The Baltimore Ravens have some work to do this offseason and the boys up front need to focus on retaining players who can continue to make a difference on this roster. I think this team can easily make it back to where they were in 2012, but it all depends on how they work their contracts this offseason.
The Baltimore Ravens have a great defense and the guys on that unit MUST come back in order for this team to have a chance at making it back to the playoffs. However, the Ravens aren't exactly in for a spending spree in 2014. They are about 10 million dollars under the cap and there will have to be some restructuring done if they want to keep the players that made this defense great last year. The defense goes a long way. The Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks proved this by shutting down the legendary Broncos offense. If the Ravens wish to reclaim the AFC North throne, in-house defensive signings should be a high priority.
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The Baltimore Ravens Must Retain These Players
- D.J. Bryant - Linebacker - Bryant is a hometown guy and can be had for cheap. My prediction is that the Ravens will be thin at Linebacker this offseason, so they need to create as much padding as possible in that area. He is young and can learn a thing or two from the experienced veterans in this unit like Daryl Smith and Terrell Suggs.
- Daryl Smith - Linebacker - Smith is what you would consider as "over the hill" in NFL terms, but that hasn't slowed his performance. After being picked up in 2013 by the Ravens to fill the void left by Ray Lewis, he has done pretty well for himself in Baltimore. He made just over 1 million dollars in 2013 and I don't think his asking price is going to jump significantly this year. This move will give the team more security at the Inside Linebacker position for another year which is important for their success in 2014.
- James Ihedigbo - Safety - Ihedigbo, like Smith, isn't exactly a spring chicken, but he played well for the Baltimore defense last year and I think it would be good to pair him up with Matt Elam for another year. He isn't the answer for the long term but continuity is key for the defense so this signing makes sense. He made 620,000 last year so he shouldn't be expensive to bring back.
- Eugene Monroe - Tackle - The Ravens are going to bring back one of their Free Agent Tackles this offseason and his name is not Michael Oher. Monroe is deserving of the big contract he will command. This team really has no other option but to pay the man.
- Terrence Cody - Defensive Tackle - Re-signing Cody would provide much needed depth on the Defensive Line. The Ravens excel in the trenches and that can be attributed to how massive their D-Linemen are. Cody is 6'4" 340 pounds. He definitely has the size to plug up the middle and serve as an effective run-stopper.
- Dennis Pitta - Tight End - Dennis Pitta is a tough situation for the Baltimore Ravens. He had 669 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns in 2012 and helped the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Wrong. In 2013, Pitta was hit with the injury bug and had only 169 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. All of the Tight Ends on the 53 man roster are Free Agents this offseason, so the Ravens need to sign at least one of them to fill part of the hole. They might as well sign the best one on the roster and hope for the best.
- Tandon Doss - Wide Receiver - The Ravens are going to need a new return man. I have a feeling Jacoby Jones is going to be let go by this team because of how much money he will command. Doss is the perfect guy to take his place. He is young, fast, and has already proven as a good punt returner. However, Special Teams isn't the only area where he excels. He has also put up good numbers in the receiving category. While the receiving yards column is not spectacular, his yards per reception is what intrigues me. In 2012 he made 17.6 yards a catch and in 2013 he managed 16.1 yards a catch. Doss is a restricted free agent this offseason which makes him a candidate for the RFA franchise tag. He can be paid just over 1 million dollars to be retained for another year, which provides more time for his performance to be monitored.
- Josh Bynes - Linebacker - This is another move to provide depth to this defense. Bynes shouldn't cost a significant amount of money and can be serviceable in a backup linebacker role in 2014. The Ravens can boost his pay and have him come back for another year.
- Anthony Levine - Safety - This position is going to be a little thin going into the 2014 Free Agency period. There are a number of Safeties on the roster that will be entering Free Agency so it would be smart to re-sign someone who can make the most impact on this team in 2014 and let the rest walk. Levine played in every game for the Ravens in 2013 and he is still young at the age of 26. He is the best candidate to be retained at the Safety position after James Ihedigbo.
I believe all of these players can be difference makers in the 2014 season. The strong focus on defense in Free Agency will allow this team to focus on Offense early in the 2014 Draft. With these moves, the Baltimore Ravens could easily improve over the average 8-8 season they had in 2013.