"What The Hell Is Going On Out There?"
To quote the great Vince Lombardi, shown so often in that famous sideline footage from NFL Films: "What the hell is going on out there?"
Know a lot of you were/are thinking of that as your mind wandered to our Under Armour Performance Center in the last week.
It has been a wild and, to some, disturbing start to the 2013 free agency season for the Ravens.
Anquan Boldin, a hero in our run to the Super Bowl XLVII championship, was traded to the 49ers for a 2013 draft choice, noted by many reporters to be a sixth rounder. (We have not announced officially from which round the pick will be.)
(And, the Boldin trade was revealed on the same day as the premiere of the NFL movie of our title-winning season. Many in the crowd noticed how many big plays Anquan made in our run to the title.)
Two days later, word came out that we were terminating the contract of safety Bernard Pollard. Yeah, the same guy who made the hit on the Patriots' running back who fumbled the ball, setting up a key Baltimore touchdown in the AFC championship game.
Linebacker Paul Kruger, who led us with nine sacks in the regular season in 2012 – and added another four-and-a-half in the playoffs – signed with the Browns. Oh great, we have to face him twice a season.
Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who started seven regular-season games for us – and all four playoff contests – gone. He signed a big-time contract with the Dolphins.
I'm starting to cringe every time Ozzie Newsome comes into my office. He walked in on Wednesday morning, and I said: "Now what, more bad news?" Oz smiled, "No, no, not this time. We added a good player." He then told me about defensive lineman Chris Canty, who had just signed with us. (Canty solved a significant problem for the Ravens – he can play the same position that Cory Redding played for us from 2010-11, and we struggled with that spot all of last season.)
Did I mention that two stalwarts, Ray Lewis and Matt Birk, retired?
Is anyone keeping count here? And Ed Reed is being recruited as much as he was by colleges after his outstanding high school play in his hometown of Destrehan, LA.
Our roster will be different, but we're certainly not going to stand pat.
Recent Super Bowl Winners
OK, here's some perspective. Let's start with the recent Super Bowl champions and what they did the following seasons. Before we won ours last month in New Orleans, it was the Giants. How did they do this season? Ummm, they didn't make the playoffs. In 2010, the Packers won. In 2011, they were drubbed in the Divisional round by the Giants (37-20).
The Saints earned the Super Bowl after the 2009 campaign and then were eliminated by Seattle in the wild-card round in '10. And, in 2008, those Steelers won the title and then did not make the playoffs the following season.
Let's see if I have this right. None of the previous four Super Bowl champions won the title the following season. In fact, none of the four earned a trip back to a conference championship. None! While the Packers and Saints did fight their way back to the playoffs, both were knocked out in their first postseason game. The Giants and Steelers did not make it back to the playoffs the following year.
And, none of those teams had the dramatic roster changes we are undergoing right now. They mostly stood pat.
We study history. We are not sentimental when it comes to putting together our team. Maybe the previous four Super Bowl winners had a different way in keeping their rosters together the following seasons. We have our way in assembling our 2013 Ravens.
One thing we won't do is restructure a bunch of contracts to save the current roster. We think that's bad football business. It's as Ozzie says: "It's like alimony. You still have to pay the money, and it will change the way you live. … or, in our cases, our rosters."
I still remember the day two years ago that Ozzie told me that we were going to release Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Kelly Gregg – all on the same day. I wanted to say: "You're kidding me, right?"
I cringed a year ago, when our general manager – the Wizard of Oz – said we'd lose Jarret Johnson, Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs and Redding.
Newsome has that saying we all have heard: "Right player, right price."
But, it goes beyond that.
Ozzie doesn't travel during our season. Many NFL heads of personnel do, going to college campuses and games studying the next draft class. Newsome thinks it's more important and more valuable to watch every one of our practices in person and then study those practices again on tape.
That means he watched every single play – both at practice and in games – that Boldin, Ellerbe, Kruger, Pollard – all of the Ravens for that matter – participated in last season.
And Ozzie is not alone. Other key evaluators for us, like Eric DeCosta (assistant general manager), Vincent Newsome (pro personnel director) and George Kokinis (senior personnel assistant), also watch most of our practices in person.
"Right player, right price." That goes for our players too. Ozzie is very willing to go to a player and say: "Look, we love you, but we don't think you can play at this dollar level right now. We think you're currently worth this. We want you to stay, but it will have to be for less money." Some players say OK and re-do their contracts. Some say, "No way. I'm getting screwed." And, they're not here now.
That's harsh. But, that's a reality in our business. This doesn't happen very often, but it does. And, every team does this.
More To Come
Look, we don't line up and play a real game until early September. We're a long way from finishing our roster. We barely got yawns from the media and some fans when we signed Jacoby Jones and Corey Graham a year ago at this time. Those two players had a lot to do with our Super Bowl win. How many big plays did Jacoby make for us? Graham? He saved us at corner after injuries to Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith and made one of the biggest plays of the postseason when he intercepted Peyton Manning in overtime.
And, Oz and Co. are pretty good at drafting. No reporter gave more than a shrug when we took tackle/guard Kelechi Osemele, who looks like he's destined to be a Pro Bowl player at either tackle or guard, in the second round last April. (That's after we took Courtney Upshaw earlier that day – and he plays the same position as Kruger.) When we tabbed Bernard Pierce, the running back from Temple in the third round, I didn't see anyone outside of our coaches and scouts jumping up and down.
Plus, there are players we'll add as we approach and get into training camp. Think of some we added late in free agency in recent years: Bryant McKinnie, Vonta Leach, Pollard, Ricky Williams and Willie Anderson, who started at right tackle in 2008 when we earned a trip to the AFC championship game.
Sure, it hurts to lose good players and teammates like Anquan and Bernard, and others like Mason, Heap, "J.J." and Redding before that. Hurts a lot, in fact. But, we have to move on and make our best effort to win in 2013 and beyond. That's what we're doing.
Talk with you soon,