John Eisenberg: League Parity Squeezing Ravens


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Now New Orleans has Ben Grubbs, drafted and developed by the Ravens; San Diego has Jarret Johnson, drafted and developed by the Ravens; Carolina has Haruki Nakamura, drafted and developed by the Ravens; and Indianapolis has Tom Zbikwowski, drafted and developed by the Ravens.

The Ravens not only lose the players, whom they surely would have kept without a cap, but they're forced to resort to cheap labor to replace at least some of them. They must deal with key subtractions after 44 wins in the past four years, while the other teams are boosted by additions.

It's just what the NFL wants, nothing personal whatsoever, just the cap at work.

The Ravens have fared well in this system because they're so adept at finding young replacements who can step in and equate the performances of "the Departed," those who preceded them – for a lot less money.

In the past year alone, they replaced Todd Heap with Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta; replaced Kelly Gregg with Terrence Cody; replaced Derrick Mason with Torrey Smith; replaced Marc Bulger with Tyrod Taylor; and replaced veteran cornerbacks with Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams.

They saved themselves millions, enabling them to sign cornerstone players such as Haloti Ngata and Marshal Yanda, while the team actually improved from the year before, winning a division title and almost making it to the Super Bowl. Pretty swift.

Now they're counting on another round of young replacements in the wake of their latest losses. They need Art Jones and/or Pernell McPhee to replace Cory Redding; Paul Kruger and/or Sergio Kindle to replace Jarret Johnson; and Jah Reid possibly to replace Grubbs.

Honestly, I'm not sure about some of those. Is Jones good enough to start? Can Kruger become a three-down player instead of just a rush specialist? Is Reid really a guard? Can Kindle help at all?

It is possible the Ravens might be guilty of a bit of wishful thinking in some of those cases. They might be putting more pressure on their draft prowess than that prowess can withstand, not that they have much choice.

Then again, it was hard to envision Heap and Mason being so seamlessly replaced, but they were, presto, just like that. Meanwhile, there's another draft coming up, certain to inject more useful young talent into the roster.

One way or another, they Ravens will fill their holes as best they can and wade into the 2012 season amid high expectations. The tug of parity is pulling at them, but so it goes.

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