NEW ORLEANS - After a few days of celebrating, the Baltimore Ravens will soon begin scattering. Many will go on vacation, some will be looking for new teams. The shortest offseason in their history begins now.
Coach John Harbaugh wasted no time in telling Ed Reed he wanted him back for another year in a conversation on the bus returning from Sunday's game. In a Monday press conference, Harbaugh said that Reed wanted to return. Ray Lewis won't be back and Reed may not be.
The last time the Ravens won the Super Bowl, general manager Ozzie Newsome was able to keep the team intact except for replacing quarterback Trent Dilfer with Elvis Grbac. That didn't work out well, and Grbac retired after that season. Jamal Lewis, the team's star running back, suffered a knee injury and didn't play that year.
Newsome can't or won't try to keep the team together again this time. Center Matt Birk may retire and besides Reed, the Ravens may not be able to afford Anquan Boldin, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger.
The good news is that Joe Flacco will be back, and it's likely that he'll be signed to a long-term contract. Baltimore could use its franchise tag on him, but that would be tricky.
Not only will Flacco return, but so will Ray Rice, who signed a long-term contract before this season, and Torrey Smith is getting better and better. If the Ravens are able to keep Boldin, Smith and Jacoby Jones together as well as tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, those are potent weapons for Flacco.
The Ravens smartly drafted another running back, Bernard Pierce, and used him to spell Rice, keeping him from the pounding that is the bane of small running backs. Employing Pierce is a good way to help extend Rice's career.
Flacco now joins the top shelf of NFL quarterbacks. He may not be mentioned with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who the team defeated in the playoffs, but he's now at least in the second tier of greatness, just below Aaron Rodgers and on the same level with Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, who twice won Super Bowls.
It's hard to believe that the December Flacco, whose team lost four of five to close the regular season, suddenly turned magical in 2013. Surely he couldn't have done all this if Cam Cameron remained offensive coordinator. Harbaugh's canny move of firing Cameron and replacing him with Jim Caldwell seems the key to the Super Bowl run.
Two months ago, most in football considered the Ravens unlikely contenders, but not Flacco.
"I don't think we ever lost faith that this was where we were going to be," Flacco said on Monday morning. "This has been a long journey, and I don't think it would be quite as enjoyable as it would be if we hadn't gone through all this stuff that we've been through in the last couple years, this year. So, I think we kept the faith all along, and this is where we envisioned ourselves and I think that's why we're here."
Flacco, who was spotted walking the streets of New Orleans on Wednesday night and dropped in at Café Du Monde for coffee and beignets on Saturday, desperately wants to be normal. He'll probably not drive the Corvette he won as Most Valuable Player to the Baltimore County diner he favors, but most likely will get some space for privacy.
"I kind of like to go about my business," Flacco said. "The people in Baltimore have always been great, so it'll be cool to go back there and just kind of see their reaction that our whole team gets when we get back there."
As for Harbaugh, he knows how difficult it will be for the Ravens to repeat. Just eight times in Super Bowl history has a team won two straight, and none have won three in a row.
There are many excellent coaches and quarterbacks who never won a Super Bowl. Flacco and Harbaugh will forever be linked, and won't have to hear the griping again - until next season begins.