AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

When Andre Johnson is likely released by the Houston Texans, the Baltimore Ravens should immediately show interest in the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. It's just a matter of whether the feeling would be mutual.

Johnson makes sense for the Ravens because of their need at wide receiver if Torrey Smith can't be re-signed and their successful history with aging receivers from Derrick Mason to Anquan Boldin to Steve Smith Sr. He would represent the first step in the Ravens' offseason makeover of the wide receiver position.

[+] EnlargeAndre Johnson
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThere are plenty of reasons to think Andre Johnson could fit in well with the Ravens' offense.
So, what are the chances Johnson eventually lands with the Ravens? The odds appear good but not great. There are plenty of reasons why you can envision Johnson catching touchdown passes from Joe Flacco, but there are going to be plenty of teams interested in a receiver who has caught at least 85 passes in six of the past seven seasons.

The Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots are potential suitors for Johnson, and like the Ravens, they can all offer him a shot at winning a Super Bowl. The Colts and Seahawks, both of whom currently have over $25 million in salary-cap space, can offer Johnson more money than the Ravens. And the Colts can offer him two opportunities a year at getting payback with the Texans because both teams are in the AFC South.

This is why the Ravens should be considered a candidate to get Johnson, although certainly not the favorite. The Ravens would have to go after Johnson with the same aggressiveness they showed last offseason with Steve Smith. But the Ravens don't have the cap room to outbid teams.

Johnson is the type of sizable receiver (6 feet 3, 230 pounds) that the Ravens and new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman needs. It would appear Johnson would be an ideal fit based on how Trestman used two big playmaking targets (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery) in Chicago.

And, unlike a receiver like Marshall (who could also become available), Johnson brings strong hands, toughness, leadership and consistency. Among players with 100 games played, Johnson's average of six catches per game is the highest in NFL history.

Johnson has shown signs of slowing down. His yards per catch has declined each of the past three seasons, and his 11 yards per catch last season was his lowest since 2005. He averaged 62.4 receiving yards per game last season, his least since 2005 and 25 yards less than his 2013 average.

But the Ravens are probably looking at Johnson to be their No. 1 receiver for at least 2015. Owner Steve Bisciotti said the Ravens won't extend themselves financially to keep Torrey Smith, and coach John Harbaugh hinted at reducing Steve Smith's role in 2015 to help him from wearing down during the season.

If the Ravens would get Johnson, it would solve the Ravens' problems only in the short term. The Ravens' top two receivers would be 34 and 36 years old when the season started, increasing the need to draft a receiver. Arizona State's Jaelen Strong and Ohio State's Devin Smith are first-round prospects who could fill Torrey Smith's role as the deep threat and develop into a starter by 2016.

The idea of lining up Johnson, Steve Smith and a playmaking rookie at wide receiver has to be enticing for Flacco and the Ravens. They just have to convince Johnson that his best fit is with the Ravens.
The Baltimore Ravens reportedly paid running back Ray Rice $1.588 million to settle their grievance, which wraps up the team's financial fallout from one of the most embarrassing chapters in franchise history.

Here is the final tally on the Ravens' cap and wallet since the team released Rice on Sept. 9:

Rice
Rice
Dead money: $14.25 million. The Ravens carried $4.75 million in dead money in 2014 and $9.5 million in 2015. That total hit accounted for 5 percent of the Ravens' salary cap in those two years. There are only four players who counted more against the cap in 2014 and 2015 combined (defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Lardarius Webb and guard Marshal Yanda), and Rice didn't play one snap for the team.

Jersey exchange: Estimated between $600,000 and $800,000. Team officials said they spent "six figures" in the Rice jersey exchange last September. Nearly 8,000 Rice jerseys were exchanged for those of other Ravens players.

Additional salary: $1.588 million. When the Ravens cut Rice, they knew the grim cap ramifications. The Ravens probably didn't expect to pay nearly half of Rice's salary for that season. As a result of the settlement, Rice collected $1.588 million from his grievance, or 44.9 percent of the $3.529 million he had been seeking. From a cap standpoint, the Ravens were charged $1.411 million in 2014 when Rice field his grievance and will receive a $177,000 cap charge in 2015.

What can't be counted is the toll this scandal took on the Ravens' reputation. In the end, the Ravens are probably lamenting that just as much as the millions lost.

