As we wait to see when the labor dispute between NFL owners and players will be resolved, we present a closer look at the issues facing the Ravens, one of the AFC's primary contenders of recent seasons.
Top three story lines
1. Will rookie CB Jimmy Smith be an impact performer right off the bat? If Smith can quickly become the shutdown corner the Ravens believe he can be, the trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense could be tremendous. Rapid development from Smith would take pressure off veteran CB Domonique Foxworth, who missed last season with an ACL injury and is expected to return to the starting lineup. Moreover, it would help a pass rush which was too often Terrell Suggs-getting-to-the-QB-or-bust a season ago.
2. Can QB Joe Flacco play at a Pro Bowl level? Flacco surely belongs in the discussion of the game's better starting quarterbacks after three seasons in which he has progressively improved. If he makes a big leap forward this season, the Ravens will be an even tougher matchup — and thus tougher to knock out in the postseason.
3. Will the offensive line show improvement after a collectively disappointing 2010 season? The Ravens just didn't get enough of a push in the running game last year, and their pass protection was not as solid as it needed to be. Make no mistake — this is a talented line. However, it needs to play better than it did a season ago.
2011 free-agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: QB Marc Bulger (10), OLB Prescott Burgess (4), CB Chris Carr (6), OG-C Chris Chester (5), OG Oniel Cousins (3), TE Morgan Cox (1), DT Lamar Divens (3), LB Dannell Ellerbe (2), OT Jared Gaither (4), ILB Tavares Gooden (3), TE Kevin Houser (11), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (10), OLB-DE Sergio Kindle (1), S Dawan Landry (5), RB Matt Lawrence (2), LB Jameel McClain (3), FB Le'Ron McClain (4), RB Jason McKie (8), OG Tony Moll (5), S Haruki Nakamura (3), DT Haloti Ngata (5, franchised), RB Jalen Parmele (3), OL Daniel Sanders (1), WR Marcus Smith (3), WR Donté Stallworth (8), DT Kelly Talavou (3), CB Fabian Washington (6), CB Cary Williams (2), CB Josh Wilson (4), OL Marshal Yanda (4), S Tom Zbikowski (3). (Editor's note: The number after a player's name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.)
Analysis: With DT Haloti Ngata receiving the franchise tag, the focus turns to whether the Ravens can re-sign Marshal Yanda, who figures to be their right guard should he return. Yanda can also play right tackle, which enhances his value, but the Ravens would likely play him inside. It would not be a surprise if the Ravens brought back Chris Carr or Josh Wilson, but bringing both players back, especially after drafting two corners, seems unlikely. Also, neither Carr nor Wilson figures to start in Baltimore after the addition of Jimmy Smith and the return of Domonique Foxworth. CB Fabian Washington is unlikely to be re-signed. SS Dawan Landry could be replaced by Tom Zbikowski. WRs Donté Stallworth and T.J. Houshmandzadeh seem unlikely to be back after the Ravens drafted WRs Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss. OT Jared Gaither's future in Baltimore is in question after he missed last season with a back injury. If FB Le'Ron McClain returns, he could get more carries if the Ravens, as expected, release Willis McGahee. QB Marc Bulger is a major longshot to be back, as he is expected to sign elsewhere and compete for a starting job. His departure would likely cause Baltimore to look to bolster the depth chart behind starter Joe Flacco. Finally, the Ravens hope to sign Ngata, one of the game's top defensive tackles and a key part of the Ravens' present and future, to a contract extension.
2011 rookie class
First-round CB Jimmy Smith (No. 27 overall) — Questions about Smith's character were the only major knocks on him leading up to the draft, but the Ravens are confident they have found an impact player who will be a key member of their defense for years to come.
Second-round WR Torrey Smith (No. 58 overall) — Smith's field-stretching speed could get him heavily involved with the offense early. The Ravens will look to get the ball in his hands.
Third-round OT Jah Reid (No. 85 overall) — Reid could compete to start at right tackle, especially if Jared Gaither isn't with the club in 2011. The Ravens traded up to take Reid, a clear signal that they like his potential. He has long arms but must avoid playing too tall.
Fourth-round WR Tandon Doss (No. 123 overall) — Exceptionally productive at Indiana, Doss could become an effective inside possession receiver in the pros. He figures to be the Ravens' No. 4 or No. 5 receiver as a rookie.
Fifth-round CB Chykie Brown (No. 164 overall) — Brown figures to be a reserve in his first season and could vie to become Baltimore's nickel back down the road. He adds to the Ravens' CB depth, which was stretched at times last season.
Fifth-round DE Pernell McPhee (No. 165 overall) — McPhee will vie for a reserve role in Year One. In the future, he could compete for a starting job at defensive end should the Ravens continue to use a 3-4 front. The Ravens have needed to get younger along the D-line.
Sixth-round QB Tyrod Taylor (No. 180 overall) — Taylor's best-case scenario in his first NFL season? He captures the top backup QB job. However, it's more likely he will compete to be the No. 3 quarterback.
Seventh-round RB Anthony Allen (No. 225 overall) — Allen will vie for one of the final reserve RB spots. A strong training camp, one where he shows an ability to play special teams (and perhaps contributes as a blocking back) would aid his cause.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Ravens be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10, with one least-affected and 10 most-impacted, the Ravens rate a 3. For starters, they have a strong veteran core in place. Any disruption from their biggest offseason coaching change — the promotion of DBs coach Chuck Pagano to defensive coordinator — is lessened by the fact Pagano will largely run the same defense Greg Mattison ran save for a few tweaks here and there and the experienced, talented personnel Pagano has at his disposal. You can argue a lockout doesn't help any team, but some seem less likely to be affected than others, and Baltimore appears to fit that bill.