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Eisenberg: What to Make of Defense's (Reported) Semi-Seismic Shake-up


If you're out and about this week and happen to cross paths with Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don (Wink) Martindale, you might want to offer him a few words of solace. Maybe even a hug.

If he is in your phone as a contact, consider sending him a text. Thinking of you, buddy. You can pick the emoji. Maybe the one with the crying face?

It has quickly turned into that kind of week for Martindale, who guided the Ravens' defense to a No. 1 league ranking last season in his first year as Baltimore's DC. That was a triumph, but now, with the high-end shopping bazaar known as free agency upon us, his unit is reportedly suffering the kind of major subtractions that guarantee it will look a whole lot different in 2019.

Let me put it this way: Having already set out to rebuild their offense around quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens now seemingly have to rebuild their defense, too.

Last week, the front office elected to part ways with safety Eric Weddle. Monday, Terrell Suggs reportedly informed the Ravens that he'll sign with the Arizona Cardinals when free agency officially opens Wednesday. Then came the whopper Tuesday morning, as news broke that linebacker C.J. Mosley – the centerpiece of the defense – will sign a massive deal with the New York Jets.

Those may not be the only subtractions, either, as the Green Bay Packers reportedly are ready to sign to linebacker Za'Darius Smith to a big deal, and defensive end Brent Urban also is a free agent. There's even chatter about cornerback Jimmy Smith's future, seeing as he's currently due to earn more than any player on the team in 2019, which always produces scrutiny.

For those keeping score, that's more key contributors that you can count on one hand, not to mention the chief brains of the 2018 unit on each level of the defense, i.e., Suggs up front, Mosley in the middle, Weddle in back.

We're looking at a semi-seismic shake-up of Martindale's unit, and no doubt, a new core.

Thinking of you, buddy.

It shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose. Other teams tend to be attracted to defensive stalwarts from Baltimore, owing to the unit's reputation as one of the league's best. The markets for such players can run high, making them harder to retain.

That's certainly what happened with Mosley. If the Ravens had a limit they were willing to pay, Mosley's reported deal soared well past it. Congrats to him for the deserved windfall, but if I'm the Ravens, I'm not paying that much.

Still, there's no minimizing the scope of his departure. The defense was built around Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowl selection. The other confirmed/reported departures are big, too. Weddle was a de facto coach in the secondary. Suggs is near the end of his playing days, but he was still a starter, and of course, one of the franchise's all-time greats.

But Martindale isn't asking for sympathy, and actually, he might not need it. Although a rebuild is in order, the Ravens' defensive cupboard is hardly bare.

Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams form one of the NFL's most formidable interiors. Peanut Onwuasor and Matthew Judon were playmakers at linebacker in 2018. Marlon Humphrey, Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young constitute a strong nucleus in the secondary, and if Jimmy Smith is back (which I expect one way or another, especially now that so many others are leaving), the secondary goes from good to great.

There's also a developing generation of young players, some of whom might be ready for larger roles, and remember, free agency hasn't even officially started. Expect the Ravens to make some additions of their own on that side of the ball.

Martindale's defense was fascinating to watch in 2018, successful at least partly because its many pieces fit together so well and the players thoroughly enjoyed lining up alongside one another. That delicate balance is gone, but Martindale's inventive and aggressive schemes were also a huge part of the No. 1 ranking, and those aren't going anywhere.

If one were to get a text back from the DC in the wake of all this news, I'm guessing it would read something like this:

Yup, tough week. But I'm OK.

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