"I think that we are a team and an organization that cares, obviously, about our reputation, and when it takes a hit, then you examine what you do," owner Steve Bisciotti said last month. "I think specifically if you go back to the Ray Rice thing, we certainly are more aware. We’ve been able to tap resources in the community that have furthered our knowledge, our sensitivity and our responsibility. And I do think that for the Ravens and then society in general, I think it is a positive, and it’s our obligation to turn that negative into a positive. I’m very encouraged that all we have to do is be aware and be sensitive, and we will do a job that Baltimore is proud of going forward.”
Injuries hit the Baltimore Ravens hard in 2014. All you have to do is take a look at the long list of names on injured reserve.

The Ravens have placed 19 players on IR, which was the seventh-most in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information's MC Barrett. The New York Giants led the NFL with 26 players on IR.

Injuries typically derail a team's season. In fact, only three of the eight teams that had 19 players or more on injured reserve made the playoffs in 2014 (the Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys).

[+] EnlargeJimmy Smith
AP Photo/Darron CummingsThe loss of Jimmy Smith to a season-ending foot injury impacted the Ravens' season more than any other Baltimore player who was placed on IR.
The Ravens' IR list includes four starters, three rookie draft picks and two long-snappers. Here is a look at those whose seasons ended early in 2014:

STARTERS

CB Asa Jackson (knee): He just can't stay healthy. Jackson suffered three injuries that sidelined him this season, which makes it hard for the Ravens to depend on him going forward. He does have potential as a No. 3 or No. 4 corner.

TE Dennis Pitta (hip): Two hip injuries have limited him to seven games in two seasons. The Ravens are still waiting to hear whether Pitta will play this season.

CB Jimmy Smith (foot): No injury hurt the Ravens more than this one. The Ravens allowed seven touchdown passes with Smith. They gave up 15 touchdown passes without Smith, their best player at their most vulnerable position.

OT Rick Wagner (foot): He was one of the bigger surprises of the season. In his first-year as a starter, Wagner was the second highest-graded right tackle by Pro Football Focus.

ROOKIE DRAFT PICKS

S Terrence Brooks (knee): The third-round pick had an up-and-down rookie season because it took longer than expected for him to learn the defense. Brooks never developed into a starter but he showed promise at times.

RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot): The fourth-round pick was underutilized this season, and the Ravens could've used him toward the end of the season when Justin Forsett wasn't as explosive. He ranked fourth among rookie running backs with a 4.2-yard per carry average.

DE Brent Urban (knee): The fourth-round pick had a shot at being the top backup to Chris Canty, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on July 30. He'll likely be among those competing for the starting defensive end job if Canty is a salary-cap casualty.

RESERVES

DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle): Claimed off waivers after the Bengals cut him, Bilukidi played a total of 47 snaps in four games before being put on IR.

LB Arthur Brown (hamstring): The team's second-round pick in 2013 has been slow to develop. Brown was only active for four games and didn't play a down on defense.

WR Jeremy Butler (shoulder): He's an undrafted rookie who stood out in the spring offseason workouts but faded in training camp. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has brought up his name a couple of times this offseason when talking about the team's depth at wide receiver.

LS Morgan Cox (knee): He's highly regarded by the organization, but his value actually increased after he suffered a season-ending ACL injury midway through the season. Cox's replacements, Kevin McDermott and Patrick Scales, both struggled at times, putting more emphasis on re-signing their long-snapper of the past five seasons.

CB Danny Gorrer (knee): He was signed midway through the season after being waived by the Detroit Lions. Gorrer was expected to upgrade the cornerback position but he lasted four games before suffering a season-ending injury.

CB Tramain Jacobs (hamstring): The Ravens promoted the undrafted rookie from the practice squad in Week 10 because he provided more upside than Chykie Brown. But Jacobs went down after three games.

DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles): An injury sidelined the former sixth-round pick for a second straight season. Lewis-Moore was placed on injured reserve during training camp after being earmarked as the top backup to Canty in 2014.

LS Kevin McDermott (elbow): He had some shaky moments in his seven games as the replacement for Cox. A high snap disrupted the timing of a field goal in Week 15, his last game with the Ravens.

G Will Rackley (concussion): He lasted only one week in Ravens' training camp in 2014 before getting sidelined the rest of the year with a concussion.

OT Jah Reid (hand): The former third-round pick played a career-low four games and 10 snaps in 2014.

TE Konrad Reuland (foot): He played 26 games for the New York Jets in 2012 and 2013, including three starts. Reuland was signed to the Ravens' practice squad in November but ended the season on IR.

