An exodus of veteran talent…and it feels like a mutiny!
That's what's happening in Ravens Land as free agency signings continue.
This is happening primarily because of two factors: (1) The Ravens knew they had painted themselves into a corner with their cap situation going back almost two years ago…so they have to let their free agents walk, as there is no cap space available to re-sign them…and (2) it's the perfect time to get younger and leaner and avoid the mistake they made after winning the 2000 Super Bowl, which was saddling up the same horse for one more ride.
It's still unsettling for many Ravens fans to watch guys like Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe, Cary Williams and Anquan Boldin, among other veterans, simply disappear from the roster. But it is the survival fact of life for the Ravens right now as a viable organization moving forward.
How it will all turn out on the playing field come this Fall is another question. Las Vegas oddsmakers are downgrading the team's chances to repeat as Super Bowl participant, that's for sure.
But Ozzie Newsome is a general manager who has a plan. He saw this coming and he's already rebuilding with a mix of veteran free agents and some promotions from within.
So far he's signed DT Chris Canty, RB Damien Berry, and G/T Ramon Harewood…
Chris Canty's signing (3-year deal) is the biggest impact addition to the Ravens roster so far. But Berry and Harewood add quality depth potential.
“Chris is a good player and an upgrade for our defense,” Newsome stated of the 6-7, 317-pounder. “We’ve seen that in our study, and he has also played very well against us. We like the fact that he is coming from a winning franchise that recently won the Super Bowl with his help. Plus, he can help us at both end and tackle.
“John [Harbaugh, Ravens head coach] and I met with him for a while last night, and we especially liked the enthusiasm he showed to be a Raven. It’s good to add a quality player and person like Chris to our roster.”
Regarding Berry and Harewood, both extended to 1-year contracts:
Berry, who originally signed with the Ravens as a rookie free agent in 2011, spent his first NFL season on Baltimore’s practice squad. He missed the entire 2012 campaign after being placed on Injured Reserve (neck/shoulder) during training camp. He can contribute mostly on special teams in 2013, and this may be his last best shot to really add depth at running back, too.
Harewood, who was selected by Baltimore in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, has played in six career games, making five starts at left guard. The 2012 campaign marked his first NFL action, having spent his first two seasons with the Ravens on Injured Reserve (knees and ankle). Harewood is a critical "extra piece" on the Ravens' offensive line.
Replacing players is part of life in the NFL, and the Ravens have proven critically adept at that in recent years. "They have parted ways with veterans and seen talented players go elsewhere to seek bigger paychecks and, but have been able to replace them with young developing players, the draft and shrewd free agency singings", as Garrett Downing of the Ravens NFL.com site points out.
Just as a reminder of how Ozzie has done it before, here's a partial list of guys he's somehow replaced in the past:
Guard Ben Grubbs, New Orleans Saints
The Pro Bowler was one of the Ravens’ best offensive linemen and is regarded as one of the top guards in the game. The Ravens made a push to keep him last offseason, but he ended up getting a deal reportedly worth $36 million from the Saints. Grubbs went on to start every game for the Saints and played at a high level. The Ravens replaced him with a rotation of linemen, and the line came together with rookie Kelechi Osemele (second-round draft pick) taking over the position in the playoffs to protect quarterback Joe Flacco on his historic postseason run.
Jarret Johnson, San Diego Chargers
The veteran outside linebacker headed west to San Diego after spending nine seasons with the Ravens and starting 130 straight games. He was a leader and a critical piece of the Ravens defense, and his departure was viewed as a key loss at the time. The Ravens ended up drafting Courtney Upshaw and rotated him with Kruger to replace Johnson in the lineup.
Defensive end Cory Redding, Indianapolis Colts
The veteran lineman went with Chuck Pagano to Indianapolis after spending two seasons as a starter with the Ravens. He was a run stuffer and leader during his time in Baltimore, but then he signed a reported three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Colts. When Redding left, the Ravens turned to Arthur Jones (three-year veteran) and Pernell McPhee (two years) and they ended up stepping into productive roles.
Bart Scott, New York Jets
The inside linebacker signed a reported six-year, $48 million deal with the Jets heading into the 2009 season. The Ravens didn’t match the offer, and instead opted to go with young undrafted players like Ellerbe and Jameel McClain, who both emerged as quality starters.
Dawan Landry, Jackson Jaguars
The Ravens lost the hard–hitting safety to the Jaguars after the 2010 season when he signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $27 million. He started every game for the last two seasons in Jacksonville, but didn’t live up to the big contract and the Jaguars cut him last week. The Ravens ended up signing free agent Bernard Pollard to replace him, and grew into one of the team’s top defenders and a leader in the locker room.
And so the wheels on the bus go round and round… Now Bernard Pollard is the Ravens' "Dawan Landry" of the moment. Pollard is on his way to greener pastures. I think fans will really miss Pollard—he's an articulate and affable guy as well as a hard-hitting safety who plays smart— but Ozzie has been down this road before.