 million) will be more than 10 times Zeier's ($300,000). But which quarterback would you rather have grooming your No. 1 draft pick?
The answer is Harbaugh, whose experience would prove even more valuable in the unlikely scenario that the Ravens take a big-target receiver first and a quarterback second.
Still, the Ravens invested a $2 million signing bonus in Zeier as a restricted free agent last off-season. He's nine years younger, and he remains attractive due to his low salary.
Both quarterbacks could be more productive in an offense better suited to their abilities. Ideally, the Ravens would keep them and cut Wally Richardson, with Harbaugh agreeing to a huge pay cut.
Michael Jackson. Only MJ would cite his sorry stats in pleading his case to an official with the Ravens trailing 24-0. It happened Sunday when an illegal forward pass nullified what would have been Jackson's first touchdown of the season.
That $2.7 million option for next season?
Jackson is not entirely to blame for his falloff in production, but team officials are tired of his me-first act.
Eric Green. Out of here? Not so fast. Green played well before rupturing his air sac, and remains perhaps the best blocking tight end in the game.
Still, he's an old 31, fumbles at inopportune times and doesn't always practice. The next coach might very well ask, what has he ever won?
The decision likely will hinge on the money that Green commands in free agency.
Roosevelt Potts. Let's see, 34 carries for 102 yards, 28 receptions for 139 yards, inconsistent blocking, one touchdown.
This was the pivotal element in the two-back offense?
The Ravens would have been better off signing Sam Gash, who gets far fewer touches, but has spurred Buffalo's playoff drive with terrific blocking.
Errict Rhett. Another "key" off-season pickup -- he cost the team a third-round pick, yet averages fewer than three carries per game.
Maybe the next coach would give him more of a chance.
Jay Graham is always hurt. Priest Holmes appears little more than a backup, averaging 200 yards rushing against Cincinnati, 48 against all other opponents.
For a team that already needs to draft a quarterback and a receiver, Rhett might prove valuable for the right money.
Floyd Turner. All the new coach will need to do is watch film of this season. Turner has value as an extra receiver.
James Jones. A must-keep as an unrestricted free agent, especially with defensive tackles so scarce. One of the most underrated and respected players in the locker room.
Rob Burnett. The Ravens like him against the run, but they would prefer more than 2 1/2 sacks out of an end who moves inside on third down.
Burnett, 31, is the kind of player who might be left unprotected in the expansion draft. The problem is, the Ravens have no obvious replacement.
They need to draft offense, and defensive ends command huge free-agent dollars. Most likely, they would try to convince Burnett to accept a pay cut -- he is due to earn $2.6 million in 1999.
Stevon Moore. You know what will happen if the Ravens lose him -- he'll join Bill Belichick with the New York Jets and play three more seasons.
Moore, hindered by bad knees, appears near the end of his career, but he still offers leadership and solid tackling. His future could hinge on whether the Ravens move Rod Woodson to safety.
Under that scenario, Woodson and Kim Herring would be the safeties, and the Ravens would sign a cornerback to play opposite Duane Starks, with DeRon Jenkins remaining as the nickel back.
Jamie Sharper. The Ravens aren't going to give up on their second-round pick from 1997, but what if they signed a middle linebacker, enabling them to move Ray Lewis to the weak side?
Few players will be safe after Sunday.
Few players should be.
Pub Date: 12/22/98