It will be strange to watch the 2013 Baltimore Ravens defense and not see Ed Reed lurking in the secondary, waiting for the opposing quarterback to make a mistake. But now Reed is a Houston Texan, and this is the best situation for both the Future Hall of Famer and his former team.
Reed is now on the list of players who were key to the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl victory who will be playing elsewhere next season. But his departure is the most emotional for the franchise’s fans, as he has given Baltimore 11 seasons of All-Pro performances.
The mass exodus of players leaving the Ravens this includes wide receiver Anquan Boldin, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Bernard Pollard. In addition to those leaving for other teams, Ray Lewis is now retired.
The defense that helped Baltimore to a title this past season is now a shell of what it once was. This has opened general manager Ozzie Newsome up to criticism, but he is making the right choices by letting these players move on with their careers.
Repeating as Super Bowl champions in the NFL in the modern era is next to impossible, and teams often experience a hangover after winning a championship. In the Ravens' case, a letdown in 2013 would have been extremely likely had Newsome held on to all of these players.
Baltimore failed to rank in the top 10 in total defense for the first time since 2002 this past year, and the team entered the playoffs after losing four of its final five games.
An aging, injury-plagued defense caused the Ravens to underachieve during the regular season, but Ray Lewis’ return from what was supposed to be a season-ending injury, and his announcement that he intended to retire, lit a fire in the locker room.
The Ravens rode this momentum to a title, but Lewis is gone, and this magical run was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
Newsome had to look towards the future. He evaluated his defense, and saw players like Ellerbe and Williams, who were low-round picks or undrafted, and were going to get paid like Super Bowl champions in free agency.
His choice was to overpay players in order to keep his team intact after its improbable Super Bowl run, or he could let a few people leave, then start rebuilding around Joe Flacco.
He chose the latter, and while it may not be a popular decision right now, it is the best course of action with the team’s long-term interests in mind.
Committing to a multi-year deal with an aging player who has a checkered past with injuries is exactly the wrong thing to do when attempting to rebuild the roster. Even a player like Reed cannot be an exception in this case.
Baltimore has proven time and time again that it can take fifth, sixth and seventh round picks—as well as undrafted free agents—and turn them into productive defensive players.
Newsome will be trying to build through the draft once again, and it likely will not take long for the Ravens to start contending.