PRESTON: Ten moves Ravens should make this offseason

The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
  • The Ravens need to sign nose tackle Brandon Williams to a long-term contract.
  • The Ravens should be prepared to trade up and draft an impact player, preferably a cornerback.
  • The Ravens should continue to hold quarterback Joe Flacco accountable.

The NFL free agency period opens in less than a month, and that's basically when the door opens for all teams to get better.

But behind the scenes, some teams have already made offers to their own free agents, and knowing Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, he has offered his customary low contracts.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is dealing with a sore back.

But the Ravens can't afford to be complacent. They were 8-8 last season and were in playoff contention until the final week, but they are still several players away from being a contender for the next Super Bowl.

With free agency set the start, here is a list of 10 things the Ravens need to accomplish before the start of training camp in July:

1. Sign nose tackle Brandon Williams to a long-term contract: Williams will get several lucrative offers if he hits the market. He was a key to the team's tough run defense last season and has gotten better at keeping his head up to locate rusher; he also improved as a pass rusher. He is the leader of the defensive front and one of the most well-liked players on the team. He is the team's top offseason priority.

2. Sign an established No. 1 receiver: Steve Smith has retired, and there is no one on the current roster to replace him. Plus, the Ravens have consistently struck out trying to develop receivers taken in the draft. They have had success signing veterans such as Anquan Boldin and Smith. If they can get a Terrelle Pryor, Alshon Jeffery or Pierre Garcon to go along with Mike Wallace, it's a group that could provide some spark, especially if the Ravens produce a strong running game.

3. Be prepared to trade up and draft an impact player: That player would preferably be a cornerback such as Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore or Florida's Teez Tabor. Unless a promising player falls to the Ravens at the No. 16 overall pick, they might as well go up and draft a player who can have immediate impact. If the Ravens had a shut-down cornerback last season they would have fared better against Dallas and might have beaten Pittsburgh in the rematch.

4. Cut veteran linebacker Elvis Dumervil: He commands a lot of respect from his teammates, but he isn't worth the $6 million he is scheduled to make this season. He played in only eight games last season, starting three, and has produced only nine sacks in the last two seasons. Once he's gone the Ravens have to find a replacement either through the draft or free agency.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil is due to make $6 million this season.

5. Resolve the tight end situation: That requires Dennis Pitta to take a reduction to his 2017 salary of $5.5 million. He is basically a part-time player because of his inability to block. The Ravens need to tell veteran Benjamin Watson that he has to play well in the preseason or he will be let go. If he stays, the Ravens actually have two tight ends that can block in Watson and Nick Boyle. Both Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore should compete for a fourth and final spot, even though neither has proven they can stay healthy.

6. Keep safety Lardarius Webb: During the first half of last season it appeared Webb would not return for the 2017 season, but he performed better in the second half. He showed speed again and became a team leader. The Ravens need to bring him back, but at a price cheaper than the $5.5 million he is expected to make this season. It would be a win-win situation for both sides. Webb gets to play another season and the Ravens get to have two proven safeties on the roster.

7. Get a real fullback: Kyle Juszczyk has developed well and is the type of overachieving player coach John Harbaugh likes on the roster, but he isn't a strong lead blocker. If the Ravens want to power up and play smashmouth football, they need a fullback of old like Sam Gash or Lorenzo Neal. Gash could also catch the ball out of the backfield.

8. Find a speedy running back: Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West are solid runners but have a similar style. The Ravens need a change-of-pace running back, a scat back who can deliver a home run anywhere on the field. They could use this type of player on third-down situations and hopefully get some mismatches in one-on-one coverage versus a linebacker.

9. Cut center Jeremy Zuttah: The same problems he had in Tampa Bay have occurred in Baltimore, where he can't handle big nose tackles. He's too small. The Ravens have to find a big center, certainly one bigger then John Urschel, Zuttah's top replacement last season. It's hard to run the ball when a team is getting so much penetration up the middle.

10. Continue to hold quarterback Joe Flacco accountable: The Ravens did so at the end of last season, and it has to carry over into 2017, with Flacco spending more time at the training facility and getting additional work with the young receivers. But that accountability has to go both ways. They need to provide Flacco with some better weapons and an improved offensive line compared to last season.