NFL Season Preview: Baltimore Ravens Shape-Shifting Efforts

NFL Season Preview: Baltimore Ravens Shape-Shifting Efforts

Typically, when an NFL team wins the Super Bowl, there are mounds of defections. Players whose values will never be higher seek to cash in (read: become overpaid) either with the team, or elsewhere. When defections do not deplete the roster of its depth and ability to repeat, injuries usually accomplish the same feat. Only Deion Sanders (in recent NFL history) has signed as a free agent with two separate teams (in 1994, with San Francisco, in 1995, with Dallas) in back to back seasons and won a Super Bowl with both. Legendary safety Ed Reed seeks to accomplish the same, but it will be with the Houston Texans, not the Ravens.

The Ravens lost several key players due to free agency or retirement. All-time great middle linebacker Ray Lewis retired following the Super Bowl, Reed signed with the Texans, outside linebacker Paul Kruger signed with the Cleveland Browns, and Dannell Ellerbe signed with the Miami Dolphins. Additionally, the Ravens traded stalwart WR Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for picks.

Offensively, the Ravens figure to be in decent shape, as Boldin’s trade was the only major move. Quarterback Joe Flacco signed a $121 Million contract shortly after the Super Bowl. Dual threat running back Ray Rice is still in his prime, and WR Torrey Smith figures to assume a larger role with the trade of Boldin. Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson are also slated to make more of an impact offensively. While Boldin was more of a possession receiver, Jones and Thompson are speed merchants, as is Smith. The Ravens’ offense could go from a methodical, slow and plodding machine to a high-octane F1 circuit this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens made nearly a complete overhaul. The retained talent (Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, LarDarius Webb) are each coming off major injuries. Suggs ruptured his Achilles in April of 2012, and showed up in mandatory workouts in June 2013 in the best shape he’s been in years. Ngata’s back woes limited him most of 2012, and Webb’s torn ACL figures to garner watching, as it typically requires most players at least a year to return close to pre-injury form. The Ravens did cash in with DE Elvis Dumervil, however.

GM Ozzie Newsome is widely acclaimed as one of the best (if not the best) GM in the NFL, and his shrewd moves were pre-planned. The Ravens knew that they were not going to hold on to players following 2012, and were already planning for 2013 and beyond. In doing so, Newsome drafted Reed’s replacement in Matt Elam (Florida), while Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams figure to make immediate impacts at linebacker and defensive tackle, respectively. The Ravens did not draft a CB, so the fact that Cary Williams signed with the Philadelphia Eagles means that the Ravens are fully confident in 2nd year player Jimmy Smith’s abilities opposite Webb. The Ravens defense figures to be much faster overall, which could throw a wrench in the trend of Super Bowl winners that fall off drastically the following year.

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