General manager Ozzie Newsome and other team officials will be cramming a typical four-month offseason into a matter of weeks. The Ravens will be pressed to retain their own free agents — which will include six starters if, as expected, players are allowed to hit the market after four years under the new agreement — fill holes on their roster with free agents from other teams, sign their eight draft picks and compete with the rest of the league for undrafted rookies.
The Ravens have already had to move training camp from Westminster to Owings Mills to accommodate the changed timetable. Fans won't be able to watch practices there, and the team has not announced when it will have open practices at M&T Bank Stadium.
John Harbaugh likely will be starting training camp next month, and at this point, he still doesn't know who will be the lead blocker for Ray Rice, who will be the starting right tackle and who will be throwing passes if Joe Flacco gets injured.
These question marks are daunting, but they're not unique. The other contenders in the AFC North face similar challenges.
The Pittsburgh Steelers could lose their best cornerback (Ike Taylor) and offensive tackle (Willie Colon) in free agency. The Cincinnati Bengals might have to replace Johnathan Joseph, who has been rated as the second-best cornerback in free agency, and starting running back Cedric Benson in addition to dealing with disgruntled quarterbackCarson Palmer.
Here's the post-lockout checklist for the Ravens:
Add a pass rusher in free agency: The Ravens are coming off a franchise-worst 27 sacks last season. It would be a mistake to think the pass rush will be improved with Jarret Johnson being healthier this season and the possibility of Sergio Kindle playing. The Ravens could make a splash with Minnesota's Ray Edwards (eight sacks) or Carolina's Charles Johnson (11.5 sacks). They could take a gamble with Tennessee's Jason Babin (who is coming off a career-high 12.5 sacks at age 31) or the New York Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka (four sacks in an injury-filled season). The wild card is Jason Taylor, 36, who had five sacks for the New York Jets last season.
Sign Marshal Yanda and upgrade at offensive tackle: The priority of the Ravens' free agency is to re-sign Yanda, a rugged blocker whose move back to right guard is regarded as pivotal to getting the running game on track. Assuming Yanda won't be at right tackle and Jared Gaither won't be re-signed, the remaining options (Oniel Cousins, rookie Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood) aren't reassuring, especially when the season-opening opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two tackles who would fit as solid stop-gaps until the younger players develop are Washington's Jammal Brown and the Jets' Damien Woody. Pittsburgh's Willie Colon and Seattle's Sean Locklear are more expensive options. The risky pick is Denver's Ryan Harris, who has tremendous upside if he stays healthy.
Decide between cornerbacks Chris Carr and Josh Wilson: In a perfect world, the Ravens would re-sign both of their starting cornerbacks from last season. In a salary-cap NFL, it would be ambitious to think the Ravens can pull that off. The team's cornerback group already includes first-round pick Jimmy Smith, Domonique Foxworth and Lardarius Webb. It should be harder to keep Wilson, who should command more money and a better opportunity to start because he's younger. Carr, though, might be more valuable because he can play cornerback, nickel back and possibly transition to safety, where he could compete for a starting job.
Re-sign Marc Bulger or another veteran to back up Flacco: It's a mistake to already pencil Bulger as the next starting quarterback in Arizona, Cincinnati or Miami. He appeared to enjoy his time as a backup after getting knocked around in St. Louis, and the Ravens need that valuable insurance policy when they are once again poised to make a Super Bowl run. There's still a good chance that the Ravens can find $3 million in cap space for Bulger. If they can't, other candidates include: Oakland's Bruce Gradkowski, Detroit's Shaun Hill and San Francisco's Alex Smith.
Figure out what to do at fullback and backup running back: It would make sense for the Ravens to invest in a strong lead-blocking fullback (think Lorenzo Neal in 2008) to jumpstart a running game that finished fifth-worst in yards per carry. Houston's Vonta Leach is the best available fullback but he is also the most expensive. Cleveland's Lawrence Vickers could represent the best value. Signing either one wouldn't preclude the Ravens re-signing free agent Le'Ron McClain. With the Ravens expected to cut Willis McGahee, there could be more opportunities to run the ball for McClain, especially in the red zone.