Observations from 'State of Ravens' address

Jeff Zrebiec reads between the lines and analyzes some the key comments from Tuesday's "State of the Ravens."

There were really no major revelations in Tuesday's "State of the Ravens" news conference that featured team owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh.

Bisciotti reiterated his frustration and disappointment with off-the-field issues from this past season, but he said he was buoyed by the on-field performance from his team. Not surprisingly, Newsome didn’t shed much light on the organization’s plan to create salary cap space. Cass again acknowledged how the Ravens erred in dealing with the Ray Rice situation. And Harbaugh, who spoke at last weeks’ NFL scouting combine, was barely asked any questions at all.

But one can still come to some conclusions – or at least make some pretty good assumptions - from interpreting their words. Here are several of mine:

The Ravens will not overextend themselves to sign wide receiver Torrey Smith: Bisciotti made this clear by bringing up the contract that the Miami Dolphins gave Mike Wallace a couple of offseasons ago, and the prices teams are willing to pay for playmakers. “Some of the numbers that are thrown out there, quite frankly, we can’t match. We don’t have that kind of space,” Bisciotti said. Smith has said on several occasions that he wants to stay in Baltimore, but is he willing to take a lot less money to do it? That’s the question the former Maryland standout will have to answer over the next several weeks because the Ravens clearly aren’t able – or willing – to get into a bidding war to keep him.

Reaching a compromise with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata won’t be easy:  Asked about Ngata, Newsome would say only that the Ravens are “going to exhaust every avenue to retain our players.” Bisciotti called Ngata one of the organization’s “iconic” players and made a joke about his role as a pitchman for Royal Farms and how that could help the Ravens keep him. But team officials know how important getting a deal done with Ngata is for the rest of the offseason. They can’t afford to have him taking up $16 million of cap space, but the thought of losing him and opening a hole in the middle of their defensive line isn’t comforting either. The extension for Terrell Suggs, who was in a similar contract situation last offseason, came together quickly but it’s clear that the Ravens are finding things a little more difficult with Ngata. In a related note, I’d have to imagine that the Indianapolis Colts are monitoring Ngata’s situation very carefully. The Colts have a ton of salary cap space, a head coach in Chuck Pagano that has a great relationship with Ngata and they badly need to fortify the middle of their run defense after what the New England Patriots did to them twice last season. Ngata would solve a lot of their problems.

Pernell McPhee is a goner: OK, we all knew that at least a month ago but it’s probably worth reiterating. “If we were to go after the market on Pernell, how many other players would we not have on the Baltimore Ravens?,” Newsome asked. The Ravens are already paying good money to two outside pass rushers. They can’t afford to reward a third. As good as he played last season, McPhee is more of a luxury for them than a necessity. With the likelihood that Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul are franchise tagged by their respective teams, McPhee could become the top pass rusher on the free agent market, and he’ll be paid accordingly.

The Ravens don’t think that they’re as desperate for cornerbacks as the fans and media do: At last year’s address, Newsome and other team officials stressed the importance of fixing the offensive line. There was no such vow made yesterday about adding talent to the secondary, the 2014 Ravens’ weakest link. Perhaps, Newsome didn’t feel like acknowledging the obvious. After all, there is no way the Ravens don’t add a couple of defensive backs in either the draft or free agency. Still, team officials have been consistent in saying that improvements will come just from Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Asa Jackson being healthy again. Throw in another year of experience for Rashaan Melvin, Anthony Levine and Chris Greenwood, and you get the feeling that the Ravens don’t feel that their need at cornerback is as glaring as some suggest.

You can forget about the Ravens drafting Dorial Green-Beckham or making a play for Brandon Marshall: After a season rife with off-the-field problems, none bigger than Rice’s domestic violence issues, the Ravens will do plenty of homework on the draft prospects. Furthermore, Newsome acknowledged that it is unlikely that the Ravens would consider taking any player with “domestic abuse in their background.” That means that the Ravens probably won’t be drafting Green-Beckham, a talented but trouble-prone receiver who was alleged to have pushed a woman down a flight of stairs while in college. The addition of offensive coordinator and former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has also spurred talk that the Ravens could try to acquire Marshall, but he is another player who was once accused of domestic violence.

Ravens thrilled with leadership of Harbaugh: Newsome started out the news conference by thanking Harbaugh and his staff for their work during the 2014 season. Later, Bisciotti described Harbaugh’s coaching job as “masterful,” and gave the team an “A” for its on-field performance. He then cited Harbaugh as the reason he believes the Ravens will continue to win big in the future. Bisciotti showed just how much he values Harbaugh last offseason when he added an additional year on his contract despite the fact that the Ravens missed the playoffs. His comments about the coach yesterday provided more affirmation about how appreciative the Ravens are of the job that Harbaugh does.

Ravens officials know that they are going to have some really difficult decisions to make next offseason, too: When the Ravens met for organizational meetings earlier this month, they not only discussed their challenges this offseason, but they started talking about the ones that they’ll face in the not-so distant future as well. Looking ahead to next offseason, the Ravens will have to rework the contract of quarterback Joe Flacco who carries a $28.55 million salary cap hit for 2016. Several key players, including starting guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, cornerback Jimmy Smith, kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch, are due to become free agents after the 2015 season. The Ravens have plenty to get done this offseason, but the future questions certainly impact some of the things that the organization will attempt to accomplish over the next couple months.

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