Bring on the Season: My 5 Priorities for the Ravens

With the 2011 NFL Lockout a thing of the past, it is time to look forward to one of the craziest offseasons in history. On paper , the Baltimore Ravens appear poised to make another run at the AFC crown, but there is plenty of work to be done until the preseason kicks off on August 11th against the Eagles. The pending free agency will be a crucial time for the Ravens’ front office to determine who they can afford to bring back, as well players from other teams who can help the team return to the playoffs. To begin the offseason, the team is already set to release some its longest tenured membera s in Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, Derrick Mason, as well as Willis McGahee.  Here are my 5 priorities for the purple and black as they enter the upcoming season.

1) Stabilize the right side of the offensive line by re-signing Marshall Yanda.

Since he arrived in Baltimore, Yanda has simply fit the ‘Raven’ mold. A third-round pick out of Iowa four years ago, the right guard has overachieved and been nothing short of excellent, while also proving to be a capable right tackle last season when Jared Gaither was placed on the injured reserve. An unrestricted free agent, Yanda will garner attention from a lot of teams with cap room, including the Redskins. However, the Ravens must do whatever they can to keep him around. With his strong work ethic, versatility and knowledge of the system, he is simply too valuable to the team if they are serious about making a Super Bowl run.

2) Determine which cornerback to bring back: Chris Carr or Josh Wilson.

With the Ravens continuing to clear cap room by the minute, it seems that some of the new-found money will be spent on the likes of either Carr or Wilson. Both cornerbacks played above expectations last season, as Carr was the team’s most consistent corner who was often matched up against the opponent’s best receiver. Wilson, who was acquired in a late offseason trade last season with the Seahawks, also saw action in the starting lineup. I will forever remember the Dirty Terp for his game-winning pick-six against the Texans, one that may have saved the Ravens season.

The team will only be able to pay one of these players what they want, and the safer bet (and my personal preference) is Carr. With 1st round pick Jimmy Smith and a healthy Domonique Foxworth around, Carr is not the type of player who will lay down and let those two claim the starting jobs. I fully expect Carr to build off of last season and keep the starting cornerback job that he owned last season. With either one of these men back, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, the team’s former secondary coach, will have all sorts of personnel options that Greg Mattison did not have last year. As the season progresses, we will find that cornerback could turn into a position of strength, which will only help the team’s lagging pass-rush.

3) Find a veteran back-up quarterback.

There are a number of quarterbacks who could be on the move in the next week or two, and hopefully one of them will be a veteran quarterback to Baltimore. While my choice for the job, Kerry Collins, has since retired, there are still plenty of options for the Ravens to choose from. One could be bringing back Marc Bulger, who seemed to flourish as a clipboard holder in addition to being a solid mentor to Joe Flacco. However, with many starting quarterback jobs available, Bulger could go out west for a chance to compete and prove he can still be a starter in the NFL.

With young quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Hunter Cantwell around, there is even more of a need for an experienced quarterback to help break down film and teach the nuances of the position. With the starting job not in question, I trust that Ozzie Newsome and co. will find the right man for the job.

4) Fortify the backfield.

The expected release of Willis McGahee simply leaves a void in the no. 2 running back position behind Ray Rice. The team has guys likes Jalen Parmele and Matt Lawrence on the roster, but both are short on experience and best serve the team as special teamers. 7th round pick Anthony Allen is intriguing to me in the sense that he fits the bigger back mold that the Ravens need. I can’t help but think that he will get significant carries in the preseason to determine his worth.

The team is also in need of a fullback, and it could address both the backup running back and fullback job in different ways. With the amount of cuts that the team has made already, bringing back unrestricted free agent Le’Ron McClain seems plausible. McClain has dedicated himself to becoming a running back, as his weight is down to about 245. (compared to his playing weight last year around 260) With this being the case, McClain could re-sign to be the team’s power back and sign a fullback in free agency. (i.e. Lawrence Vickers, Heath Evans) The Ravens could also attempt to re-sign McClain as their starting fullback and give him more carries to keep him happy. Regardless, Ray Rice needs a solid blocker in front of him, and the Ravens must keep their eyes open when it comes to the backup running back and fullback market.

5) Find the next undrafted free agent star.

The Ravens scouting department has proven time and time again that you can find undrafted players who can contribute week in and week out. Every year, an undrafted free agent makes the team, and I would love to see who that guy is this year.

Mark Herzlich’s story has been well-documented, and he will be the most sought-after UFA in years. There will certainly be a bidding war for him, as most scouts see him as a 3-down player once he is given the opportunity. The Ravens would be wise to contact him, but Ravens fans shouldn’t get their hopes up for this former Boston College star.

Josh Bynes is a player I was high on going into the draft, and the Ravens would be wise to make him an offer. A high-motor guy who is also a tackling machine, Bynes would benefit from a training camp with Ray Lewis. This year, UFAs were particularly hurt by the lockout, as they have spent the past few months with no teams or playbooks. No matter, the Ravens know how to spot talent, and I can assure you that there will be one suiting up on week 1 against the Steelers.

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