It was quite a season.
While the Ravens went home earlier than many of us had hoped, the roller coaster that was 2014 showed the kind of heart and mental fortitude this team had within them. To overcome the myriad of obstacles and issues that this team was up against was truly something special.
As we reflect on and enjoy the memories of 2014, it’s now time to turn the page and look forward to 2015. The Ravens have three immediate areas of concern:
1. Does coaching staff stay intact?
As I write this, there is a very big question mark as to whether the Ravens coaching staff will see another major reshuffling this offseason. Gary Kubiak announced last Sunday evening that he would be staying in Baltimore as the Offensive Coordinator. However, with the Broncos job coming open just hours after Kubiak’s announcement, all bets are off.
Kubiak has a long history with the Broncos as both a player and a coach. He also has a close friendship with Denver’s Executive VP of Football Operations and GM, John Elway. The threat of Kubiak moving on is very real.
Losing Kubiak to Denver would be a huge blow to a Raven offense that made great strides in 2014. Joe Flacco had unquestionably his best statistical year and the offense set team records, including for yards per game (364.9) and points scored (25.5). Having to go through an offseason of change, even if the team were to find a replacement who ran a similar system or promoted someone like Quarterbacks Coach Rick Dennison to the role, would likely mean a step back.
On the defensive side of the football, Secondary Coach Steve Spagnuolo has been named the new Defensive Coordinator of the New York Giants, a position he held previously from 2007 to 2008, helping the G-men to their Super Bowl XLII upset of the Patriots.
Spagnuolo had a pretty tough job with limited talent in his position groups, making it pretty hard to judge how much of a loss this will be for the team. He is certainly a well respected defensive coach, however, so whoever replaces him will have big shoes to fill and a lot of work to do with the worst performing area of this football team.
Should Kubiak indeed land in Denver, there is also the distinct likelihood that you will see some Baltimore assistants join him. Among those could be the aforementioned Dennison and Tight Ends Coach Brian Pariani, who both arrived with Kubiak following their days with Houston. Another Ravens assistant coach who has been mentioned for a possible Defensive Coordinator job is Linebackers Coach Ted Monachino who has been mentioned as being former Ravens assistant Teryl Austin’s first choice for the role should Austin get the Atlanta Falcons head job.
2. Which players get cut or restructured?
The Ravens will once again be fighting the constraints of the Salary Cap this offseason which was only made worse by the accelerated cap charge resulting from the release of Ray Rice in September. While the Ravens won’t have to gut the team, there will certainly be players who will be cut or asked to restructure their contracts to create additional cap room. Below are some of the prime candidates:
Haloti Ngata – The Ravens will certainly be negotiating with Ngata on a new deal, as he is sporting a whopping $16m cap number. An extension could keep the defensive stalwart and team mainstay on the roster at a more cap-friendly number. However, how much will Ngata’s recent suspension for Adderall at the end of the season effect these negotiations?
Lardarius Webb – With a $12m cap number, Webb is certainly a prime candidate for the chopping block. His play at the end of the season started to improve, but he is simply not worth the percentage of the salary cap that he is currently taking up. The Ravens may try to renegotiate his deal, but Webb’s camp would surely have to be ready to take a pay cut.
Chris Canty – The veteran defensive lineman is contemplating retirement, so this may be a moot point. However, with a $3.326m cap number and some depth on the defensive line, he is a prime candidate to be let go.
Jacoby Jones – Despite still being a threat in the return game, Jones has taken a step back as an option for Joe Flacco on offense. The team appears to have depth at wide receiver and other players who could take over the return responsibilities. With a $3.375m cap number, I would be surprised to see Jones return in 2015.
Dennis Pitta – With a questionable future and the 6th highest cap number on the team, you might expect Pitta’s name to possibly be on the chopping block. Don’t anticipate that, however, as the accelerated cap charge for cutting him so soon after signing his big contract last offseason would be detrimental to the cap.
Joe Flacco – January Joe has a $14.8m cap number for 2015, so there is always the possibility that the Ravens look into renegotiating Flacco’s deal. Regardless of what happens this season, expect for talks after 2015, as his cap number will rise to $28.5m in 2016.
3. Which Free Agents stay or go?
The Ravens have four unrestricted free agents and one restricted free agent who played played large roles in the success of 2014.
Those notable players are:
Torrey Smith – Torrey has become Joe Flacco’s favorite deep threat and led the team in TD catches with 11. Having Smith running deep routes has certainly been a huge boon to Joe Flacco’s career and their ability to create yards through defensive pass interference calls has become a thing of beauty for the offense. Seeing Smith leave would be touch, but for once the Ravens may have the wide receiver depth to weather that storm.
Pernell McPhee – The jack of all trades for the front seven was dominant at times for the Ravens and offered a third source of defensive pass rush that created mayhem for opposing offensive lines. McPhee is in for a big pay day and it likely won’t be in Baltimore.
Justin Forsett – After a career year, Forsett is certainly due a nice reward. The question will be whether it will be from the Ravens. They certainly would like him back, but if he wants too much money, the team may have to look elsewhere.
Owen Daniels – After some injury plagued years in Houston, Daniels played a huge role for the Ravens, becoming one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets in 2014. Having Daniels return would be a great turn of events with Dennis Pitta still being a major question mark. However, like Forsett, it will all come down to money.
Justin Tucker – Mr. Automatic has been nothing short of fantastic, since taking over the kicking duties in 2012. Tucker will be a Restricted Free Agent and while you aren’t likely to see him change uniforms, the Ravens may take this opportunity to lock up their young kicker to a long term deal.
Moving forward the Ravens will be evaluating other teams’ free agents and cap casualties, as well as the college crop in advance of the NFL Draft this Spring. Be sure to keep checking in with Baltimore Sports Report as we cover all of those events and more in the coming months.