Now, after a week of free agency that saw the Ravens' roster get picked over like a half-off table at a Black Friday sale, Baltimore's chances of becoming the first team in nearly a decade to repeat as Super Bowl champions are fading fast.
The fire sale got going before free agency was even officially underway, and the Ravens actually poked the first hole in their own boat.
Signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a contract extension that made him the NFL's highest-paid player left the Ravens hurting for cap space, so the team dealt wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick.
The Ravens didn't want to pay Boldin—who led the team in receiving yards in each of his three seasons in Baltimore—$6 million for a season during which he will turn 33, despite Boldin's heroics during the Ravens run to the Super Bowl.
It was believed that part of the reason that the Ravens trimmed that salary from their roster was so they could make a run at free-agent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who was widely considered Baltimore's top "in-house" free-agent target as the heir apparent to Ray Lewis at inside linebacker.
Well, so much for that idea.
On the same day that outside linebacker and 2012 sack-leader Paul Kruger left Baltimore, signing a five-year, $40 million with the Cleveland Browns, the Miami Dolphins swooped in and stunned the Ravens by inking Ellerbe to a five-year, $35 million deal of his own.
The bleeding didn't stop there.
Cornerback Cary Williams signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Strong safety Bernard Pollard was released in another cost-cutting move. The future of free safety Ed Reed is still very much in doubt.
For those keeping track at home, the Ravens have lost their top receiver from a year ago, their top pass-rusher in 2012, the player who was expected to lead the team in tackles and potentially three-fourths of their starting secondary.
The Ravens have also done next to nothing at this point to address those losses. Their highest-profile free-agent acquisition has been defensive tackle Chris Canty. Other than that, it's been depth signings and sifting through the bargain bin.
Granted, the return of a healthy Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb and improved play from second-year pro Courtney Upshaw would be big boosts for the defense. That assumes that Suggs and Webb will return to pre-injury form and that Upshaw will take the mythical next step as a pro in his sophomore season.
The multitude of losses that the Ravens have suffered have generated considerable criticism, but team owner Steve Bisciotti recently told Jeff Zrebeic of The Baltimore Sun that there's no need to go Chicken Little on the Ravens just yet.
I don't want to sound cold. I sympathize with it as much as I've heard the same thing every year at this time. Sympathy, it's like no. If they say we are rebuilding and I told an expansion franchise that you were going to start rebuilding with Marshal Yanda, Dennis Pitta, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb, Courtney Upshaw and Jimmy Smith … if you talk about the losses, it sounds like a lot. If you look at what's left and fill in around it, it really isn't any different than we've had the last few years and we've been able to regroup and build a playoff-caliber team in every one of those years.
Bisciotti has a point in at least one respect. There's still time for the Ravens to turn the offseason around.
Mike Klis of The Denver Post reports that the Ravens are in the mix for the services of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Elvis Dumervil. General manager Ozzie Newsome told Jarrett Bell of USA Today that he expects Reed to make a decision on his playing future this week.
There's also the matter of Newsome and Bisciotti's track record with the team, and that's enough to buy them the benefit of the doubt with many fans.
With that said though, the pressure is rapidly mounting on Newsome to do something, because at this point, the Ravens have gotten jackhammered by free agency. A shrewd signing or two and a good draft are now absolute necessities.
Ozzie Newsome needs to get some of the holes in the Ravens' ship patched.
Because it doesn't matter how much you pay the captain. If the boat he's driving is leaky enough, the only place it's headed is straight to the bottom.
Well, maybe not the bottom. There are still the Browns, after all.
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