Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ravens Offseason Juggling Act Begins

I just had to take this opportunity to outline some of the turnover going on with the Ravens in the postseason, so please excuse the Free Kicks-esque format, it was necessary for organizational purposes. It seems that with the free-fall of Maryland basketball (and the accompanying questions about how the game has passed Gary Williams by) and the annual attempt to piece together a starting rotation on the Orioles (with so many cheap free agents, why haven’t we brought them in?), it is easy to forget that the Ravens have a good deal going on themselves, in the front office, the coaching staff, and on the field.

The Front Office
I sure hope George Kokinis has the same impact on the Cleveland Browns that Phil Savage did. For that matter, I hope his departure from the Ravens has the same impact Savage’s did. That is, very little. The Ravens have a long history of reloading in the front office, like the USC of pro football front offices. There are a lot of great groups, but so long as the Pete Carroll/Ozzie Newsome is there, they will succeed. Since Kokinis is in the division, I won’t wish him the best of luck, but I hope he is happy there in his 4-6 win seasons. Kokinis, as many of you know, has served for the last 6 years and has just been hired as the new General Manager of the Mangini-led Cleveland Browns. I don’t know much about Kokinis except that I hate it when division rivals get our front office people because they have an in-depth knowledge of our personnel and Eric Mangini is a perfect coach to make full use of it. I for one love the Mangini hiring for Browns fans; but I hate it for the Ravens. With any luck I will be wrong, and Mangini/Kokinis will turn out as bad a match as the feared Crennel/Savage duo.

The Coaching Staff
Speaking of Mangini, his former post as Jets head coach has been filled by beloved Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. The man deserved that top spot eventually, and he will have his team fired up like no other. The good news for Ravens fans is that Ryan likely will not be calling the defenses, so the best defensive coordinator in the league won’t ever have the scheme or quality of defense he had here in Baltimore. His replacement, Greg Mattison, is a safe choice. You knew it had to be a Harbaugh hire, and would have to be someone in-house with the unique defense and personnel on that side of the ball. Moreover, in order to persuade Lewis/Suggs/Scott to return you had to have someone at the top they would like and respect, and they have that in Mattison. I doubt he will be a great defensive coordinator in the traditional sense, or he would have been offered an NFL coordinator job earlier. He has only been in the league for one season, either for lack of interest or lack of production, but I don’t anticipate that will be a huge problem- he will take input from the veterans and if the group stays intact there may be a slight dropoff in the defense, but it may not be noticeable if the offense is able to hold onto the ball longer.

There is word that he wants to blitz more, and while I am not sure that is possible, I wouldn’t buy much into it anyway. I have seen a lot of coordinators hired, and I have never once heard any of them say they want to blitz less. They all say they want to be more aggressive, attack the quarterback, etc. Once they are in the booth and are worried about those short crossing routes, we see how committed they really are to sending the house.

The Team
Nothing yet, but it is coming. The move not to franchise Lewis was a good move; he is just not worth that much on the free agent market to merit it. Remember how tough it was to move Jason Taylor? And he was a defensive end (perennial position of need on many clubs) and reigning defensive player of the year! Ray just would not get that kind of money. Hopefully he knows it. I can’t see a scenario where they let Lewis go, not after what he has meant to this franchise. There isn’t even an Aaron Rodgers situation here that would merit pushing out the face of the franchise. Terrell Suggs has suggested that he, Bart Scott, and Ray should take hometown discounts to stay together, and Scott made similar remarks earlier in the season, noting that when players leave this scheme they tend to have less success with other clubs. I certainly hope they are genuine sentiments, but they will not settle for pennies on the dollar, and I don’t blame them. The Ravens will be in a real crunch this season, with Jim Leonhard and others also looking at other clubs. I doubt Leonhard will want to stay if he has a shot at losing his job to a healthy Dawan Landry, so Baltimore may have to pony up a respectable contract offer or make him some promises in order to keep him. This will be a dicey free agent market for the Ravens, and they won’t even have to look past Owings Mills to keep it interesting.

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