As the NFL offseason kicks off, there is much work to be done by the Baltimore Ravens.
Inevitably, there will be some turnover somewhere within the structure of the franchise -- the front office, the coaching staff, somewhere. The Ravens have contracts to restructure, offers to tender, draft prospects to scout, free agents to consider and so much more.
But before any of that can begin, there's a seriously pressing question that absolutely must be asked.
"Is Joe Flacco an elite quarterback?"
Wait. Sorry. That's definitely not it. In fact, that question should have been retired by everyone other than @PFTCommenter some time ago.
"Is John Harbaugh on the hot seat?" is the actual question. Actually, that's a little more vague than it needs to be. Let's try this instead.
"Is there any chance the Ravens would fire John Harbaugh at any point next season for on-field performance?"
I think that nails it.
Some of you are scoffing at the notion of John Harbaugh being fired. A much smaller group of you is thinking this is a fate that should have been met at the end of the 2015 season instead. There is also a group of you whose response is something along the lines of "why are we worried about what might happen after next season? The Ravens have bigger issues to deal with right now!"
That last sentiment has great significance to the tone of the team's offseason. You see, if owner Steve Bisciotti can consider any scenario where Harbaugh would be dismissed due to the team's on-field performance next season, the entire organization has an obligation to prioritize winning right now in every decision it makes.
(Quick side note: I do believe there is a scenario where Harbaugh could be fired due to on-field performance next season. I also believe that NFL precedent suggests that no matter how successful a coach has been in his career, back-to-back "clunkers" tends to equal a seat hotter than Nashville, Tenn., chicken. Now back to your regularly scheduled loudmouth-ery.)
Harbaugh has been far too good to (and for) this organization since 2008 to be dealt any lesser a hand.
This is not meant to suggest the Ravens regularly prioritize long-term success over short-term accomplishment. If we've learned anything about how they do their business, it's that they consider both equally with every decision they make. Individual decisions, however, can largely reflect greater concern for one or the other.
If another 5-11 season could lead to Harbaugh's demise as Ravens head coach, he doesn't deserve to watch the team spend its offseason making certain it stockpiles compensatory draft picks instead of pursuing the types of players who can vault Baltimore to the top of the AFC North.
But if the Ravens are committed to Harbaugh long term, no matter the on-field outcome in 2016, there's no reason to do anything other than continue business as usual. If the best player available at the sixth pick is a defensive lineman (say Oregon's DeForest Buckner) who could prove to be an exceptional player long term, the Ravens should 100 percent stay the course and nab him. Or even trade out of the pick altogether and stockpile more picks for 2017 if the math works out.
Of course, if the lack of top-notch offensive weapons and key difference-makers on the other side of the ball ends up leading to another hopeless December in Charm City, the Ravens have to stick to their guns and not fire the coach on New Year's Eve after telling everyone he's safe.
But when have the Ravens ever done something like that before?
If the same question was posed to me: "Would you fire John Harbaugh if the Ravens are poor on the field again next season?" my answer would likely be indirect. "Well, how bad are they? 6-10 and 1-15 are very different," or maybe, "Did they go through as many injuries as they did in 2015? That would affect my opinion."
That can't be the approach for the Ravens. Not with John Harbaugh. If the answer is that there is any scenario where they would consider pulling the plug due to on-field performance, they need to operate this entire offseason with that possibility in mind.
Oh. And get more good players. They should do that either way, I guess.