Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun
January 25, 2013
Six and a half minutes into Thursday's annual "State of the Ravens" news conference -- which had a different feel this year with the Lombardi Trophy glistening on a small table next to the one were owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh were seated -- Newsome made it clear that the Ravens wouldn't jeopardize their recent run of success by going crazy in pursuit of another Lombardi Trophy to pair with it.
That's what the Ravens did the last time they won the Super Bowl, paying to keep popular but overpriced veterans such as Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson, Sam Adams, and Tony Siragusa on their roster in 2001 and also splurging on free-agent quarterback Elvis Grbac. The Ravens made it back to the playoffs that year, but after their dreams of a repeat ended in the AFC divisional round, the Ravens were forced to blow up the roster, so much that they had just 34 players under contract when the 2002 draft rolled around. They went 7-9 that year and made the playoffs just once in the next four seasons. Newsome and the organization learned from their mistakes.
"We will not repeat what we did in 2001. We're trying to build where we can win Super Bowls more than just one more time. I think our team is structured differently this time also. We do have some veterans that will probably be retiring but we have a great nucleus of young players and players that are just heading into their prime that we're going to build this team around," said Newsome, who later would not elaborate on which players might retire. "But all that being said, John and I have talked about it -- and we've talked to the coaches -- that doesn't mean that we don't want to try and go and repeat."
Even though star outside linebacker Terrell Suggs told me a few weeks ago that he thought the window would close on the Ravens -- Lombardi or not -- after the season ended, they have built a core that should keep them in contention for at least the next few seasons. The quarterback is the most important piece, and the Ravens have that in Joe Flacco. They have young playmakers on offense, some quality building blocks on the offensive line, cornerstone defenders in Haloti Ngata and Suggs and Lardarius Webb, and some other young defensive players who showed promise this season. Plus they have one of the game's best talent evaluators in Newsome and a coach who has brought stability to the locker room in Harbaugh. Yes, the Ravens have difficult decisions to make this spring, but that will be no different than the past few springs when they made it into the tournament and won at least a game in five straight years.
Flacco's impending free agency is the biggest storyline -- keep clicking for more on that -- but the team is also in danger of losing free safety Ed Reed, pass rusher Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, and left tackle Bryant McKinnie and others in unrestricted free agency. Guys like tight end Dennis Pitta and defensive end Arthur Jones are restricted free agents, too. Retirement is a possibility for Reed, McKinnie and center Matt Birk as well. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin and fullback Vonta Leach carry relatively high salary cap numbers into the 2013 season. Each of those men played prominent roles in this storybook Super Bowl run, which is why they are now sentimental favorites with championship clout. The Ravens realize, though, that while they will always find room in their hearts for those guys, they can't find room for all of them in their salary structure. With the team so tight against the cap, they can't bring everyone back. Saying goodbye won't be easy, but the Ravens know they have to make tough, cold, rational decisions this spring if they want to contend for championships after 2013.
"We don't want to repeat. We want to be one of the 12 teams that have a chance to win every year. If you think that we can build this up to try and repeat, it's fool's gold because we're not the favorite to win next year," Bisciotti said, referring to Vegas oddsmakers. "We're not in the top four teams that are favorites to win next year. So we want to make sure that 2015 we have as good a chance to win as 2013."