It was improbable. The Baltimore Ravens made another playoff run in 2008 based on a defense that used the art of suffocation (oh, and Ed Reed) and an offense that improved dramatically over the previous years. John Harbaugh was impressive as coach, putting a rookie quarterback out to toss the ball around and sticking with him through thick (17-29, 248 yards, 2 TDs in Week 9) and thin (11-28, 115 yards, 2 INTs in Week 15).
Now the team has to figure out what to do about a superstar in Ray Lewis, and how they should handle other important positional players (hello Mr. Stover) in order to return to (and move past) the AFC Championship game without their defensive coordinator.
Draft Picks: 1 (27), 2 (26), 3 (25), 4 (24), 5 (27), 6 (26), and 7 (25).
Free Agents: Sean Conover, DE (RFA), P.J. Daniels, RB (RFA), Sam Koch, P (RFA), Dawan Landry, S (RFA), Derrick Martin, CB (RFA), Marcus Maxwell, WR (RFA), Robert McCune, LB (RFA), Kyle Boller, QB (UFA), Todd Bouman, QB (UFA), Jason Brown, OL (UFA), Terrence Copper, WR (UFA), Corey Ivy, CB (UFA), Jim Leonhard, S (UFA), Ray Lewis, RB (UFA), Lorenzo Neal, FB (UFA), Bart Scott, LB (UFA), Chad Slaughter, OL (UFA), Matt Stover, K (UFA), and Daniel Wilcox, TE (UFA).
Cornerback -- With Chris McAlister already cut by the Ravens and Samari Rolle struggling to be the player he once was, the Ravens defense lacks a huge hole in one of its most important parts. Reed made these guys look better than they were last season but the bottom line is Rolle and Fabian Washington aren't going to cut it. Frank Walker and Ivy are the guys that are left, so shopping around might be their best bet.
Wide Receiver -- Derrick Mason lead the Ravens last season with 1,037 yards on 80 receptions, but the fact is he's 35 and was beat up towards the end of the season. With Mark Clayton as a reliable second option, the Ravens might find it time consuming to shop for a receiver that could help Mason take some plays off. The Cowboys would probably be happy to let Patrick Crayton or Miles Austin leave, and one of the two would give Flacco another option down the field. Also, with Todd Heap struggling, another reliable threat will be key for Baltimore.
Linebacker -- Face it, even if the Ravens keep Lewis (which might not happen), this unit is aging. The team franchised Terrell Suggs, but Scott is free to go and Lewis can't stay at the level he was at in '08 much longer. This group kept it together for a while but at some point you have to explore other options. If the Ravens could add one more young LB, it would give the guys some much needed youth on defense.
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Ted S. Warren, AP
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Bill Kostroun, AP
Paul Sakuma, AP
Ross D. Franklin, AP