Off-season report card: Baltimore Ravens
2016: 8–8, second in AFC North
Significant additions: CB Marlon Humphrey (R1), LB Tyus Bowser (R2), DT Chris Wormley (R3), CB Brandon Carr (FA), S Tony Jefferson (FA)
Significant losses: OT Ricky Wagner, LB Elvis Dumervil, WR Kamar Aiken, S Matt Elam
Roster depth went from being Baltimore’s biggest strength to its greatest weakness in just five short years. Uncharacteristic failures in the draft for Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta stunted efforts to replace defensive stalwarts like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed; of the team’s two first-round picks and four second-round picks between 2012 and ’14, just one remains on the roster (stud inside linebacker C.J. Mosely).
Yet Baltimore’s biggest handicap is one of its longest-tenured players. Joe Flacco, drafted in 2008, now carries the largest salary cap hit in football at $24.5 million in 2017. The Ravens are spending about 15% of their active cap space on a player with a 34–27 touchdown-interception ratio over the past two seasons. With the three-year extension he signed in 2016, Flacco can’t realistically be released and replaced until 2019, when the cap hit becomes more manageable.
“We need to get more out of Joe,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in January. “He would agree with me.”
What’s more, the Ravens did little to improve Flacco’s supporting cast this offseason. Baltimore lost superb right tackle Ricky Wagner to the Lions on a five-year, $47.5 million-dollar deal in free agency and wide receiver Steve Smith to retirement, adding only running back Danny Woodhead to the offense. All eyes are on third-year receiver Breshad Perriman and third-year tight end Maxx Williams, both of whom have missed significant time due to knee injuries.
Instead, the Ravens splurged on the defense. The team added versatile safety Tony Jefferson and capable cover corner Brandon Carr in free agency, and Newsome used his first four draft picks on the defense, addressing big needs at cornerback and outside linebacker with first-round choice Marlon Humphrey and second-rounder Tyus Bowser. It’s an embarrassment of riches for defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who built a defense around Mosely that ranked in the Top 10 in every meaningful statistical category in 2016.
Baltimore’s big problem remains a stagnant offense that only grew more conservative after the firing of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman after a Week 5 loss against Washington. Despite having the NFL’s eighth-ranked offensive line in terms of pass protection according to footballoutsiders.com, Flacco’s 6.4 yards per attempted were the lowest of his career. With former QB coach Marty Mornhinweg at the helm of the offense, Flacco leaned heavily on tight end Dennis Pitta, who last year was the third-most targeted tight end in the NFL but had just 729 yards receiving to show for it. However, the 31-year-old reinjured his hip at the Ravens’ OTAs, which means there’s a good chance Flacco may be losing last season’s receptions leader.
Baltimore’s check-down woes were never more apparent than in a Week 14 loss to the Patriots in Foxborough, when Flacco connected with running backs on 15 of his 37 completions to running backs, a season-high, while the Patriots seemed satisfied to drop seven or eight players into coverage.
Yet Mornhinweg returns, now armed with a full offseason to prepare. And the offense experienced only attrition in the meantime. If the answers are already on the roster, the time to reveal themselves is nigh.