The Ravens are rightfully basking in their Super Bowl victory, but behind the scenes, work on the 2013 season has already begun. The personnel staff has already spent countless hours scouting college players and Ravens brass is at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week.
General manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff also must deal with free agency, the salary cap, and the enormous issue of Joe Flacco's contract status. Newsome made clear at the 'State of the Ravens' news conference after the season that the Ravens do not expect to restructure a lot of contracts as they did after the previous Super Bowl title. Translation: There is likely to be significant roster upheaval this offseason.
We’re taking a look at each Ravens position group to see who is likely to come back, who is likely to be gone, and what the ramifications are.
We've already looked at the offensive side of the ball. Links to all those units can be found here.
Today, we start looking at the defense beginning with the defensive line.
You can find more on the terminology (unrestricted vs. restricted free agents, etc.) here. Note that for this analysis, we look only at players who were on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve.
Unrestricted free agents: Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Ryan McBean
Restricted free agents: Arthur Jones
Exclusive-rights free agents: Bryan Hall
When asked about where the Ravens needed to see the most improvement next year, Newsome said, "The middle of the defense. We think we have to get better at defensive tackle."
Ngata was hobbled much of the season by a knee injury, but he finished with 51 tackles and five sacks and remains the heart of the Ravens interior defense.
From Newsome's comments, it sounds as if the Ravens aren't going to try too hard to re-sign Kemoeatu, who beat out Terrence Cody for a job and started 13 games. Kemoeatu recently turned 34, and resurrected his career last season after struggling with his weight in previous years. His agent told the Baltimore Sun that "Kemo" would like to play a couple of more seasons, but the bet here is that it won't be in Baltimore.
Cody, a former second-round draft pick, probably will have another shot to win a starting job, but he was a disappointment last season. He lost his starting job to Kemoeatu, and showed little of the run-stopping ability the Ravens were looking for.
This year's defensive line draft class is seen as very deep, so it's likely the Ravens will search for help there, or on the cheap free agent market, to challenge Cody and others.
Ryan McBean, who had started 21 games over three seasons in Denver, was expected to push Cody for the starting defensive tackle job, but he broke his ankle in the preseason, was placed on injured reserve and is a free agent. The Ravens won't break the bank to bring him back, but he is a veteran who they liked enough to sign once before.
At defensive end, Pernell McPhee endured a trying season, but he and Arthur Jones figure to return to battle for a starting job. Jones is a restricted free agent but look for the Ravens to re-sign him to a high tender, possibly a second-rounder. If signed to a low-round tender (Jones was a fifth-round draft pick), he could be signed to an offer sheet by a team with plenty of cap space that the Ravens couldn't match. It's still possible the Ravens could lose Jones on a second-round tender, as there are teams with a lot of cap money lying around who might see a lot of value in a 26-year-old defensive end who had 47 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks last season.
McPhee finished the regular season with 21 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks, but his biggest play might have come in the AFC title game, when he tipped a pass by Tom Brady that was picked off by Dannell Ellerbe.
DeAngelo Tyson, a seventh-round pick last year, and former practice squadder Bryan Hall both saw occasional time last season but will be in a fight for jobs once again come training camp.