Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s office at the team facility has essentially been relocated this week to the team’s NFL scouting combine headquarters. At a downtown Indianapolis hotel is all the video equipment Harbaugh and his staff need to review the players in the 2018 draft class.
“Every team has their strengths to their roster right now, and with all the elements in terms of building a roster, everybody is in a slightly different place — cap space, draft picks, needs, age, whatever,” Harbaugh said Thursday afternoon. “We have our unique situation that we’re very much familiar with and we’re trying to figure out how to be the best team we can be every single way. All my concern, as a coach, is to do my part and the personnel part. That’s a big chip. I want to do a great job with that.”
This is Harbaugh’s 11th combine, and the event comes in the middle of a particularly important time for the organization. NFL free agency starts in less than two weeks and the Ravens have 12 players, a group headed by wide receiver Mike Wallace, tight end Benjamin Watson, center Ryan Jensen and defensive end Brent Urban, who are ticketed for the open market.
The Ravens have to get their salary cap in order, which will likely lead to the release of a few veterans. And then in eight weeks, they’ll head into the NFL draft with as many as eight selections.
“I don’t usually like to evaluate one draft compared to another,” Harbaugh said. “I think there are guys that do that for a living, but to me, there’s a lot of good players. I’m seeing a lot of good players on tape and meeting them in person that would help us be a better football team. As a coach, that’s what you look for.”
There is so much that goes on at the scouting combine. During the days, scouts and coaches watch live workouts or study certain players on tape. Team executives meet up with agents to discuss potential free-agent deals or their counterparts from other teams to ponder trade opportunities. At night, teams are allowed to conduct 15-minute interviews with prospects.
“You’ve got absolutely the draft evaluation going on. You’ve got free agency conversations going on with your guys and your agents and stuff. I don’t get too involved in that part of it, but for me, it’s just part of the process in terms of evaluating the draft. That’s all I do,” Harbaugh said. “It’s tape evaluation. It’s getting to know some players a little bit, personality-wise and football knowledge, watching them move around in person, which has value.”
Harbaugh said he hasn’t really been paying attention to how both the draft and free-agent classes are being graded. The outside perception is that immediate impact-making playmakers might be hard to find through both avenues.
The draft’s wide receiver class is headed by Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, but he’s the only player at his position who is considered a lock to go in the first round. There’s a pretty deep group of tight ends, yet none of them are viewed as first-round picks. The free-agent wide receiver class is underwhelming and could get worse if both Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins get the franchise tag. Beyond Jimmy Graham, who will surely command top dollar, there are not many field-stretching, free-agent tight ends available either.
Yet Harbaugh said without hesitation: “There’s more than enough available for us to add what we need. It’s our job to get it done and add it.”
Harbaugh kept things mostly general, indicating that certain questions were better suited for Ozzie Newsome. The general manager will have a news conference Friday in what will be his first media availability since the final day of the 2018 draft and his first opportunity to address owner Steve Bisciotti’s announcement last month that Newsome will step aside after the 2018 season and his longtime lieutenant, Eric DeCosta, will take over control of the 53-man roster.
Asked about a potential contract extension for middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is heading into the final year of his deal, Harbaugh said: “That’s a good question for Ozzie [Friday]. I want him back.”
Harbaugh acknowledged that he has also spoken to several of the team’s pending free agents, but those negotiations are in the hands of Newsome, DeCosta and the team’s head negotiator, Pat Moriarty.
The Ravens have among the least salary cap space in the league, so they’ll have to be selective in how they use their money. Jensen, who started all 16 games at center in 2017, will probably be the team’s most sought-after free agent. He very well could be outside of the Ravens’ price range if he gets paid near the top of the center market.
“You just never know how it’s going to work out. It’s a business — agents and Pat and Ozzie and Eric. They’re talking,” Harbaugh said. “As a coach and a player, you’re not really in the middle of those negotiations too much. If I ever do get in the middle of it, usually it’s because a specific reason. It doesn’t happen that often.
“At this point, it’s just let’s see what happens from a coaching perspective. I think the players want to come back. I believe our players want to be back here and I also believe we’re going to do everything we can to bring our guys back. We have a plan for every different guy. But I have total confidence in Ozzie and Eric and I’m very confident in talking to the players that they want to be back in the right circumstances.”
Other than defensive coordinator Dean Pees stepping away and then coming out of retirement one month later to join the Tennessee Titans, the Ravens haven’t had much change yet this offseason. Even Pees’ departure was filled by the promotion of linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale.
Harbaugh and his staff have spent the past several weeks examining everything they did during last year’s 9-7 season and revamping offensive and defensive schemes. That project is on hold this week as team officials immerse themselves in draft preparation and studying and meeting the 2018 draft class. However, it’s certainly not far from Harbaugh’s mind.
“What can we do to create the very best scheme possible and to put our players in position to make plays and give them the advantage. That’s hard work. You’ve got to think that stuff through. That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now,” he said. “To me, every change, everything you do is an opportunity to improve. We expect to be dramatically better in everything we do.”