CB Aaron Ross (Achilles): He spent most of the past two seasons on injured reserve. In 2014, Ross tore his Achilles' tendon during the Ravens' conditioning test for training camp and never played a game.
The most physically gifted wide receiver might be available when the Baltimore Ravens are on the clock in the first round. Dorial Green-Beckham, who has been described by some as the next Calvin Johnson, could slide down to the Ravens at the No. 26 pick.

There's just one problem: Green-Beckham was linked to domestic violence, a hot-button issue that for the past year has put the Ravens on the wrong side of the cause against the abuse of women.

Is the thought of Green-Beckham catching clutch touchdown passes from Joe Flacco too enticing to pass up? Or will the potential negative backlash preclude the Ravens from taking a chance on someone who could become the franchise's first bona fide No. 1 wide receiver?

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham, Tyler Patmon
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsDorial Green-Beckham caught 17 touchdown passes in two seasons at Missouri before being dismissed from the team.
How domestic violence influences the plans for NFL teams, especially the Ravens, is a major storyline in this year's draft. It's been 53 weeks since running back Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiancee (now his wife) in an Atlantic City elevator, and at the NFL combine on Wednesday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh talked about the heightened awareness of domestic violence in football.

"The takeaway for me personally, and I would say for really the league and the Ravens generally, is that this is a societal issue," Harbaugh said. "This is really important. We all learned a lot about it. It’s something that we need to take very seriously, not that we didn’t before. But when you learn more about something and realize the implications of it, we all have a chance -- the NFL especially, our team and our organization -- to get out in front of it and help. We did our best through the whole process, and we can do a lot better going forward because we know more now.”

There are other players in this draft with domestic violence allegations in their past -- Florida State running back Karlos Williams and Michigan defensive end Frank Clark -- whose stock will be hurt by character concerns. But no player will test each team's stance on this issue more than Green-Beckham.

He has all the tools to be a dominant NFL receiver. Given his outstanding combination of height, athleticism, straight-line speed and ball skills, he's the most talented pass-catcher in this year's draft.

Perhaps the only reason Beckham-Green will not be selected in the top 10 is because his skills on the field are matched by the red flags off it. He was arrested twice on marijuana charges and was kicked out of Missouri's football program amid accusations of assault against women.

Last April, an 18-year-old Missouri student told police that Green-Beckham forced his way into her apartment at 2:30 a.m. and pushed the woman down a set of stairs while looking for his girlfriend, the alleged victim's roommate. Police closed the case without an arrest, primarily because of reluctant witnesses who fear retaliation and harassment for bringing a criminal complaint.

Police also were investigating the incident for possible domestic abuse after the athlete's girlfriend said in one of the text messages to her injured friend that he dragged her from the apartment by the neck.

"All the decisions I made, I wish I could take it back," Green-Beckham told reporters at the combine Thursday. ''It happened. I was young. I made mistakes. I understand that. I know what’s at stake. I know what type of person I am. I understand what the NFL is looking for [from] me as a person.''

History has shown that talented but troubled receivers such as Randy Moss and Dez Bryant fell to the bottom half of the first round before immediately becoming Pro Bowl playmakers. But there have been other instances, such as with Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon, where past problems were a precursor to repeated offenses and suspensions.

The Ravens will do their typical legwork on the draft prospects, which includes a 15-minute meeting at the combine. Ravens scouts talk to coaches and trainers. They've even been known to interview secretaries and others inside college football programs to get a better handle on a player's character.

“I’d be hard-pressed to know how we can look at it any closer than what we have. I don’t know what closer would be, especially legally,” Harbaugh said. “There is only so much that you can do in terms of digging into people’s background and being respectful of privacy. I know we’ve always done a great job of that, learning as much as we can about the player."

There is a chance that Green-Beckham will be selected before the Ravens pick in the first round. If he is available, the Ravens have to weigh the risk of another Ray Rice scandal against the reward of landing a game-changer for their offense.
The Baltimore Ravens expect wide receiver Steve Smith to suit up for his 15th season in the NFL.

Smith
Smith, who turns 36 in May, expressed a desire to play in 2015 soon after the divisional playoff loss to the New England Patriots last month, but Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome wanted the five-time Pro Bowl player to take a few weeks before making a final decision.

At the NFL combine on Wednesday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Smith remains committed to playing this season.

"I talked to Steve last week, and he's excited," Harbaugh said. "He's planning on being back, and we're planning on having him back. That's a goal of ours. I don't see any reason why that wouldn't happen."

The return of Smith is critical to the Ravens' offense considering their situation at wide receiver. Steve Smith and Torrey Smith are the only two Ravens wide receivers who caught more than 25 passes last season, and Torrey Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 10.

