Ravens may not contend for while

Baltimore Sun (TNS)

When the first month of the season was over and the Ravens had lost three of four games, there was still a belief that they might contend for a playoff spot, and if not, their problems could be fixed in one offseason.

Nearly two months later, any playoff aspirations are gone and it might take another two or three years to make the Ravens top contenders again. In one offseason, the Ravens could improve enough to go .500 in 2016 and join the long list of mediocre NFL teams.

They have a lot of holes, too many to fill in one offseason and become serious contenders.

One month into the season, the Ravens had lost star linebacker Terrell Suggs to a ruptured Achilles tendon. They had suffered back-to-back defeats out West to open the season and then lost to the Cincinnati Bengals at home before beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road.

A playoff bid was improbable, but not impossible.

But after watching the 35-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, it's clear that the Ravens have fallen way behind. The Ravens have suffered numerous injuries, but more than that separated the two teams.

The Seahawks had more team speed and played at a faster pace. They had a go-to receiver, pass rushers, a shutdown cornerback and a safety tandem that might be the best in the league.

The Ravens don't have any of those. Can the Ravens can fill those voids while also addressing a possible need at left tackle?

Sure, they can, but probably not in one offseason.

Key positions to fill: A great pass rusher, a top cornerback and a left tackle are prominent positions that are hard to fill not only because of the high skill level required, but the price tag.

In 2015, the Ravens have about $20 million in dead money against the salary cap and could face a similar situation if they decide to cut unproductive players such as left tackle Eugene Monroe, cornerback Lardarius Webb and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Or, they could just keep those three around for another season and see if they can get solid contributions. Either way, it's not a promising immediate future.

Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. said before the season he would retire after this year, then suffered the same injury as Suggs. Pitta didn't recover from a hip injury and might never play again, and the team's top draft pick, receiver Breshad Perriman, failed to play a down in 2015 because of a knee injury.

Monroe has been a disappointment and left guard Kelechi Osemele, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, most likely will sign a lucrative contract with another team.

On defense, it's hard to predict if Suggs will play at a high level again and inside linebacker Daryl Smith seems to have lost a step. Neither Webb nor Jimmy Smith emerged as shutdown corners and free-agent additions such as cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Kendrick Lewis made little impact.

Some perspective: So, let's put this in perspective. Regardless of where the Ravens pick in the draft, they will still have two unproven No. 1 picks in their 2016 selection and Perriman.

If they take a top pass rusher in the first round (please, please get one), then that fills one hole, but they probably can't afford to sign a good cornerback and left tackle in free agency.

The hope here is that Smith returns and so does Suggs and Pitta, but there are no guarantees that any of them, except maybe Smith, will play close to their highest levels again.

As soon as this season is over there will be changes, probably with assistant coaches. And there should be, especially in the secondary. In the past, the Ravens have proved to have one of the top front office staffs in the NFL, and there is no reason to believe this franchise won't rebound.

But there don't seem to be any overnight fixes. Two months ago it appeared a couple of wins would put the Ravens right back in the middle of the pack. Now, it might take two or three years to pass that pack.