PHOENIX — The league's top decision makers will spend the next three days at the posh Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix for the NFL Annual Meetings. On the agenda is voting on several potential rule changes, along with an address by commissioner Roger Goodell.
It also could be a particularly significant week for the Ravens, who will make a final pitch to try and re-sign free agent safety Ed Reed, learn how many compensatory picks they'll have in next month's draft and possibly be notified of their opponent for the NFL season opener in Baltimore on Sept. 5. Coach John Harbaugh is also expected to address reporters for the first time since the Super Bowl champions lost several key performers, either via trade or free agency.
Here is a more detailed look at four questions that may be answered here in Phoenix:
Will Ed Reed become the latest Raven to leave? Both the Ravens and the Houston Texans are
scheduled to meet this week with David Dunn, the representative for free agent safety Ed Reed. Other teams may get in the act as well, but that the Ravens are still in it at all is a victory in itself. For most of this past Thursday and Friday as the Texans hosted Reed, it looked like a mere formality that the safety's 11-season tenure with the Ravens had ended. However, Reed left Houston without a deal, leaving the door ajar for the Ravens and possibly other teams. By now, Ravens fans should know that predicting what the mercurial Reed is going to say or do is foolish, so I'm not going to even try.
But I do feel comfortable drawing a couple conclusions. One, if the overriding factor is going to be size of contract, the Ravens probably won't be re-signing him. General manager Ozzie Newsome and company have proven that they won't get overly sentimental, not even with a future Hall of Famer and one of the franchise's best ever players. The Ravens' mantra is "right player, right price." They have a dollar figure in mind for Reed and they won't – and probably can't given their salary cap restraints – stray too far from it. The Texans reportedly offered him close to $5 million per year. I'd be surprised if the Ravens would go that high. Two, despite little outward indications that the Ravens have aggressively wooed Reed, they have maintained interest all along. The Ravens don't put their business on the street. They don't tweet about free agent visits or publicize the depth of their interest. The reason that they didn't make their best offer early in the process is because they knew that the offer would get shopped to other teams and they are ill-equipped to win a bidding war. Three, the Ravens' chances of retaining Reed ultimately rest with the importance the 34-year-old places on playing his whole career in one city, and his desire to be the undisputed leader and mentor of a young defense. This is no slight on the retired Ray Lewis, but there are plenty of Ravens over the years that would tell you that the guy they looked up to was Reed. He's great with young players and revered in the locker room. If he comes back, he'll be the defense's primary leader. How much does that mean to Reed? We may find out this week.
How many compensatory picks will the Ravens get and in which rounds? The NFL awards compensatory draft picks to teams which, in the simplest terms, lose more or better free agents than it acquired in the previous year. The Ravens have been awarded a league-high 33 compensatory picks since 1995 and that number figures to grow this week. That's because last offseason, the Ravens lost six free agents, a group headed by Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding and Ben Grubbs. Meanwhile the only free agent of note that the Ravens signed last offseason was cornerback Corey Graham. (Jacoby Jones doesn't enter the equation because he was released by the Texans before he signed with Baltimore). With that in mind, the Ravens could be looking at four compensatory picks next month. Four is the highest the NFL allows. Before the picks are announced, they are already sitting on eight selections, one in each round and an extra sixth-rounder from the Anquan Boldin trade.
Who will the Ravens play Sept. 5? As the Super Bowl champions, the Ravens will host the first regular season game of the 2013-14 season at M&T Bank Stadium. They may find out who they'll play this week. The three most likely candidates are the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots or the Houston Texans. The Green Bay Packers, who will visit Baltimore this season, are also an option but the NFL has scheduled an NFC vs. AFC matchup just once since 2004 for the kickoff game. There was some discussion about moving the game up one day to Wednesday, Sept. 4 to avoid conflict with the Orioles scheduled night game against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 5 at Camden Yards. However, that's essentially been ruled out because Rosh Hashanah begins the night of Sept. 4. Therefore, the Ravens will have to work with the Orioles to figure a plan to allow both the baseball and football game to be played on the same day.
How will John Harbaugh react to the Ravens' roster hits? The AFC coaches are scheduled to have a media breakfast Tuesday, so as the leader of the Super Bowl champs and a team that has arguably taken the most hits in free agency, Harbaugh's table will undoubtedly be a popular landing spot for the media. I wouldn't expect Harbaugh to fret too much. Privately, the Ravens expected to lose a bunch of key performers. They do every offseason, thus the number of compensatory picks I noted above. They would have loved to keep inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, but they knew that there was a good chance they wouldn't be able to compete with another team's offer. The one move that seemed to leave a mark was having to trade Boldin, who the front office loved because his toughness, competitiveness and professionalism. However, they ultimately decided that Boldin's $6 million cap hit was just too much and moving on from him would allow them to upgrade two or three other positions. My guess is Harbaugh will note the contributions of guys who have left the roster but maintain that the organization has faith in younger players to assume bigger roles.