SARASOTA, FLA. — Excuse me, but I thought the Orioles were the team that was rebuilding.
In less than 24 hours, the Ravens appear to have lost defensive cornerstones Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith to free agency after trading quarterback Joe Flacco and releasing charismatic safety Eric Weddle, wide receiver Michael Crabtree and troubled running back Alex Collins.
The only difference between this and the Orioles’ midseason teardown in July is that not all of the Ravens’ departures were part of some master plan.
Veteran offensive lineman Marshal Yanda is going to get pretty lonely up there at the podium next season.
OK, we’ll still have exciting young quarterback Lamar Jackson, but the veteran wisdom gap is going to be pretty wide over at the Under Armour Performance Center.
New general manager Eric DeCosta has more new holes to fill than a Baltimore road crew and the official first free-agent signing day isn’t until Wednesday.
The timing of all this could not be worse for a sports town that was already suffering from a severe star-power shortage.
The Orioles and their fans were just reminded of that when Manny Machado recently signed a $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres and Adam Jones signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, though it wasn’t like they were coming back here.
The Orioles unloaded Machado, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day in a series of deals in July to kick off a multiyear rebuilding effort that is just getting into full swing. It was something they had to do as the window of opportunity closed on the veteran team that reached the playoffs three times from 2012 to 2016.
The Ravens were already in transition, of course, because of the surprising emergence of Jackson, whose performance during the second half of their playoff run this past season made it logical — both from an economic and competitive standpoint — to move on from Flacco at quarterback.
Next season was supposed to be all about the exciting full emergence of Jackson as a star quarterback and team leader, and it will be. But the next several months will determine whether the Ravens have enough offensive and defensive talent around him to get back to the playoffs regardless of his performance.
The New York Jets obviously made Mosley an offer he could not refuse — $85 million over five years with $51 million guaranteed. When finalized, he would become the first multiple-time Pro Bowl first-round pick the Ravens have failed to sign beyond his rookie deal.
The departure of Suggs, who will join the Arizona Cardinals in his home state, where he starred at Arizona State, will not be felt nearly as much on the field as the loss of Mosley and Smith. But Suggs had become the defensive face of the franchise after the retirement of linebacker Ray Lewis and the late-career departure of safety Ed Reed.
The Ravens boasted the top-ranked defense in the NFL this past season in terms of total yardage allowed and were the only team in the AFC to give up fewer than 300 points. There obviously is still a lot of talent on that side of the ball, but this recent talent drain figures to make the upcoming NFL draft one of the most important in team history.
In the meantime, Baltimore sports fans must look to young stars such as Jackson and Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini as the faces of their teams’ long-term future. That’s not a bad thing, since those two are both fresh, likable young players, but it’s a lot of civic responsibility to place on athletes with relatively little professional experience.
Mancini, 26, has had the good fortune of being groomed for that likelihood by some of the older Orioles over the past couple of years and also will be one of the young leaders of a team that faces limited expectations this season.
Jackson, 22, will be carrying a lot more weight as the quarterback of a team that still will be expected to compete for a playoff berth after reaching the postseason just once in the past four seasons.
One way or the other, youth will have to be served, though hopefully not on a platter.