The Ravens have won the Super Bowl, which can be the ultimate blessing and the ultimate curse. While players like Ray Lewis can walk into the sunset after winning a championship, the franchise must go on — and the roster will inevitably be raided during free agency and the target on the team undoubtedly will grow.
It happened to the Ravens quickly, prompting predictions of doom and gloom. But then Elvis Dumervil fell into Baltimore’s lap, and the mood quickly changed.
More than four months later, the Ravens remain near the top of the heap, giving them as good a chance as any team to become the first franchise to repeat since the 2003-04 Patriots.
John Harbaugh has become one of the best coaches in the NFL, yet there’s still a sense he’s not viewed that way. He should be. Five years as head coach, five playoff appearances, at least one playoff win each year. Owner Steve Bisciotti needs to make sure Harbaugh never gets out of Baltimore.
To keep Harbaugh, the Ravens won’t have to pay him nearly as much as they paid their best player, quarterback Joe Flacco. He parlayed a Super Bowl win into a six-year, $120.6 million contract, and chances are he’ll only get better as he gains more experience and confidence.
Matching Harbaugh’s and Flacco’s five years in Baltimore is running back Ray Rice, who when teamed with up-and-comer Bernard Pierce could create the best backfield in the league.
The arrival of Harbaugh, Flacco, and Rice all in the same year reconfirms the quality of a front office led by G.M. Ozzie Newsome. Indeed, Newsome has become the first General Manager to build two separate Super Bowl-winning rosters in the salary-cap era, with only one player (linebacker Ray Lewis) bridging the two championship teams.
The Ravens have plenty of other strengths, from tight end to portions of the offensive line, to the defensive line, to the cornerbacks. Why shouldn’t they? They won the Super Bowl.
Of all the departures, none hurt more than receiver Anquan Boldin. There’s simply no one else on the roster who can make catches consistently and confidently while otherwise covered, as Boldin did throughout the 2012 season — and in the Super Bowl. Quarterback Joe Flacco needs someone to whom he can throw the ball in the vicinity, knowing that the player will catch it. Until Flacco has that, it’ll be hard for him to move the offense in the face of pressure.
Of all the men who left, the least expected was inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who bolted for Miami. With Ellerbe gone, Ray Lewis retired, and newcomer Rolando McClain also retired, they need guys to step up with talent and leadership.
Ditto at the safety position, where Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are gone — and Michael Huff and rookie Matt Elam try to fill the void. Until they show they can do, it’s a position of concern.
Where do we start? Linebacker Ray Lewis retired, linebacker Paul Kruger left for Cleveland, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe left for Miami, cornerback Cary Williams left for Philadelphia, receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to San Francisco after he refused to take a pay cut, safety Ed Reed left for Houston, center Matt Birk retired, and linebacker Rolando McClain signed as a free agent and retired after his latest off-field incident.
Joining the roster are linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff, defensive lineman Chris Canty, and defensive lineman Marcus Spears.
Sure, more talent went out the door than walked through it. But the Ravens know how to reload from within. And they will.
With Matt Birk retired, the center position is open. Gino Gradkowski, sixth-round rookie Ryan Jensen, and newcomer (via trade with Colts) A.Q. Shipley will compete for the ability to avoid being thrown into the legs of quarterback Joe Flacco.
Beyond Torrey Smith, the depth chart at receiver is undecided. And the decision of Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones to spend a large chunk of the offseason on Dancing With the Stars may not help his case for a starting job — or perhaps even a roster spot.
The defensive line jobs also are up for grabs to a certain extent, with Chris Canty and Marcus Spears hoping to take reps from guys not named Haloti Ngata.
The Ravens consistently have been underrated and overlooked in recent years. Even after winning the Super Bowl, many think that the Ravens are destined to collapse.
Sorry, but it’s impossible to ignore five straight postseason appearances, a great head coach, a great quarterback, and a front office that knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.
The Ravens won’t be folding ’em any time soon. Though a repeat could be too much to expect, it’s not nearly as out of the question as many presume.