Before the 2009 season, the Ravens addressed their need at center by signing Matt Birk, a 32-year old veteran who had been selected to multiple Pro Bowl teams and was touted for his leadership and steady play. Birk played four quality seasons with the Ravens before retiring following the team's Super Bowl XLVII victory.
The Ravens have gotten uneven play from the center position ever since. In their effort to change that, could they again turn to an accomplished veteran and perennial Pro Bowl performer in the twilight of his career?
The New York Jets release of Nick Mangold, one of the game's top players at his position over the past decade-plus, adds an intriguing option in a poor free agent and draft market for centers.
Mangold is 33 years old and he was limited to eight games last year before he was shut down with an ankle injury. Pro Football Focus ranked him as a bottom-15 center last year.
Still, he's a six-time Pro Bowl selection and he had been extremely durable before last season. He's known for his leadership and smarts.
The Ravens are looking at potential upgrades for their starting center of the past three years, Jeremy Zuttah. What they'll have to decide is...
A.) Were Mangold's struggles last year due to injuries or is he in steep decline?
B.) Is Mangold, at this stage of his career, a significant upgrade over Zuttah and John Urschel, who was considered a potential replacement for Zuttah?
C.) Are there better and younger options available elsewhere?
The Green Bay Packers' J.C. Tretter, 26, is the best free-agent center available, but he's going to get a lot of money. The draft is also pretty thin on centers projected to start from Day 1.
Mangold would make sense for the Ravens, given minimal options elsewhere. His addition also wouldn't preclude the Ravens from drafting a young center in April.
No shock if Pitta is cut: Tight end Dennis Pitta has been discussed as a potential Ravens' salary cap casualty since the offseason began. Yet, when the prospect of his release was mentioned nationally, courtesy of a tweet last week from NFL Network's Mike Garofalo, the situation seemed to hit home to Ravens' fans.
I'm not advocating Pitta's release by any means, but it shouldn't be surprising that it's a realistic possibility despite the veteran leading the Ravens and all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions last year.
One, Pitta was essentially an underneath target last year, averaging just 8.5 yards per completion and scoring both of his touchdowns in one game. Two, his struggles as a blocker aren't exactly a secret. Three, after twice fracturing and dislocating his right hip, Pitta remains a significant injury risk. Four, the Ravens have five other tight ends on their roster, including two in Darren Waller and Nick Boyle that they believe are ascending players. And five, Pitta's $7.7 salary cap number for 2017 is currently the sixth highest on the team.
Releasing Pitta would cause more "dead money" on the salary cap than it would result in cap savings. The best-case scenario for the Ravens would be getting Pitta to agree to a pay cut. He's still a nice complementary target and a well-respected locker room leader. Each of the five tight ends on the roster also would return with significant question marks, and the Ravens seem to struggle to keep their tight ends on the field. However, it takes two to agree to a revised contract, and if Pitta balks -- and you can understand why he would -- it will be interesting to see what the Ravens do.
Odd Guy out?: There has been a whole lot said and written about the Ravens' primary unrestricted free agents, although that hasn't included much talk on defensive end Lawrence Guy. A part-time starter for the past two seasons, Guy has proven to be a valuable member of the defensive line rotation.
It's unclear how interested the Ravens are in retaining him, but Guy could be victimized by the Ravens' depth along the defensive line. At some point, team officials are going to want to see what guys such as Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Carl Davis and Willie Henry can do when given a more significant role. Not all those players are necessarily suited to fill the five-technique defensive end role that Guy has performed admirably since arriving via a waiver claim from the San Diego Chargers, but there are only so many defensive line rotation spots to go around.
Either way, Guy shouldn't have a hard time finding a solid deal. This, after all, is a market in which defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, a solid but unspectacular run stuffer who has struggled with injuries, just got a four-year, $16 million deal from the San Francisco 49ers following his release by the Miami Dolphins.
Hoopin' Kaufusi: Speaking of Kaufusi, his brother, Corbin, had a huge offensive rebound and put-back that helped secure the BYU basketball team's upset victory over previously-undefeated Gonzaga late Saturday night. Corbin Kaufusi plays football and basketball at BYU after serving a two-year mission in South Korea.
A draft class goes poof: By the end of this offseason, it's possible the Ravens won't have a single member left of their 10-man 2013 draft class, their first class after winning Super Bowl XLVII.
Arthur Brown (second round), John Simon (fourth round), Aaron Mellette (seventh round) and Marc Anthony (seventh round) are long gone. Kapron Lewis-Moore (sixth round) signed a reserve/futures deal with the Chicago Bears in January. Matt Elam (first round), Brandon Williams (third round), Kyle Juszczyk (fourth round) and Rick Wagner (fifth round) are all headed to unrestricted free agency.
The Ravens certainly won't re-sign Elam following his arrest over the weekend, and they easily could lose Williams, Juszczyk and Wagner in free agency despite an obvious interest in keeping them. The final member of the draft class is Ryan Jensen (sixth round). He's a restricted free agent, and it's not a sure thing that the Ravens will tender him a contract.
Disgruntled Ravens' fans often cite the team's 2013 draft class as proof that general manager Ozzie Newsome has lost his touch. He couldn't have missed any more with his two first picks, as Elam and Brown contributed as little as any early draft picks in Ravens' history. However, in rounds three through five, Newsome found three of the best players in the NFL at their respective positions in Williams, Juszczyk and Wagner.
In my opinion, the bigger issue than the mixed 2013 draft production is the early-round misses from 2013-2015. Elam, Brown, Terrance Brooks (third round, 2014), Breshad Perriman (first round, 2015), Maxx Williams (second round, 2015) and Davis (third round, 2015) all qualify, though a few of them still have a chance to do something about it.
New man on staff: I was off last week and totally missed this: Fox Sport's Bruce Feldman reported that the Ravens have hired former Georgia State defensive coordinator Jesse Minter for an "off field job." The Ravens have yet to confirm, although Minter wrote that he was he headed to Baltimore on his Twitter account.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged earlier this season that he was hoping to add a college coach or two to the organization to bring different vantage points and ideas. Minter, 33, is the son of long-time coach, Rick Minter. Along with Georgia State, Jesse Minter's experience includes stints at Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Indiana State.