Brian Billick was coach of the Ravens the last time the team had a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions, so I was interested to hear his thoughts on what the Ravens are doing the second time around.
In 2001, a season after they beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens made that notorious switch from Trent Dilfer and Elvis Grbac at quarterback. But they kept the rest of their roster mostly intact by restructuring contracts to keep players such as Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson around for another run.
The Ravens lost in the divisional round the following postseason and soon had to overhaul their roster.
More than a decade later, Billick is an analyst for a few media companies, including NFL Network. This week, former Baltimore reporter Amber Theoharis asked him for his thoughts on the team’s offseason. The Ravens traded wide receiver Anquan Boldin, cut safety Bernard Pollard, lost linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams in free agency, and could soon say sayonara to iconic safety Ed Reed.
“I think what the Baltimore Ravens are recognizing, like every team, is that you have to reshuffle sometimes,” Billick said. “You can't keep everybody. But the difference is, 'We have our quarterback. We've got our guy in Joe Flacco. We just gave him $120 million. We think we're a sound enough team across the board. But yeah, are we going to have to readjust to this? Does this maybe not make us a favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champs? So be it. We’ve got our quarterback that’s going to mitigate that.’”
Flacco would have been the NFL’s top free agent this offseason had he been allowed to hit the open market. But re-signing your own, including Super Bowl MVPs, isn’t seen as a “splash” to some.
Billick, in that segment on NFL Network, continued his thought, saying that while the Ravens might take a small step back, they won’t fall below .500 because they have a quality quarterback.
“This is an organization now that's in great position to if not win a Super Bowl -- you don't know the way that the AFC is shaping up right now that they still can't be a factor -- but at the very least they're a team that has an opportunity to [be competitive through] these peaks and valleys,” Billick said. “I don't know if you're looking at a Ravens team that is going to fall to a 5-11 or a 6-10 [record]. They have the ability because of the stability at the quarterback position to maintain it and stay above that .500 level.”
The Ravens, who lost linebacker Ray Lewis to retirement, are obviously overhauling their defense this offseason. Their offense, besides Boldin, should remain mostly intact from a season ago.
Still, Billick was asked if Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens would regret letting so many starters go after they helped them beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII just a few weeks ago.
“No, I think they'll regret being put in this [tight salary cap] situation, but that's true of every team,” Billick said. “In 2000, after we won the Super Bowl, we extended ourselves in terms of keeping a number of key veterans to make another run at it in 2001. We got to the divisional round. But we did so knowing that in 2002, we were going to gut that team, and we did so without a quarterback, so we knew what we were up against.”
A month ago, Newsome made it clear that the Ravens had learned from those experiences. That’s why this offseason has a much different feel than when Newsome, Billick and the Ravens went for broke in pursuit of back-to-back titles 12 years ago.