A huge dose of uncertainty began the Ravens' offseason when safety Ed Reed revealed that he is contemplating retirement.
"It'll be a long offseason just thinking about it," Reed said about a half-hour after Saturday night's 20-3 divisional-round playoff loss in Indianapolis.
No disrespect to Reed, but this could be the blandest offseason in Ravens history. It could be downright boring, in fact.
Unless the NFL Players Association and the owners reach a deal on a new contract by March, the Ravens will be severely handcuffed in the league's first uncapped season in 16 years.
The so-called "Final Eight Plan" would limit the final eight playoff teams from signing an unrestricted free agent unless they lose one of their own (the team can't spend more than what its departed free agent signed for elsewhere).
But playoff teams like the Ravens that lost in the divisional round can sign one player with a salary of $4,925,000 or more and any number of players with a first-year salary of no more than $3.2 million and an annual increase of no more than 30 percent in the following years.
The free-agent market, though, will be thin because players won't become unrestricted until they reach six years of service (it was previously four years). In an uncapped season, the Ravens would have only five unrestricted free agents: wide receivers Derrick Mason, Kelley Washington and David Tyree, tight end L.J. Smith and defensive tackle Justin Bannan.
What does it mean? It's likely that the Ravens will remain intact.
"The guys who'll be back next year will be one year better and one year smarter," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "This experience definitely won't hurt us. It's not easy to say that right now coming off a loss."
Here's the top 10 questions facing the Ravens this offseason:
1. Would Reed really retire? He could, but the Ravens really can't envision it. Reed is one of the most competitive players on the team, so it's hard to think he'll just walk away. It's believed that the emotions of the tough loss - and a tough turnover - led him to question his future. Many believe that after taking time to collect himself, the Pro Bowl safety will return.
2. How can the Ravens improve at wide receiver? Through the draft. The chances of trading for the Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall (who would be a restricted free agent in an uncapped year) or the Arizona Cardinals' Anquan Boldin appear slim at this point. There's a chance Mason could retire, but the Ravens feel that he'll return. The best players in the uncapped free-agent class: Kevin Walter, Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens and Muhsin Muhammad.
3. Who will be the Ravens' kicker next season? The Ravens aren't going to give the job to Billy Cundiff, who was 15-for 20 on field-goal attempts for the Ravens (including 3-for-3 in the playoffs). The team will probably select a kicker late in the draft to compete with him. And the Ravens haven't ruled out bringing back Matt Stover.
4. How do the Ravens improve their depth at tight end? Todd Heap appeared to secure his spot on next year's team with a strong finish, but the Ravens need to upgrade the supporting cast (L.J. Smith and Edgar Jones). The Ravens could find value at this position early in the draft and perhaps in free agency ( Alge Crumpler).
5. Who will be starting opposite Domonique Foxworth at cornerback? It would be Lardarius Webb if the rookie can recover in time from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Fabian Washington, who would be a restricted free agent in an uncapped season, would become the nickel back. That means two cornerbacks who played nearly the entire divisional playoff game - Chris Carr and Frank Walker - would be the fourth and fifth cornerbacks.
6. Will the Ravens flip sides for offensive tackles Jared Gaither and Michael Oher? It can't be ruled out, but it seems unlikely for this offseason. The Ravens love the mean and athletic right side of Oher and Marshal Yanda. The hope is the Ravens can push Gaither into taking advantage of his natural ability.
7. What will the Ravens do with high-priced veterans Willis McGahee and Trevor Pryce? The Ravens will have to strongly consider keeping them because it would be hard to replace them under the new rules. But both could have been salary-cap casualties under the old rules because of their 2010 salaries: McGahee ($3.6 million) and Pryce ($4.5 million).
8. Will the Ravens address their pass rush? They will have to improve from within. Terrell Suggs talked to coach John Harbaugh about being around Ravens headquarters and committing to the team's workout regimen. This will also be a big offseason in the development of Paul Kruger, the little-used second-round pick.
9. Who will be the Ravens' backup quarterbacks? It'll be the same as this year: Troy Smith and John Beck. Smith's agent recently requested a trade, but the Ravens won't get any legitimate compensation for him. The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner hasn't played enough in the preseason or regular season for other teams to gauge his value.
10. What are the Ravens' biggest draft needs? Wide receiver, tight end and interior offensive and defensive linemen. Wide receiver is obviously the biggest need, but it's not a lock that the Ravens will take one in the first round (Marshall was a fourth-round pick in 2006). The Ravens need to get younger in the trenches because center Matt Birk and nose tackle Kelly Gregg don't have many playing years left.