The question Ravens fans still seem to be focused on is whether defensive coordinator Dean Pees was forced out after the 2017 NFL season. He wasn’t, despite what you might hear or think. But it is fair to ask whether Pees would have returned if he didn’t opt to retire, a decision that he reversed in just four weeks to become the next defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is surely not going to acknowledge publicly after the fact that he was going to make a change at defensive coordinator regardless of what Pees wanted to do. And let’s be clear, there is no tangible evidence Harbaugh was planning a staff shake-up. He didn’t fire anybody on his staff, and it’s tough to imagine him making Pees the scapegoat for three straight years of missing the playoffs.
Harbaugh and Pees have a strong relationship by all accounts, and Harbaugh surely understood that Pees had been contemplating retirement for the better part of two years. Those who insist that Harbaugh forced Pees out under the guise of retirement are ignoring the fact that the 68-year-old defensive coordinator told many people in 2016 that he was retiring before deciding to come back. By training camp 2017, it was pretty much the worst-kept secret at the Under Armour Performance Center that the coming season would likely be Pees’ last.
Did Pees paint himself into a corner by making his pending retirement known to members of the organization? Perhaps. It would have been awfully tough for Pees to walk back from that plan after his defense allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to convert on fourth-and-12 in a sequence that ended the Ravens’ season and was the latest late-game collapse by the defense in a big game. And there surely would’ve been some pressure on Harbaugh to make a change. But the conspiracy theories don’t otherwise fit.
Regardless of the criticism Pees got — and that comes with the territory of being a defensive coordinator for an organization built around its defense — he did a commendable job in Baltimore. But sometimes change can be good. It’s now Don “Wink” Martindale’s responsibility to get the defense playing more consistently and avoiding late-game, late-season meltdowns. And Pees gets a chance to work under one of his favorite former players in Mike Vrabel and alongside his son, Matt.
It seems the situation worked out just fine.
Harbaugh’s finest hour
Saturday marks the five-year anniversary of the Ravens’ 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, and you surely remember some of the details of the game: Joe Flacco’s three touchdown passes, Jacoby Jones’ second-half-opening kick-return touchdown, the blackout and then the goal-line stand.
But as I watched this week some of the pomp and circumstance ahead of the matchup between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, it reminded me of what it was like during the Ravens-49ers buildup and how I’ve long believed that Super Bowl week, and not even necessarily the game, was Harbaugh’s finest hour as Ravens head coach.
Harbaugh was loose and patient with the nonstop media responsibilities. Unlike 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, John embraced the unique storyline of coaching against his brother. The Ravens players took their cue from their head coach. They were visible throughout the week around New Orleans. They seemed to enjoy — or at least tolerate — the endless media obligations while staying focused on task at hand.
Just being around the 49ers that week in the various media availabilities, their demeanor was starkly different from the Ravens’. Many of the 49ers players looked annoyed and uninterested. Jim Harbaugh was irritable at times, which isn’t out of the ordinary. However, you would have thought he would have at least enjoyed the unique late-week news conference with his brother and parents. He looked pained to even be there.
We predict the outcome of every game in The Baltimore Sun, and I had projected the Ravens to lose against the Denver Broncos in the divisional round and the Patriots in the AFC championship game. When I got to New Orleans, I was planning to pick the 49ers to win because I thought they had the better and more-explosive team. By about midweek, I changed my mind because of how prepared, poised and relaxed the Ravens looked. Maybe, I’m making far too much out of outward appearances, but the Ravens were certainly the looser team when the game began.
Doing their due diligence
According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Ravens yesterday worked out former New York Giants, New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Ryan Nassib. This comes after they worked out veteran quarterback Matt McGloin earlier this month. It’s typically unwise to look too much into workouts, but the Ravens clearly need to add a veteran quarterback at some point.
Ryan Mallett is a pending free agent and the Ravens will probably draft a quarterback. But they’ll still need a veteran behind Flacco if the rookie is not ready to play immediately. And the top veteran backups won’t come cheap. That’s why journeymen such as Nassib and McGloin make sense.
Ten quick thoughts
1) Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta told BaltimoreRavens.com at last week’s Senior Bowl that the strength of this year’s wide receiver draft class is in the second and third rounds. It appears that Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is the only definite first-round receiver, though Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Southern Methodist’s Courtland Sutton and Oklahoma State’s James Washington figure to be in the conversation as well. If you’re the Ravens and you don’t get Ridley, why not use two of your expected three second-day picks on receivers?
2) There’s been speculation that Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry could all be “franchised,” which would significantly weaken an already thin free-agent wide receiver class. That also would seemingly raise the price tag of pending Ravens free agent Mike Wallace, who would become one of the top receivers available.
3) Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen is already being connected to the Ravens, and I suspect that they’ll take a quarterback at some point in the draft. However, Allen would be a tough sell to the number of Ravens coaches and executives whose jobs will probably be on the line in 2018. Not sure how Allen, who does have some impressive tools, would help the Ravens win right away.
4) I’d imagine that C.J. Mosley’s agent isn’t thrilled that the middle linebacker told ESPN while at the Pro Bowl that he has no interest in playing elsewhere. Regardless of the leverage each side has, the Ravens shouldn’t mess around. An extension for perhaps the team’s most valuable defensive player would get some positive momentum going in the offseason while opening up much-needed salary cap space.
5) The NFL Players Association released this week a list of the top 50 players in merchandise sales and the Ravens again didn’t have a player on the list. Not that anybody needed a reminder that the team is lacking in star power.
6) With Ray Lewis expected to be the headliner of the 2018 Hall of Fame class, which will be revealed Saturday, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Ravens were selected to play in the Hall of Fame Game. That would mean they’d play five preseason games, which would excite no one except the back-end roster guys who covet every opportunity to make the team.
7) It’s interesting to hear both Harbaugh and Martindale call recently promoted linebackers coach Mike Macdonald a future coaching star. Teams typically don’t bring much attention to young position coaches because it could get them onto the radar of other teams. Macdonald is just 30 years old, and he’ll enter his fourth season as an NFL assistant.
8) The NFL will review cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s recent arrest for potential discipline, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll get suspended based on the details that have come out to this point.
9) This is a huge offseason for Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser. The 2017 second-round pick seemed to hit the rookie wall both mentally and physically at around the midpoint of the year. Team officials are still extremely high on him, but he needs to bust through those challenges next season.
10) It sure would be nice if Ozzie Newsome were available to reporters Friday, the way owner Steve Bisciotti is, but the Ravens general manager is at least expected to take questions at both the NFL scouting combine and the team’s pre-draft luncheon.