Even though Steve Smith faded late in his first season with the Ravens, he still led the team with 79 receptions (30 more than any other Ravens player) and 1,065 yards receiving (nearly 300 more than any Ravens player). It was the most receiving yards in a single season by a player 35 or older since Rod Smith had 1,105 yards in 2005.

Now, the concern for the Ravens could be how Smith is spending his time lately. Harbaugh mentioned that he heard Smith was skiing, which isn't the safest offseason activity.

"We're going to have to talk to him about that," Harbaugh said with a smile. "That's a problem."
Gary Kubiak's admiration for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco remains the same even though he has changed teams.

Flacco
Asked at the NFL combine whether Flacco is elite, Kubiak said: "You bet he is. That's why I'm standing here today."

Kubiak was hired as the Denver Broncos head coach last month after one season as the offensive coordinator in Baltimore, where Flacco set career-highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27). The Ravens hired Marc Trestman to replace Kubiak.

"I really enjoyed working with him," Kubiak said of Flacco on Wednesday. "As talented a young man as I've ever coached and as good a person as I've ever coached."

The debate of whether Flacco is elite is a long-running one, and it often becomes heated because Flacco is spectacular in the postseason but just solid in the regular season. He has never thrown for 4,000 yards or 30 touchdowns in his seven NFL seasons. But since 2008, when Flacco was drafted in the first round by the Ravens, he leads the NFL in playoff victories with 10, which is three more than any other quarterback during that span.

In the postseason the last four years, Flacco has thrown 21 touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating of 107.5 over that time is the best of any quarterback who played more than three playoff games.

"I think we'll be talking about Joe for a long, long time," Kubiak said. "I really appreciated my time with him and I wish him the best."
ESPN polled 128 quarterbacks recently on several topics that ranged from the first time they threw a football to their family backgrounds. Kevin Seifert analyzed the trends of the survey in this insightful piece. As far as the Ravens go, Joe Flacco went against many of the trends while backup Tyrod Taylor fell in line with most of them. Here is how the Ravens quarterbacks answered the questions:

Taylor
Flacco
Age when they first threw the ball

In the survey, 79.5 percent of current quarterbacks first threw a ball between the ages of 1-5. Flacco was in the minority here because he didn't throw a football until he was 13. Only 2.7 percent of the current quarterbacks first threw the ball at 11 years of age or older. Taylor was like most current quarterbacks and first threw at age 5.

Attending camps

Instructional camps have become a big part of the recruiting process, which is why 61.6 percent of current quarterbacks acknowledged they attended them while growing up. Once again, Flacco didn't fall in line with his peers because he didn't go to any football camps. Taylor did. One similarity between Flacco and Taylor is neither spent any money on a personal quarterback trainer before college.

Family life

Both Ravens quarterbacks were raised in two-parent households. How important is that? Well, 89.8 percent of the current quarterbacks surveyed were raised in a similar setting. While you can't make sweeping generalizations about any particular family dynamic, you could surmise that two-parent households offer more support and stability. Another fascinating number is 67.7 percent of quarterbacks came from families with three or more children. Flacco is the oldest child with four brothers and two sisters. Taylor is an only child.

Scholarship offers

There's a huge disparity here between Flacco and Taylor, and the results might surprise you. Flacco, a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, was not as heavily recruited as Taylor, Flacco's backup for the past four seasons. Taylor was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and was rated as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback (one spot above Cam Newton). He received 60 to 80 scholarship offers out of high school. Flacco was a three-star prospect who ranked 39th among pro-style quarterbacks. Five schools offered a scholarship to Flacco.

When they knew

Based on the amount of interest Taylor drew coming out of high school, it's not a surprise that he was 17 years old when he knew he'd have a chance to play professionally. It took a little longer for Flacco. He said he was 23 when he knew he'd get an opportunity to play in the NFL, which just happened to be the age when he was drafted by the Ravens.

As you might recall, Flacco started his college career at the University of Pittsburgh before transferring to the University of Delaware to get more playing time. He was so pessimistic about his chances of playing in the NFL that he asked his college football coach about playing baseball after his junior year. Obviously, he made the right decision to stick with football.
One was an absolute wrecking ball on defense, consistently finding his way to the football. The other was eased into his team's offense before ultimately taking it over the second half of the season, and helping it earn a postseason berth.

But only one would be named the AFC North's Rookie of the Year.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesIn his rookie season, Ravens LB C.J. Mosley registered five or more tackles in every game.
That honor went to Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, who barely edged out Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill. From the five-person voting panel, Mosley received 12 overall points to Hill's 11. Mosley also had three first-place votes to the two that went to Hill.

