What are they doing?
Many citizens of Ravenstown have asked that question recently while watching their team carry out a surprisingly aggressive overhaul of a Super Bowl-winning roster.
Some fans have asked it desperately, while wringing their hands and possibly moaning, as in "What are they DOING?" The departure of popular, productive players tends to generate such a response.
Of course, asking the question in that tenor tacitly implies that maybe the organization doesn't know what it's doing, a pretty ridiculous assumption in the wake of its five-year run that has included five trips to the playoffs, three trips to the AFC title game and a Super Bowl victory. Let's just say it's pretty clear the Ravens know what they're doing.
But in the wake of recent events, it's fair to ask the question more searchingly, as in, "OK, exactly what are they trying to accomplish here?" What are they doing by simultaneously cutting ties with so many leaders and key players? Are they rebuilding, using the breathing room earned with the Super Bowl win to take a step back before they can go forward again?
The answer to that question has been declared. Even though the Ravens aren't even that far into the process of reconstituting their team, their intentions are clear. They're trying to win now, immediately, next season, 2013. They're not rebuilding; they're reloading, trying to repeat their magical ride of 2012 with a somewhat different crew.
The signing of Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil helps clarify the process. He is the third new addition to the front-seven alignment, joining Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. Did you check their ages? Canty and Spears are 30. Dumervil turned 29 in January. They aren't young building blocks the Ravens hope will grow into useful pieces. They're fully-formed veterans, expected to step in and immediately deliver.
With the additions of Canty, Spears and Dumervil, the Ravens aren't signaling to the rest of the league that they're embarking on some multi-year plan to build another Super Bowl winner. They're signaling that they're hoping to score a three-peat in the AFC North and go from there.
That's not to say they're avoiding inserting young players into their complex personnel puzzle. To the contrary, they're planning on using a lot of young guys. The salary cap demands it. It wouldn't surprise me to see two members of their 2013 draft class step right into starting roles – say, a safety and an inside linebacker.
But of course, you can't go strictly with young guys. You need that solid core of veterans who have been through the football wars and can provide stability throughout a season guaranteed to take wild turns. Canty and Spears are that, and Dumervil is that and more, a premier player at the peak of his powers.
It sounds like a supermarket tabloid headline – Elvis grabbed on open market. But nabbing him when he unexpectedly became available because of a paperwork error ranks among the Ravens' finest moves.
In the short term, it should quell the anxiety that has increasingly swirled as the Ravens said goodbye to so many familiar players. What were they doing? Well, they were clearing room to give them the flexibility to make moves such as adding Dumervil. Enough said.
They aren't done, either, although I wouldn't necessarily expect another addition of his stature.
When the Dumervil news broke Sunday, it was funny to check out players tweeting various versions of "In Ozzie We Trust," the mantra fans have chanted for years. The cleaving of the roster surely created some uncertainty in the locker room, too. What are they doing?
But it's time to put that question aside. What the Ravens are doing is clear. As thrilled as they were to win the Super Bowl, they ascertained that they couldn't do it again with the same crew. So they're bringing in a new crew, a painstaking process that will continue until the 2013 season kicks off. The goal is unchanged. Win now, not later.