More than on any other day of the year, Ravens management is at its most candid at the “State of the Ravens” event following each season.
Unlike after the 2012 campaign when the team had five fewer weeks to plan for the following season, a panel of general manager Ozzie Newsome, owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh and team president Dick Cass met with the media Wednesday with a bit of a jump on things.
Newsome was especially open about what he needs to do with the squad going forward, without saying enough to put himself or the team at a competitive disadvantage, of course.
Asked to lay out the team’s top offseason needs, he didn’t hold back.
“I think we have to get bigger in the interior of our offensive line. That’s one of the area that I think we need to improve on. I think we need to improve on that,” Newsome said. “I think we need to have a more athletic safety in the defense. I think we need to be able to get a receiver, whether it’s a tight end or a wide receiver, that can make a third-and-7, third-and-8 catch and can run after the catch.
“If I was to look at the three things today, and that’s coming out of our personnel meetings and talking to my staff, those are some areas we can probably add something and we’ll try to add something. I also believe in this - you get better by getting yourself better and I have no doubt that the work that John and his staff has done in the past, we can have that. The players that we retain on this team will be better players.”
So look for Baltimore to primarily address its offensive line, especially after such a rough 2013 where the team ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing.
Perhaps the need for a more athletic safety was most surprising after first-round pick Matt Elam and veteran James Ihedigbo both performed well this season. However, both are naturally strong safeties and the team could use a real replacement for Ed Reed, a consistent turnover threat deep who’s capable of putting the scare in opposing offenses.
Moving on to the third priority he listed, a receiver is also a glaring need. Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones (a pending free agent) and Marlon Brown are all quality options. But the Ravens never were able to replace Anquan Boldin, and tight end Dennis Pitta is set to become a free agent. So retaining Pitta and adding another top wideout would be high priorities when management looks at how to alter the team’s offensive personnel.
Bisciotti went as far as to say that the Ravens plan to go over the offense with a “fine-tooth comb” the way they did with the defense last year.
Newsome expanded a bit when talking about bringing in the receiver the team needs.
“I think we’ve identified the type of receiver that we want. And John told me and I lit up because I was right there with him as for what we’re looking for in a receiver this year,” Newsome said. “And I think before the 2014 season ends, we will have that guy on our football team.”
How about by the time next season begins? Are there any obstacles that would prevent that from happening?
“No, because I think we’ve identified the type of player that we’re looking for, and that player will be available between now (and the start of ‘14) whether it’s in free agency, whether he’s a cap casualty, whether it’s in the draft, whether it’s through trade,” Newsome said. “So no, there’s no reason. He may not be here at the beginning of the season, but I always try to leave myself a little leeway to give us a chance to get it right.”
Harbaugh then piped in about the timetable for bringing in that top receiver.
“I’m also going to put a little pressure on Ozzie to get that done in time for our first game,” he said.
At least Newsome and Harbaugh know what kind of player the team needs. Although Newsome didn’t list Pitta among the top three priorities, it sounded like bringing him back is one of the Ravens’ focuses.
Newsome addressed the possibility of the team using the franchise tag this year, whether it be on Pitta, left tackle Eugene Monroe, right tackle Michael Oher or defensive lineman Art Jones.
“It’s a possibility. We’ll have an opportunity to go down to the principal’s office this weekend (at the team meetings at owner Steve Bisciotti’s house in Jupiter, Fla.,) and we’ll lay everything out there,” Newsome said. “We’ll know exactly what our cap situation is. We’ll talk about that, who we want to re-sign, extend, release, and we will do whatever it takes. And the possibility of using the franchise tag is something we might have to do.”
As for Pitta specifically, the Ravens saw enough in his seven weeks of work (three weeks of practice followed by four games) to know they want him back.
“He still has the skills, the skill-sets to be a very productive receiver in this league,” Newsome said. “And going forward, we would like to have Dennis on our football team. He plays winning football for us. In a loud manner, he’s a mismatch problem for defenses, and I’ve seen other teams in the league take that prototype and use it now, having a guy like Dennis on their team and the matchup problems that it presents.
“Yes, he’s someone that we’ll be talking about down in Jupiter. We’d like to have him. There are no guarantees. Nothing about this business ... I mean, we wanted (Paul) Kruger and (Dannell) Ellerbe back last year, and we weren’t able to keep them.”
Newsome was also asked about whether linebacker Terrell Suggs will definitely be back with the team in 2014, and the general manager was non-committal.
Suggs is coming off an uneven season where he led the Ravens with 10 sacks and finished third with 80 tackles. The numbers look good on the surface, but Suggs had just one sack in the last eight games, and that came when Tom Brady fell on his own and was touched to the ground by the linebacker.
Add in the fact that Suggs’ cap figure is Baltimore’s third-highest for next season ($12.4 million), and it’s a fair question.
“That’s a decision that we’ll talk about when we get down to Jupiter,” Newsome said. “Terrell is a real good football player. He not only shows up in the pass game, but he shows up in the run game. But that being said, we let a good football player go last year. So we’re not afraid, I’m not averse to letting guys walk out the door. So what we’ll do is we’ll look at every aspect of it and see what’s best for the 2014 and ‘15 and ‘16 Ravens and make that decision once we get to it.”
No matter what happens with Suggs or Haloti Ngata or anyone else, Newsome anticipates the Ravens have another busy offseason ahead in free agency. Newsome explained the team’s strategy for acquiring and retaining players, one that aims to do what’s best for the Ravens in the immediate and distant future.
“We will be active. But let me say something - all of the players that we signed last year were free agents that weren’t UFAs. They were cap casualties of other teams, which allowed us to be able to maintain our compensatory picks for the guys that we lost,” Newsome said.
“So there’s a rhyme and reason of how we acquire players to continue to maintain our ability to stay strong going forward. And we will continue to do the same thing even if we have to go out and get a UFA to sign, which means we probably lose a compensatory pick. We don’t say no to anything. We look at everything from an individual standpoint and then we see what’s going to make us better for this year and years going forward. The caproom, you can make the cap as fluid as you want it to be. But again, we’re not restructuring contracts. We’re not doing that.”