COMMENTARY – In Baltimore, the honeymoon is officially over. In the span of only 24 hours, whatever feelings of elation and pride remained with Ravens fans from their team’s improbable playoff run and Super Bowl victory have dissipated almost entirely since the NFL’s free agency period commenced at 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon. A wave of unexpected departures by players who played major roles in contributing to last season’s championship has left Ravens fans and players alike in a state of disbelief.
With the retirements by linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk, one question on the minds of many following the team was which players would step up to fill the void of veteran leadership. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard were among the names that often came up in discussions over which players could play this role. The other big question concerned the future of the Ravens defense, with linebackers Paul Kruger and Dernell Ellerbee held up us the faces of a post-Ray Lewis rushing attack. Then free agency struck, and all that hopeful logic was turned dramatically on its head.
First, Baltimore traded Boldin to the team they defeated in the Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers, for a 6th round pick in this years NFL draft. Then came news that Kruger was leaving for a lucrative multi-million deal with the Cleveland Browns , a divisional foe. The real shell-shocker came shortly thereafter, when the Miami Dolphins snatched away Dernell Ellerbee, the player whom the team was most intent on resigning, and for whom they had created cap room to do so by trading away Boldin. As if this wasn’t all distressing enough, the Ravens announced Wednesday that they were parting ways with hard-hitting safety Bernard Pollard, a player who, with Lewis gone, was arguably the team’s most tenacious defender.
The media’s reaction to these moves was overwhelmingly and harshly critical.
The Ravens’ losses are devastating and likely crippling as it is, but they’d now be absolutely decimated if Reed leaves […] if Reed isn’t re-signed at minimum, cutting a 28-year-old of Pollard’s caliber will become downright puzzling, as the character of a once feared Baltimore defense is quickly eroding.
The official 2013NFL season is less than 48 hours old but the Baltimore Ravens team that won Super Bowl XLVII just over a month ago is already a mere shadow of the current one.
The Ravens’ losses may hinder their chances of even getting back to the playoffs let alone the Super Bowl
But even as everyone and their grandmothers are lining up to eviscerate the Ravens front office, there are still a few reasons why Baltimore fans shouldn’t feel so distraught with the moves their team made.
1. We won the Super Bowl.
If you had asked any Ravens fan at the beginning of last season, “Are you willing to part ways with Boldin, Kruger, Ellerbe, Pollard, and possibly Ed Reed, if we win the Super Bowl first?” the answer would have been “Yes, whatever it takes.”
2. We were going to lose Boldin anyway.
The initial reports we heard were that the Ravens were asking Boldin to take a pay cut and he was refusing to do so, and that we were going to cut him. Given that this was the case, getting a 6th round pick in exchange for him is at least better than getting nothing.
3. We are doing things the right way.
With the exception of the deal the team gave to Joe Flacco, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is sticking to a very important principle: you pay players for what they will do, not what they have done. The Dolphins and the Browns – bad teams, both – threw boatloads of cash at Ellerbe and Kruger. They overpaid them for being on a Super Bowl champion team. The Ravens smartly let them walk. We knew what they were worth to us before the championship, and were thus better poised to resist the inflationary frenzy that followed.
4. We’re building for the future, not clinging to the past.
Let’s say it takes us two more years to acquire the complimentary pieces to contend for a championship again. At that point, we’ll have a seasoned franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco at age 30 – right in his prime from an NFL QB standpoint. We’ll have a top 5 wide receiver in Torrey Smith at age 26 and a top 5 running back in Ray Rice at age 28. To complement this 3 piece core, we’ll also have a 30 year-old lightning bolt in WR Jacoby Jones, Dallas Clark 2.0 in the then 29 year-old tight end Dennis Pitta, and a seriously exciting combo RB/WR in Bernard Pierce, who’ll be only 24, and in the final year of his rookie contract.