When any sports season comes to an end, there's a natural inclination for fans to try to put a positive spin on their disappointment. I mean, why would you want to fixate on discouragement when it's so easy to toss out a platitude along the lines of "brighter days ahead" or "bigger things are coming" or "next year is FINALLY gonna be the Bengals' year?"
I noticed a lot of this after the
Ravens' season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers
in the playoffs Jan. 6. And I get it. It's much more palatable to tie a season up in a pleasant bow than to marinate in a crushing home loss that may have served to expose the scheme the franchise has used to invigorate their fan base as potentially being limited … or worse, maybe fraudulent?
Are brighter days truly ahead for the Ravens? Have they actually turned a proverbial corner that will allow them to push forward from a stretch that hasn't seen them win a single playoff game during the past four seasons? Or will this eight-game stretch merely prove to be an entertaining phenomenon that, as we've long discussed, was never sustainable enough that it should have been used as evidence for making long-term decisions?
These are rhetorical questions, of course. But their presence has always been real -- we've just pushed them aside so we could enjoy the ride in hopes of Festivus glory. Hey look, when I ate an entire tray's worth of leftover garlic jalapeno potatoes from my family's holiday gatherings last week, I sure as hell wasn't considering my caloric intake. Not only have I understood pushing off these conversations, I've actually endorsed it. It was
worth living in the moment with this team
But the moment is now gone. And these issues are real.
The first issue is the head coach, which couldn't be more convoluted. According to the team, they want John Harbaugh back long term. According to John Harbaugh, he wants to be back long term. But there's no agreement between the parties as of right now. The unknown is again the issue. When Harbaugh says he's going to be here "as long as they want me here," I can't fathom he's saying "at any cost."
Four NFL coaches -- Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, Jon Gruden and Sean Payton -- are all believed to be making more than $9 million per season on their current contracts. Presuming Harbaugh would be the most in-demand coach on the open market if he were to be available this offseason, he could presumably demand at least that much. Is owner Steve Bisciotti prepared to give Harbaugh a deal potentially in the neighborhood of six or seven years and $10-12 million per? Would you be? Particularly after watching his staff get drastically outcoached in the postseason defeat?
Some Ravens fans have suggested they're on board with Harbaugh's return but not offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's. Considering Harbaugh has been reticent to part ways with Mornhinweg in the past, what possible reason would we have to believe he's interested in doing so now, particularly at a time when he appears to have all of the leverage in the situation?
Whatever happens in the coaching department, the next issues seem to surround the future of the offense and the quarterback.
It certainly feels like we've known the answer to the sustainability thing for some time, but it was thrown in our faces so dramatically against the Chargers that you'd think it was thrown by cowardly Boston Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes. The Ravens' offense is going to have to evolve next season. That doesn't mean they shouldn't try to take advantage of the skill sets of their personnel, but giving good teams more time and tape to prepare for the predominant run attack is an equation that won't work for the Ravens.
The scheme topic ties hand-in-hand with the development of quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson had a bad day against the Chargers and has shown limitations, but he also only has a half-season worth of starts under his belt. He obviously must improve. Can he? It's certainly possible.
Look, I have real fear that the Ravens will have run their all-time greatest quarterback out of town in favor of a scheme and skill set combo that was always as untenable long term as it seemed and all they'll have to show for it is a single division title. (Or "Robert Griffin III Syndrome," if you will.) But Jackson is a talent. And unlike Griffin, he finished his first season healthy. We'll see where things go.
I'm not sure how much running this particular scheme will truly prove to help Jackson's long-term development. Simply seeing time on the field and adjusting to the speed of the pro game should prove to be beneficial, even if the Ravens need to break some of the tendencies (namely the one where he puts the ball on the turf) they've seen from him.
And then there's the roster as a whole. For as much as has been made about getting salary cap flexibility from letting Flacco go this offseason, the Ravens have decisions to make about other free agents and veteran players whose cap situations might not best fit the team -- including linebackers C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Patrick Onwuasor as well as safety Eric Weddle and cornerback Jimmy Smith. Onwuasor is a restricted free agent whose late-season play will necessitate an early-round tender and pay increase or a long-term deal.
And then there's the Ravens' annual search for solutions at wide receiver. To steal a line from the man who seemed to call just about every Ravens game down the stretch this season, that's "a tradition unlike any other."
The roster isn't that great already. If cap flexibility is truly coming, it's because they're creating other holes on the roster in the process. The Ravens didn't make their dramatic run because of an overwhelming abundance of talent -- they did it because of a little-used scheme that caught teams off guard. They created a glitch in the matrix.
So to recap, it's an unknown at head coach, an offense that needs to evolve, a quarterback who needs to develop and a roster that needs to improve. Are brighter days truly ahead? Is the best really yet to come?
Maybe. But maybe not. Still, this was a hell of a fun ride while it lasted this season.
Follow Glenn Clark on Twitter @GlennClarkRadio
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