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 next two weeks, we are examining each Ravens position group with an eye toward 2016. Who stays? Who goes? We've already covered the offensive line, wide receivers and tight ends. Today it's the running backs.
Note: For the purpose of this discussion, we will limit the roster to those players on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve. (Click here for free agency terminology.)
Under contract: Buck Allen, Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro,
Unrestricted free agents: None
Restricted free agents: None
Exclusive rights free agents: Terrence Magee, Terrance West
The Ravens could have one of their deepest backfield groups in years when they hit training camp in July -- but something will have to give. The Ravens are not likely to keep four running backs, let alone five, meaning someone who contributed this year will not be in the plans next year.
Justin Forsett is due a $3 million salary and has a cap charge of $3.7 million. Could he be this year's Chris Canty? Recall that Canty was cut last year as a cap casualty, but given his strong locker room presence and his role as a mentor to younger players, he was re-signed a few weeks later at a lower salary.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has mentioned more than once how Forsett is a strong mentor, and that would seem to be an ideal role for Forsett with Buck Allen entering his second season and the mercurial Terrance West in the locker room as well.
Releasing Forsett, who turns 31 in October, would create $2.3 million in cap savings, and he could be brought back at a lower price. Or could he? Releasing him carries some risk that another team would swoop in and sign him, or that Forsett would look elsewhere.
The bet here is that Forsett returns as the team's No. 1 back, though the workload among the backs will be more evenly distributed.
Buck Allen (137 carries, 514 yards) showed a lot of promise as a rookie when thrust into a starting role because of injuries. The Ravens like what they have in him.
Lorenzo Taliaferro might have the most to prove this summer. He has not shown the ability to stay healthy, and appeared in just three games this year before being shut down with a foot injury that required surgery. He's finished both his first two NFL seasons on injured reserve.
If all three of those backs are at 100 percent, Terrance West has work to do to make this team, and Terrence Magee will almost certainly be on the outside looking in.
But whoever is in the backfield, the Ravens must produce better -- and more often -- on the ground. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman took a lot of heat for abandoning the run at times, and at the "State of the Ravens" news conference, coach John Harbaugh said, "I feel like we need to run the ball more, but we need to run the ball better."
The Ravens ranked 26th in the league in rushing, and 24th in rushing yards per carry. This group of backs, if healthy, should -- and must -- improve on those numbers.
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