While many of the Ravens players are surely applauding Don “Wink” Martindale’s promotion to defensive coordinator, you had to know that the move wouldn’t please all of the fans. When the team missed the NFL playoffs for the third consecutive season, some supporters called for widespread change.
What they’ve gotten instead is the return of much-maligned offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Martindale’s elevation from linebackers coach to replace the retired Dean Pees and three other coaches getting promotions. The only new face on coach John Harbaugh’s staff to this point is former Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban, who was hired to coach the quarterbacks.
With a 40-40 regular-season record since winning Super Bowl XLVII, Harbaugh is sending a clear message with his coaching moves that the Ravens are staying the course. And that’s a tough sell for fans tired of watching a punchless offense and a defense that’s had far too many breakdowns at key times.
The reception by some to Martindale’s promotion seems more a negative reaction to coaching continuity than any dissertation on Martindale. Plus, fans love the bigger names, and Chuck Pagano, Jack Del Rio and Vic Fangio certainly have higher profiles.
But Martindale deserves a clean slate. He deserves to be judged on what happens with the team’s defense going forward. Players love him and he’s done a really nice job in developing many of the team’s young linebackers. He’s an aggressive-minded coach who has some swagger.
Yes, Martindale’s one year as Denver Broncos defensive coordinator in 2010 yielded a defense that ranked last in yards and points allowed per game. But that entire Broncos team was a mess. It went 4-12 and coach Josh McDaniels lost his job in December. Elvis Dumervil, who had 17 sacks and four forced fumbles a year earlier, missed the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Perennial Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins and pass rusher Robert Ayers also missed extensive time.
The Indianapolis Colts defense was very bad for much of Pagano’s six seasons with the team, finishing 30th the past two seasons. Yes, Pagano was the head coach and not the defensive coordinator, but you’re being totally naive if you don’t think he was heavily involved with that unit given his background.
That doesn’t mean Pagano isn’t a good defensive mind and wouldn’t have done a great job with the Ravens. Ultimately, this is largely about personnel, and the organization’s moves thus far this offseason suggest they believe that coaching hasn’t been the problem in recent years.
QB of future?
Harbaugh’s admission that the team is considering drafting a quarterback in April was hardly surprising. Starter Joe Flacco turns 33 next week, and he’s struggled the past three seasons. He’s playing on a surgically repaired left knee and with a bad back. With veteran backup Ryan Mallett heading toward unrestricted free agency, this year would be an optimal time for the Ravens to select a young quarterback.
What remains to be seen is just how much Ravens decision-makers will prioritize finding Flacco’s successor this offseason.
The Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, New York Jets, Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are among the teams that almost certainly will be in the market for a starting quarterback this offseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Washington Redskins could be as well, the latter situation depending on Kirk Cousins’ future.
The Browns, Giants, Jets and Broncos are picking in the top six. The Browns have two of the first four picks, and the Bills also have two first-rounders. In other words, if the Ravens are serious about getting one of the draft’s top quarterbacks — UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Southern California’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen — they are probably not going to be able to stand pat with the 16th overall pick.
What seems more likely than the Ravens trading up in the first round to get a quarterback is them taking one on Day 2, in the second or third round, or early on Day 3. That could be the range for Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Memphis’ Riley Ferguson.
Bring him home?
Without much salary cap space, the Ravens might have a hard time being competitive for the top offensive skill position players on the free-agent market, a group that includes running back Dion Lewis, wide receivers Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins, and tight end Jimmy Graham.
So they’ll have to get creative in adding playmakers beyond the draft, and one way to do that is taking a flier on upside guys who are coming off either bad or injury-marred seasons. Baltimore native and former Dunbar star Tavon Austin is one example. It seems likely that the Los Angeles Rams will release Austin just two seasons into a six-year, $56 million deal.
Austin, 27, played just two snaps in the Rams’ wild-card loss to the Atlanta Falcons. It was a fitting ending to a season in which the 2013 first-round pick had just 13 catches for 47 yards and 59 rushes for 270 yards and a touchdown in 16 games.
It’s not a good sign when a creative offensive coach such as Sean McVay can’t prod production out of Austin. It’s also not promising that Austin lost four fumbles and his return job. However, the Ravens badly need an injection of speed and athleticism, and perhaps Austin would benefit from a change of scenery and a return home.
Ten quick thoughts
1) Nothing at all against wide receiver Tim White, who showed some promise before suffering a season-ending thumb injury early in the preseason, but it’s pretty telling that news that an undrafted rookie free agent is 100 percent healthy and will be ready for the offseason workout program was greeted more enthusiastically than anything Harbaugh said at his news conference last week.
2) The Ravens are certainly happy with first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, but it remains very easy to see why they tried to trade up in last year’s first round when Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore slid out of the top five. Lattimore, who went 11th overall to the New Orleans Saints, looks like he’ll be named Defensive Rookie of the Year.
3) The Ravens will still be in the market for an inside linebacker this offseason, but Bam Bradley shouldn’t be discounted. The undrafted free agent seemed primed for a bigger role on defense when he tore his ACL in Week 2.
4) If the Ravens don’t draft an offensive skill position player first, there will probably be a protest outside the Under Armour Performance Center. At some point early in the draft, though, I expect the Ravens to try to find their right tackle of the future unless they view Alex Lewis as that guy.
5) I also think general manager Ozzie Newsome would be very tempted if Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick or Georgia inside linebacker Roquan Smith happened to be available when the Ravens are on the clock with pick No. 16 in April.
6) As good as Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is — and in his second season, he’s already one of the best in the NFL — I’d be far more annoyed as a Ravens fan that they traded back twice in the second round of the 2016 draft before taking linebacker Kamalei Correa than I would be that they declined to trade a first- and third-round pick to move ahead of the Jaguars and select Ramsey.
7) Darren Waller’s potential return after a season-long suspension in 2017 doesn’t diminish the Ravens’ glaring need for an athletic, pass-catching tight end. Given his suspensions, the Ravens need to operate under the assumption they can’t depend on Waller and anything they get from him is a huge bonus.
8) Speaking of suspended players, the Ravens need running back Kenneth Dixon to grow up fast this offseason. That doesn’t just mean that he needs to keep his nose clean and avoid another suspension. It also means he needs to get himself in much better shape physically and get in optimal shape for the season. This summer might represent his last chance.
9) I’ve written in this space before that pending free-agent center Ryan Jensen is close to a must re-sign for the Ravens because they don’t have a replacement for him on their roster. I still believe the Ravens should try to keep Jensen, but there are some in the organization who believe Matt Skura would be an adequate replacement.