Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has often stressed the value of continuity and stability in his organization. And while the franchise is expected to undergo massive changes over the coming offseason, the head coaching position will not be one of them, as the team announced Dec. 21 that head coach John Harbaugh will return next season.
"John Harbaugh will continue as our head coach for the 2019 season," the team said in a statement curiously released at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, "and he and we are working on an extension to his existing contract, which expires after the 2019 season."
Harbaugh's status has been a hot topic throughout the season, ever since Bisciotti revealed in January that he considered firing Harbaugh after last season when the Ravens finished 9-7 and failed to reach the playoffs for the third straight season.
Those comments led many to view this as a playoffs-or-else season for Harbaugh, who is completing his 11th season with the Ravens. He is the fifth-longest tenured coach in the league, and he has a Super Bowl title on his resume, but his teams are just 48-46, with one playoff appearance, since winning the Super Bowl after the 2012 season.
Speculation about Harbaugh's future grew after the Ravens stumbled into their bye week at 4-5 and losers of three straight. Since then, Harbaugh and the Ravens have revived their season, and it can be argued that Harbaugh has done some of the best coaching of his career during the past two months.
With veteran quarterback Joe Flacco sidelined by a hip injury, Harbaugh inserted dynamic dual-threat rookie Lamar Jackson into the starting lineup and totally overhauled the offense, moving from a pass-happy scheme to a run-first approach led by Jackson and undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards. The Ravens proceeded to win four of five games, with the only loss coming in overtime at AFC front-runner Kansas City.
Harbaugh, who has maintained strong support in the locker room, then made the difficult but decisive decision to keep Jackson entrenched as the starting quarterback even when Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP, was healthy again.
The Ravens (8-6) have two games left, beginning Dec. 22 at the AFC West-leading Los Angeles Chargers (11-3), and unless they win both, they are likely to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. But Bisciotti and the Ravens have moved to quash any speculation about Harbaugh with this announcement. It is widely believed that Harbaugh would have been one of the top candidates for other NFL openings if he were available.
Still, Harbaugh will return next season to lead a team facing massive organizational changes. Among them:
* General manager Ozzie Newsome will retire after the season, ceding his post to longtime assistant Eric DeCosta in a move that was announced in the spring;
* Now relegated to reserve status, Flacco is almost certain to be gone, as he carries a $26.5 million cap figure for next season. The Ravens will probably look to trade the veteran, and they will absorb $16 million in dead money in moving on from him;
* Linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, whose rookie deal is ending after four trips to the Pro Bowl in five seasons, top the list of pending free agents. Suggs, 36, who will tie Ray Lewis' franchise record for games played (228) with his appearance against the Chargers, has said he wants to continue playing. Mosley and the Ravens haven't worked out an extension, increasing the likelihood that he hits the free-agent market;
* Several key players are considered potential cap casualties (2019 cap figures per Spotrac in parentheses), including cornerback Jimmy Smith ($15.8M), wide receiver Michael Crabtree ($9.3M), Eric Weddle ($8.25M) and cornerback Brandon Carr ($7M). Granted, there are other considerations, such as dead money, and potential retirements, but some of the most familiar names on this roster won't be back next season.
* Leading receiver John Brown is a pending free agent after signing a one-year deal with the Ravens. His role has diminished significantly in the new-look offense led by Jackson, so it's questionable whether he would be open to re-signing with the Ravens.
There's no question there will be major changes throughout the Ravens organization next year, from the front office to the field, but the guy wearing the headset and the challenge flag won't be one of them.
This has been updated.
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