PRESTON: In 2018, Baltimore Ravens appear destined for another season of mediocrity
- The Baltimore Ravens are 40-40 over the past five years.
- The Ravens failed to make the NFL playoffs in four of those five years.
- The Ravens haven't made any major moves thus far in NFL free agency.
The Baltimore Ravens have made some moves in free agency, but not nearly enough.
They have maintained their usual Band-Aid approach and are content to allow general manager Ozzie Newsome make the major decisions in what can be described as his partial farewell tour.
Newsome will be replaced by Eric DeCosta at the end of the 2018 season, so if he wins and the Ravens go to the NFL postseason, then he will have had a good send-off.
And if not, then the Ravens will have a big makeover, which will include not only DeCosta coming in, but probably a new head coach and staff as well.
Team owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t purposely reveal his plans at his state-of-the-Ravens news conference weeks ago, but showed his hand when he supported often-criticized offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, declared that the Ravens didn’t need to draft a quarterback for declining Joe Flacco and said he thought about considering firing coach John Harbaugh at the end of last season.
Translation: You guys have one more year.
If Newsome’s contract had ended this past season, the Ravens would be undergoing a major face lift. Instead, it’s business as usual: right player, right price, and find some bargain-basement players.
Changes were needed: After five years of being average with a 40-40 record and failing to make the playoffs in four of those years, it would have been wise to make changes, but Newsome hanging around for one more season tied Bisciotti’s hands. He doesn’t like change, and he isn’t that bold.
If I were Bisciotti, I would have done the same thing. If you’re going to blow up a franchise, you do it once, not twice within a year.
Unfortunately, some of the early signs for 2018 aren’t positive. The Ravens missed the playoffs by just one game, but they played in possibly the worst division of the NFL and had the easiest second-half schedule of any team.
Signs of trouble: To show how many holes the Ravens had a year ago, just look at the number of their unrestricted free-agent starters who haven't been signed yet by other teams. Wide receivers Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Campanaro, tight end Benjamin Watson, running back Terrance West and right offensive tackle Austin Howard don’t have jobs.
Running back Danny Woodhead just retired, and so should safety Lardarius Webb.
Let’s move on to the coaches.
Remember when the Ravens were a prominent organization and opposing teams would try to sign their assistant coaches, especially on defense, as coordinators. The list goes back to Marvin Lewis and included Mike Nolan, Mike Smith, Jack Del Rio, Chuck Pagano and Rex Ryan.
That doesn’t happen anymore. That tells you something. It’s not just about the front office or the players, but the coaching as well. Bisciotti could have gone through this organization like Sherman through Atlanta.
Maybe he is being patient or simply showing loyalty to two longtime employees in Newsome and Harbaugh. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.
Familiar story: The game plan hasn’t changed, though. The Ravens agreed to contracts for two average wideouts in John Brown and Ryan Grant. Brown has outstanding speed but at this time it doesn’t matter. Breshad Perriman has speed. Patrick Johnson had speed.
They didn’t have any impact.
The four-year, $29 million deal for Grant didn’t work out because of a failed physical. The Ravens have been criticized around the league for terminating this deal because it came soon after news that the Oakland Raiders were going to cut receiver Michael Crabtree.
Crabtree and the Ravens agreed to a deal within days. The Ravens deserve the criticism because it was a public relations blunder (another one). But there is serious doubt about Newsome intentionally pulling the plug.
Newsome is a former great player. He still prides himself in being one of the guys and hangs around the players in the weight room. Team greats like Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden admire him for being straightforward, and it’s just hard envisioning him pulling a deal off the table at the last minute.
Now if a player had said Newsome lowballed him in the opening of negotiations or fought him for the last $10,000, that would be more like Newsome.
Crabtree a big addition: Getting Crabtree, though, was major. The Ravens now have a possession receiver who can make plays inside the red zone. He is a prima donna, but Crabtree has earned that right.
He’ll make the Ravens’ passing game stronger. And the return of guards Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda from season-ending injuries a year ago will have significant impact on the offense.
Defensively, there are no big changes here. The Ravens re-signed end Brent Urban and restructured the contract of tackle Brandon Williams to give them more cap space.
Now, maybe if they can add a safety who can cover and an inside linebacker to start opposite of C.J. Mosley, they might be on to something special. Those things won’t happen either.
Staying the same: The Ravens still haven’t publicly addressed the large quantity of injuries they have suffered the past couple of seasons and what the plan is to attack the problem.
When you look at this team’s body of work during the past five seasons, there hasn’t been a lot of change. Everything is basically the same.
Mediocrity appears to be the Ravens’ destiny again in 2018 because Newsome and Harbaugh have too many holes to cover up in a year.
They still don’t have the right players at the right prices.