Out of the pair, Hill is the only one up for the NFL's Rookie of the Year award that will be announced this weekend in Arizona. He's the only AFC North representative, contending with a group made up of all offensive players. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, receiver Mike Evans and receiver Sammy Watkins also are up for the honor. No defensive player has earned the award since 2010, when Ndamukong Suh received it.

Mosley was seemingly everywhere for the Ravens this season. He had 129 tackles, the eighth-highest total for any defender in the league. He also was part of a defense that ranked eighth in the league.

In addition to the 129 tackles, Mosley also had three sacks, two interceptions and forced and recovered a fumble. The Alabama product also had 19 tackles in the Ravens' two playoff games, including 10 in the divisional-round loss to the Patriots. In a Week 5 loss at Indianapolis, he had a season-high 14 stops.

Hill became a threat for the Bengals starting in Week 9 when he rushed for a season-high 154 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-23 win against the Jaguars. It was his 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that helped ice the win, and firmly put him in his fan base's consciousness. That week, and for the two after it, Hill started in place of Giovani Bernard. The third-year running back was resting after experiencing a series of injuries following hard hits in previous games.

Also during Bernard's absence, Hill rushed for 152 yards in a homecoming game at New Orleans. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native and LSU product went on to become the Bengals' top option at running back after Bernard returned. Across the final nine weeks of the season, Hill rushed for 929 yards, more than any other back in that stretch.

In addition to their Rookie of the Year award, ESPN.com's AFC North reporters voted on four other honors for the division (Coach of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player). We've been handing out the awards daily since Monday.

Mosley finished third in the division Defensive Player of the Year voting, and Hill finished third in Offensive Player of the Year voting.

AFC North Rookie of the Year: Mosley, 12 points; Hill, 11; Joel Bitonio, 8, Cleveland; Martavis Bryant, 1, Pittsburgh.

Panel of voters: Scott Brown, Jeremy Fowler, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon.
The announcement that the Baltimore Ravens will release nose tackle Terrence Cody brings up the 2010 draft, which will not be remembered fondly by a franchise known for making the right moves. Cody was among the misses by the Ravens in a draft that didn't produce many impact players.

Cody
The Ravens traded down in the first round that year when they should have found a way to trade up. Pro Bowl wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (No. 22) and Dez Bryant (No. 24) were selected just before the Ravens were on the clock at No. 25.

This was also the draft when the Ravens didn't have tight end Rob Gronkowski on their draft board because of medical concerns. Gronkowski has turned into a three-time Pro Bowl player who has scored 54 touchdowns in five seasons.

The Ravens ultimately traded out of the first round, getting picks in the second, third and fourth rounds from the Denver Broncos, who chose quarterback Tim Tebow at No. 25 overall. That allowed the Ravens to regain some picks after they sent their original third- and fourth-round picks to Arizona for wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

There is only one player who remains from that 2010 draft, and it's unknown whether tight end Dennis Pitta will play after hip surgeries two straight years.

Here is a look at the Ravens' selections in the 2010 draft:

Second round: LB Sergio Kindle. The Ravens gambled on a prospect with several red flags and lost. Kindle fractured his skull when falling down a couple flights of stairs before his first training camp, and played a total of three games in his disappointing career. All he has to show for his NFL career was one tackle and one drunken-driving arrest.

Second round: Cody. He was supposed to be the long-term replacement for Kelly Gregg, and he only managed one season as a full-time starter. Cody struggled with his weight early in his Ravens career and injuries toward the end of it. He played one game in 2014 before being released.

Third round: TE Ed Dickson. He looked like a rising prospect in 2011 when he broke out with 54 catches and five touchdowns. But a lack of confidence and unreliable hands led to 46 catches in his final two seasons with the Ravens. Dickson signed with Carolina last offseason as a free agent.

Fourth round: TE Dennis Pitta. He became one of Joe Flacco's most trusted targets in the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl season, when he set career-highs in catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdowns (seven). Since then, he's been limited to seven games in two seasons because of hip injuries. The Ravens expect an update on Pitta's status for 2015 in a few weeks.

Fifth round: WR David Reed. It looked like Reed was going to be an electric returner after leading the NFL in kickoff returns (29.3) as a rookie. But fumbles and injures derailed his career with the Ravens. He was traded during the summer of 2013 to the Indianapolis Colts, and he spent the 2014 training camp with the San Francisco 49ers before being released prior to the start of the regular season.

