After relinquishing nine starters from their resurgent Super Bowl team of last year, the Baltimore Ravens decisively made it clear they were going in a new direction with their franchise. Rather than having a stout veteran defense to rely on to take them to the Promised Land yet again, the Ravens decided to craft an entirely new identity that is now predicated on optimistic potential and youthfulness. While this may seem like a perilous pursuit that will ultimately result in an underwhelming regular season, in actuality it is the Ravens way of keeping up with the recent acquisitions from opposing teams that emphasize long-term stability over veteran experience. It is no longer enough to fill the few gaps that have been left vacant year in year out; now, it has become paramount that the Ravens rebuild their team from the ground up so they can be relevant and competitive for many years to come.
It seems that the retirement of Ray Lewis was an omen to the Ravens that emphatically suggested that a new age was dawning upon them. Rather than pay out the big bucks to accomplished veterans who made last years Super Bowl run a glorious reality, the Ravens gave the ultimate payday to the man who transformed from a timid, average passer into a consistently poised superstar who emulated the athletic prowess of arguably the greatest quarterback of all time Joe Montana. While some feel that Joe Flacco wasn’t even remotely worthy of being the highest paid quarterback in the league, what most don’t realize is that if the Ravens didn’t put their money where their mouth was another team would have been more than happy to do so. Paying Joe Flacco $120.6 million over the next six years was more than just a display of gratitude for Flacco’s clutch accomplishments; it was a message to the NFL that stated, “there’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Joe Flacco.” For the time being, it is unclear if Flacco can carry over his nearly flawless post-season abilities to the regular season. However, it can’t be denied that Flacco has the immense potential within his repertoire to eventually become one of the most coveted passers in the game.
Yet, even with this newly found leader, the Ravens still realized that it would take more than an avidly gifted passer to get the job done. After their defense was decimated during the course of free agency, the Ravens understood that they would be in a world of trouble unless they could find a way to revive this facet of their team that had been monumental in their recent successes. As a result, the Ravens tenaciously and strategically acquired defensive standouts from both the NFL draft and free agency to reinvigorate their defense. Despite losing defensive juggernauts Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Bernard Pollard to free agency, the Ravens refused to be intimidated by these loses. Instead, they intelligently addressed each lingering absence with innovative selections from around the league. Between the acquisitions of Elvis Dumervil as a hard nosed pass rusher from the Denver Broncos and picking up safety Michael Huff from the Oakland Raiders, the Ravens bolstered their team with solid defensive components.
While free agency was a quiet success for the Ravens, their decision making in the draft was absolutely sensational. Their first round pick Matt Elam set the tone for what was mostly a defensive heavy selection process. Other selections such as versatile linebacker Arthur Brown and under rated defensive tackle Brandon Williams will also be instrumental in rejuvenating the Ravens defense back to its former dominance. Through these acquisitions, the Ravens confidently reloaded with young and proven prospects that were ideal fits and replacements for those who had recently resigned to pursue more financially explicit needs. It would have been easy for the Ravens to simply be strong-armed into overpaying for their free agents in a desperate attempt to keep their Super Bowl squad together. Yet, rather than becoming victims of the moment, the Ravens saw the silver lining amongst the untimely devastation and decided to do what was best for the organization in the long term.
Still, even with these wise decisions, the Ravens may have to face a tough reality come this regular season. While this team will by no means be mediocre, they may have to go through some tough growing pains that may result in this team missing the playoffs for the first time since the Joe Flacco/John Harbaugh era. However, if fans remain loyal and patient they will be rewarded with a resurgent team that will be an unstoppable force to be reckoned with in the anticipated years to come.