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 cornerbacks.
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's a rundown of free agency terminology.)
Under contract: Kyle Arrington, Will Davis, Jimmy Smith, Tray Walker, Lardarius Webb, Julian Wilson
Unrestricted free agents: Shareece Wright
Restricted free agents: None
Exclusive rights free agents: Jumal Rolle, Sheldon Price
The Ravens had major issues in the secondary for the second straight season and finished with just six interceptions -- the lowest total in the league and a new franchise record-low.
Adding a shutdown corner with superior playmaking and ball skills is high on the list of offseason priorities, and it will surprise no one if the Ravens go that route with their No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft.
It became clear during the season -- and coach John Harbaugh admitted as much -- that Lardarius Webb, now 30, simply doesn't have the tools any more to be an outside cornerback. Webb's future with the team will be one of the more interesting offseason storylines to watch.
At the "State of the Ravens" news conference, general manager Ozzie Newsome confirmed what was gradually apparent last season: Webb's future is at safety -- if anywhere.
Webb is set to earn $6 million this year and has a cap hit of $10 million -- which would be among the highest in the league among safeties and, as of now, is the second-highest on the team. His production simply does not match that cost, so something has to give.
Webb will probably need to take a pay cut. If he refuses and is released, the Ravens would be saddled with $6 million in dead money but would free up $4 million in cap space.
Either way, Webb is no longer viewed as a cornerback, meaning Jimmy Smith (54 tackles, team-high 3 INTs) will be returning at one corner, and the other starting corner spot is up in the air.
A plug-and-play, elite draft pick would be one option. Re-signing Shareece Wright might be another. Wright struggled mightily early with the Ravens -- he was torched by his former 49ers team in his Ravens debut -- but he steadily improved as the season went on and ultimately became the starter outside opposite Smith. He did not end up with any interceptions, but he finished with 40 tackles and five passes defensed, and the Ravens are expected to make a reasonable offer to keep him. Plus, he's a high school teammate and longtime friend of Jimmy Smith, so staying with the Ravens has a lot of appeal.
Kyle Arrington was increasingly phased out of action, even as a slot corner, and his future seems iffy at best. Cutting Arrington, 29, would clear about $1.4 million in cap space.
The Ravens have a lot of other younger, less proven options on the roster including last year's fourth-round draft pick Tray Walker. The Ravens admitted he was a project when they drafted him, but the fact that Walker hardly saw the field last year suggests the Ravens reached badly in drafting him when they did. The question now is whether the former Texas Southern player can start to show the potential the Ravens saw in him.
Will Davis is expected to return from a torn ACL and could be a factor as well. He has some promising moments before his season-ending injury.
One other subtext this year: The Ravens have a new secondary coach in Leslie Frazier. After last season's struggles, and with Webb moving to safety, Frazier has his work cut out for him, but he brings 17 years of NFL coaching experience to the room.