Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One step at a time...

Fineous Reese is a reader of this little site, and when I was posting stuff a couple of weeks ago, it seems he noticed, since he asked me on TSG (yes, I just hyperlinked myself.  And it didn't even hurt) where the updates were, I figured I better oblige him.

First of all, as far as the Ravens / Steelers game, the better team won.  Flacco looked like a rookie for the first time since the beginning of the season, and the team did not execute on EITHER side of the ball.  The defense did okay, but far too many times they had the Steelers in a 3rd and long situation and didn't stop them from converting.  

But the hit on McGahee was illegal as all get out.  Not only was it helmet to helmet, the defender left the ground and launched himself at McGahee while he was still in the process of turning around.  McGahee is not at fault for crouching down as he turned to run, that is what you do when you are expecting contact, you lower your shoulders and meet it straight on.  The defender couldn't adjust because he was airborne at the time, flying at McGahee like a human spear.  He should be fined at the least, and suspended would be not at all egregious punishment.

So, rant off.  Now let's look at what the Ravens need to do this offseason.  I am going to look at one thing each post for the next few weeks and months, as well as touch on the upcoming baseball season (pitchers and catchers report in a little over 2 weeks).

First and foremost, they need to look within before they look to free agency or the draft.  Here is a list of the Ravens' Unrestricted Free Agents in what I consider to be the order of importance of signing...

OC – Jason Brown

LB – Terrell Suggs

LB – Ray Lewis

FB – Lorenzo Neal

S -    Jim Leonhard

TE – Daniel Wilcox

CB – Corey Ivy

LB – Bart Scott

OT – Chad Slaughter

PK – Matt Stover

WR – Terrence Copper

QB – Kyle Boller

QB – Todd Bouman

This list is a combination of need and signability, and also cap ramifications.  I have a feeling that someone (probably Miami or Detroit) is going to make a big push to sign Jason Brown, but as long as his deal isn't a cap killer, the Ravens need to re-sign him.  He is only 24 and he anchored a much better than expected offensive line last year.  This OL has a chance to be something special for the next few years, and it would be a shame to see him go.  Now, the Ravens DO get Marshal Yanda back, and his return as a starting guard would allow the team to move Chris Chester to center.  But Brown is somewhat undersized at 6'3" and 320 lbs.  Chester is 6'3" and 305 lbs.  Both have good technique, but are susceptible to being bull rushed.  I don't want to have to keep the RB or the FB back for max protect all the time, but of the two, Brown has better technique and could easily put some more muscle on his frame without losing any of his quickness.

I put Suggs ahead of Ray Lewis for one reason.  Suggs is 26 and in the prime of his career.  He is a hybrid DE/LB who can rush the passer and drop back into coverage.  Basically, he is the game changer that Ray was back in 2000.  That is not to say that Ray is not a very good player.  But Ray is not the same player he was 9 years ago.  He couldn't be.  His position is too violent.  He has lost a step, but compensates for it with his film study and his knowledge of how the game flows.  He can read a play as well as if not better than anyone who has EVER played the game.  And that might be even more impressive than his still quite formidable physical skills.  

Of the 3 LBs that are UFA's, that leaves Bart Scott out of the loop.  Now if he (as well as Suggs and Lewis) were to subscribe to the idea that Terrell floated out to the world the other day then a lot of things could change.  But looking at it from cold, hard reality, Scott is the odd man out.  I think he signs with the Jets, or as a consolation prize to the Cowboys if their push to sign Lewis fails.  If Lewis or Suggs (or God forbid BOTH) DOES bolt and he is still available the Ravens will snatch him up pronto (unless HE decides to follow one or both of them.  All three are close friends on AND off the field, and that could help or hurt the Ravens' chances of signing them depending on how the dominoes fall).

Neal, Leonhard, and Wilcox are all vital cogs that keep the team moving, and none should blow the market open to the point that signing them isn't economically viable.  Neal is invaluable as a leader in the huddle as a safety blanket for both the RBs and for Joe Flacco.  He is a 16 year veteran who still brings the pain every time he steps on the field.  Nothing on the field surprises him, and his emergence on the team coincided with the team going on a major hot streak.  The combination of him, LeRon McClain, and Haloti Ngata on the goal line offense is nigh unbeatable.  Leonhard offers solid play in the defensive secondary as well as good hands and better than average punt and kick return ability.  Wilcox is a decent blocker, but more importantly, Todd Heap has not had a good season in a couple of years.  It could be injury and it could be that he is no longer a front line starter.  Wilcox is no Tony Gonzalez, but he will do at least as well as Heap has been doing recently, and is a better blocker and gunner on special teams.

Stover is a special case.  He is worth keeping strictly from the standpoint that kickers as a rule do not cost that much against the cap and he is a fan favorite.  The only negative I have with keeping him is that the Ravens also need to keep a kickoff / long kick specialist, and that is a valuable roster spot.  But it is worth it from the standpoint of what he means to the team and to the fans.

Boller is above Bouman only because Boller is a really good man who has been nothing but a stand up guy who took more punishment (both on and off the field) than any one man should have.  But we have 2 good QBs and he is going to want to be able to compete for a starting job, and there will probably be someone somewhere that will be willing to give him a shot (again, the two most likely culprits will be the Jets or Detroit).

Any other name is just there because they are an UFA and to keep them would add depth to the team with players familiar with the system that we run.  

Next post, I am going to look at the other players that could move, and the consequences for both the Ravens and the team that signs them if it is another team.

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