Changing of the guard?
With their five straight playoff appearances, the NFL's longest active streak, the Ravens have joined teams like the Patriots, Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers as postseason regulars in the AFC. But each of those teams has won at least one Super Bowl in the past decade.
If the Ravens fall short of reaching the Super Bowl again this year, they will join the Minnesota Vikings (1996-2000) and Miami Dolphins (1997-2001) as the only teams since they arrived in 1996 to make five consecutive playoff appearances without playing in a Super Bowl.
Ravens center Matt Birk was on some of those Vikings teams.
"You see what it takes to get into the playoffs and have a chance at getting to the Super Bowl. It takes a lot of work just to have a chance," he said. "That's what I took from it. Every year is a new year. One year we were 11-5 and the next we were 5-11. That's how quickly it can change."
Flacco will be their most notable free agent at season's end, but the Ravens can keep him under their control for 2013 with the franchise tag if needed. Reed will be a free agent, too, along with Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and others. Birk and guard Bobbie Williams could join Lewis in retirement. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin could be a salary cap casualty.
General manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office will have many difficult decisions to make this offseason, especially if they have to bid for Reed's services, but Brandt feels that strong drafting in recent years and going forward will allow the Ravens to find replacements internally.
"They have drafted well," said Brandt, who is now a host on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "They have gotten Michael Oher, [Marshal] Yanda, Kruger and guys like that. … I think that their team is not a kind of one-and-out team where you've got a lot of older players [that] if you lose them, you're in trouble. It's tough to lose Ray Lewis, it's tough to lose Ed Reed because those guys are so good. But they've done a very good job of replacing players with draft choices."
Brandt also offered praise for the selections of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta — three of Flacco's favorite targets and three of the 24 offensive players the Ravens have drafted since 2007 while attempting to update their identity.
Until they are officially gone, though, Lewis' eye-blacked scowl will be the most recognizable face of the franchise, followed by Reed's scruffy beard. Both are among the greatest players at their respective positions and will likely end up in the Hall of Fame.
Reed, who ducked questions about his future on Friday, has said in the past that he wouldn't base his future on what Lewis did. But this is the last time they will chase a Lombardi Trophy together.
Closed window or not, an era will soon end, and Suggs wants them to go out on top.
"It's going to be one hard last ride," Suggs said, "and we need to make it one to remember."
It figures to be another interesting offseason for the Ravens, with Ray Lewis retiring and several notable free agents. Here are nine players whose futures are in limbo heading into this offseason.
Matt Birk | center | possible retirement
The 36-year-old center told The Sun that he has made up his mind about 2013. He just isn't sharing it yet.
Anquan Boldin | wide receiver | potential cap casualty