In the wake of the Ravens' best-ever regular season, I believe I can state, officially and without reservation, that this is a great time to be a fan of the team.
In the short term, the Ravens are on a 12-game winning streak heading into the playoffs and own the AFC's top seed for the first time. They're electric on offense, the talk of the league. Their quarterback is an MVP, seemingly impossible to stop.
It is such a trove of riches that I fear fans received nothing from Santa this year. They'd already gotten everything they wanted.
But I'm not even talking about the short-term stuff. The Ravens' long-range situation is what truly makes this a great time to be a fan.
I'm bringing it up because the Ravens announced over the weekend that they signed cornerback Marcus Peters to a new contract, which means he'll stay in Baltimore for several more years instead of hitting free agency in March and possibly going elsewhere.
If anything, the news was a reminder than life will go on after this dream of a season. And there's a lot to like about what lies ahead.
For starters, there's the salary cap situation, where the Ravens are on the verge of a change so drastic I might even call it, well, revolutionary. (Oops, already taken.) After years of living close to the cap limit, they're finally going to have room to maneuver.
The cap is rising anywhere from 4.2 to 6.9 percent in 2020, depending on several economic factors. That's a healthy spike. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco's mega-contract finally comes off the books after this season.
In case you'd forgotten, the Ravens had to eat $16 million in "dead money" in 2019 after trading Flacco. They went 14-2 this season with Flacco as their largest cap hit, encompassing 8.52 percent of their entire cap allotment, according to Spotrac. That's slightly more than Jimmy Smith's 8.44 percent, and Smith's contract runs out after this season.
Aside from an improved cap situation, the Ravens also will be in the much-envied position of starting an MVP-caliber quarterback at a bargain price. Lamar Jackson's rookie contract runs through the 2022 season (with the fifth-year option) and he'll obviously be super expensive if and when the time comes for him to get paid, but until then, there's a window of opportunity to lock up more talent.
They've already signed a bunch of pending free agents, Peters being the latest, and I'm sure they want to sign more. They're going to need that extra cap room. Winning is expensive. It'll be costly to retain Pro Bowl-caliber talent such as Matthew Judon, whose contract is up after this season; and also Ronnie Stanley, Marlon Humphrey and other candidates for extensions and/or new deals in the coming years.
Until now, it seemed the Ravens often found themselves in an either-or situation with such players because they were so tight against the cap limit. I'm oversimplifying, but basically, if they signed Player A, they couldn't sign Player B.
Now, with more room to maneuver, they have an opportunity to sign Peters and his teammates.
The Ravens' big-picture scenario isn't perfect, of course. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale both are being interviewed for head coaching jobs elsewhere. Losing both would be a blow. Losing one would be a blow. But it's early in the process. Let's see what happens.
Even factoring in such subtractions, though, it's impossible to see the Ravens' big-picture as anything other than sunny. Jackson has soared into the football stratosphere, and he's just 22 (23 next week), still learning on the job. The Ravens could be looking at years of success with him.
My two cents, the fans actually have had it pretty good for awhile. The Ravens operate wisely, unlike some teams. They'd made 11 playoff appearances and won two Super Bowls coming into this season.
But seldom have the skies been brighter than they are now.