Fifth round: DT Arthur Jones. This is one of the Ravens' late-round success stories. Injuries in college caused Jones to fall in the draft, and the Ravens landed a two-year starter. He was arguably the Ravens' best defensive lineman in 2013, which priced him out of the Ravens' range. Jones signed a five-year, $32 million contract ($16 million guaranteed) with the Colts last offseason.

Sixth round: OT Ramon Harewood. He spent his first two seasons on injured reserve before starting five games at guard in 2012. A year later, Harewood was cut by the Ravens after struggling with knee problems in training camp. He's had several tryouts but he hasn't been on an NFL roster since getting cut by the Denver Broncos in June 2014.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh's tone regarding tight end Dennis Pitta seemingly went from cautiously optimistic to just being cautious.

Pitta, who has suffered serious hip injuries in each of the past two seasons, saw a couple of specialists last week, and Harbaugh said he couldn't give any updates right now.

Pitta
"I did get kind of an overview of that report from our trainer that I wouldn’t really want to share until Dennis has had a chance to kind of consider all of the ramifications of it," Harbaugh said. "But I think we’ll have something on that in a couple of weeks, kind of on Dennis’ time frame. We’ll see where that goes.”

Harbaugh indicated in early December that he expects Pitta to make a full recovery, and he said at the end of the season that he was "cautiously optimistic" about his return in 2015.

The Ravens are financially committed to Pitta even if he can't play in 2015. Pitta's $4 million salary is guaranteed unless he chooses to retire, so the Ravens will keep him around whether he's playing or on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve.

Pitta, 29, became one of Joe Flacco's most trusted targets in 2012, when he set career-highs in catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdowns (seven). Since then, he's been limited to seven games in two seasons because of hip injuries.

Other than Pitta, the only Ravens tight end currently under contract who played for the team last season is rookie third-round pick Crockett Gillmore. Owen Daniels, who finished third on the Ravens with 48 catches for 527 yards, is an unrestricted free agent.

Phillip Supernaw, who played six games, is an exclusive-rights free agent and can be retained if the Ravens tender him a contract. The Ravens also signed two tight ends to future-reserve deals this offseason: Allen Reisner and Konrad Reuland.
On the day Joe Flacco declined his first invitation to a Pro Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback celebrated the birth of his third child.

Flacco
Flacco's wife, Dana, gave birth to their third son, Francis Michael, on Tuesday night. He weighs 9 pounds, 7 ounces.

"He had to decide [between] Dana or the Pro Bowl," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We can all agree he made the right choice, right?"

An alternate to the Pro Bowl, Flacco was offered a spot as an injury replacement for Aaron Rodgers. The Cincinnati Bengals' QB Andy Dalton went after Flacco passed.

Flacco's first child, 2-year-old Stephen, was born during the middle of the team's mandatory minicamp in June 2012. He was excused from participating in it.

His second son, Daniel, was born an hour before kickoff of the Ravens' 2013 home opener against the Browns. Flacco missed the birth, throwing for 211 yards and one touchdown in a 14-6 win.

So, how many children would Flacco like to have?

"I'd be satisfied with five," Flacco said in November, giving a number that would match his No. 5 jersey. "Kids are a lot of fun. It would be cooler to have more, but if we got to five and that was it, I'd be cool with that. I'm satisfied now, but I want as many as I could have."
Less than an hour after the news broke that Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was taking the Denver Broncos' head coaching job, the two most popular options to replace him were gone.

Rick Dennison, the Ravens' quarterbacks coach, decided to follow Kubiak to Denver, and Kyle Shanahan, a finalist for the Ravens' coordinator job last offseason, reportedly will become the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.

So, where does that leave the Ravens? With plenty of choices.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh can go in many different directions when choosing his fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Let's sort out some potential candidates:

Hot name

Gase
Adam Gase, ex-Broncos offensive coordinator: He is the early front-runner because of his success. The Broncos scored an NFL-best 1,088 points (34 points per game) in his two years of calling the plays. Some will question how much control Gase had when quarterback Peyton Manning is signaling audibles at the line. Gase, 36, has drawn interest as a head coach, interviewing with four teams (he nearly got the San Francisco 49ers job). His strength is adapting the offense to his players. He helped reconfigure the Broncos' offense to a read-option one for Tim Tebow in 2011, then retooled it for Manning a year later. It doesn't hurt that Gase worked with Nick Saban, who has a good relationship with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, and also crossed paths with Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. The hiring of Gase could benefit the Ravens in free agency if they have their sights on a couple of Broncos playmakers -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas. The Chicago Bears are also interested in Gase to be their offensive coordinator.

