In addition to finding a new offensive coordinator, the Ravens have to address
the need for a big-play receiver, the concern over an aging offensive line and
the likelihood of switching to a 4-3 defense.
"The bottom line is, we need to be substantially better," coach Brian Billick said. "We need to be among that elite group, that 13-3, that 14-2, that favored team, going into the playoffs. We have that kind of capability.
"I wish I could mourn this (past season). I don't have the time to cry in my beer. This organization is about moving forward today. That's what we have to do, as evidenced by some of the things that have already happened. That's the challenge."
The first issue that will be hiring a new coordinator for an offense that ranked 31st out of 32 NFL teams.
The Ravens will look at such candidates as Minnesota offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, New Orleans quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard, and former University of Illinois coach Ron Turner. Former University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel is meeting with the team today.
There appears to be mutual interest between the Ravens and Linehan. Because the Vikings are in the playoffs, the Ravens would have to wait for their season to end before interviewing him.
Linehan's offenses have ranked among the NFL's top four for three consecutive seasons. His contract expires after the season. The Ravens probably could lure him with a substantial offer, especially since he reportedly makes under $300,000 on the NFL's lowest paid coaching staff.
Billick said he doesn't have one candidate in mind and acknowledged offensive consultant Jim Fassel would be a "natural thought" if he was not hired as an NFL coach elsewhere this offseason.
Billick's intention, however, is to bring someone in outside of the organization.
"I typically like to promote from within staff, but certainly in this circumstance that's not the prudent thing to do," Billick said. "We need a change of focus, we need a change of energy, and I don't think that can be accomplished on staff -- not withstanding Jim Fassel."
The Ravens are seeking a change in offensive philosophy for a team that traditionally fields one of the best defenses in the league. The Ravens defense ranked sixth in the NFL this season and will send four starters to the Pro Bowl.
In six seasons under Cavanaugh -- which included the 2000 Super Bowl campaign -- the Ravens offense finished in the bottom half of the league five times and never ranked higher than 14th. The oft-criticized attack also failed to score a touchdown in 17 of 96 games under him. Their 24 offensive touchdowns this season was worst in the AFC.
As for obtaining a receiver, the Ravens have tried -- and failed -- to land an impact one the past two years, coming close to getting David Boston in 2003 and Terrell Owens in 2004.
Barring some big-name players becoming salary-cap casualties, the receiver free-agent class is average. Potential targets could be Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress, Oakland's Jerry Porter, Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Tampa Bay's Joey Galloway.
"That's going to be a priority for us; it has been for a while and something that needs to be addressed," Billick said. "I liked the look of our young players, but they are young, and I would certainly not rule out that that's going to be a priority."
The Ravens have also talked about switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 front. The change would occur if the Ravens sign a big-bodied tackle that is best suited for a 4-3 alignment.
"The 4-3 won't make us better unless the cards dealt say it," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "If there is changes in depth at defensive line, then it's a good thing."
--Phil Savage is expected to be named the Cleveland Browns' general manager barring any snags in contract negotiations. Savage, the Ravens' highly regarded director of player personnel, has had a pivotal say in the Ravens' drafting, which has produced 10 Pro Bowl players in nine years.
"No question, Phil is well-suited for the job," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "He has been ready for this opportunity for the past three or four years. He turned down other opportunities that weren't right for him. He sees this as a big challenge, and I'm sure he would enjoy being there."
--CB Deion Sanders declined to say whether he would return next season as he packed up his locker. "Not at this time," Sanders said. "I'm the type of guy that really takes care of the now because if I look forward to tomorrow, I'll miss today."
Sanders, a future Hall of Fame defender, played nickel back for the Ravens this season. He started and finished seven games this season because of injuries.
He indicated he will have surgery on his left foot sometime over the next couple of weeks but likely would be ready when training camp opens in late July.
--After helping lead the team to a division title a year ago, third-string quarterback Anthony Wright didn't take a snap this season. He will head into the offseason motivated to strengthen his surgically repaired throwing shoulder with the hopes of becoming the top backup to Kyle Boller in 2005.
Backup quarterback Kordell Stewart is a free agent.
"I'm planning on coming back in the best condition I've ever been in," Wright said. "I plan on just training, strength training, speed training and taking some yoga. I'm just excited about having the chance to play at full strength.
"This year was tough on me being that I wasn't able to contribute to the team. But I'm really looking forward to coming back next year and helping this team get to where we want to go."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Obviously, we fell short of our goal. We've just got to savor that flavor in our mouths and use that to fuel our ambitions for this offseason. (Coach Brian Billick) left us with: 'When we're training this offseason, we've got to remember how we feel today.'" Left guard Edwin Mulitalo on the Ravens' disappointing season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens want to have a new offensive coordinator in place by the middle of January, when the team begins its personnel meetings. As far as the front office, if Phil Savage becomes the new Cleveland Browns general manager, the Ravens might not fill his spot as the clearly defined No. 2 man in the personnel department.
The team could just maintain the structure it had for the franchise's first seven years, keeping George Kokinis as the director of pro personnel and Eric DeCosta the head of college scouting.
The Ravens' scouting department likely would remain intact because everyone is still under contract for one more year.
COACHING CAROUSEL: Coach Brian Billick signed an extension before last season and is a certainty to return next season.
The Ravens have already parted ways with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. There could be further turnover on an offensive staff that has underachieved. Receivers coach David Shaw could be next to be fired because the Ravens have failed to develop a reliable wideout.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could be a hot candidate when more head coaching jobs become available. If Nolan goes elsewhere, the Ravens would promote defensive line coach Rex Ryan to coordinator.
--RG Bennie Anderson (Could be brought back at right price, not a priority).
--CB Gary Baxter (A priority to be re-signed as starting corner).
--OT Ethan Brooks (Adequate backup who will be asked to return).
--CB Dale Carter (Blood clot ended season, will not return).
--DE Marques Douglas (Might not return because Ravens already have depth at defensive line).
--LB Ed Hartwell (Not expected to return because other teams will offer more money).
--LS Joe Maese (Consistent long snapper likely to come back).
--C Casey Rabach (Strong play could have priced him out of Ravens' range).
--K Wade Richey (Inconsistency on kickoffs probably ended chances of returning).
--CB Deion Sanders (Ravens would welcome him back if he wants to continue playing at age 38).
--LB T.J. Slaughter (Fits in Ravens plans as possible starter next season).
--QB Kordell Stewart (Ravens would offer him No. 3 position if he wants it).
--WR Travis Taylor (Will not return after never living up to expectations).
--CB Ray Walls (Could be asked to come back and compete for reserve defender job).
FEELING A DRAFT: The Ravens are expected to draft No. 22. Their priorities will be offensive line, defensive line and wide receiver. On the offensive line, the Ravens need youth and an upgrade over guard Bennie Anderson and Orlando Brown. On the defensive line, they could need a big defensive tackle if they go to the 4-3. And at receiver, the Ravens need a big-play one to complement the likes of Kevin Johnson and Clarence Moore.
MEDICAL WATCH: LB Ray Lewis (broken wrist) won't need surgery. LG Edwin Mulitalo (triceps) had surgery and will be ready for minicamp. CB Deion Sanders (foot) will have minor surgery on his foot. LB Peter Boulware (toe) had surgery and will be ready for minicamp.
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