By now, we've all had some time to digest the annual "State of the Ravens" address. It was interesting and somewhat informative, yet I gather that nothing said by Owner Steve Bisciotti or General Manager Ozzie Newsome was truly surprising to the Ravens' fan base.
I think it was pretty much assumed that quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice would be back next season. I think it was understood that it's going to be awfully hard for the franchise to agree to extensions with Flacco and Rice, and pay free agent left guard Ben Grubbs in the same offseason. As competitive as Bisciotti is, you knew that the owner would support some of his oft-criticized players, like Flacco and kicker Billy Cundiff.
My colleague, Kevin Van Valkenburg, offered up a nice analysis of the news conference in his "Five Things We Learned" feature so for the most part, I'm going to try to stay away from the topics that he discussed though some repetition is unavoidable. However, here are a few of my observations on the address.
Just to get this one out of the way first because Kevin summed it up nicely, but I think we can write with a decent amount of confidence that it's unlikely that Grubbs will return. Newsome is way too smart to close any doors and the Ravens obviously want Grubbs back, and they'll aggressively explore ways to make it happen. But when free agency starts on March 13, I would expect several teams to make huge offers to Grubbs that the Ravens won't be able to come close to matching. It's the reality of the business that you can't keep everybody.
This quote from Newsome didn't generate a ton of attention but I think it probably reveals a lot about the Ravens' thoughts on whether center Matt Birk retires or not – and whether they'd want him back if he indeed does plan on returning. "Before we line up and play in 2012, there will be another center on this football team in some capacity – free agency, draft or whatever," Newsome said. Birk was at the Ravens' complex yesterday and Newsome also said that free agent guard/center Andre Gurode has spoken to him and expressed a desire to return. However, even if Birk or Gurode return, they are essentially one-year stop gaps. I think Newsome's comments speak to the fact that the Ravens know that they need to get younger on the offensive line and that probably will start this offseason at the center position. I'd be surprised if either Birk or Gurode are back and my guess would be that the center position is addressed early in April's draft.
The exact number of the NFL salary cap for next season hasn't been established yet so it's a little early to know where the Ravens will stand. Bisciotti and Newsome were peppered with questions about it yesterday and they didn't offer too many specifics, only acknowledging that they won't be able to keep everybody though they should have enough flexibility to add a couple of guys to fill weaknesses. My take on it is that the Ravens won't make any huge splashes with outside free agents and they'll approach it similarly to last offseason when they signed fullback Vonta Leach and safety Bernard Pollard to address holes. Still, with 13 unrestricted free agents and four restricted ones and a couple of veterans (Domonique Foxworth, Lee Evans, Chris Carr to name three) potentially representing salary cap casualties, the Ravens should have the room to make a couple of quality free agent signings.
Newsome listed building at the wide receiver spot as one of the team's top offseason needs - the offensive line and getting a pass rusher were the other two – and I can't imagine that bodes well for Evans. Anquan Boldin will return and Torrey Smith certainly established himself as a guy that the Ravens can count heavily on next season. Bisciotti also spoke highly of Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams and said those two very much remain in the team's plans. So if the Ravens want to add some more wide receiver depth, I'm not sure where that leaves Evans. He is due a $1 million roster bonus in March and would make a base salary of $3.27 million next season. Unless he agrees to some significant restructuring, I'd have to think that his final play as a Raven came in the end zone at Gillette Stadium when rookie Sterling Moore stripped him of the potential game-winning touchdown. That's a shame too because regardless of how angry fans are at Evans, he had some very good years in Buffalo and he was all class during his first year as a Raven.
And finally, this won't come as a revelation to anybody that has followed the Ravens for any amount of time, but it's very clear that they are more than willing to give several of the organization's younger players an opportunity to step into prominent roles next year. Whether that means that they'll give Jah Reid the first crack at replacing Grubbs or Sergio Kindle will get moved into the starting lineup if Jarret Johnson leaves via free agency, I'm not sure. But it is very obvious that the Ravens have a ton of confidence in their coaching staff, and believe that they have several of the organization's younger players ready to step in.