Just over a month after winning the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens' days as a defensive dynasty look to be over...and that's OK.
Too much doom and gloom for you? I apologize, but think about the situation this way: The Ravens made this bed when they signed Joe Flacco to a contract with $52 million guaranteed. Now, they have to lie in that bed, and there's simply not enough room for a bunch of elite defensive players.
It's like the old nursery rhyme: Flacco rolled over, and a bunch of talented people are going to fall out.
The NFL could open their own money-printing operation tomorrow, but cash is still a finite resource in the league because of the hard salary cap. Recent cap restructuring since the collective bargaining agreement hasn't helped matters as players continue to get bigger contracts, but there's the same room to work with.
In the future, new TV deals might help this, but unless owners ditch the cap, they're always going to have to work with certain constraints.
The Denver Broncos are having similar discussions on their defensive side of the ball in the Peyton Manning era. While Tim Tebow, Kyle Orton and Jay Cutler commanded a better defense to keep scoring down, Manning can put up 50 on any given Sunday and may not need John Elway to put a ton of emphasis on defense. He does, however, need protection, so the Broncos spent what little money they had on Louis Vasquez (per Mike Garafolo).
The Ravens would love to have the luxury of signing every single defensive player on the market that they're interested in, but they won't, and are instead jettisoning many of their best defensive players. The cap space that is being created may be used on a defensive player here or there, or (gasp!) it may be used on offensive talent to support the basket they've just put all of their eggs into.
@schottey Boldin is still counting for the Ravens. Pollard saves $1M. I've got $5.63M. Boldin will create $6M of room.— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) March 13, 2013
This goes for the draft as well as free agency. When asking what the Ravens need, it's not just about what they've lost; it's also about building on their strengths.
Think about all the running backs the Green Bay Packers have passed on over the years despite the position being a gaping hole. Think about the elite cornerbacks the Detroit Lions have passed on to focus on the defensive line. Heck, think about all the offensive talent that Ozzie Newsome has refused to bring to Baltimore in the past because he wanted to focus on defense.
Agree or disagree with the methods, you can't disagree that there is a clear methodology. Offseason "needs" aren't always about strengthening what's weakest. It can also be strengthening what is already strong.
That's life under the salary cap.
So, if the Ravens are looking to build around their defense, why would they let Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe get away or jettison Bernard Pollard? Why would they give up known commodities just to sign lesser players or take gambles in the draft?
Could they take Arthur Brown, if available, to replace Ray Lewis? Sure they could. They could also use that pick on a better lineman or offensive target for Flacco.
This writing has been on the wall for a while. When the Ravens lost Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis for much of last year, everyone knew the defense was going to suffer. But defense doesn't win championships; scoring wins championships—namely, scoring more than one's opponent. A defense can be a huge factor in that equation, but so can a high-scoring, vertical offense.
You know, like the one the Ravens started building when they drafted Torrey Smith and added Jacoby Jones.
Flacco and the offense carried the Ravens to the playoffs. They were 12th in scoring defense last year but 10th in scoring offense. They easily could've gone the other way and pumped up that defense this offseason. However, with the age of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, Newsome decided to flip the script.
So, the defense is on a tighter budget than it's been in the past, and players are getting their Super Bowl rings along with a new uniform.
Let the script play out before judging every plot point as if the final resolution has already been written. The Ravens had a defensive dynasty that served them well. Those days are likely over, but it doesn't mean that the Ravens will have any less success. It just means they'll find it in a different way.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.