Ravens offseason VIP Q&A column

OWINGS MILLS -- Launching the month with our latest VIP Q&A column to kick off the offseason, answering your questions.

Question: Aaron, If you had to pick one player currently on the roster who will be the surprise of 2009 who would that be? Also with Chester doing so well do you see Yanda replacing Anderson at tackle?

Answer: I wouldn't be shocked if Demetrius Williams finally put it all together with a healthy, productive season. I don't think they ever want to play Marshal Yanda at tackle again except on an emergency basis. He's making a sound comeback from major knee surgery to repair three torn ligaments. As far as Chris Chester, yes, he played pretty well, but it wasn't close to Yanda's standard.

Question: Do you think the Ravens will get a deals done for Brown or Suggs before the February deadline? If so who do you think will be first and if both deals get done by then; do you think the Ravens will consider franchising Ray to force a deal to get done? Also one has to consider how close we were to winning a Superbowl the Ravens may want to keep players in key positions with the team.

Answer: My anticipation is they'll get at least one of those deals done, more likely it will be Jason Brown. I think he's the most eager to sign of the prominent free agents. I don't think they want to franchise Ray Lewis even though they've used the threat of doing so as a negotiating tactic. In terms of wanting to keep the team together, Ozzie Newsome is hesitant to not make any changes because that backfired on him in the past.

Question: After listening to Ray on the radio last night, it sounds like he's going to the highest bidder. That doesn't sound good for us. Why couldn't we take the money slotted for him and go after Haynseworth. Him and Ngata would look pretty good next to each other. Sign suggs and Bart and go to a 4, 3. Move Jarrett to DE and let McClain play outside LB next year. Suggs, Bart and McClain would look nice at the LB positions ane that front four should be able to generate some pressure. Also do you think we go after a free agent corner or free agent receiver.

Answer: Interesting idea. In my opinion, most of Ray Lewis' interviews have been posturing. He wants the Ravens to believe he's willing to leave and will sign with another team if they don't meet his financial demands. The Ravens can't afford Albert Haynesworth either way. He is going to be the richest defensive player in NFL history very soon, and it will be with the Tennessee Titans. I don't think there will be much money left for free agents outside of their own free agents, but look for some lower profile Jim Leonhard kind of signings at receiver or cornerback if they can find anybody they like. They need someone to replace Corey Ivy, who I don't expect to be retained.

Question:I know it is early for too much draft talk, but... Caught MASN yesterday and Amber got a call in from a draft guru. He was predicting the Ravens would take a linebacker at #26 with amazing speed in the first round (forgot the kid's name; presupposes the loss of one of our current linebackers). He also said CB is more likely in the later rounds where decent quality can be found in the 2nd or even 3rd rounds. Do you agree?

Answer: From what I've heard about this year's draft, the best available player at that point might very well be a tight end like Chase Coffman from Missouri. The fast linebacker from Wake Forest is going to be gone if that's who you're talking about. There's a ton of cornerbacks this year, so they can afford to wait, yes.

Question: Continuing on the draft theme.....I see obvious needs at CB, WR, TE and DE and yet several early drafts show us going LB. I really want us to add to our arsenal for Flacco by adding a top WR(Heyward-Bey) and TE(?). How do you see the Ravens needs and the strength positions of the coming draft meshing? Any obvious FA's we might pursue?

Answer: I think the Ravens definitely need a game-breaking wide receiver, a big, fast cornerback, a pass rushing defensive end and a tight end that can catch and block. I like Heyward-Bey, but I think he's extremely raw and might take two to three years to develop. This is a decent draft for the positions the Ravens need to improve at. As far as free agents, I think it will be extremely slim pickings at wide receiver and cornerback because I don't expect T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Antonio Bryant or Nmandi Asomugha to be available.

Question: I want to expand on Meghan's question.. With Chester playing well at RG this year, how much of an uphill battle does Yanda face to get his job back? In your opinion, W\what will Harbaughs reaction be if McGahee decides to skip OTA's and /or reports out of shape again?