Most experienced options

Forte
Trestman
Marc Trestman, ex-Chicago Bears head coach: Nicknamed the "quarterback whisperer" for his success at developing passers, Trestman has been an offensive coordinator for four NFL teams: the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, and Oakland Raiders. Though it didn't work out with Jay Cutler, Trestman helped the Bears become the NFL's second-highest scoring team in 2013 with Josh McCown at quarterback. Trestman, 59, is known for his wide-open offenses with a lot of shotgun formations. He will get a strong recommendation from Jim Harbaugh, who said Trestman "taught me everything" when they were with the Oakland Raiders' staff 12 years ago. Trestman had been touted as the leading offensive coordinator candidate in Oakland, but it looks like the Raiders are now leaning toward Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.

Greg Knapp, Broncos quarterbacks coach: He has had five stints as an offensive coordinator: the 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Raiders (twice) and Seattle Seahawks. Knapp, 51, did serve two years as the quarterbacks coach for the Houston Texans (2010-11), so he is familiar with Kubiak's style of offense. He's also committed to running the ball, which is a big emphasis with John Harbaugh. In his three seasons with the Falcons (2004-06), Atlanta led the NFL in rushing, although a large chunk came from the scrambling of quarterback Michael Vick. There is a chance Knapp will remain with the Broncos because of his history with Kubiak.

Thoose with ties to John Harbaugh

Marty Mornhinweg, ex-New York Jets offensive coordinator: He spent five seasons with Harbaugh on the Eagles' staff (2003-07). It didn't end well for Mornhinweg in New York, where there was reported friction with Rex Ryan and the Jets finished 28th in scoring (17.7). Before the struggles in New York, he built an impressive resume with the Eagles, who finished in the top 10 in total offense in five of his seven seasons as the primary play-caller. Mornhinweg, 52, was also offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and the head coach for the Detroit Lions. Even if Harbaugh doesn't hire Mornhinweg to be coordinator, it wouldn't be surprising if he joined the coaching staff.

Jim Hostler, ex-Buffalo Bills senior offensive assistant: He was a finalist for the Ravens' offensive coordinator job last offseason before Kubiak entered the picture late. Hostler, 49, then left the Ravens after six years of being their wide receivers coach to join the Bills. He spent one season as a coordinator in the NFL, calling the plays for the 49ers in 2007. The Ravens might not consider Hostler because it would look like a step backward, going with the runner-up to Kubiak a year later. But Hostler has a good reputation in the Ravens' building.

Other possible candidates include: Nathaniel Hackett (ex-Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator), Greg Olson (ex-Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator), and Rob Chudzinski (Indianapolis Colts special assistant).
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- All it took was a promotion, a trade, some recovery time and a new offensive coordinator.

That's how the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line went from being the team's biggest weakness in 2013 to a major strength a year later. No other group improved more on the Ravens this season, and it's possible no group improved more throughout the entire league.

According to the Pro Football Focus rankings, the Ravens' offensive line jumped 20 spots to No. 3 in the NFL this season. Only the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles ranked higher than the Ravens.

So, how did the Ravens drastically improve in such a short time? They chose to let disappointing first-round pick Michael Oher leave in free agency and promoted Rick Wagner to his spot at right tackle. They traded for Jeremy Zuttah to replace struggling center Gino Gradkowski. They had guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele rebound from injuries and dominate up front. And they thrived in their first season with Gary Kubiak's stretch zone-blocking schemes.

The best news for the Ravens is they return their top seven offensive linemen for next season.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Steve NesiusA vastly improved offensive line kept the pressure off Joe Flacco -- he was sacked a career-low 19 times.
“The future is really great for our offensive line," coach John Harbaugh said. "When we first came in here in 2008, we said, ‘You start in the trenches.’ A team is built from the trenches out, and we were pretty strong in the trenches this year. That’s the foundation of our team."

The Ravens' line was key in helping Justin Forsett go from a journeyman running back to the No. 5 rusher in the league. The Ravens averaged 3.1 yards before contact, which was third-best in the NFL. That shows how much push the Ravens' blockers got off the line and how big the running lanes were.

The Ravens' pass protection played a big role in quarterback Joe Flacco having a career year. He was sacked a career-low 19 times -- an amazing number considering Flacco had never been sacked fewer than 31 times in his previous six seasons.

