Well Ravens fans, we made it through the first seven days of the NFL’s free agency period, and while there have been countless stories about Joe’s big payday, Ray’s retirement, and Ed’s "Me Too" tour, we still have the rest of the off season to bask in the warm afterglow of a second Ravens Super Bowl Championship.
The grass isn’t quite yet green as the first sights and sounds of a new spring come to pass, and yet as the fading memories of this past winter of Bourbon Street celebrations and Rocky Mountain Miracles subside, we begin again in the quest for the Lombardi. Thirty One other fan bases have come to realize thatyes, our Baltimore Ravens are the World Champions ….and now we are the target of their envy. No other team in the past five years has:
1. Made the Playoffs every year
2. Won at least one playoff game each year
3. Been to three conference championship games
What does this mean for Ravens fans? Why, that we are world champs until next February and until the next Super Bowl is over, we get bragging rights. That is the positive.
On the negative side, what does this mean for Ravens fans? Well - it means that everyone in the league now places a very clear bulls-eye directly around the neck of our team, and that our Ravens will be both pillaged of their available talent and degraded for their ability to keep that very same talent. This is the NFL. Parity is the goal. The powers that be do not want dynasty’s, they want everyone to be on equal footing, on the same level, to be--- 8-8!!!!!
Now comes the fun part- the Silly Season. NFL Free Agency. The time of the year when those that deserve the most usually don’t get it, those that deserve the least usually end up with nothing, and a bunch of mediocre role players become multi-millionaires overnight because well….that's how the system is rigged. Collective bargaining has led us fans to become supporters of franchises, not players.
When I grew up back in the 60’s, before Curt Flood and the days of the reserve clause, players more often than not played their entire NFL career with one team. Fans grew to know and love the players on their favorite teams, and they knew that year after year, a core group of players would be there for them, providing a generational bridge for fans of each group as they evolved over time. Players aged and retired, and were replaced by draftees and free agents but trades were rare, and huge player movements were almost unheard of.
Then follows Collective Bargaining, player strikes, and now free agency – hard to believe it’s almost twenty years old. The game has grown by leaps and bounds, and the generational and technological shift of the past twenty years have seen what was once a football dork’s rarely discussed passion, fantasy football, become a household game played by millions of adoring Harbaugh wannabe’s.
The remarkable success of fantasy football has totally enabled the actually ridiculous way the NFL has designed their parity model, with revenue sharing, salary caps, rookie deals, reserve/futures contracts, etc. to be embraced by the fans. Fans grow to deeply know and follow players, stats, and trends – all individual or group type statistics that support the free agency model. Loyalties are being driven by the league to the process – not the people.
This brings us to today – the current state of our beloved Ravens. Let’s sum up the past several weeks in a few choice words:
We are the Champions!
So, on to the pressing matters at hand. What have we lost?
• #52. We will miss you Ray. You are the Ravens.
• Birk – serviceable center. Had a good year. Hopefully, he taught Gino well.
• Kruger – 5 years/$40 Million. Really? Outside of a pick that led to an OT win over Pitt a couple years ago, I couldn’t remember one good thing he had done in four years until late in this season. Look, the guy was drafted what 57th overall in 2009. Ahead ofSebastien Vollmer. Glover Quinn. Mike Wallace. Has he had the same kind of impact that these three players have had their first four seasons? Well, not really. But….he did win a Super Bowl, right?
• Ellerbe – 5 years/$35 Million. Huh?? 14 games started out of 46 active games. He of 5.5 lifetime sacks and one INT. Undrafted free agent. Enjoy Miami Donnell. Think Hartwell, Scott, Thomas.
• Cary Williams – 3 years/$17 Million. OK. Do we really need to discuss the effectiveness of the Eagles organization to judge free agent talent? Especially at cornerback. I didn’t think so. The guy was a seventh round pick by Tennessee in 2009.
• Pollard – Cut to free up $1 Million in cap room, and 50 decibels in the locker room. Big mouth. Big Hitter. Big Attitude. Four teams, seven years.
• Boldin – Huge cap hit coming – over $7 Million – traded for a 6th rounder. Better to get something than nothing…and he was brought here two years ago to help bring us a Super Bowl. Mission accomplished. Good luck Q. We will miss you, and the picture of you standing over McCourty laughing will be one I will take to my grave.
Seven Starters. Seven. That’s 32% of our team, almost a third.So how does that compare to other teams? Well, we have lost more starters than anyone. But what else does that mean? That means that all of the other teams want our players….because we are better at selecting, coaching, and keeping our good players than just about anyone else in pro sports. Just take a peek back at 2008. Miami drafted Jake Long overall #1, their franchise left tackle for the rest of his career. When he signed with the Rams yesterday, he was the last 2008 draft pick of the Dolphins to leave their roster. What did we do in 2008? How about Rice and Flacco? Two very good, potentially Hall of Fame – definitely Ring of Honor – players.
Our front office is one of the best in all of professional sports. They get it. They know how to evaluate talent (they are even getting better at wide outs recently), and they know how to balance the books and keep players that we want, signed.
Let’s look at the holes that the recent Free Agent signings have made in the depth chart, and see what could be out there waiting in the wings ….
Linebacker – Gone are Ellerbe, Kruger, and Lewis. Waiting in the wings are Mike McAdoo, Adrian Hamilton, Spencer Adkins, Ricky Brown, Josh Bynes, DJ Bryant and Nigel Carr. Are any of them any good? Well…Ozzie usually doesn’t keep stiffs on the practice squad or offer reserve/futures contracts to bad players. Let’s just say that there is already depth here, and quality depth.Time will tell who steps up, but the plans for succession to this spot have been in the works for years.
Wide Receiver – Gone is Boldin. Waiting in the wings- Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Tori Gurley, Tommy Streeter, and Deonte Thompson. We know Doss let go a couple tough catches against the Colts, but generally the guy has decent speed and could be a serviceable pro. The rest ? Tons of potential there, with a great young quarterback in the prime of his career. Any of them could be a star.
Cornerback – Gone is Cary. Burnt too many times, not worth more than he was offered last year. Waiting – Jimmy Smith,Chykie, Corey, etc.
See a pattern here Ravens fans – Guys come and guys go. Ozzie and team don’t let the older guys get past their prime and forget about the need to replenish from within. They draft well, coach well, evaluate well.
One more thing – signing free agents. Baltimore has a history of not being an impact player in the FA market, especially in the early days of the silly season when everyone is overpaid and over hyped. I look to the two signings last week as potential look into Ozzie’s mindset as we near the draft. He signed two big, brawny, professional defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. He said in the State of the Ravens talk after the season that the goals were to get stronger on defense "up the middle". With the addition of these two pro linemen, great technique and skill guys that will have a powerful presence inside, the Ravens have added some insurance up front, and some bulk to take up space and keep the linemen off the ILB’s. Look for the Ravens to add a nose tackle, a couple of inside linebackers, and a couple safeties in the draft. They will use the two signings as both mentors and on the file coaches for the younger guys.
I have also thrown in my #1 wish for the Ravens in the upcoming draft- Ryan Swope of Texas A&M. I would love to see him in purple and black next year- he could easily be Joe’s Welker.
Enjoy the Silly Season.