Thus far in free agency, the Baltimore Ravens and their fans have witnessed several substantial losses to their team in general, with defense in particularly weak shape, at least to the general observer’s eye. As it stands, the Ravens have lost their leading sack specialist from last season in OLB Paul Kruger, to a division rival no less, in the Cleveland Browns, as well as another key LB in Dannell Ellerbe who took his respective talents to South Beach (Miami). In addition, the Baltimore Ravens have traded WR Anquan Boldin to John Harbaugh’s younger brother and the San Francisco 49ers –ironic, isn’t it?– for a 6th round pick. And today they’ve just released starting safety Bernard Pollard, where they’re set to be a lot of change in that secondary pending on what happens with future HOF Safety Ed Reed. However, their biggest loss by far this off-season has been losing LB Ray Lewis to retirement, the face for the Raven’s franchise for nearly 2 decades.
So…they’re in panic mode, yes?
If you ask that to a Ravens fan, they’ll probably stuff a hot pit beef sandwich down your throat and tell you to pipe down.
First off, I’d like to say I highly admire their fan base, as they’re certainly one of the most loyal bunch of fans I’ve ever hung around with. And, their franchise is one that deserves the utmost respect, as Ozzie Newsome now owns a pair of Super Bowl rings to go with his Lombardi Trophies. They have already locked up their QB in Joe Flacco, signing him to a 6-year deal worth a whopping total of $120.6 mil, $52 mil of which is guaranteed. This was a deal I initially and heavily, criticized seeing how he’s earning more total money than QB Drew Brees, who safe to say is still a superior QB. But, to the Ravens at least, stats don’t matter, as they’ve been in the playoffs for all 5 years of Joe Flacco’s career as their starting QB. And now, they’re Super Bowl champions under the leadership of Joe Flacco, with plenty of contributions coming from their defense of coarse.
Speaking of which, they signed former Giants DL Chris Canty to a 3 year deal yesterday, and despite the heavy loses suffered to their starting line-up, that unit still has plenty of talent to win games with. I speak of coarse about LB/DE Terrell Suggs, who definitely seems like he’s not going anywhere this off-season. Also, there is Haloti Ngata, an elite DL in his own right. While discussing their front 7, one must include the exciting prospect in Courtney Upshaw, he’s a player who can line up virtually anywhere on the DL or their LB corps. In addition, CB Corey Graham has turned into a smart signing by the Ravens’ management, being able to cover some of the better receivers the league has to offer. And, there is the prospect of Ed Reed returning to finish his career where it started. Plus, this is no longer a team that solely depends on defense to win games. The first move I mentioned, is one that signifies what could very well be the transition from Defense first, to Offense first.
This offense the Baltimore Ravens have built, mostly from their own drafts, is full of young and talented players at all phases. Ray Rice is one of the best RBs in the NFL, where his versatility is unmatched. Having someone that can take the load in the running game, then to see the same player convert on 4th and long with a short RB screen, is something to truly marvel.
Then, there is WR Torrey Smith, who is swiftly developing into a dynamic deep threat much in the way Mike Wallace developed for the Pittsburgh Steelers. By the way, Ravens fans won’t have to worry about Mike Wallace anymore, as he too took his talents to South Beach. Back on topic, there is a player I really like watching in TE Dennis Pitta, who the Ravens were wise to slap a 2nd round tender on before the beginning of the new league year. Dennis Pitta, is just a flat out football player. He blocks, he runs, he catches, and he scores TDs. He is just an all-round weapon that is set to develop into a serious threat in the NFL. Their OL has some promise, too, as OT Michael Oher isn’t the absolutely dominant force most fans have expected him to be, but he is an OL that deserves plenty of respect. Oh, let’s not forget about their best OL in Marshal Yanda, who happens to be one of the best linemen in the game. Now, this along with their LB corps is an area that needs serious attention, but then again this OL performed lights out in the playoffs, so only time will tell as to what happens in pass protection.
Of course, this is by far not a perfect team, and as just mentioned they have needs like all the other 31 teams have to attend to.
A general rule of the NFL these days, is you win through the draft, not free agency. While free agency provides to teams opportunities to supplement their rosters and solve critical problems with proven veterans, a long-term dependence on signing free agents from other teams will only result in bad cap management, and over-inflated salaries. You win long term by drafting and coaching your own players.
That, for the most part, is exactly what the Baltimore Ravens have done.
They have on occasion added players through free agent signings or trades, but for the most part, their roster is “home grown” in a sense. John Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the NFL for a reason, he does his job, coach and develop players. His entire staff in general has done a good job in turning rookies into starters.
As of right now, the Ravens don’t have a lot of cap space to bring in free agents, so a strong draft is a must come this April. And if Ozzie Newsome should ever make a claim for being the best at what he does, then he would simply point to the players he has selected through the draft.
Overall, he has done a sensational job throughout his career of evaluating talent, and bringing that talent to his coaching staff for development. If you ask me, LB is their top need for this next draft, and there is expected to be plenty of talented LBs available in this next draft. In addition, they could also look to bolster their OL with one of their earlier picks, or perhaps add another speedy weapon for Joe Flacco to launch a bomb to. Despite the circumstances, the Ravens have options, and Ozzie Newsome has a plan. All I as well as any fan should do, is sit back, and watch what happens. After all, they are the defending Super Bowl champs.