Offseason Needs: AFC North

Updated: February 28, 2003, 11:08 AM ET
By By Ryan Early
Baltimore Ravens

Current Salary Cap Situation: $21.4M under
Unrestricted Free Agents: QB Jeff Blake, OT Ethan Brooks, LB Cornell Brown, FB Sam Gash, LB Bernardo Harris, CB Chris McAlister (franchised), OG Edwin Mulitalo, WR Jeff Ogden, DE Riddick Parker, WR Brandon Stokley, CB Robert Tate, CB James Trapp
Restricted Free Agents: DE Marques Douglas, TE John Jones, LB Anthony Mitchell, DE David Nugent, QB Chris Redman, LB Shannon Taylor, DE Adalius Thomas, QB Anthony Wright
Possible Veteran Cuts: DE Michael McCrary
First Draft Pick: 10th overall. Priorities:
#1 - Be smart about using all of the open cap money. Even after putting the franchise tag on cornerback Chris McAlister, the Ravens are still $20 million under the cap. Part of that money will be used to sign guard Edwin Mulitalo to a long-term deal, and LB Bernardo Harris, WR Brandon Stokley, FB Sam Gash and CB James Trapp could all be re-signed, but they will be cheap. While the Ravens exceeded all expectations in going 7-9 last year with the youngest and cheapest roster in the league, they should not make a boom-and-bust cycle part of their salary-cap strategy. Their Super Bowl success came after adding free-agent veterans to an already-strong core of young talent acquired through the draft. They need to rebuild that core first before making a push for a championship by bringing in the veteran free agents.

#2 - Even if they keep Jeff Blake, they need to find a quarterback of the future. Coach Brian Billick may believe that he can win with Blake under center, but the journeyman quarterback's 19 turnovers in 10 starts last season have to be pretty disconcerting. Blake will probably be re-signed, simply because no team other than the Ravens are going to give him the chance to start. The Ravens seem to have lost confidence in young Chris Redman, a restricted free agent. One possibility is trading for Todd Bouman, who is familiar with the offense as the Vikings haven't changed much since Billick was their offensive coordinator.
#3 - Keep teaching those young players. The Ravens had 19 first-year players on the roster last year and yet those youngsters didn't know they were supposed to just hand wins to their opponents. They actually showed up, played hard and had the team at 7-7 with two games remaining. No matter how many free agents are signed, the coaches need to keep those young players who played so hard involved in the team. Never has a group with such low expectations played so well since the Redskins' 1987 scab team.