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Time to get younger? Ravens face pressing, age-old decisions

The Baltimore Ravens' starters were the oldest in the NFL in 2016, and the team failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season.

Now is the time to get younger, right? Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti doesn't exactly follow that thinking.

"I don’t see age; I see accomplishments," he said.

Still, one has to wonder whether the Ravens' age is an issue when comparing them to the most accomplished teams this season.

Looking at the teams that played in this weekend's divisional round, here are the number of players older than 30 who started 10 or more games for them in 2016: the Seahawks (five), Texans (five), Cowboys (four), Falcons (four), Patriots (four), Steelers (three), Packers (three) and Chiefs (two).

The Ravens had a whopping 10 such players: quarterback Joe Flacco; linebackers Terrell Suggs and Albert McClellan; wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace; safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb; guard Marshal Yanda; center Jeremy Zuttah; and tight end Dennis Pitta. This doesn't include Elvis Dumervil, who only played half of the games after recovering from Achilles surgery, and tight end Benjamin Watson, who missed the entire season with an Achilles injury.

"I just don’t like that age question," Bisciotti said. "I don’t think it matters. I think that a lot of the teams, like New England, who goes out and supplements their thing with guys like Shea McClellin, it doesn’t make them a worse team with a 10-year guy versus a two-year guy. I just don’t know how valuable that is to focus on that. To me, it’s production.”

The Ravens' biggest decisions this offseason will be whether the older players are producing enough to warrant their high salary-cap numbers. Eight of Baltimore's nine highest-cap figures are players who are 30 or older and account for $77.95 million in cap space.

Of that group, Flacco, Yanda, Weddle, Suggs and McClellan are returning. There is more uncertainty with other older players:

WR Mike Wallace: His 1,017 receiving yards led the Ravens and his four touchdown catches were second on the team. So, why wouldn't he come back? Wallace represents the second-biggest cap savings ($5.75 million) on the team if released.

TE Dennis Pitta: Like Wallace, Pitta had a productive season with 86 catches, which were 14 more than anyone else on the team. But Pitta wasn't explosive (8.5 yards per catch) or much of a factor in the red zone (two touchdowns). Baltimore could approach him about reworking his contract.

TE Benjamin Watson: If Pitta isn't retained, what do the Ravens need more: an experienced tight end like Watson or his $3 million in cap savings?

FS Lardarius Webb: He started to look much more comfortable at his new position toward the end of the season. Still, his $7.5-million cap figure ranks No. 5 among all safeties in 2017. He is another candidate for a pay reduction.

C Jeremy Zuttah: It was commendable how Zuttah gutted out the season while playing with injuries. But it's looking like the Ravens will look to the draft for a center (or an athletic guard to convert to center) or go with John Urschel as a fallback plan. The Ravens can create $2.3 million of cap space by cutting Zuttah.

LB Elvis Dumervil: He led the Ravens in sacks in 2014 and 2015 before Achilles surgery sidelined him for eight games. Baltimore can gain $6 million in cap room -- the most on the team -- by parting ways with Dumervil.

"[Elvis] Dumervil had a rough go of it getting back on the field, so we’re going to have to project whether he can get back to what he is," Bisciotti said. "Certainly, we’re just as likely to move on from a 24-year-old as we are from Dumervil based on our assessment of their capability."

The Ravens do have talented young players on the roster. Linebacker C.J. Mosley reached the Pro Bowl for the second time in his first three seasons. The starting left side of the offensive line (Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis) will be second-year players. Tavon Young graded out as the fourth-best rookie cornerback last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman and running back Kenneth Dixon showed flashes in their first full seasons.

But Baltimore's most pressing questions right now revolve around its older players. The issue of age reminded Bisciotti of a question he was asked during his team's 2012 Super Bowl season.

"Ray [Lewis] was 36, I think, and Ed [Reed] was 33, and I said, ‘If I replace those two with 22-year-olds, that would pick up 20-something years," Bisciotti said. "Divided by 11 players on defense, and all of a sudden our defense would have gone from one of the oldest to one of the youngest. So, if anybody is in the mood to let Ray and Ed go, then we can become the youngest defense in the league.’ So I just don’t see that."