New blood adds strength

The Baltimore Sun

Free agency has broken up that old purple gang of ours. A handful of heroes from the Ravens' surprising run up to the AFC championship game - center Jason Brown, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard - all hopped the Payday Express and are in other NFL cities.

Even so, the Ravens will be better when they line up for Game 1 than when they trudged off Heinz Field after losing the title game.

Linebacker Ray Lewis, after doing his best Hamlet rumination of whether "to be or not to be" a Raven, decided to stay.

A reason it was so difficult for the Ravens to pay Leonhard the big money was that they also have two promising second-year safeties, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. Scott's departure opens the door for Jameel McClain, an undrafted free-agent linebacker who made an impact in his first year. And at running back, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain have very little mileage on them.

Domonique Foxworth, a hometown guy, makes Baltimore deeper and younger at cornerback. Matt Birk, a former Pro Bowl center, will help stabilize the offensive line. Ravens fans should put faith in general manager Ozzie Newsome and director of player personnel Eric DeCosta that, as usual, they can work the draft. The most serious loss is defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Meanwhile, the biggest improvement will be at the linchpin position. Quarterback Joe Flacco returns with an entire offseason and a full training camp as the starter. Rookie Flacco was solid, if not spectacular, as he proved he has the arm and the temperament to be a consistent playoff-caliber QB. Almost singularly, his maturity will make the Ravens a better team.

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