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Eisenberg: Ravenstown Divided Into Two Camps

Posted Mar 16, 2013

Are you on the ledge? Or do you think those on the ledge are ridiculous?

Ravenstown is basically divided into two camps right now. There are people on the ledge in the wake of the team’s many personnel losses, and there are people who think the people on the ledge are ridiculous to worry.

I’m pretty much in the latter group. Even though the Ravens have lost a ton of guys who helped them win a Super Bowl, so many that you can’t help but scratch your head, their track record suggests there’s no reason to panic, that General Manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office know what they’re doing and will quash all doubts in the end.

Just ask the rest of the NFL. The Ravens always have a plan. Few teams are better at knowing when to cut ties with veterans and fit the pieces of a winning team under the salary cap. To quote the old baseball adage, you can look it up.

The Ravens sent people to the ledge when they parted ways with Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Willis McGahee in 2011, but they ended up in the AFC title game.

They had another crowd on the ledge when they let Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding and others depart a year ago, but they wound up winning the Super Bowl.

Now, with the cheers that greeted that triumph still echoing, the Ravens have lost more veterans than ever. Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams have signed elsewhere as free agents. Anquan Boldin was traded, Bernard Pollard and Bobbie Williams released. Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired.

The Ravens are always aggressive in turning over their roster, but that’s a lot of subtraction, even by their standards.

Most of it is easily explained. Kruger and Ellerbe signed for more than the Ravens (or any sane team) would ever pay them. The Ravens’ depth at cornerback guaranteed Cary Williams’ departure. Pollard’s release was surprising, and his fierceness will be missed, but he isn’t a Pro Bowl player and the Ravens want a faster secondary.

The decision to trade Boldin is the only one I might quibble with, mainly because he was just so immensely valuable. The move could have been avoided for a reported $2 million, but isn’t your top receiver worth that, especially when the team is becoming more offensive-oriented?

The Ravens’ track record suggests they know when to make such a move (see Heap, Mason), but I’m guessing Boldin will fare well in San Francisco in 2013.

In any case, offsetting all of those losses is just one addition so far, defensive tackle Chis Canty. Given that imbalance, I actually understand why some fans are on the ledge. It’s only human nature. All the Ravens have done so far is part ways with a slew of popular guys who helped them win a Super Bowl, an inherently depressing process. And they’re concrete subtractions, with their replacements merely theoretical at this point, still to be determined. It doesn’t add up … yet.

But savvy followers of the team and the sport understand this is simply the grim part of the roster-building cycle, the tearing apart that inevitably occurs, even after a title-winning season, due to the salary cap. The more positive interlude, the building up, that’s coming. And Newsome is adept at finding new blood that is younger and cheaper but just as productive.

The Ravens do it the prudent way, by trusting the judgment they exhibit every April and building their roster through the draft. They love their picks, stick with them and grow them until they’re contributors. That’s how you keep youth filtering through your lineup, and how you fit a winning team under the cap despite paying big bucks to star players.

When Heap and Mason were cut, no one envisioned Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta replacing them, but they surely did. All those initial fears subsided.

It’s not the sexy way to talk people off the ledge – a splashy free agent signing would do more – but it’s how the Ravens have operated for years, and given their record, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.

Once again, their roster has holes and there’s plenty of filling in to do, but know this: The wise guys aren’t betting against them.


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