The Baltimore Ravens might not have been able to re-sign Ed Reed to ensure he finished out his NFL career with the only team he has ever known. The Ravens have been planning how to manage their salary cap issues ever since the team won Super Bowl XLVII. The other losses of players they either had planned not to re-sign or were hopeful of bringing back have now been completed with the loss of Reed.
Now the team must look ahead to the remainder of free agency and then the NFL Draft to figure how to plug the holes left by the mass exodus of significant contributors, through both free agency and retirement. Their focus must now change to replacing these players and perhaps the answers are right in front of them.
Finding a way to sign free agent OLB/DE Elvis Dumervil, who apparently was underwhelmed by the most recent offer by his former team, the Denver Broncos, would be a great addition to the defense and playing opposite Terrell Suggs would give the Ravens pass rushing bookends that they have not had, regardless of how well one might think recently-departed Paul Kruger did here.
Safety Michael Huff was mentioned here on Baltimore Beatdown before other outlets, including the Ravens own website, brought his name up as a possible replacement for Reed. While no All Pro like Reed, Huff is younger, healthier and would come here cheaper and is the best safety remaining on the free agent market.
Although the combination of Huff and James Ihedigbo will never remind most people of Reed and Bernard Pollard, they would be a suitable pair in the secondary with a healthy Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith or Corey Graham. With the pass rush bolstered by the signing of Dumervil, the team can concentrate on re-building the inside linebacker position.
Right now,it looks like Jameel McClain would start if healthy,and either Brendon Ayanbadejo or Albert McClellan would fill the void of the other position. Josh Bynes is in the mix and the team could still sign a veteran free agent and/or look to the draft for the next great Ravens linebacker.
There is no way to replace the loss of both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed,much less the losses of Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams. In all, six starters from the Super Bowl Champs defensive unit are gone. That's more than half of the unit, leaving Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb as the only true veteran stars on that side of the ball.
However, add in the solid play of Corey Graham,as well as the huge upside of potential of OLB Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones, and the defense could make a significant rebound with the signing of Dumervil and Huff. Even without those signings, the team could still manage to play well enough to return to the post season in 2013.
With the majority of the offense returning and the leadership of QB Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, the team could change its reputation from once that was carried by the defense to one that is now carried on the arm of its new hundred-million dollar QB. All this remains open to debate, but while most so-called experts see the team in total disarray, the Ravens are still defending Super Bowl Champs until at least next February.