Ravens’ offseason will be fascinating …

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With six weeks remaining in the season, and a trip across the country to San Diego pending this weekend, I’m trying to get my arms around what happened to the Ravens this year.

How the year feels like it ended before it even started!

Obviously, the team as it’s constructed right now, just isn’t good enough. Not good enough to make the playoffs, and certainly, not a championship-caliber outfit in any way.

Why this “shocks” so many fans in the modern-day NFL is incomprehensible to me. Did you REALLY think they were going to go 13-3 again this year? Or even better?

The aging process in sports is a very cruel reality, and it usually comes without warning. The NFL sees a handful of last year’s playoff teams fall by the wayside every autumn. It was the Ravens’ turn. One year soon, it will even afflict the Patriots (if they don’t get caught cheating again!)

To see that Trevor Pryce is likely gone for the remainder of the season is just another reminder of how cruel the injury bug can be as well. It’s arguable, but he might have been the biggest difference maker on the entire Ravens roster in 2006 when they felt unbeatable until the Colts came to town. And the fact that he wound up in purple to begin with only happened because the Broncos and Mike Shanahan gave up on him!

And then there’s the current 4-6 record, without even having yet faced the “teeth” of the schedule, which begins on Sunday against the Chargers.

For me, the questions that are left now are all about the 2008 Ravens.

We all get the feeling that we’ve seen the end of Steve McNair and Pryce. I would think that Jonathan Ogden and Mike Flynn are playing their last six games as Ravens. Who knows what becomes of Samari Rolle and Derrick Mason, who might be the team’s best performer of 2007?

And what about Todd Heap, who can’t seem to get on the field and stay there with health issues? Is Matt Stover a sure thing for his 13th season as a Raven? And is Ray Lewis here for a “rebuilding” effort in the future as a mid-30s linebacker?

So, just what will the 2008 Ravens look like?

A young offensive line, anchored by Jason Brown and Adam Terry? Will Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams make Ozzie Newsome stand pat in the offseason, especially seeing what Randy Moss and Terrell Owens have meant to the Pats and Cowboys this year? Is Kyle Boller truly the Opening Day starter for next September? We all trust that Willis McGahee will be the guy in the backfield, but who is the insurance policy there?

And on defense, we might want to believe that Rex Ryan will be here again, but who knows how an owner of another NFL team will feel. Certainly, Ryan’s best shot was that San Diego job last January, but who knows? He’s a phone call away from leading another team.

With Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg, the Ravens feel like they’re set in the middle of the line, but where does Terrell Suggs and his huge bonus/cap number fit in? Bart Scott hasn’t been the factor this year that he was in 2007, and will the team want to challenge Jarret Johnson with more depth?

At what point does Chris McAlister make the eventual move from cornerback to safety and does the organization have anyone internally (Derrick Martin, David Pittman, Ronnie Prude) who can step up and be a legitimate starter in a division that features Hines Ward, Braylon Edwards and Chad Johnson?

Depth and Ozzie Newsome’s drafting will come into play for sure. Free agents will hit the market and the Ravens will do everything possible to save cap space. When you feel like you’re “close” to a championship team, you break the bank. Obviously, no one here can feel like the Ravens are a legitmate Super Bowl contender in 2008 based on their current roster.

Who are the next set of young players to step up and be legitimate starters for a playoff-caliber team here? (Of ALL of the worries and concerns of a Ravens fan, this one always seems like a given: Newsome and DeCosta will find appropriate talent on the third weekend of April!)

And then there’s the biggest story in the minds of the fans: Brian Billick and the offensive playcalling.

I SERIOUSLY doubt that Billick is going anywhere but back to his office for his 10th year as head coach of the Ravens.

With three years left on his contract and millions of dollars owed him and the fact that he’s a season removed from 13-3 and four weeks removed from a 4-2 start to this season (with less than stellar production from ANY of his 53 players), I think Steve Bisciotti will not be knee-jerk is his reaction to a very disappointing season.

Sure, Billick has given us all many reasons to scratch our heads with the situational play calling, but name a player in a purple jersey this year who honestly deserves to go to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl in February!

I dare ya! Name ONE player on the team who has truly achieved, individually, at a premier level? Hard to win when your best players are either: A, not playing due to injury, or B, not playing like Pro Bowlers.

But Billick gets the “combat pay” and will take all of the heat, as it should be. Ultimately, he’s held publicly responsible for the record, but deep down Bisciotti has to know that Billick is a larger part of the potential solution than the bigger problem: underachieving, rapidly aging and injured players.

Fans have a hard time understanding that throwing a coach overboard causes greater upheaval than anything you can do to a franchise. The Ravens don’t need upheaval as much as some fresh talent and better health.

Fans will heat up our message board and others in regard to firing Brian Billick. As Billick might say: “Have at it.” But I’d say it’s at least 15-1 that he’ll be fired in January, regardless of how this crappy season turns out.

So, will there be a new offensive coordinator in 2008? And who will he be?

Lots of questions to be answered and the only thing standing between now and 2008 are these six games remaining on the slate.

It’s a shame, but they almost feel like an “afterthought,” these games against the likes of the Chargers, Patriots and Colts.

And all of our hopes were that these games would be meaningful, exciting and electric, especially given that the New England and Indy games are here and in primetime.

The turkey is always a little less fresh when your football team is 4-6.

But at least I got my pumpkin pie from Dangerously Delicious Pie — so I KNOW it’ll be good no matter the Ravens’ record.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family …