It's been just over two weeks since the Ravens won the Super Bowl, yet the pages to the calendar are being turned quickly as NFL teams begin releasing players in preparation for next season. The Ravens are no different, and with a number of key free agents, Ray Lewis retiring and a tight salary cap situation, tough decisions will have to be made in the coming months.
- With Ray Lewis retiring, the Ravens will save substantial money against the salary cap. However, Lewis might not be the only player retiring. Matt Birk could also retire as could Ed Reed, who says he wants to play a few more years but is known to change his mind. I expect Reed to return to the Ravens despite all of the talk that he will end up elsewhere. I just struggle to see the market for a 34-year old safety who can't tackle and gets banged up every other time he hits someone.
- Obviously, Joe Flacco's contract situation is the top priority. He is arguably the top NFL free agent this offseason even though there's no way he ever reaches free agency. I'm expecting the Ravens to reward Flacco for leading them to the Super Bowl with a six-year deal worth about $20 million annually. That contract will look cumbersome for a couple of years, but if he continues to play like he did in the postseason, will seem like a great deal a few years from now after other good quarterbacks sign new contracts.
- Cary Williams turned down a three-year, $15 million offer in the offseason, and despite recording a number of interceptions in 2012, is unlikely to see the Ravens go any higher. In fact, it's probably more likely they withdraw the offer altogether. Lardarius Webb's knee injury gives the team pause, but Corey Graham and Chykie Brown played well and there are still high hopes for Jimmy Smith.
- Paul Kruger went from a second-round disappointment into the team's top pass rusher this year with Terrell Suggs hobbled by the Achilles injury. Kruger could be looking at a big pay-day from another team, but prefers to return to Baltimore. The Ravens can't afford to throw tons of money at him, so it will likely come down to how much Kruger really wants to stay and how much less he is willing to settle for in his next contract to stay in Charm City.
- Dannell Ellerbe turned into the team's best linebacker this year and will be the team's top offseason priority outside of Joe Flacco's contract situation. Ellerbe is one of the top blitzing linebackers in the league and, with Lewis retiring, is a player the Ravens desperately want to keep.
- Bryant McKinnie took over at left tackle late in the season and proved to make a huge difference in the play of the offensive line. It's no secret that McKinnie's work ethic drives John Harbaugh crazy, but with the Ravens drafting No. 32 overall and no true left tackle on the roster, the team would be smart to bring back the veteran on a cheap one or two-year deal.
- Vonta Leach, Jacoby Jones, Anquan Boldin are all on the chopping block. It's hard to see Boldin getting released after such a monster performance in the playoffs, and he has already made it clear he will retire if that happens. The Ravens would be smart to give him an extension to ease this year's cap hit. Leach has been a huge part of the running game and even a threat as a receiver but only plays about 25 plays per game, making it tough to hold onto him. Jones made big plays at big moments as a receiver and kick returner, but it might be hard to hold onto him.