Usually, one of the reasons I give thanks on Thanksgiving is the success of my favorite teams, the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys. The Ravens have been in the Super Bowl discussion for the past decade and the Cowboys in the playoff mix as well. The 12-4 record of the Cowboys last year turned both teams into Super Bowl contenders.
This year, I find myself in a new, unfamiliar position. Those two teams, so accustomed to success, find themselves with only three wins going into Week 12. That is at the rock bottom of the NFL, or, more optimistically, at the top of May ‘s draft board. The season has been painful for both Dallas and Baltimore, especially from an injury standpoint. But the lowest point came this week, when both Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Dallas’s Tony Romo went down with injury and were ruled out for the season.
The rest of the season looks to be gloomy for both teams and it will be a surprise if either team wins another game. But do fans want victories, which put distance between the team and the top pick in the draft? The game of football can’t be played if a team is trying to lose and it would be a major P.R. fiasco if a member of one of the teams say that they want to lose. That provides some intrigue in the final weeks, but it is time to move on.
2015 is a lost cause, but could these two teams, which came into the Year with Super Bowl aspirations, bounce back immediately into the playoffs? The offseason will provide a somewhat clearer answer, but today it looks like a hard and tough journey back.
In the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era, the Ravens made the playoffs in six of a possible eight years, including a Super Bowl win in the 2012 season. Even with the struggles in 2015, both will be back next year. General Manager Ozzie Newsome, who was held that position for the entire existence of the Baltimore Ravens, is a Hall of Fame lock and isn’t going anywhere. The rest of the roster could undergo its fourth mass exodus since the Super Bowl run.
Receiver Steve Smith, Sr. told reporters that he would retire at the end of the season, but there is a chance that he comes back. The offense could see the most change on the offensive line. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele will hit the market and with Flacco’s huge contract, the Ravens may only keep one. On defense, Courtney Upshaw will likely leave and Terrell Suggs is nearing the end and getting injured at an alarming rate.
The roster is not built for a Super Bowl run, though it isn’t only Newsome’s fault. After the Ravens won the Big One, Baltimore’s front office hasn’t made an effort to keep their players after signing Flacco to a contract that was anything but team-friendly, resulting in a depletion of talent. The departures have left gaping holes at the wide receiver position and in the secondary, two key position groups. Aside from C.J. Mosley, the draft picks haven’t worked out, the epitome being first round pick Breshad Perriman, who hasn’t played a single snap.
If this was any other team, the future would look very bleak. With the Ravens, a total recovery is expected. The trio of Harbaugh, Flacco, and Newsome is proven and will keep the team from total demise next year. The last time Baltimore finished below .500, Harbaugh was hired and the team reached the AFC Championship the next year. Injuries shaped 2015, so a restored health would help a lot.
For the Ravens to return to respectability, the plan is set in front of them. The receiving corps and secondary can’t be pushed aside, both from a coaching and personnel standpoint. The Baltimore offensive coordinator position has been a revolving door, but when Gary Kubiak left after a very successful 2014, his successor, former Bears coach Marc Trestman, has been mediocre. With Kubiak no longer an option, the Ravens need to find a new identity, not just expect Trestman to replicate the system. Joe Flacco needs to return to full health and will need snaps. Combine those two needs and it is clear that another year of Marc Trestman is in the books, but this time it’ll be different.
With Dallas, quarterback Tony Romo is nearing the end. The roster is strong and can only succeed with good quarterback play, not Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel. With the NFC East full of mediocre teams, the Cowboys have a shot at the divisional crown, which could go to a nine or ten win team. Dallas doesn’t have Baltimore’s track record, but it has a much easier path to redemption. The key will be the quarterback.
The offense is one of the best when everyone is healthy. Darren McFadden proved that anyone can run behind the Dallas offensive line and he provides a rushing attack. Des Bryant, Terrence Williams, and Cole Beasley are a viable receiver trio for Romo and Jason Witten provides the veteran experience. The Cowboys’ defense is solid and only improving. The coaching staff will probably remain in place with Jason Garrett’s extension last year. The biggest question is the future of defensive end Greg Hardy, who will be a drew a gamer at the end of the year. Drafting a replacement for he troublesome Hardy is a wise idea.
Success will depend on the player under center. The offensive line is the best in the NFL, so that won’t be upgraded. The move the Cowboys must make Is finding a capable backup or successor to Romo. No, not Johnny Manziel, though owner Jerry Jones is eyeing that move. A project like Colin Kaepernick, Geno Smith, Jay Cutler, or Sam Bradford won’t be a fit for Dallas. The Cowboys need a veteran quarterback to keep the boat steady or a player in this year’s draft to learn and fill in if needed.
Even in the midst of shipwrecks, the Ravens and Cowboys must move forward and have a great opportunity to do so in the draft. For the Ravens, the draft offers a high-end, franchise cornerstone like Ray Lewis or Ed Reed was for years in Charm City. Defensive end Joey Bosa out of Ohio State could fit that bill. Dallas needs a quarterback and this year’s class is stacked. Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, Cal’s Jared Goff and Michigan State’s Connor Cook are top-10 talents that could be available to the Boys.
To all fans of the Ravens, Cowboys or both- the future is up in the air. The decisions in the months to come will make or break future success.