Without Steve McNair, who suddenly announced his retirement Thursday, the Ravens are left with a huge void in the locker room and under center. Where Ray Lewis has always been the leader of the defense, it was McNair that emerged as the offensive keystone during his two-year tenure in Baltimore.
Now, general manager Ozzie Newsome is faced with the task of replacing a solid presence in the backfield, and a player who was working diligently towards redemption after a disappointing and injury-marred 2007 season.
With or without McNair, the draft is quickly approaching, and despite his newfound opening at quarterback, Newsome isn't flinching.
The "Wizard of Oz" contends that McNair's decision won't change the way he and the Ravens' personnel department prepares for next weekend's selection meeting, as the thought of finding a quarterback of the future has been ongoing.
"This has no impact on our plans," he said at McNair's retirement press conference. "We talked about a year ago to start going about looking at getting someone to be a quarterback in this franchise. We talked about that in 2007 and we talked about that in 2008. So, that does not change our plans at all."
Many mock drafts have pointed to Boston College's Matt Ryan - regarded as the top signal-caller in the Class of 2008 - as a potential pick for the Ravens at No. 8, while Brian Brohm of Louisville, Delaware's Joe Flacco and Michigan senior Chad Henne have all been mentioned as first-day fodder. The Ravens pick 38th overall in the second round and have a compensatory selection in the third (99th).
While Newsome has always been coy when discussing draft matters, he admitted that he has not finished slotting all the prospects on the board, and the unexpected news won't cause him to speed the process. He is also not interested in trading up or down to nab the quarterback he wants at this point.
"Right now, trading up and trading back is not something we've talked about, because right now we're just still trying to set the board," Newsome said. "We've learned I can't control what other people do in front of me."
Heading into the offseason Organized Team Activities (OTAs), which began Thursday, the veteran McNair was atop the depth chart. Now, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith will battle for that first-string spot. Both quarterbacks filled in for McNair last season when the 2003 NFL co-Most Valuable Player was sidelined with back and shoulder injuries.
Boller, the starter before McNair's arrival in 2006, helmed eight games and played in 12. He passed for 1,743 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In his rookie campaign, Smith saw action in four contests with two starts. He notched a win in the Ravens' season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, going 16-of-27 for 171 yards and a score.
"We've talked about that many times – it's competitive," explained head coach John Harbaugh. "We lost our incumbent, and now it's wide open."
Newsome said he won't consider bringing in a veteran free agent until after the draft. It's not like available signal-callers are plentiful, with Daunte Culpepper, Byron Leftwich, Tim Rattay and Kelly Holcomb topping the list of unrestricted free agents.
Still, Newsome expects to field a few voicemails regarding the open position.
"I can guarantee you now, after this press conference by the time I get up to my office, I'll have 15 calls of guys calling me trying to get into this competition," he stated. "Right now we're focusing on the draft. And [to] all those people who are going to be calling me, be patient. I'll get back to you probably in about two weeks."