Not too long ago, the sky was falling in Baltimore. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe were moving on. Bernard Pollard was cut. Veteran leadership was being cast aside. Fans were furious.
Now, is there any doubt that the Ravens had a plan? Sure, they had some good fortune along the way, but this Ravens roster is stronger than ever thanks to five great signings by Ozzie Newsome.
The five free agents the Ravens have signed will all be major contributors in 2013, and they'll be playing at prices well beneath their market value.
Naturally, some of these signings are more exciting than others. With that in mind, let's rank each of these signings. To do so, I'll be looking at the money involved, the player's past production and his fit in the Ravens system.
Of all the Ravens free-agent signings, Marcus Spears is the only one without starting potential. Naturally, he was going to be at the bottom of this list. That doesn't mean he's not a very good signing, though.
The book on Spears is pretty simple: He's a decent rotational run defender, but don't ask him to rush the passer too much. That's fair enough. The Ravens needed some extra bulk up front, and Spears can certainly provide that.
The best part about this deal is the price. His two-year deal is for just $2.75 million, so there is little risk here for some quality veteran depth.
I'd also expect Spears to benefit from playing in the Ravens' locker room. While Dallas was by no means a terrible place to play, the team always had a sideshow feel to it that could keep some players from excelling.
With that in mind, don't be surprised if Spears excels in 2013. Just don't expect him to be a world beater.
Now, we're into players with starting potential. Rolando McClain might be low on this list, but he's high on upside. After all, there is a reason he was selected eighth overall in the 2010 NFL draft.
What McClain brings to the table is an attacking mentality, pure and simple. He's an explosive straight-line athlete who excels at attacking in both the run game and as a pass-rusher. McClain isn't much of a read-and-react guy, but he excels at playing downhill, physical football.
Even though he's not great at shedding blocks, McClain is big and strong enough to tie up blockers and not get pushed around. That could open up opportunities for another inside linebacker to step up and play in a more sideline to sideline role.
For just over a million dollars, the Ravens are getting a player with huge physical upside and an already solid pedigree in run defense. Though McClain is an absolute headcase, the Ravens' strong locker room should keep him in check long enough to be well worth his one-year deal.
When a sure-fire starter is not considered a top-two signing, you know the Ravens are doing something right. There is no doubt that Michael Huff will enter training camp as the starting free safety, and he'll be sure to earn his three-year, $6 million deal.
Huff never had the benefit of great teammates in Oakland, but that didn't stop him from becoming one of the NFL's most versatile defensive backs. Huff found success as both a safety and a corner, but he found most of his success playing center field.
Replacing Ed Reed, Huff will be doing plenty of that in Baltimore.
In fact, like McClain and Spears, Huff could perform even better than ever thanks to the Ravens' strong locker room and coaching staff.
Huff is an upgrade over Ed Reed: a surer tackler with better athleticism at this point in their respective careers. The Ravens were brilliant to get a better safety at a lower cost, putting Huff at a solid third in these rankings.
This might be the Ravens' most under-the-radar signing, but Chris Canty will make a huge impact on the Ravens' defense as both a run defender and a pass rusher.
Canty is an immediate upgrade to the Ravens' front-seven as a pass-rusher. He uses his elite size and strength to push the pocket and fill passing lanes with his long arms. With the 6'7" Canty in a quarterback's line of sight, passes seem a lot more difficult.
Further, Canty is a pretty solid run defender too. He doesn't get pushed around, and he's good enough at getting off blocks to make some splash plays.
Canty won't be an every-down player, rotating on a regular basis with guys like Marcus Spears, Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones. Therein lies the beauty of this signing. With all those guys rotating constantly, the Ravens could turn the defensive line from a weakness to a massive strength.
Canty will lead the charge in reinvigorating the Ravens' front seven and turning this defense into a fearsome unit once again.
This isn't just the Ravens' best signing: Elvis Dumervil may have been the steal of free agency. Thanks to the Denver Broncos' fax snafu, the Ravens have upgraded their pass rush while saving money in the process. Signings like this are why Ozzie Newsome is the best GM in football.
First, let's look at Dumervil's deal: The five-year, $26 million deal has just a $2.5 million cap hit this season. At no point does Dumervil's cap hit exceed $8 million, according to spotrac.com. This for a player who has 63.5 sacks in just six full seasons (not counting his missed 2010 season)? Insane.
The best part of this deal, though, is that Dumervil pairs perfectly with the talent currently on the Ravens' roster. Dumervil has never been and will never be a plus run defender. With Courtney Upshaw and Terrell Suggs on the roster, two of the best edge-setters in the game, he won't have to be.
And with a defensive line featuring Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty pushing the pocket, Dumervil will have plenty of opportunities to get to opposing quarterbacks who won't be able to step up into the pocket.
One final thing worth mentioning: The Dumervil deal happened at a time when the Ravens' offseason seemed lost. Everyone was abandoning ship, and the Ravens' defense would never look the same.
What this signing did was affirm what everyone should have already known: Newsome knows what he's doing, and this Ravens team will still be excellent in 2013.