Season grade: C-
Season summary: The Ravens (8-8) failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2004-05 due to Joe Flacco's inconsistency, a disappearing pass rush and a lack of killer instinct. That inability to finish was underscored in Baltimore's 31-27 loss in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, which eliminated the Ravens from postseason consideration. The Ravens gave up a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Pittsburgh Steelers, then failed to hold a three-point lead with 78 seconds remaining. That was one of three instances this season in which Baltimore led with fewer than four minutes left and gave away the game. The Ravens lost by one point (28-27) to the Oakland Raiders on Michael Crabtree's late 23-yard touchdown catch, and they fell by four points (27-23) at the New York Giants on Odell Beckham Jr.'s 66-yard touchdown. If the Ravens win those games, they're in the postseason. The loss that will haunt Baltimore is the Week 7 defeat at the New York Jets. The Ravens led 10-0 and ultimately lost 24-16. Baltimore was without five Pro Bowl players, but the Ravens still must kick themselves for falling to a reeling Jets team. This season was defined by close losses (the ones before the embarrassing finale). All but two defeats were decided by less than one score. It could’ve been different if Flacco and Baltimore’s pass rush weren’t ranked in the bottom 10 of the NFL.
Biggest draft need: Pass-rusher. Terrell Suggs turns 35 next season and has dealt with injuries the past two seasons. Elvis Dumervil could be a salary-cap cut because the Ravens would create $6 million by releasing him. The Ravens desperately need a young, impact player who can get to the quarterback. Baltimore recorded 21 sacks in eight wins and only 10 sacks in eight losses.
Key offseason questions:
What's the biggest change needed on offense? It's a change that occurs quite frequently in Baltimore -- offensive coordinator. If the Ravens don't keep Marty Mornhinweg, they'll be on their sixth playcaller in as many seasons. Baltimore needs someone to get this offense back on track like Gary Kubiak swiftly did in 2014. The Ravens were all out of sorts this season. They abandoned the run and deep passing game. If Kubiak doesn’t return in Denver, the Ravens’ top candidate should be Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who was Flacco’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 and can bring back the successful Kubiak system. The pressure is on for Baltimore to find someone who can tailor an offense that suits Flacco’s strengths and add some cutting edge design to an offense that routinely struggled to get to the end zone.The Ravens have intriguing, young talent with running back Kenneth Dixon and wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Baltimore should bring back speedy Mike Wallace and sure-handed Dennis Pitta. The biggest void will be the one left by wide receiver Steve Smith, who is expected to retire. The lack of explosiveness on offense has been a big factor in Baltimore missing the postseason three of the past four seasons. Since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens have eclipsed 30 points in only nine games. Only three teams have had fewer such outputs.
Which key players are likely gone? Of the six free-agent starters, nose tackle Brandon Williams is the one who has the least chance of coming back. He will probably get a big deal elsewhere, and Baltimore has impressive, undrafted rookie Michael Pierce waiting in the wings. The other key free agents -- right tackle Rick Wagner, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and defensive end Lawrence Guy -- could all return because none will command top dollar. It might come as a surprise to project the return of Wagner, but a team isn't expected to overpay him like Kelechi Osemele last season. The big turnover will come in salary-cap cuts. Baltimore can save a whopping $23.3 million in cap space by parting ways with linebacker Elvis Dumervil ($6 million in savings), safety Lardarius Webb ($5.5 million), tight end Ben Watson ($3 million), cornerback Shareece Wright ($2.6 million), center Jeremy Zuttah ($2.3 million), cornerback Kyle Arrington ($2.1 million) and safety Kendrick Lewis ($1.8 million).
How will the backfield look next season? Terrance West earned a shot to be in the mix next season, and Dixon showed flashes of being a playmaker. But it's unlikely the Ravens will rely solely on the one-two punch of West and Dixon for another season. Both of Baltimore's offensive coordinators this season (Mornhinweg and Marc Trestman) showed no confidence in them, so it makes no sense to stick with the status quo. Only three teams ran the ball fewer times than the Ravens this season. The biggest problems: West lacks consistent explosion (4 yards per carry), and Dixon has issues with injuries (knee twice, chest and sprained hamstring) and pass protection since being drafted in the fourth round eight months ago. The Ravens were high on Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in recent drafts, and they've seen the difference Le'Veon Bell (second round) can make. Baltimore could take a running back in the early rounds if the right playmaker is available.