Ravens Can Still Fly Despite Off-Season Departures
By Cian Fahey
Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger left the Baltimore Ravens to sign massive contracts with other AFC franchises this offseason. Ed Reed is currently being entertained by the Houston Texans on his first visit that intimates his next likely destination. Anquan Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for next to nothing while Bernard Pollard was released to save a million against the cap. Bryant McKinnie is in Miami looking to sign a deal with the Dolphins while there has been no talk of Cary Williams re-signing with the Ravens.
All of those moves were preceded by the re-signing of Joe Flacco to a historically high salary.
On the surface, it appears that Flacco's contract is killing the Baltimore Ravens. However, the reality is that it is not. At least, it's not just yet.
Despite his late-season heroics, Boldin wasn't the Ravens' primary receiver and wasn't consistently productive throughout the whole season. That mantle fell instead on Torrey Smith. But what of Boldin's physicality and ability to move the chains? TE Dennis PItta can easily fill that role as he did for much of last season. Along with Boldin, McKinnie is the other Super Bowl starter on offense who isn't expected back. McKinnie started the postseason, but only made it into the lineup due to injury.
Much like Boldin, Reed is perceived as a big loss because of his well-established reputation. Reed has been a Ravens' star throughout his whole career, however, his career is nearing its end. Despite his reputation, Reed's performance on the field has dropped off significantly over the past two seasons. He didn't have the same impact as far as turnovers last season, which would be fine, except that he was also routinely missing tackles. Too often Reed went to deliver a knockout shot but instead missed and allowed the offensive player to bounce off of him for more yardage. While that may have been a result of playing with a torn labrum, he should have adjusted to make more form tackles.
Reed's partnership with Bernard Pollard had been a perfect clash of styles in recent years. Reed would survey the deep section of the field, while Pollard sat in the box and intimidated opponents with his physicality. Now that Reed is likely not returning, it made sense for the Ravens to cut ties with Pollard also to establish a completely new relationship between two new safeties. With a slew of draft picks and enough salary cap space, the Ravens should have no real issues in replacing the old guard at the position.
While the gap left by the two safeties between both starting cornerbacks is huge, the void left by Ray Lewis in the linebacking corps is daunting. Lewis' natural replacement was expected to be Ellerbe, but now that he has left for the Dolphins, Baltimore is left with just one starting inside linebacker – Jameel McClain. Free agency offers the Ravens a few nice value fits, most notably Karlos Dansby, but the draft seems the natural avenue to fill his spot. Baltimore can afford to put a top pick into the position.
Even though the Ravens lost two linebackers this offseason, there is only one open spot in the starting lineup. Courtney Upshaw and a healthy Terrell Suggs are already penciled into the starting outside linebacker spots. Situational pass rushers can be found to replace Kruger at a low cost.
That leaves only Williams. While he played well in the playoffs last year, Williams struggled somewhat in the regular season after Lardarius Webb went out with a torn ACL. Webb should be back at some point this season while former first-rounder Jimmy Smith should be a full-time starter as he continues to develop. Smith and Webb are good starters together when healthy and the free-agent cornerback market is proving to be slow for players this offseason. That means depth targets should be easy to find for the Ravens.
It can't be denied that the Ravens have suffered losses since the end of last season, but the magnitude of those losses has been largely misperceived.