John Eisenberg: Ravens Enduring An Offseason To Forget


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Then they lost three starters during free agency and couldn't replace them with in-kind, established veterans because of a salary-cap crunch; their top acquisition during free agency was a special-teams ace.

Last month, they watched their 2012 regular-season schedule get judged as the league's fourth toughest, then watched so many players they liked get drafted by other teams that they traded out of the first round and had to "manufacture some runs" during the draft, according to Eric DeCosta, the team's director of player personnel.


The low point, for sure, came when linebacker Terrell Suggs phoned from Arizona last week with the grim news that he had at least partially torn an Achilles tendon during a workout.

Meanwhile, if any breakthroughs are occurring in the seemingly slow-moving negotiations between the team and the agents for Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, we don't know about them.

In sum, while the offseason hasn't been the absolute worst of times, it has been far from the best of times.

"We will be fine," Head Coach John Harbaugh braved late last week after the news about Suggs sunk in, and for sure, the Ravens, coming off consecutive 12-4 seasons, still have more going for them than many teams.

But they're going to need every ounce of that organizational strength for which they're so often praised.

That strength is going to be tested in 2012.

Can they make up for the loss of both starting outside linebackers as well as a starting defensive end – in other words, three of their front seven?

Can they survive the defection of a Pro Bowl offensive guard without having dipped into the top end of the free-agent pool?

Are that many of their young players ready to step in? The Ravens have successfully preached the gospel of "next man up," but this is "next man, next man, next man and next man up," truly a moment of reckoning for their organizational depth and ability to produce talent.

It could be they get along fine without Grubbs and their defensive interior survives – a pretty good bet when you're starting with Haloti Ngata.

But as for repacing Suggs, with all due respect, as rookie Courtney Upshaw succinctly put it, "Suggs is Suggs; there's only one."

Indeed, and even if he is only out for part of the 2012 season, as he predicted, his absence will be keenly felt. He was just too good in 2011 for that not to be the case.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are still the defense's tribal elders, but Suggs emerged as its leader last season, the player who turned to his teammates and told them to follow him. His 14 sacks brought acclaim, but it was his all-around play (seven forced fumbles, six passes defended, 70 tackles) that earned him the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

Everyone remembers his three-sack efforts against Pittsburgh and San Francisco, but there was also a 13-tackle performance against Arizona, three forced fumbles against Indianapolis and, for my money, the biggest defensive play of the season – a forced fumble that halted Cincinnati's rally in the final minutes of the season finale, securing the AFC North title.

The only positive aspect of Suggs' injury is that it occurred relatively early in this grind of an offseason, giving him time to start recovering and the Ravens time to start adjusting to his absence. But when that qualifies as good news, well, you get the picture.

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