It’s a good thing the Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, because the team’s roster just got blown up in a way no roster has ever been blown up in the NFL’s salary cap era.
That’s the sentiment among NFL fans and media this off-season, at least.
The 2013 Baltimore Ravens will certainly look a lot different than the 2012 version of the team. Quarterback Joe Flacco now has a new contract — the richest in NFL history — and the Ravens suddenly have salary cap issues. As a result, the mass exodus of key players from the Super Bowl-winning squad has been dramatic. Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers. Ray Lewis retired. So did Matt Birk. Ed Reed defected to the Texans. Dannell Elerbe signed with the Dolphins. Paul Kruger is now a Brown. Bernard Pollard is a Titan.
For those keeping track, six defensive starters from the unit that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February are now playing elsewhere or getting an early start on their pension years.
This means there’s no way the Ravens can compete at a high level in 2013, right?
No so fast.
Reports of the Ravens’ demise have been greatly exaggerated, to borrow an awful cliche (hey, it is a football article).
A deeper look at what Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has done to his roster this off-season — partially by choice and partially because the salary cap forced him to — suggests that his team could actually be better in 2013.
You read that right.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb will be back from a knee injury that cost him most of the 2012 season. Webb is a legitimate shutdown corner and he will immediately boost a secondary that will certainly be hurt by the loss of Reed.
Free agent safety Michael Huff was just signed to fill another gap in the secondary and he’ll serve as a capable (and cheap) starter.
The Ravens’ pass rush was upgraded by the signing of former Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who will go back to his more natural position of 3-4 rush linebacker in Baltimore. Chris Canty will boost the unit, too, as will Courtney Upshaw, who
was largely invisible as a rookie, but who should make a large leap heading into his sophomore season.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata should be better in 2013, too. He was seriously hampered by an injury last season and often looked like a shell of his once-dominant self.
There’s still the matter of the NFL Draft, too. Newsome has proven to be as wizardly as any front-office executive in NFL history when it comes to spotting and selecting young talent.
The Ravens are rebuilding on the fly, as you’ll hear countless media members say. That’s not necessarily a fair description, though. Rebuilding is a process that takes time. What the Ravens are doing is more akin to reloading a gun. Sure, it leaves you vulnerable for a brief moment, but you’re back up and firing as soon as those new bullets are in the chamber.