Following the Super Bowl winning season with a disappointing 8-8 record and the first non-playoff season in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era, the Ravens circled the wagons and executed their organizational plans to upgrade the team—both short-term and long-term plans. This began with the signing of offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak. Kubiak has helped Harbaugh and the Ravens to establish a well-rounded, versatile, and multi-dimensional offensive system that today’s NFL teams need to implement for them to be successful. How successful that system matches the current personnel is a question that will be asked throughout training camp, preseason games, and throughout the first part of the regular season. However, with Kubiak on board, the offseason overhaul was underway.
True to their, the Ravens used the free agency period to execute the short-term plan of addressing their team needs. In this case, stabilizing and upgrading the offense were major needs. The stabilization came in the form of re-signing Dennis Pitta, Eugene Monroe, and Jacoby Jones (more on his role in a minute), and getting back a healthy Kelechi Osemele to steady the left guard position. Upgrades came in the form of center Jeremy Zuttah—a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 5th round 2015 pick—and free agent signings of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels.
Three re-signings (Pitta, Monroe, and J. Jones), a healthy return (Osemele), a trade (Zuttah), and two free agent signings (Steve Smith and Daniels) have changed the outlook of the offense.
Thanks to a cumulative six draft picks used (a fourth- and fifth-round pick in 2014 for Monroe, a second-round pick in 2012 for Osemele, a 2015 fifth-round pick for Zuttah, a third-round pick in 2007 for Yanda, and a fifth-round pick in 2007 for right tackle Rick Wagner) and $87.5 million in free agent signings ($37.5 million for Monroe, $32 million for Yanda, $18 million for Zuttah), the Ravens have made significant investments into the probable starters along the offensive line—can’t fault them for trying to upgrade the offensive line.
Below is a chart showing the transition among the Ravens’ starters on offense from Super Bowl XLVII to the probable starters in 2014.
If free agency brought stability to the offense, the draft was used to continue to rebuild a solid foundation on defense. At the onset, sitting and watching the 2014 draft was curious as the first two picks addressed no perceived needs, but were all business in forming a defensive foundation. There was no flash or sizzle in the picks, nor were their perceived needs reached for by the Ravens’ brain trust.
In the 2013 offseason, the Ravens stated that they wanted to get stronger up the middle. Gone were Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, replaced with a stop-gap in middle linebacker Daryl Smith, rookie first-round pick safety Matt Elam, rookie second-round pick Arthur Brown, and rookie defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Smith turned out to be more than a stopgap, Elam was miscast as a free safety, Brown struggled with injuries and from the cerebral aspect of the NFL game, while Williams struggled with injuries and making the jump from lower-level ball to the NFL. The talent was present last year; it just needed time to mature.
The 2014 draft continued the re-building process for the defense with four of the Ravens’ first five draft picks being used on the defensive side of the ball—middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, safety Terrence Brooks, and defensive end Brent Urban. Aside from edge player Urban, the selections continued the fortification of the defensive middle. Although, Urban may be that versatile lineman that can slide inside in certain pass-rushing scenarios.
The changeover on the defensive roster from Super Bowl XLVII is dramatic. Moreover, the projected 2015 roster is loaded with potential. The key for success will be for the coaching staff to develop the potential into experience and productivity.
The chart below shows the transition that the defense may take by 2015. Of course, much of this is subjective as salary cap issues (Suggs, Dumervil, and Webb) along with development could change the 2015 projected starters. But what is astounding is that 10 of 12 “starters” and/or major contributors will be drafted, homegrown players—players all drafted within the first four rounds of their respective drafts.
What makes the Ravens a first rate organization is that they do not overreact or unnecessarily bend to perceived circumstances. When conventional wisdom had the Ravens address the right tackle, safety, and wide receiver positions in the draft, the Ravens went defense because there was tremendous value in those picks. The Ravens re-worked the offense in free agency and continued to re-build the defense via the draft.
Both short-term and long-term plans were accomplished. Now, it is up to the coaches and players to turn potential into productivity.