Led by the 37-year-old Lewis and the 34-year-old Reed, the Ravens had the eighth oldest roster in the NFL at the start of last season with an average age of 27 years and 172 days. The average age of the Ravens' 22 starters in the Super Ball was 28.9 (28.4 on offense, 29.4 on defense). According to Elias, that's the 10th-oldest lineup to play in the Super Bowl and the oldest since the 2002 Oakland Raiders.
However, in a span of a couple of months, nine of the 13 oldest players on that team left the organization. The Super Bowl-winning squad had 10 players age 31 or over. The current Ravens have only three: cornerback Chris Johnson (33), McKinnie (33) and Smith (31).
Harbaugh said Monday that getting younger was only one factor that went into the offseason decision-making.
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"You'd have to go case by case," Harbaugh said. "The guys that we lost by salary were all young guys. Age was not a factor for Kruger, for Ellerbe, for Cary Williams. Most of the age guys were guys who were retiring. That's just a fact of life and to me, we're moving on. Two of the guys — Anquan and Ed — were basically salary cap [decisions], so that was financial. Every situation kind of stands on its own two feet."
But according to Harbaugh, adding young talent is a "must the way the National Football League is built.
"It's not like the salary cap era is different than the old days. The salary cap itself demands that you play a lot of young guys. You have to."
It's hard to draw any conclusions when the Ravens still have 90 players on their roster and 51 have two years or less of NFL experience. But with Juszczyk (22) potentially replacing Vonta Leach (31) at fullback, center Gino Gradkowski (24) taking over for Birk and safeties Huff (30) and Elam (21) entering the lineup with Reed and Pollard (28) gone, the Ravens could shed as much as two years off the average age of their roster.
"You can't be better than winning the Super Bowl, but yes, it's entirely possible that age would have caught up to them to some degree and that this year would've been a less than stellar year by Ravens standards had they stood pat and it won't be," Polian said.
Super Bowl champions traditionally opt to keep the winning nucleus together so such significant swings in the average age and makeup of the team one season to the next are rare. The starters on the 2000 Ravens had an average age of 28 years, 281 days compared to 29 years and 130 days the following season, according to Elias.
But the current team's top decision makers knew at some point that they team would have to get younger. Salary cap issues — the Ravens have given out huge deals to Flacco, running back Ray Rice and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata the past two seasons — would force their hand. The normally stout defense also showed signs of age during last year's regular season, when they ranked 17th in total defense and allowed a franchise-worst 122.8 rushing yards per game.
But heading into training camp, three rookies — Elam, Williams and Brown — could be in line to start on defense and one more (Juszczyk) on offense. The Ravens haven't opened the season with three rookie starters since 2002 when Reed, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Tony Weaver started on defense.
"There's no question, it's difficult," Casserly said when asked about immediately thrusting rookies into starting roles. "They are all good players, good prospects. They're all going to be good players at some point, but how good are they going to be right now? The mistakes you're going to have to live through, but we've seen rookies come in and play really well. It's just hard to predict."
Savage, now the executive director of the Senior Bowl, one of the pre-draft showcases, gave high marks to the Ravens' rookie class. His biggest question is who will assume the leadership roles after the departure of so many vocal and accomplished veterans.
But he thinks the Ravens have already set the right tone with their offseason decision-making, moves that, to him, indicate that the franchise is ready to turn the page.
"One of the things that the Ravens do probably as well as some of the successful organizations, you really have to take each year as its own calendar year," he said. "Whatever happened last year really doesn't amount to much as far as what they do in 2013. They put some people in place that should allow them to be very competitive and give them a chance to win a Super Bowl. To them, it's not about defending a championship. It's about trying to go out and win another one."
Since the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3 to capture the organization's second Super Bowl title, the team's roster has undergone a significant overhaul. It remains to be seen if the 2013 Ravens will be better, but they'll certainly be a lot younger.
|Key departures||position||age||Potential replacements||age|
|Vonta Leach||FB||31||Kyle Juszczyk||22|
|Anquan Boldin||WR||32||Jacoby Jones||28|
|Matt Birk||C||36||Gino Gradkowski||24|
|Ma'ake Kemoeatu||NT||34||Brandon Williams||24|
|Paul Kruger||OLB||27||Elvis Dumervil||29|
|Ray Lewis||MLB||38||Jameel McClain||27|
|Dannell Ellerbe||ILB||27||Arthur Brown||23|
|Cary Williams||CB||28||Lardarius Webb||27|
|Bernard Pollard||SS||28||Matt Elam||21|
|Ed Reed||FS||34||Michael Huff||30|