After their victory in Super Bowl XLVII, team owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome made their intentions clear. The Baltimore Ravens aimed to remain in championship contention every year.
Over the last four seasons, the franchise has hardly been a championship contender. Baltimore’s combined regular season record from 2013-2016 was 31 wins and 33 losses. The Ravens did not win the division over this four season stretch, made one playoff appearance and failed to advance past the divisional round. The Ravens can count their quality wins over legitimate contenders since 2012 on one hand.
The Ravens decision makers’ reluctance to come to terms with the truth that they are just not good enough to honestly contend for a championship every year, and overcome the parity structure of the NFL, while paying top dollar for a franchise quarterback has created a myopic cycle. In order to be a legitimate championship contender every season for a decade in the salary cap era, as only New England has been, a team needs elite coaching, superior roster management, advantageous scheduling and a big dose of luck.
In reality, the Ravens have regressed from a team that aimed to add a couple pieces that would put them over the top each offseason, to a team that hopes to fill multiple holes every offseason, scrape into the playoffs and hope to get hot at the right time. Joe Flacco holds the record for most road playoff wins of any quarterback in history. But that success is not sustainable without better personnel.
Some may point to the 2012 Ravens as an example of a team that backed into the playoffs before winning a championship. It would be remiss to forget the 2011 Ravens went 12-4, were extremely close to playing in the Super Bowl and the 2012 team returned a roster that was aging, but chock full of perennial Pro Bowlers.
Last offseason, the front office aced the draft and added two impact free agents. That was still not enough to place them among the upper tier of the NFL. Instead of truly upgrading to the roster, their perpetual low leverage salary cap situation forces the Ravens to trade one valuable player for another. They have basically been treading water in the roster construction department. The best players they have added have merely replaced the quality players the Ravens lost over the offseason, not resulted in an appreciably better roster overall.
Looking towards the coming offseason, the front office has three or four pressing positional needs on their depth chart to address before anyone is subtracted through free agency, released from their contract, elects to retire or is injured. It will require a strong offseason just to maintain the level of talent they fielded this year. Some young players should be expected to progress, but their improvement will be negated to some extent by the older players loss of physical ability. Realistically, assembling a genuine championship roster in 2017 is a bridge too far.
To regain their place among the best franchises in football, the Ravens brass must swallow their pride and commit to a two year roster renovation plan. Another offseason of doubling down on a failed strategy will only dig a deeper hole for the Ravens to scale when they do finally decide to sincerely rebuild the team.