Key members of the Baltimore Ravens are exiting faster than No. 2 seeds from the NCAA tournament.
Ben Grubbs. Cory Redding. Jarret Johnson. Haruki Nakamura. Tom Zbikowski. All gone. Jameel McClain might be next.
Grubbs' loss will likely be mitigated by the signing of another free agent guard, but it's hard to ignore the fact that Redding and Johnson (and McClain if he does, indeed, sign elsewhere) were a big part of why the Ravens' defense has continued to dominate even as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed approach social security age.
Judging from message boards and radio calls, Ravens fans are worried. And they have every right to be. But there's also good reason to relax and let the next few weeks of free agency and the NFL draft play out without falling off the purple bandwagon.
Ozzie Newsome and Ravens rarely regret letting players leave.
Think about it. How often has a Ravens castoff excelled elsewhere after leaving Baltimore? From Jamie Sharper and Duane Starks to Edgerton Hartwell and Bart Scott, to Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, if the Ravens opt to stop investing in a player, it's usually the right move.
Johnson has defined the Ravens defense every bit as much as Lewis, Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata over the past several years, but he'll be 31 before next season, was already seeing his playing time scaled back, and pass-rush specialist Paul Kruger seems ready to step in on a full-time basis.
Redding played pretty well the past two seasons, but he'll be 32 next season and the guess here is that Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones will make people forget about him pretty quickly.
Nakamura and Zbikowski were solid in nickel coverage and good on special teams, but they weren't moving ahead of Reed or Bernard Pollard on the safety depth chart and they had opportunities elsewhere.
McClain seems to be the least expendable of the bunch. He's in the prime of his career and has been the latest second-banana to thrive alongside Lewis in the middle of the Ravens' linebacking corps. Newsome needs to decide if he's just the next Hartwell or Scott, made to look better by playing next to Lewis, or if he could be Lewis' successor.
One of the reasons the Ravens had such a good defense last year was that virtually the entire unit was back from the previous year. Forget continuity in 2012, it'll be a different-looking squad. We'll see how much different over the next six weeks.
Newsome doesn't usually spend big bucks on free agents, but this year might be an exception. And he and his team always do well in the draft, Sergio Kindle notwithstanding.
So it's just a tad early to get too worked up about the Ravens' offseason. Now, as for the Orioles' offseason ...