cheesin'It seems like just yesterday when we saw the Baltimore Ravens defeat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII. Most of us didn’t realize more than a month later, the Ravens as we saw them in early February would look completely different, as the free agency period has begun. We knew middle linebacker Ray Lewis wasn’t going to return due to retirement, so at the least the Ravens expected to have a void in the interior of the defense that needed to be filled. It turns out the defending champions will have more than just the hole in the middle to fill. This week, Baltimore lost wide receiver Anquan Boldin in a trade with the 49ers, LBs Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe to the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, respectively, and strong safety Bernard Pollard is out the door as well. On top of that, it appears all but certain they will lose free safety Ed Reed (Let’s not forget center Matt Birk retired as well).  All of the players named were vital parts in the Ravens’ Super Bowl run and we will see a much different team take the field for next season than we’ve become accustomed to. From the outside, it looks like the Ravens have begun a rebuilding phase in their franchise. The experts are asking what are the Ravens thinking in letting all of these quality players go. In my mind, I don’t think it’s as dire as everyone wants to make it out to be. The Ravens management, in particular general manager Ozzie Newsome, had to have seen this coming at some point. The team has been built around their defense ever since Lewis was originally drafted back in 1996. Baltimore was starting to get a little long-in-the tooth and the window to win another title (the first was in 2000-’01) with the team as they were constructed was closing. This past season, we saw the beginning of a new era, where the franchise started to build around it’s offense. This is why it was so important to get players such as quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice locked up long-term, so they could have building blocks for the future. All things come to an end at some time, and we’ve seen the Ravens defense be in the top ten every year for the last decade. Last year they were in the middle of the pack, as the unit was decimated by injuries and, frankly, old age. To their credit, they did get it together in time to win a title, but the writing was on the wall. The unit just wasn’t the same, and I’m sure Newsome knew that. It was time for a change and all Newsome can do is try to make the transition as smooth as possible. Yes it does look bad right now and the Ravens may struggle to make the playoffs for a year or two, but I trust Newsome’s judgement and there is no doubt in my mind the Ravens will be back in the fight for a title. As for this recent championship, I would tell Ravens fans to enjoy it and take it for what it’s worth. Time is changing and the identity of the team is more offensive. The defense has carried the team for a while and it was a good run, but it’s time to put the trust in management and hope they know what they’re doing. Like for the Ravens and their fans, they have one of the best GMs in the National Football League, and that should bring some comfort in a seemingly rough time.

By Charles Taylor

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