"Once you start playing at a certain level and your coaches develop an expectation, you have to be able to maintain that and be consistent," guard Kelechi Osemele said. "I feel like that was not only for me, but as far as the guys playing to my right and to my left, I think we all expect each other to play at a high level and do what you need to do to be healthy week to week. We just fight for each other. If one of us is having a bad game and we’re not playing as well as we should be playing, I feel like we have the type of men that aren’t afraid to hold each other accountable, and that’s what you need to be successful.”

There is room for improvement for the Ravens' line. Left tackle Eugene Monroe missed five games because of injuries, and he didn't live up to the Ravens' five-year, $37.5 million investment in him. Zuttah was an upgrade over Gradkowski, but he had trouble at the point of attack, especially in that playoff game at Pittsburgh.

The Ravens excelled this past season because of Wagner quietly becoming a stabilizing force on the right side and Yanda and Osemele pushing defenders around on the interior of the line. The Ravens also relied on a couple of rookies, tackle James Hurst and guard John Urschel, to fill in for injured starters.

The continuity in the offensive line is a strength going into next season. If Wagner (foot) can recover in time to start the season, the Ravens would have the same starting offensive line in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2003-04.

"It’s pretty evident. I think if we maintain the same guys in the room, the sky is the limit," Monroe said. "You can watch the film -- we’ve been the most physical line in the league, hands down, and that’s only going to get better."
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The 2014 season will be remembered as one of the most satisfying and scandalous seasons in Baltimore Ravens history.

It began with the Ray Rice incident, which rocked the Ravens and the NFL. It ended with the Ravens celebrating their first playoff win against the Pittsburgh Steelers and coming up a few plays short in New England in an AFC divisional playoff game.

In between, the Ravens overcame numerous injuries (19 players placed on injured reserve) and a four-game suspension to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to record double-digit wins for the fourth time in five seasons.

The Ravens did get some luck along the way, too. To reach the playoffs, Baltimore had to beat only one team that finished with a winning record. The Ravens also needed Kansas City to beat San Diego in the final week of the regular season to avoid a second straight season of missing the postseason.

Still, considering the number of distractions, it's remarkable that the Ravens came within one defensive stop of reaching the AFC Championship Game.

"I couldn't be more proud of this team and be in there with that group of guys," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think you very quickly reflect when you get back in there and you realize that this season has come to an end. I think we fought all year and came together a bunch and did a lot of great things. We are not going to be there in the end, but you know, we will be back."

Team MVP: Running back Justin Forsett. No one expected Forsett to start this season, much less become the key to the Ravens' returning to the playoffs. The abrupt release of Rice and the struggles of Bernard Pierce provided an opening for Forsett, who doubled his previous career high and finished as the NFL's No. 5 rusher. A journeyman on his fourth team in four seasons, Forsett proved to be the perfect fit in the team's new stretch zone-blocking scheme with his patience and vision. He delivered 20-yard runs on what seemed like a weekly basis, and his 5.4 yards per carry topped NFL running backs. How valuable was Forsett? In the regular season, the Ravens were 6-1 when he gained over 70 yards rushing.

Best moment: In the regular season, it was Flacco becoming the fastest quarterback to throw five touchdowns in a game since the 1970 merger. He shredded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' secondary in Week 6, recording all five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes, 3 seconds of the game -- more than doubling the next-quickest time. In the playoffs, the Ravens accomplished something they've never done before -- beat the Steelers in the postseason. It took two touchdown passes from Flacco and a between-the-knees interception by linebacker Terrell Suggs for the Ravens to knock off Pittsburgh in the wild-card round. In many ways, this was the Ravens' personal Super Bowl.

Worst moment: It was unquestionably Rice's domestic violence case. Was there a worse moment in the NFL this year? After months of publicly supporting the running back -- from owner Steve Bisciotti to general manager Ozzie Newsome to coach John Harbaugh -- the Ravens quickly cut ties with Rice in Week 2 after the in-elevator video of him knocking out his then-fiancée went viral. The Ravens and the NFL were in the national spotlight for their mishandling of the incident. The team did its best to distance itself from the No. 2 rusher in franchise history, going as far as holding a jersey exchange at its stadium. Still, the Rice scandal hovered over the Ravens throughout the season.

2015 outlook: The Ravens are in a much better position than they were at this time last year. Flacco enjoyed a career season, the running game rebounded and the pass rush caused teams to fear the Ravens' defense once again. The Ravens need to address three free-agent starters on offense (Forsett, wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Owen Daniels), but the priority is to fix a depleted secondary that proved to be the team's downfall in the playoffs. If the Ravens can bring in playmakers to the defensive backfield, they would have a legitimate shot at winning another Super Bowl.

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