Three -and-out: Ravens off season blueprint
1. The Ravens must close the talent gap between themselves and the Bengals.
The AFC North champions Bengals have brought in a ton of young talent over the last three years, players like running back Gionvoni Bernard, wide receiver A. J. Green, linebacker Vontaze Berfict, and quarterback Andy Dalton. The Bengals are not going anywhere, and will have to be dealt with over the next few years.
Players like Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata were staples of the Ravens’ five-year playoff run, but the Ravens need to bring in more young talent this offseason who will be building blocks of their future. The Bengals are the new kings of the hill in the AFC North. The Ravens need more talent to change that.
2. The 2014 draft will be huge for general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Speaking of talent, the May draft will be an important one for Newsome, one of the best in the business. The Ravens don’t have just a few holes to fill. They have many. There are unlikely to re-sign every free agent they want to keep which means they could lose left tackle Eugene Monroe, or cornerback Corey Graham, or defensive tackle Arthur Jones, or linebacker Daryl Smith, or tight end Dennis Pitta.
Even if all of those players return, the Ravens need to make major changes on their offensive line, they need a playmaking wide receiver, they need a safety that excels in pass coverage, they need help at inside linebacker, and they could also use another pass rusher.
Newsome has enjoyed plenty of hits during the draft. In 2014, he needs a homerun.
3. The Ravens coaching staff could see some changes.
John Harbaugh loves all of his coaches. But does he love them all enough to keep them? With offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and run game coordinator Juan Castillo both under fire, it will be interested to see if either moves on. Meanwhile, senior defensive assistant Steve Spanuolo had a successful run as the Giants’ defensive coordinator, winning a Super Bowl with them. If the Ravens wanted to make a switch from Dean Pees at defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo could handle that role.
Meanwhile, with so many coaching vacancies around the league, the possibility remains that Ravens assistants could be moving to other staffs. The Ravens’ coaching staff could stand pat. But when a franchise accustomed to making the playoffs has an 8-8 season, the possibility of changes should not be ruled out.
Extra point: Harbaugh will now be rooting hard for his brother, Jim Harbaugh, to lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl championship as their head coach. The Ravens will not win back-to-back titles. But the Harbaugh family still could.