It's clear that coming off a 5-11 season, the Ravens have some tough decisions to make regarding their 2016 roster. To be sure, injuries were a huge part of the story this past season, but there figures to be significant roster turnover after one of the worst seasons in team history. And as always, the salary cap will have a major influence on how the Ravens go about constructing their 2016 roster.
Over the past two weeks, we have been examining each Ravens position group with an eye toward 2016. Who stays? Who goes? Today we look at the safeties.
Note: For the purpose of this discussion, we will limit the roster to those players on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve. (Here is more on free agency terminology).
Under contract: Terrence Brooks, Matt Elam, Will Hill, Anthony Levine, Kendrick Lewis
Unrestricted free agents: None
Restricted free agents: Brynden Trawick
Exclusive rights free agents: Jermaine Whitehead
The Ravens safety group in theory returns both starters in Will Hill and Kendrick Lewis, but the big wild card here is Lardarius Webb.
It's already been noted elsewhere that Webb's future is at safety, but that is complicated by his $10 million cap figure. Assuming Webb is back in 2016 -- and it won't be for a $10 million cap hit, you can bet on that -- is Webb a starter? And if so, who isn't?
Kendrick Lewis was disappointing in his first year with the Ravens, showing some physical ability as a tackler (60 tackles) but little ball awareness. He had no interceptions (and dropped a gift would-be interception that would have essentially won the Jaguars game) and some horrid pass interference penalties.
Lewis' uneven play was made tougher to deal with after watching the guy he replaced -- Darian Stewart -- perform so well with the Broncos. Still, Lewis comes fairly cheap, with a cap figure of about $1.8 million.
Will Hill (64 tackles, 1 interception) was more consistent than Lewis, but it was troubling that the Ravens starting safety duo totaled one interception. Hill also has a cap figure of more than $4.5 million, so there's been some discussion of him as a potential cap casualty, but his return as a starter seems likely.
Then there's Matt Elam, who has yet to produce at the first-round level the Ravens drafted him. After being publicly called out by general manager Ozzie Newsome -- "Matt Elam has to be a better football player for us next year", Newsome said at the 2015 "State of the Ravens" news conference -- Elam was drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff last summer before a biceps injury ended his season before it began.
At the point, the Ravens can't honestly count on Elam, but if he can return healthy, he makes this group deeper. Ditto for Terrance Brooks, who has also shown flashes but has never been consistent enough to earn a lot of playing time.
Anthony Levine and Brynden Trawick have been key special teams players and could be back in those roles again. Trawick might be nontendered as a restricted free agent, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Ravens bring him back on a modest deal.
Overall, on paper this looks like a veteran safety group that could thrive under new secondary coach Leslie Frazier. But the Lardarius Webb question looms large, and the Ravens need to get more from Lewis -- and Elam and Brooks -- for this group to reach its potential.