PHOENIX — The reality of the Ravens' salary cap situation and post Super Bowl XLVII world hit coach John Harbaugh early last week. With the Ravens failing to convince wide receiver Anquan Boldin to take a pay cut and not willing to carry his $6 million salary cap hit, Harbaugh knew exactly who to call.
"Heck yes," his brother, Jim, the coach of San Francisco 49ers, said when asked if he was interested in acquiring Boldin, a player that they struggled to stop a month earlier in the Super Bowl. In less than an hour, the deal was consummated and Boldin was headed to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick. The Ravens lost one of their postseason heroes but gained necessary salary cap space, a common theme for the organization over the past couple of weeks.
In front of the national media for the first time since the Ravens claimed their second Super Bowl championship with a 34-31 victory, Harbaugh was asked far more about what was lost over the last six weeks rather than what was gained.
"One thing we're going to do is cherish and be proud of this championship forever," said Harbaugh, speaking on Day Two of the NFL Annual Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. "That team, as it was put together, will walk together forever as champions. And now, we'll find out about the 2013 team and how we align and what we're going to be known for and what we're going to stand for as a football team, and that begins really now as we put the thing together. We're going to build the foundation of our football team."
As Harbaugh was reminded Tuesday simply by the nature of the questions from reporters, the Ravens have plenty of work to do. They have already lost eight players that started games this past season, including the anchor of the offensive line (Matt Birk), their leading sacker (Paul Kruger), the long-time face of their franchise (Ray Lewis) and his potential heir apparent at inside linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe). Three other players who started extensively last season remain on the free agent market.
"You can't feel sorry for yourself. Nobody's feeling sorry for you," Harbaugh said. "We have to move on to next year. We're disappointed about it. It's tough. We've had a lot of conversations … today about that part of it, the emotional part of it and balancing the emotional part with the business part. I don't think you can walk away from that. It's real. We've got friendships with these guys. Their families have been around. Our kids play together. We've been through a lot together. They were involved in every decision we made every single day. That's tough. That's something we're going to have to figure out going forward."
The Ravens are used to this by now. Every offseason seems to spur an exodus of valuable members of the team's nucleus. However, this year, it may be a little tougher because of how much work and effort went into the team's Super Bowl run. But as hard as it is, owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh know that sentimentality can't play a prominent role in decision making.
"No team ever stays the same. We understand it," Harbaugh said. "It's mostly difficult because we had the success last year and we won a championship last year. You'd like to hold on to that, but you can't hold on to it. It's not the nature of it. We've had this kind of turnover really every year for the last five years to one degree or another, pretty much more than anybody in the league. We know how to deal with it and Ozzie does a great job with it."
Harbaugh also addressed a variety of other topics, including Ed Reed's future with the team, his relationship with his brother and the Ravens' needs as they move on with the offseason.
** While there has been no indication that the Ravens have made any progress in re-signing Ed Reed, Harbaugh said he has his fingers crossed and remains "very hopeful" that a deal can be reached to bring the safety back for a 12th season in Baltimore.
"I think it's kind of a situation where we know Ed really well," Harbaugh said. "Ed and I are very close and I know he would tell you the same. We've had text conversations back and forth. I think he's enjoying the offseason. He had his healthiest year that he's had in the last few years. He was a great leader. Our relationship has just blossomed. It's been good, but this year with Ed especially, we really just got close."
Reed, 34, had a two-day visit with the Houston Texans last week and he appeared on the verge of signing with the AFC South team. But the Texans' offer was lower than what Reed had hoped. His agent, David Dunn, has been gauging the market on his client here this week, but there has been little reported progress. Bisciotti indicated Monday that he believes the Ravens will get a chance to match any offer the safety gets, but he wouldn't begrudge Reed if it didn't work out that way.
"We're still talking," Harbaugh said. "I don't think it's going to be anything that's real fast at this point. I guess it could change at any time, but we'll have to see."
** The Ravens have spoken to the representatives for free agent pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and James Harrison, and Harbaugh also brought up the availability of Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora.
"We're never going to walk away from a good player, and there just happens to be some pass rushers available right now … so we're looking at them," he said.
The organization is largely focused on the draft, but Harbaugh said the Ravens "can be active in free agency to an extent" and they'd also like to lock up a couple of their younger players with contract extensions. Tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Michael Oher are the most likely candidates.
The Ravens maintain interest in free agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, but Harbaugh didn't rule out Oher returning to left tackle, where he played most of last season.
Harbaugh said the team is looking for at least one more offensive lineman, possibly a center to compete with Gino Gradkowski. He also said he expects the team to draft another tight end and wide receiver despite expressing confidence that Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson or David Reed can help fill Boldin's role.
** Long before many team and league executives and reporters descended on Phoenix, the two combatants in last month's Super Bowl and their families arrived at the Biltmore Hotel. The Harbaugh brothers had spoken since the Super Bowl, but this was the first opportunity for their families to spend extended time together.
"We had so much fun," John Harbaugh said. "We were here a couple days early. We had our kids here and we were just playing around and having a blast. … We've got a really strong relationship and it's only gotten stronger, and I feel like right now it's as strong as it's ever been."
John and Jim even raced down the slide at the hotel pool with their kids on their shoulders.
Notes: The release of starting safety Bernard Pollard saved just $1 million, prompting speculation that he was let go for more than financial reasons. However, Harbaugh called it a "cap move, plain and simple." … Harbaugh acknowledged that Haloti Ngata, who the coach described as motivated and healthy, could play some nose tackle after the free-agent additions of Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. … Harbaugh's wife and daughter stayed up Monday night to watch wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones' debut on "Dancing With the Stars." Harbaugh acknowledged that he wasn't thrilled by the player's decision to join the show, but he's softened his stance a little and says Jones should be back in time for organized team activities. … Despite the potential loss of a couple of safeties, the Ravens aren't considering moving any of their cornerbacks into that role. They also aren't considering moving outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw to the inside, but Harbaugh did say that Albert McClellan could permanently settle at inside linebacker. …The Ravens still haven't gotten word that inside linebacker Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion) has gotten full clearance from doctors.