Hopefully the Baltimore Ravens got forwarding addresses so they can send Super Bowl rings to all those departed graduates of Ball So Hard University.
You can't say they didn't warn you. Owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome made it quite clear at their season-ending presser that they weren't going to repeat the mistakes they made after their first Super Bowl victory and mortgage the future through renegotiated contracts in an effort to keep the team together and chase another Lombardi Trophy.
(Of course, their memory is a bit selective. Yes, they had salary cap issues that hurt the team for a few years, but they did make the playoffs in two of the next three seasons after Super Bowl XXXV and if they had drafted, oh, a semi-competent quarterback rather than Kyle Boller those pesky cap problems wouldn't have seemed so significant.)
Still, not many fans were fully prepared for the great purge of 2013. Ray Lewis gave notice. Perhaps you remember something about him announcing his retirement at season's end before the playoffs began. Matt Birk following suit wasn't a shock. Then came the Anquan Boldin trade. And then the cap casualties. And the free-agent carousel has been spinning ever since.
Paul Kruger. Dannell Ellerbe. Bernard Pollard. Cary Williams. And maybe Ed Reed?
That would be six key members of a defense that wasn't great last year anyway. Not to mention Joe Flacco's favorite target throughout the playoffs. No wonder Ravens Nation is in such a tizzy. If it wasn't for the fans' mantra - in Ozzie we trust - they'd all be on a ledge.
Taken individually, each decision is defensible.
Boldin didn't want to take a pay cut. You can't really blame him for that, but, then again, he should know as an NFL veteran that long-term contracts don't tend to mean much in the long term. Instead of being aghast at getting only a sixth-round pick in exchange for him, Ravens fans should be happy they got anything at all.
They got nothing for free-agent defections Kruger, Ellerbe and Williams.
Kruger was fantastic over the second half of the season and the postseason, but his career with the Ravens was marked by inconsistency. Obviously, he was going to get paid because some team is always going to pay a free agent pass rusher whose career peaked at the right time. But $40 million? Good luck getting your money's worth, Browns.
Re-signing Ellerbe was said to be the Ravens' top offseason priority, but then he was gone, bound for Miami, faster than you can say Dan Marino. For $35 million. Pretty big risk on a guy who's shown flashes but has never even started for a full season. But, then again, it probably wasn't even the worst deal the Dolphins did this week. (See: Wallace, Mike).
Williams also got a lot of money and the Ravens obviously felt like the cornerbacks left behind were essentially just as good. They're probably right about that.
Releasing Pollard might've been the most puzzling of all the moves simply because it didn't save the Ravens much toward the cap, but he apparently angered coach John Harbaugh & Co. once too often.
Which leaves Reed. It's hard to imagine why someone who has played his entire, Hall-of-Fame career in the same city, someone who talked openly about retiring two or three years ago, would want to start over somewhere. But, maybe there are a few millions reasons for doing so. Maybe. At this stage of Reed's career, letting him walk might not be such a bad idea.
It's easy for fans to say their team should've spent more money. Or that players should simply accept less money. (Even if it's difficult to conceive of said fans walking into their boss' office and offering to take less money so the company can keep Stan in accounting from bolting to the firm down the street).
Again, taken individually, all the moves are defensible. On the whole, though, it's kind of hard to believe a Super Bowl champion team could be dismantled so quickly. Seems like they could take a fairly big step back next season, but, hey, when you're the Super Bowl champions, there's nowhere to go but down.
It shapes up as a rough offseason for the fans, who were still coming off the high of winning Super Bowl XLVII when the roster began to vanish. But it's worth remembering that two years ago they lost longtime standouts and fan favorites Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and Kelly Gregg and reached the AFC championship. Last year they lost Jarret Johnson, Ben Grubbs, Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski and won it all.
Remember former Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Krause's famous quote, that players don't win championships, organizations win championships. (Actually, strike that. Upon further review, the Bulls haven't won any hardware since Michael Jordan left town.)
The Ravens have been pretty good at all this for a long time now. The guess is that they'll emerge as a contender again sooner rather than later. As for this fall, however, Boldin, now with that other Harbaugh in San Francisco, has a better shot at adding another ring than those he left behind.