For the 3rd time in four seasons since the Baltimore Ravens hoisted their 2nd Lombardi Trophy, the Ravens are on the outside looking in to the post season. Since Super Bowl 47 Baltimore has posted a 31-33 record, going 8-8, 10-6, 5-11, and 8-8, respectively, in the following years.
In 2000, when the Ravens won their first Super Bowl, they spent most of their salary cap to keep the same players from that team together. Although they were still successful, it did not lead to another Lombardi.
After their victory over the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, they employed a different strategy. They let go of many of their core players, such as Anquan Boldin, Haloti Ngata, and Ed Reed, among others. As well as letting key contributors walk, the retiring of Ray Lewis, the most prominent Raven in history, set the franchise back.
Baltimore felt confident about its post-Super Bowl strategy because of its faith in Ozzie Newsome’s drafting. Unfortunate for that strategy, Newsome put together what appears to be duds in a few of the following drafts.
No players remain on the team from the 2012 draft class.
Between 2013-2015, Newsome failed to select many impact players that has become common for the franchise. In those three drafts (28 players), only five players (C.J. Mosley, Brandon Williams, Ricky Wagner, Kyle Juszczyk, Timmy Jernigan) have developed into regular starters. Only two, Mosley and Juszczyk, have made a Pro Bowl. Some, like John Urschel and Crockett Gillmore, have started at times, but have yet to take over the role.
Fortunes seemed to change following the 2015 season. Baltimore uncharacteristically dipped into the higher-tier free agent market and signed players such as Eric Weddle, Benjamin Watson, and Mike Wallace. Weddle took immediate control over the secondary, shared the team lead in interceptions (4), and had what he felt was his best season in the NFL. Mike Wallace bounced back from a few down years and recorded 1,017 yards receiving and 4 TDs.
Along with key free agents making contributions came the 2016 draft class. Ronnie Stanley, Tavon Young, Alex Lewis, Kenneth Dixon, and Matt Judon all made starts and/or big impacts throughout the year. This draft had about the same impact overall as the previous four draft classes.
That brings us to the 2017 offseason, which started for Baltimore on Christmas Day with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. John Harbaugh recently announced that Marty Mornhinweg, Dean Pees, and Jerry Rosburg will all be returning in 2017. Mornhinweg was the only surprise of the three, but Harbaugh did it to set a tone of continuity that has been absent in Joe Flacco’s career.
Now that Mornhinweg and Flacco will have an entire offseason together, the hope is they will produce the fireworks that this offense only had the potential of producing in 2016.
Believe it or not, the offense is still set in place after a disappointing showing this season. Much of the offensive line and skill position players will be returning in 2017, save for a few pieces. Steve Smith Sr. played his final game in the NFL. As well as production, he left a hole in the leadership and passion of Baltimore’s offense. Terrance West and Ricky Wagner have both played out their rookie deals, but should be top priorities for Baltimore to sign. If both of those deals can be done, Baltimore will still need one impact wide receiver, a starting center who can take over for Jeremy Zuttah, and more depth along the offensive line. The hole at wide receiver is a big one to fill, though, but could elevate the offense if chosen correctly.
On defense, Baltimore must resign Brandon Williams. He anchors the front seven much like Haloti Ngata did in his prime, but will probably not command top dollar like Ngata did. If Williams had a larger presence as a pass rusher, he would be in that top-tier. As far as needs go, pass rush and another starting caliber corner back are pressing needs.
Terrell Suggs, although still productive, is almost ready to retire. Behind him is Elvis Dumervil, who could’ve played his final game in Baltimore already, and a few very young linebackers in Zadarius Smith, Kamalei Correa, and Matt Judon. Baltimore needs more outside rushers for critical moments so quarterbacks like Derek Carr, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger don’t have all day to shred the secondary in the 4th quarter of every game.
The secondary improved greatly in 2016, but needs a few more pieces to take another step forward. Jimmy Smith is a Pro Bowl caliber starter, but cannot stay healthy. The defense is lights out when he is on the field. After him is young potential stud Tavon Young, who is already a great No.2/3 corner. When Jimmy goes down, so do the cover men behind him. Baltimore must bring in another starting corner to pair with Jimmy and Young in hopes of imitating the ferocious top-3 in Denver (Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby). This will also help the drop off for when Jimmy gets hurt in the future.
Newsome must put together another impact draft this offseason if he wants to improve again in 2017.