What Are The Ravens' Top 10 Offseason Stories?
SUGGS' INJURY, GRUBBS' DEPARTURE TOP LIST
By Joe Platania
For a team that has made the playoffs for four consecutive seasons and eight of the last 12, the Ravens have had a surprising offseason, one cloaked mainly in negativity.
From key injuries to free-agent losses to contract holdouts to on-and-off vacillations about certain players wanting to play at all, the Ravens could be perceived as suffering a hangover from a tantalizingly close AFC Championship Game loss in New England.
But then again, the vagaries that plague every team in the parity-filled salary-cap era often have them teetering on the fence, poised on that razor-thin edge between contention and oblivion. That's why there have been at least five new teams making the playoffs during each of the last 16 seasons.
But the Ravens have unfinished business to take care of with a generation of players that may be on their last legs. There seems to be a sense of frustration that more hasn't been done with the many postseason opportunities the team has had during the past decade.
With the coming season featuring the fourth-toughest schedule in the league and gaping holes at key positions, this offseason's disturbing developments have fans more worried than ever that a step back, rather than a forward canter into the Super Bowl, could be in the offing.
It will take time to discern whether that feeling is prescient or paranoid. For now, here are the top 10 developments of the Ravens' offseason:
10. It was a little-noticed transaction, but a welcome one for frustrated Ravens fans: wideout Lee Evans, who couldn't hang on to a well-thrown end-zone pass late during the AFC title game in New England, signed with Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent. Evans had a mostly successful tenure as a Buffalo Bills first-round pick in 2004, but he is a mere footnote in Ravens history.
9. Speaking of the loss to the Patriots, Billy Cundiff's 32-yard miss on a kick that would have sent the game into overtime capped a 10-miss season, a team record. As a result, the Ravens signed former University of Texas kicker Justin Tucker for the spring practice season and saw that he had a stronger and more consistent leg than Cundiff. The competition will continue during training camp.
8. When the free-agent signing period began, a paucity of cap room forced the Ravens to the sidelines. But they sprung into action March 23, bolstering their special-teams units with ex-Arizona safety Sean Considine and former Chicago Bears standout Corey Graham. They also inked two of their own inside linebackers in Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jameel McClain.
7. Former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who helmed the Patriots' unit during its near-unbeaten 2007 campaign, was elevated to the same job in Baltimore after serving as linebackers coach. Pees took over for Chuck Pagano, who held the coordinator's job for just one season before leaving to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
6. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who did an adequate job last season as a stopgap despite a glaring lack of footwork in picking up edge rushers, showed up to the team headquarters with the kind of weight issues that have hamstrung his career at previous junctures. As a result, he did not even get on the field during the mandatory minicamp, and a further re-jiggering of a troubled offensive line (see No. 2, below) could become necessary.
5. When veteran running back Ricky Williams unexpectedly retired early during the offseason -- with one year left on his contract -- it left the Ravens without the change-of-pace workhorse they could throw at defenders already tired from chasing Ray Rice. As a result, the team could rely on little-used backup Anthony Allen, third-round draft choice Bernard Pierce or an unexpected un-retirement by Williams.
4. With Rice having played through his rookie contract and quarterback Joe Flacco one year away from doing the same, the Ravens -- devoid of consistent offensive threats like these through most of their history -- are trying to lock up both players to long-term deals. If Rice doesn't sign a long-term deal by July 16, he could hit the open market again next spring, making it tough to slap the franchise tag on Flacco if he doesn't also come to an agreement.
3. Free safety Ed Reed's mercurial nature has shown up during previous offseasons, but it outdid itself this year. Not long after saying he could play "four or five" more seasons, Reed indicated that he wasn't 100 percent committed to the 2012 season. He was one of several veterans that didn't show up to organized team activity practices or the mandatory minicamp, but teammate Ray Lewis said he was still confident that Reed would be ready to go by the start of training camp.
2. Starting left guard Ben Grubbs, the first Raven at that position to make the Pro Bowl in team history, departed for the New Orleans Saints as an unrestricted free agent. The question of who will replace him has been one of the biggest uncertainties of the last few months, with a slew of question-laden candidates.
1. This one isn't even close: the discovery that during NFL Draft weekend, weak-side linebacker Terrell Suggs had suffered at least a partial right Achilles tendon tear, one that could idle him for at least half the season. A mini-controversy erupted about whether he incurred the injury playing basketball, but the Ravens organization outwardly indicated that it didn't matter. Suggs has appeared adamant that he would return in November, but that forecast appears optimistic.
- managing to draft Alabama pass-rusher extraordinaire Courtney Upshaw during the second round
- the free-agent departures of safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, as well as defensive end Cory Redding and linebacker Jarret Johnson
- the retirements of Ravens all-time leading receiver Derrick Mason and locally born cornerback Domonique Foxworth
- defensive tackle Haloti Ngata makes the top 10 on the NFL Network's active-players list
- cornerback Lardarius Webb signs a six-year contract extension
- Ravens assigned a schedule that opens with their first home Monday-night home game in five years
Posted June 26, 2012