OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, and changes need to be made.
Just not at head coach.
The Ravens' best decision this offseason would be to keep John Harbaugh. Baltimore was within inches and seconds of being in control of the AFC North, and the Ravens had the potential to make a deep run in the playoffs given the quarterback injuries with the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins.
Detractors will point to Harbaugh's 31-32 record since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, and that mark will certainly make his seat toasty heading into the 2017 season. But owner Steve Bisciotti, who said in the past that he wanted his franchise to model the Steelers, only has to look at his division rival once again.
Mike Tomlin failed to make the playoffs in three of five seasons after winning the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh stuck with Tomlin, and now the Steelers are in the postseason for the third straight season.
Let's not forget that Harbaugh is still considered a top-10 coach in this league. He has more playoff wins than Mike McCarthy and Pete Carroll. He has a better career winning percentage than Andy Reid and Ron Rivera.
Harbaugh has to take some blame for the Ravens not making the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 2004-05. There were some trying times this month, from Baltimore looking unprepared early at New England to nearly losing to Philadelphia Eagles because of the "all-time worst call ever."
Bisciotti attended two practices last week, which is something he rarely does during the regular season. If how the Ravens played at Pittsburgh is any indication, he had to be pleased with what he saw. Baltimore showed toughness and fight in nearly upsetting the Steelers on Sunday.
The Ravens aren't unraveling like the New York Jets, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams (who've already made a coaching change). As Harbaugh put it after the narrow loss to the Steelers, that showed the Ravens "are very close to being a very good football team."
Harbaugh needs help from his front office, especially with the higher draft picks. The Ravens whiffed on the first two picks in the 2013 draft (safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown), haven't gotten the expected production out of the first two picks in the 2015 draft (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams) and didn't get immediate impact from the second- and third-round picks from this year's draft (linebacker Kamalei Correa and injured defensive end Bronson Kaufusi).
The Ravens should be battling the Steelers for the AFC North title once again next season if they keep Harbaugh and make changes elsewhere.
On offense, Harbaugh needs to find a strong coordinator like Gary Kubiak, who had quarterback Joe Flacco looking his best since the Super Bowl. Harbaugh's challenge is recruiting a proven coordinator when there's a perception that he's on the hot seat. The top candidates might not be inclined to go some place where it could be a one-year proposition.
On defense, the Ravens have to get more young playmakers that can make a difference in passing situations. Baltimore can elevate this highly-rated group by bringing in a pass rusher (to likely replace Elvis Dumervil, who represents $6 million in cap savings if cut) and a cornerback to pair with Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young.
The Ravens struggled to a 5-11 record in 2015 after a terrible run of injuries. Baltimore improved to 8-7 this season and came one tackle away from closing in on a division title. If the Ravens don't take the next step in 2017, Bisciotti might be inclined to make a switch. That time just isn't now.