The uproar over general manager Ozzie Newsome's comment at the "State of the Ravens" address that the team's goal would be to construct a roster around quarterback Joe Flacco's $28.55 million salary cap number, and not redo his deal, surprised me.
What exactly did you expect Newsome to say — that the Ravens are absolutely desperate to redo his contract, and their whole offseason depends on it? Yeah, that would surely help gain leverage on Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, in the pending negotiations. Look, the Ravens know the deal. They have little, if any, leverage as it is.
They have three options: Don't touch Flacco's contract, renegotiate his deal or cut him. Well, they're not going to cut him, and failing to adjust his contract would severely limit their ability to make other meaningful additions. So clearly the most viable option is to try to negotiate a new deal.
Regardless of what they're saying publicly, the Ravens know it, and so do Flacco and Linta. The last negotiations between the two sides got acrimonious, and I don't think Linta will make it easy on the Ravens this time around, either. About the only thing the Ravens have in their favor is Flacco's presumed understanding that it's going to be awfully tough to put a playoff team around him in 2016 if he's carrying a $28.55 million cap hit.
Safety not guranteed
You try not to read too much into some of the other comments Ravens brass made at the annual season-ending news conference. No organization would reveal their draft or free-agency plans, never mind one as buttoned up as the Ravens. But I did find it interesting that when he was asked what position the Ravens would target in a perfect world, Newsome mentioned tackle, safety, cornerback and pass rusher.
Safety? The Ravens signed Will Hill to a two-year, $7 million deal in August. They signed Kendrick Lewis to a three-year, $5.4 million deal in March. They drafted Matt Elam in the first round in 2013 and Terrence Brooks in the third round in 2014. They also have pledged to move cornerback Lardarius Webb to free safety next season.
That each player remains on the roster and the Ravens still feel they need help at the position speaks poorly of either the job the organization has done evaluating safeties or of how the coaching staff has used them. Perhaps it is a little of both.
Just one man's opinion, but if I'm ranking the Ravens' biggest needs, I'm going with:
1. Pass rusher
2. Left tackle
4. Wide receiver
5. Middle linebacker
I think another dynamic pass rusher would help the Ravens at every level of their defense and would be the most logical way to force more turnovers.
As for left tackle, you want Flacco as comfortable as possible coming off season-ending knee injury in 2016.
I included middle linebacker because after watching guys like Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier and Vontaze Burfict play the past couple of weeks, I think it's pretty clear that the Ravens would benefit from having more speed and athleticism in the middle of the field. And yes, I find Burfict indefensible at times, but there's no disputing that he is a good player.
Newsome did pour a little cold water on some of the optimism regarding the re-signing of offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele. A soon-to-be free agent, Osemele sparked some optimism when he said he had positive discussions with Newsome about returning. Newsome acknowledged that such a talk took place but was quick to point out that he had similar conversations with Torrey Smith, Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger, among others. All were free agents whom the Ravens didn't aggressively try to retain when they hit the open market.
My stance hasn't changed: I'd still be very surprised if the Ravens were able to keep Osemele. I fully expect the Ravens to sign Justin Tucker to an extension or give him the franchise tag. I think other free agents such as Shareece Wright, Morgan Cox and Albert McClellan have a good chance of returning, too. Osemele, though, I think would be a long shot. Before all is said and done, he probably will be one of the highest-paid free-agent offensive linemen this offseason. Scouts and talent evaluators have a pretty high opinion of him.
The San Francisco 49ers' overtime victory over the St. Louis Rams in Week 17 helped the Ravens move up one draft spot in the first round. They'll pick sixth, while the 49ers will be seventh. That might not seem like a big deal, but it could become one on draft night.
The order could open up trade opportunities for Newsome, who is never hesitant to wheel and deal during the draft. It’s early in the process, but there are two quarterbacks, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and California’s Jared Goff, projected to go early in the first round. And among the teams picking in the top 10, the Cleveland Browns (second overall) and 49ers both need quarterbacks. So the teams drafting later in the first round that are also interested in a quarterback — say, the Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams — probably would need to get in front of the 49ers for a shot at Lynch or Goff.
That's where the Ravens sit, potentially in a solid bargaining position. Don't get me wrong: I think the Ravens would have a hard time trading down if a defensive back like Florida State's Jalen Ramsey or Florida's Vernon Hargreaves is available, but never underestimate the front office's desire to stockpile picks.