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Ray Lewis says the Ravens must get younger to stay competitive.
Ray Lewis says the Ravens must get younger to stay competitive. (Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun this week, former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis expressed optimism about the future of his old team, but not before offering this caveat:

"They're going to have to get it done real soon before things start to break up," said Lewis, now an ESPN analyst.

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Lewis and Ravens fans everywhere are familiar with the significant turnover that occurs on the team's roster every offseason. The next couple of months figures to bring more of the same as the Ravens could have as many as 14 unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents. Starting defensive end Chris Canty is pondering retirement, tight end Dennis Pitta's career is in jeopardy because of hip issues and veterans such as Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb and Jacoby Jones could be salary cap casualties.

Several of the team's top players, a group that includes Ngata, quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith, guard Marshal Yanda and linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Daryl Smith are all in their 30s.

Entering the 2014 season, the average age of a player on the Ravens' 53-man roster was 26.04, according to figures annually compiled by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Obviously, the Ravens made a ton of roster moves since these numbers were compiled, but at the start of the season, they had the 17th-youngest roster in the NFL, or the 16th-oldest if that's how you want to look at it.

In comparison, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, the two teams competing in Sunday's Super Bowl, have the league's seventh- and 11th-youngest roster, respectively. The Seahawks' average age is 25.65 and their head coach Pete Carroll has talked several times this week about the importance of maintaining a young roster. The average age of the Patriots is 25.76.

Several other playoff teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals, also had younger rosters than the Ravens to start this past season.

Lewis spoke repeatedly about the Seahawks' ability to build a dynasty because they have a young and talented roster, led by a quarterback (Russell Wilson) who is still playing on his rookie contract. The money the Seahawks save at the quarterback position has allowed them to splurge in other places and build an extremely deep roster.

The Ravens, of course, don't have that luxury after signing Joe Flacco to a six-year, $120.6 million contract in March of 2013. But Lewis' point was that in order to compete with teams like the Patriots and Seahawks, the Ravens need to keep adding to their young nucleus, establishing a core that will help them win now and help aging standouts like Suggs and Yanda experience Super Bowl glory one more time, while also solidifying the organization for the future.

"We're at a place where we have to find out that one, two core [players] that are going to be with us that next four, five, six, seven years to build that organization, to get us back to that dance again," Lewis said. "We can't go backward now. We've tasted it."

Last year's draft brought the Ravens seven players who contributed immediately, led by inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who figure to be fixtures in the middle of the team's defense for years to come.

The Ravens will have nine more picks in this year's draft, giving them the opportunity to add more youth to their roster.

As Lewis sees it – and the Seahawks have proved – that's the best way to make sure the organization is competing for championships every season.

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