Baltimore Ravens Off-season Overview: Offense

<i>In a series of articles found only here on Bynersinsiders.com, site staff member Dev Panchwagh looks at what the Ravens need to do in the off-season. Today he deals in detail with the offense.</i>

Cap Status: $24 million under

Draft Status: Six total picks in rounds two, three, four, five, six and seven. There is also a chance that the Ravens could receive a couple of compensatory picks. Baltimore has the same record (10-6) as four other teams, so their pick will rotate each round. The positions are unknown as of now.

Total Free agents (unrestricted, restricted, exclusive rights): 25

Quarterback: The only returning player is Kyle Boller, the Ravens' first-round pick from a year ago and the future starter at QB. Backups Chris Redman and Anthony Wright are unrestricted free agents. 

What needs to be done for Improvement: The Ravens will likely make a strong push to re-sign Anthony Wright, who started the final eight games of the season, including the playoff game against Tennessee. Wright was able to keep the team afloat by compiling a 5-3 record. The Ravens are more or less locked into Boller as the starter, because he needs repetitions to continue his progress at the quarterback position, so Wright would have to return as the backup. The Ravens will not bring back Chris Redman, so they would also need to add a third QB.

For the Ravens to get improvement at this position, Boller will need to improve his accuracy, coverage readings skills after the snap and his ability to scan the entire field. 

If he can improve these flaws in his game, Boller could prove himself to be the Ravens' franchise quarterback because he already has the arm strength, toughness and diligence in place. 

Running Back: All running backs are slated to return.

What needs to be done for Improvement: This position is well set. The Ravens starting tandem of Jamal Lewis at tailback and Alan Ricard at fullback is a Pro-Bowl combination. Lewis is the top pure runner in the game and put together a record setting season in 2003. Ricard is a technically sound isolation blocker who makes the right reads when leading the way for Lewis. The primary backup at running back is Chester Taylor, who has more of a slashing running style, and is a capable pass catcher coming out of the backfield. 

The only thing that is questionable about this group is whether first-year players like Ovie Mughelli and Musa Smith can step up if needed next year. Neither player was able to earn much playing time this season, although both have the talent to become starters down the road.

Wide Receiver: Aside from Marcus Robinson, everybody from this group is slated to come back. That said, there will be sweeping changes, so you can expect to see half of these receivers released by the start of next season.

What needs to be done for Improvement: First off, Robinson should be re-signed. It probably won't take more than $1-to-$1.5 million per season to retain him. Although he was a complete non-factor for the first half of the season, he came on at the end and was the Ravens' best deep threat. Robinson is not a No.1 option, but looks to be a capable No.2, although he's not a good intermediate route runner. 

The second move the Ravens should make is to release veteran wideout Frank Sanders, who is due to make $2 million in base salary next year. Sanders is a good locker room presence, but he simply couldn't stay healthy last year, and even when he did, he made no impact on the field. 

To get better production out of this unit, which was the worst in football last year, the Ravens will need to add two more capable receivers who have upside or get a proven go-to target. With a blue-chip player like Terrell Owens not being an option due to his salary demands and poor attitude, the only other proven go-to receiver that will be available is Keyshawn Johnson.

Johnson has already said that the Ravens are among three teams he would like to play for. On the flip side, Baltimore wanted to acquire Johnson through a trade four years ago, so there may be some mutual interest. 

Salary wise, Johnson's contract would be much more palatable than Owens, given that Johnson is a one-dimensional possession receiver who doesn't make many impact plays. Plus, like Owens, Johnson has been labeled a locker room cancer and has disrupted team chemistry before. 

Going after Johnson wouldn't be the worst move salary cap wise, but the team would be taking a gigantic chance in trying to keep his "me first" attitude under wraps. 

