The conversations didn't just start in the aftermath of the Ravens' victory in Super Bowl XLVII. They actually began four months earlier when Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, owner Steve Bisciotti and coach John Harbaugh started to meet and plan for 2013 and beyond.
"What happened after we won the Super Bowl, that's something that Steve, John and I probably started talking about in October, November, as to what the team was going to look like in 2013," Newsome said yesterday. "It wasn't that one day we woke up and decided that we were going to let a lot of really good football players walk away and play for other teams, but we had a plan in place. We had to allow the plan to unfold."
Newsome, Harbaugh, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz met the media yesterday at the Ravens' annual draft luncheon, and predictably, most of the questions they fielded focused on next week's draft.
However, given that it was the media's first opportunity to talk to the Ravens' top decision makers since an unprecedented player exodus from a reigning Super Bowl champion, Newsome also was asked about the heavy turnover on his team.
"[The plan] unfolded after we won the Super Bowl, which makes it really, really nice, but it also makes it really, really tough when you go to battle with guys, and then you have to see them walk away from your organization, because we have to prepare for '14, '15 and '16," Newsome said. "Steve has put the four of us in charge of making sure that we remain a competitive football team, even over the course of that."
Since the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers to win the organization's second Super Bowl, center Matt Birk and inside linebacker Ray Lewis have retired. Guard Bobbie Williams, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo and safety Bernard Pollard had their contracts terminated. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded while linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger and defensive backs Cary Williams and Ed Reed signed lucrative free agent deals elsewhere.
All told, eight of the nine most veteran Ravens from the Super Bowl team are no longer on the roster.
Though it hit fans hard, the turnover on the Ravens' roster was somewhat expected, especially when Newsome said a couple of days after the Super Bowl that the organization would not make the same mistakes that it did after the Ravens won their first title in 2000. To keep that team's nucleus together, many of its veterans got contract extensions or restructurings.
Newsome still believes that had running back Jamal Lewis not torn up his knee before the season , the Ravens would have repeated as Super Bowl champions. "I just felt like we were that good," he said. "We might have been better that next year."
The 2001 team lost in the divisional playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers and was then gutted before the following season.
Team officials vowed that wouldn't happen again but they knew in order to make sure of that, they were going to have to let go of guys that were not only key contributors to a Super Bowl team but had been long-time members of the organization.
Newsome has never been overly revealing to the media and he didn't let on yesterday how difficult it has been to lose so many players that he brought into the organization. But after signing standout pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and safety Michael Huff, Newsome was defiant about his current team.
"I think we like our football team this year," he said. "I'd like for someone to be able to tell me that we aren't good enough to go to the playoffs right now. Can anyone say that? OK then. I think what we did is we just wanted to make sure that when we look downstream, that we were able to keep the [Torrey Smiths], the [Dennis Pittas], guys that we wanted to keep. If you don't make tough decisions this year, then it will be tougher to keep those guys in years to come."