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 players via tape and at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
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.
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: Sean Considine, James Ihedigbo, Ed Reed
Restricted free agents: Emmanuel Cook
Exclusive-rights free agents: Anthony Levine, Omar Brown
Under contract: Bernard Pollard, Christian Thompson
Once the issue of Joe Flacco's contract is settled, via the franchise tag or a deal, Ed Reed's situation becomes one of the Ravens' most interesting questions.
Will the Ravens have enough money left under the cap to pay him? Will this future Hall of Famer really take the field in 2013 wearing the uniform of the Patriots or some other team? Or will Reed, who turns 35 in September, simply retire with his new, shiny Super Bowl ring on his hand? Reed has hinted at retirement the past few summers, and could do so again, especially if contract negotiations get sticky.
Expect a few twists and turns along the way with Reed, who always manages to keep things interesting.
There has been some speculation that if Reed doesn't return, the Ravens could look to Lardarius Webb as a safety, a position he played in college. But if his knees are truly 100 percent, Webb is the Ravens' best cover corner and is excellent in run support on the perimeter.
Bernard Pollard, 28, should be back as the physical mauler of the Ravens defense once again. Pollard led the Ravens with 98 tackles this season and also had a pair of sacks, and his hard-hitting style typifies the defense the Ravens want to play.
James Ihedigbo does as well, but he's a free agent after one season in Baltimore. He proved to be a solid late preseason pickup after he was released by the Patriots, and the bet here is the Ravens work to bring him back. As they like to say, he plays like a Raven.
Reed's backup on the depth chart this year was Sean Considine, who is also a free agent and whose value is primarily on special teams. Last year the Ravens lost a pair of backup safeties to free agency who moved on to become starters elsewhere. That's not likely the case with Considine, 30, and it's possible they will re-sign the veteran, who had worked with coach John Harbaugh in Philadelphia.
Christian Thompson and Emmanuel Cook are also candidates to play some at safety, but both of them will need to use special teams play to secure roster spots. Thompson appeared in seven games before spending the last half of the season on injured reserve. Cook was lost all season after breaking his leg in the preseason, but the Ravens liked him enough to grab him off waivers in 2012. He is a restricted free agent, and the Ravens might not tender him with an offer. But he could still return.
The chances for third-string safety Omar Brown to return go up if Reed doesn't return. Brown showed an incredible nose for the ball in preseason, with an interception, three fumble recoveries and an onside kick recovery. He was a late preseason roster cut, signed back to the practice squad and then promoted to the 53-man roster late in the season, appearing in three games.
He and Anthony Levine, another former practice squadder who appeared in two games, still face long odds come training camp.