The wiser move would be to sign two free agents for a little more than Johnson's sum contract should be worth, or sign one player whose contract is worth less. Unrestricted free agents that should be targeted are Dennis Northcutt, Darrell Jackson, Tai Streets and Dez White. The restricted free agents that are worth making a play for are Justin McCariens and Drew Bennett—both player for the Titans. There are also going to be solid veteran receivers like Mushin Muhhamed and Joey Galloway that could become obtainable after they are released from their respective teams due to cap implications. 

Out of this group, Northcutt should be the team's No.1 target. In Northcutt, the Ravens would get an ideal slot receiver with explosiveness. Plus, he is a reliable punt returner, which the Ravens need as well. 

If the Ravens want to draft a receiver in hopes that he becomes a dominant player down the road, they have that option open as well. This should be the deepest receiver class in a while, with up to 15 receivers being available that have first or second-round talent. 

Even without a first-round pick, Baltimore will be in position to snag one of these prospects with its second-round selection. 

Tight End: The only player who is not scheduled to return is John Jones, who is an unrestricted free agent. 

What needs to be done for Improvement: This is a strong group with room to improve even more. Obviously, Todd Heap is the main cog in this unit. The Pro-Bowl tight end is one of the top three complete players at his position, due to his improvement as a run blocker. Heap is versatile enough to line up in the slot, at either receiver positions on the outside, opposite of either tackle spot or in the backfield. Without his presence, there is no telling how much more inept this passing game would have been in the past two seasons.

Backing up Heap is Terry Jones who is mostly known for his blocking prowess, but has sneaky skills as a pass catcher. He isn't the fastest player, but Jones can gain yards in the open field. The wildcard player out of this group could be Trent Smith, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. If the team doesn't bring back John Jones, who is a strong special teams player but brings little else to the table, Smith may get some playing time along with Terry Jones in the Ravens' Ace packages. 

Smith isn't a good blocker, but he is a solid pass catching option because he runs precise routes and can catch the ball in traffic.

Offensive Line: Two of the starting lineman, Mike Flynn and Orlando Brown, are unrestricted free agents. The Ravens also have to give tenders to restricted free agents Bennie Anderson and Casey Rabach in order to keep them. 

What needs to be done for Improvement: Even before the season ended, the Ravens were working on a contract extension for Flynn, so look for that deal to be completed soon. Keeping Flynn is a must, because he is a two-dimensional blocker that can pull on perimeter runs and screen passes. In three years, Flynn has steadily progressed into a solid center.

As for Brown, the issue of bringing him back is completely up in the air. If the Ravens do bring him back, it will be on a one or two-year deal.

While Brown had a solid season as the starting RT, he is 33 years old, has a bad temper and his pass blocking skills are on the decline. The Ravens would need to find a long-term replacement for him at some point, whether that's next year or a year after.

With this upcoming draft class being so strong at the offensive tackle position, it would behoove the Ravens to look into drafting a prospect with one of their first two picks, if they don't sign a proven free agent like John Tait or Todd Wade instead. Rookie offensive tackles tend to play at a high level quicker than most other players playing at different positions, so if the Ravens draft a capable player, he will give them competent play at the position right off the bat, with a strong upside to get better at the end of the season. 

The other position that needs to be upgraded is at right guard. This has been a sore spot for the Ravens for three years in a row, due in large part to Bennie Anderson's progression never coming to fruition.

Anderson is a solid run blocker, but he doesn't have the quickest feet or the ability to move well laterally. Overall, Anderson is much better suited to be a backup. 

Casey Rabach has the ability to start at the guard position, but he is not an ideal fit for the future. Rabach has better quickness and mobility than Anderson, but he lacks the power to handle a bull rush, and he doesn't get much push at the point of attack in run blocking situations. 

Out of the two, Rabach has the better upside to become a decent starter, but the Ravens should look into adding a better prospect through the draft to push both players next year and to improve depth. 

Obviously, there are no issues on the left side of the line, which is anchored by future hall-of-famer Jonathan Ogden and Pro-Bowl alternate Edwin Mulitalo. This is probably the best duo on the left side of the line in the NFL.

Overall, the Ravens have to get better pass protection from the entire line to improve its passing attack.


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