Answer: I think they're comfortable enough with Chris Chester that they won't rush Marshal Yanda's rehabilitation. That said, once he's healthy, he's getting his job back. Chester is a fallback option at center if negotiations go south with Jason Brown, which I don't expect to happen, but you never know. As far as Harbs and McGahee, I think Harbs will go ballistic. He doesn't like Willis' attitude already and this would be the nail in the coffin no matter what he says publicly.

Question: Sounds like the team is confident in getting a deal done with Suggs before Feb. 27. Could the Ravens use the franchise tag on Jason Brown? Also, could they decide to use the transition tag on Ray Lewis and let him shop around with us getting a chance to match his best offer? That would seem to be a smart thing for the Ravens to do with Ray.

Answer: Actually, the know it will be tough to finish the Suggs deal, which they've made progress on in the past, because his agent drives hard bargain. It's not a lock, and they may have to franchise him again. Franchising Jason Brown costs over $8 million. It makes no sense to pay him left tackle money. With Ray, tagging him will only antagonize him and probably cause a bad ripple effect in the locker room. Ray can be very disruptive when he wants to. The best scenario is to pay him, but not break the bank on a three to four-year deal that can be gotten out of after a year or two if Ray hits the old man's wall.

Question: The Ravens made it two the AFCCG with two receivers and a TE that seemed to be more of an afterthought than part of the game plan. How do you envision the Ravens upgrading the WR position this offseason?

My personal opinion is that we don't neccessarily need the home run threat that everyone covets. In fact, not many teams really have those types of receivers. If we added another Derrick Mason type and perhaps drafted a skilled WR, I think we'd be a lot better both in the short term and long term. Is my thinking flawed here?

Answer: Yes, they really need better wide receivers. No, he doesn't have to be a threat to break the game open every time. It would be nice to have one since it would suit Joe Flacco's style of play. That said, even having a tall, dynamic possession receiver who can run a little like a Plaxico Burress would help immensely. I think they will look to draft a receiver if they don't like the free agent class, and I predict they won't like this free agent class much at all.

Question: Could the Ravens add a strong vet QB like Brad Johnson to be the third string behind Flacco or do we get that guy in the draft? Could we pursue K Mike Nugent?

Answer: I could see them going with Troy Smith again as well as drafting a backup for the future that's more of a prototype rather than going the veteran route. They really liked Todd Bouman and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could be retained. As far as pursuing a young kicker, they are exploring that possibility while still talking to Matt Stover. Stover didn't say he might be back by accident, he felt comfortable enough to leak that, so I think he knows he's coming back.

Question: We know about Hue Jackson getting a strong look in SF for OC. Did Cam's name come up at all in HC talks?

Answer: Actually, it didn't. His year with the Miami Dolphins was such a disaster that it will be a long time, if ever, before he surfaces as a potential head coach in the NFL again. Do I think he could be a college head coach again? Yes, I do. But in terms of temperament and the respect he commands, he's best suited to just be an offensive coordinator. He's a really nice guy, probably too nice to run his own team.

Question: What about Troy Smith? Have any teams expressed interest or is he still under contract?

Answer: Troy Smith is under contract. There is minimal interest in Troy's services around the league, so I don't think there's anything there in terms of trade value.

Question: What is the normal time frame we should expect some of our own players to be signed?

Answer: The normal time frame for the Ravens is to do very little prior to free agency and use the deadline pressure of the launch of the signing period as an impetus to get a deal done. Ozzie has shown in the past that he's more than willing to let players test free agency and then make his best offer. He has also put offers on the table to players prior to free agency and had the player go out in the market, then quickly come back to the Ravens when they don't like an offer. Some players are told before free agency that they should go get the best deal they can because the Ravens can't afford to keep them. Ozzie's top priority this offseason is to keep his team together as much as possible and upgrade in the secondary and at wide receiver.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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