The first of what figures to be several changes for the Ravens occurred not long after players reported to the Under Armour Performance Center on Monday morning. Veteran defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced in a team meeting that he was retiring to devote more time to his family after he spent 45 years coaching at various levels.
A team that appeared to be in shock late Sunday following a season-ending 31-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium then got another reminder of an offseason that was starting far earlier than any Raven expected. One-by-one, players cleaned out their lockers Monday morning, putting equipment and other possessions into industrial-sized garbage bags and saying goodbye to teammates before heading their separate ways.
There seemed to be a general understanding in the locker room that the group of players and coaches that filed into the auditorium for one final meeting Monday could look significantly different when the team reconvenes for the offseason workout program in April.
“There are always changes,” said safety Eric Weddle. “We were not good enough, so changes have to happen.”
For three consecutive seasons and four of the last five years, an organization that had prided itself on consistency and playoff success has now fallen short of the postseason. Since winning Super Bowl XLVII following the 2012 regular season, the Ravens are 40-40 in the regular season.
This year’s ending was probably the most painful as the Ravens couldn’t hold a late lead on a Bengals team that was playing out the string. A defense that talked boldly about what it could become allowed Andy Dalton to hit Tyler Boyd for a 49-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-12 with 44 seconds remaining.
Just like that, the Ravens, who had won five of their previous six games to put themselves in position where they needed just a win in their regular-season finale or a Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans loss to make it to the playoffs, were done for the season. Rather than preparing to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday in the wild-card round, players were being asked about the potential for widespread change from an organization that values stability.
“That’s how it always is,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said after stopping by the locker room following a lengthy meeting with coach John Harbaugh. “That’s the nature of this business. It’s all about now and performing now, and we haven’t done that now for a long time. You understand that’s what’s going to happen, but at the same time, we’ve got to keep our heads down and do our best to do our part.”
Ravens middle linebacker C.J. Mosley went to the playoffs in his rookie season in 2014 and he hasn’t been there since. Asked whether he expects drastic changes this offseason, he said, “Drastic? I don’t think so. We always find a way to get better on each side of the ball. As far as players, it’s on us to get healthy and to get our bodies right and to get ready for the offseason. As far as the coaches and upstairs, that’s on them about the draft, free agency and all of that stuff.”
Harbaugh, who just finished his 10th season at the helm, is expected to speak to reporters later this week. Pees’ retirement leaves him with at least one high-profile vacancy on his staff to fill. Linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale is a top candidate to succeed Pees and a number of well-respected defensive minds with Ravens’ ties could also be in the mix.
That list includes recently fired Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, former Colts defensive coordinator Ted Monachino, New York Giants interim coach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and former Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio.
There’s also speculation about the status of much-maligned offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, whose offense came on in the second half after a dreadful start. The Ravens finished ninth in points per game (24.7), but ranked 27th in yards per game (305.4) and 29th in passing yards per game (189.0). Flacco said Monday that he expects Mornhinweg to return in his current capacity for a second full season.
“Our relationship is growing and it’s always evolving,” Flacco said. “It would definitely be a big thing moving forward.”
Flacco didn’t call for any additions on the offensive side of the ball. He said it’s on him to make sure his supporting cast is flourishing, but he did acknowledge that it was challenging to play through so many injuries on offense. By game’s end Sunday, the Ravens were down to two healthy wide receivers: Mike Wallace and rookie Quincy Adeboyejo, who was just elevated from the practice squad five days earlier and has yet to make his first NFL regular-season catch.
The Ravens top decision makers enter this offseason with a clear need to add offensive playmakers and to solidify the roster on a number of other fronts, including along the offensive line, at middle linebacker and in the secondary. They also have a number of decisions to make on their pending unrestricted free agents. Wallace and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill), running back Terrance West (Northwestern High, Towson), tight end Benjamin Watson, starting offensive linemen Ryan Jensen and James Hurst and defensive end Brent Urban are all set to hit the open market in mid-March.
West spoke of how much he’s grown since returning to play for his hometown team in 2015, but seemed to understand that he may have to head elsewhere after he was supplanted as the starter by Alex Collins and made a healthy scratch in six of the final seven games.
“It was very disappointing because I worked hard all offseason. I put in a lot of work and to get back healthy and not play, it hurt,” West said. “But like I said before, I got better. I’m in a positive attitude, ready to get back to work.”
Wallace did voice a desire to return, saying that he found his love for football again after he joined the Ravens following difficult stints in Miami and Minnesota.
“At one point in time, my focus was to make sure my family was secure. My mom never has to work again – that was my focus at one point, but now it is to win,” Wallace said. “That is going to be my key, just putting myself in the best situation that I can to win a Super Bowl. Hopefully it is here, but football is business.”
In his final meeting with the team, Harbaugh challenged the players to improve in every aspect. He urged them to get over the loss to the Bengals, which team leader Terrell Suggs called the most difficult regular-season defeat of his 15-year career, and focus on getting better.
For a Ravens team that suddenly found itself without a game to prepare for, that was really the only option on Monday.
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“Everyone just needs to look at themselves, get better [and] use it as motivation,” Weddle said. “Two years ago when I got here, we were not very good. We improved, and we improved this year. The next step is to go win the division. There is no doubt in my mind that we can go do that. That starts now.”