Is the window closing for the Ravens to win a Super Bowl? It definitely is for stalwart linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed. But Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti believes the window is wide open for his franchise.
"I don't see age as being a window closing, not when you have a franchise quarterback coming up that's entering his fifth year," Bisciotti said at Wednesday's news conference. "We got great contributions this year from three of our seven draft picks, and I know that we are very excited about the other ones. We didn't know what we got in Pernell McPhee, and we're really excited about Jah Reid. We're still very excited about Tandon Doss and Anthony Allen and Chykie Brown. And LaQuan [Williams], who wasn't drafted. We've got some contributors that we're going to count on and that fill a lot of holes for us. What Jimmy Smith and Pernell andTorrey [Smith] did for us this year is spot on. We think we can get some of that out of the other four."
Lewis will be back for a 17th NFL season, but he will be 37 in May. Reed will turn 34 during the first month of the 2012 season. Whether the bearded ballhawk will be with the Ravens or in retirement remains to be seen.
But Bisciotti said Wednesday that the many tales told this season about the aging Baltimore defense were myths. He says if you subtract the ages of Lewis and Reed from the equation -- not that they plan on subtracting them from the roster anytime soon -- the Ravens would have one of the NFL's youngest defenses.
"Some of the national guys have written some articles recently [questioning the age of the Ravens defense]," Bisciotti said. "If you replace [Lewis and Reed] with two 22-year-old guys, you've just picked up 14 years. Divided by 11 starters, that's a year-and-a-half difference. So, if you want to get younger, we can replace those two with two 22-year-olds and get down to being one of the youngest defenses in the league."
"That's clearly not our intention," he added.
By now you've probably seen Bisciotti's interesting quote about replacing Lewis and Reed, but it's worth rehashing. He sees Pro Bowl players Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata and 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith as their replacements in terms of impact.
Of course, the Ravens aren't going to leave their positions vacant, so they do need to start searching for long-term replacements for Lewis and Reed at their respective positions. But when they retire, it is true that Suggs and Ngata will have to be the leaders of the Ravens defense in their absence, and they are more than capable.
"I don't know that you ever look to replace Hall of Famers at their positions," Bisciotti said. "I don't know that that matters. Jimmy Smith is Ed Reed's replacement. In other words, we have great players like Ngata and Suggs that are their replacements. We don't have enough money after paying Ngata and Suggs to go get Hall of Famers at linebacker and safety. … As long as we're willing to spend the money, we will have four or five Pro Bowlers on our team. We think that Ray Rice has gotten it, we think Joe [Flacco] could be there, and Torrey [Smith] could be there. We don't know where they're going to show up later. So, I don't think you replace them. And then, safety and linebacker might not be our best two positions three years from now."