Ravens need to mend, add talent
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The first thing the Baltimore Ravens need do this offseason is get healthy.
Then, long before they approach the NFL draft in April with the sixth overall pick, they need to improve the roster.
An assortment of injuries, many to the team's most significant players, contributed heavily to Baltimore's first losing season since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008. By Thanksgiving, the Ravens were without starting quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith, center Jeremy Zuttah and left tackle Eugene Monroe.
And that was just the offense.
Yet, the Ravens know better than to blame their 5-11 finish entirely on a shortage of able bodies. Long before the parade to the training room began, Baltimore was coming up short in games decided in the closing minutes.
The first 0-3 start in team history was the result of three defeats by a total of 14 points. In the end, nine of Baltimore's 11 losses were by eight points or fewer.
"We need pieces, there's no question," Harbaugh said after the Ravens capped their dismal season Sunday with a 24-16 loss in Cincinnati.
Harbaugh received an indication of just how trying things would be when top draft pick Breshad Perriman hurt his knee on the first day of training camp. The speedy receiver never suited up.
Top pass rusher Terrell Suggs was lost with a torn Achilles tendon in the opener against Denver, and Baltimore subsequently missed the postseason for the second time in three years after five successive playoff appearances.
"Our foundation is good," Flacco said, "but we need to get better."
Some things to know about the Ravens as they prepare — sooner than they wanted — for 2016:
Quarterback quandary: Ever since Harbaugh arrived, he relied on Flacco as his starting quarterback. After Flacco went down on Nov. 22, Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett each started twice.
Flacco expects to be back in August, but there's no telling how quickly he can heal.
"I'm expecting I'll be ready to go," Flacco said. "I really have no idea, though."
Mallett has the inside track as No. 2, but much can happen between now and September.
Pivotal draft: he Ravens haven't entered a draft with a top-10 pick since 2003, when they nabbed Suggs with the 10th overall selection.
General manager Ozzie Newsome must come up with a similarly impactful choice in April when he looks to fill one of several significant holes.
If Eugene Monroe isn't invited back and Kelechi Osemele leaves via free agency, a left tackle would be a priority. But a defensive back and pass rusher are also needed.
Contract talks: Newsome will have a busy offseason. Not only must he decide whether to keep free agents such as Osemele, kicker Justin Tucker and linebacker Courtney Upshaw, but it's likely Newsome will approach Flacco about renegotiating the six-year, $120.6 million contract signed in March 2013.
Newsome has already gotten a jump on keeping Tucker, who missed only once from inside the 50 this season.
"My agent and (Newsome) have been talking on and off for the better part of a year, year-and-a-half," Tucker said. "I'm optimistic that something will get done."
Flacco's targets: Injuries to Smith and tight end Crockett Gillmore enabled Kamar Aiken and rookie Maxx Williams to step up in 2015. Aiken finished with 75 catches for 944 yards and Williams came on strong, amassing 13 of his 32 receptions in the final three games.
Smith has decided against retiring, and if Perriman can become an outside threat, Flacco should have plenty of options next season.
Coordinators safe: It appears offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Dean Pees will return in 2016.
Working with a variety of quarterbacks, a constantly changing offensive line and a shortage of big-play receivers, Trestman assembled the league's 14th-ranked offense despite running the ball a franchise-low 383 times.
The defense rebounded smartly after a shaky start.
"When you're struggling in an area of football like we were with our pass defense in the first half of the season, and then you turn it over and you become the best pass defense in the National Football League for the second half of the season, that's cause for optimism," Harbaugh said.