It’s tough to build a dynasty in any of the four major American sports leagues.
With salary-cap implications and the draft process, the leagues are built to promote cycles and parity over the course of time.
The Baltimore Ravens are trying to be one of the few teams that is able to rebuild without toiling away in mediocrity, and their single greatest asset in that endeavor is general manager Ozzie Newsome—the best GM in the NFL and arguably in any of the major leagues.
There are many things Newsome does on a regular basis to build his credentials as a GM.
He consistently makes great selections at the draft and acquires talent over attempting to fill needs. He rarely overpays for free agents and has an uncanny knack for knowing when to walk away from the negotiating table.
His maneuvers have led to two Super Bowls in Baltimore, but his greatest accomplishment might be the one he’s working on right now.
Let me preface this by saying that, in all likelihood, the Ravens are not going to win Super Bowl 50. A lot of new pieces need to come together quickly and a ton of things need to fall into place for the Ravens to truly become a top-notch contender for the Lombardi Trophy this season.
Still, they have a good chance of making the playoffs—it’ll be a dogfight in the AFC North to be sure—and anything can happen once you’re in a knockout tournament, as the Ravens know all too well.
But take a closer look at the roster and you’ll see a bright future.
You’ll see a team filled with key veterans in the right places and plenty of young talent waiting in the wings to become the anchors of the next generation of Baltimore football.
After the team's recent Super Bowl victory, Newsome was faced with a choice: Bring the gang back together for one (possibly two) more years as a legitimate contender or start again from scratch.
Newsome chose the latter, and the result was a roster turnover unlike anything any Super Bowl winner had ever experienced.
Despite the complete overhaul, he somehow managed to slap together a roster that still finished 8-8 in 2013—to be fair, it overachieved. It only looks to get better from there. Forecasting the future is usually a foolhardy endeavor, but 8-8 seems like the floor for this franchise over the next three to five years.
Why? Because Newsome has had this plan in motion for a while.
Most of the veterans that left the Super Bowl team were on defense, and he’s spent his first three picks in each of the last two drafts on defensive players.
The result is a slew of dynamic, young players filling the ranks of defense. Matt Elam, C.J. Mosley, Arthur Brown, Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams and Terrence Brooks all have the talent to be long-term starters for this defense, and that’s a very promising young core to build around.
They join studs like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Elvis Dumervil, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith to create a very formidable defense moving forward.
Take a look at this depth chart and marvel at the talent all over the place:
The players in yellow boxes are the ones that are older than 25 right now. They’re all very good players, of course, but they still have enough left in the tank to produce at least two more good seasons—more than that in the case of Webb—and give Newsome time to find their replacements.
The edge-rushers are the area on defense where Newsome will have to bring in some elite young talent, and you need to spend early draft picks to get high-caliber rushers more often than not.
On offense, it’s a little less clear and Newsome has more work to do.
My guess is that we’ll start to see the coming drafts take an offense-heavy lean—at least at the top. We’ve been beaten to death with the “best player available” approach, and it will still be true, but the fact of the matter is that the Ravens will need to get these young defenders on the field and see how good they really are.
So far, Newsome has turned to trades and free agency to rebuild the offense.
The offensive line was an eyesore in 2013, but through the savvy re-signing of Eugene Monroe, Newsome locked up a franchise-caliber left tackle for the prime of his career at a very reasonable price compared to the rest of the market.
Then, he traded for Jeremy Zuttah—a starting-caliber center that is a perfect fit for Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme, according to Louis Riddick of ESPN (h/t Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun):
I like the deal for the Ravens. Jeremy's a perfect fit for them. Based on what Gary Kubiak wants to do with a lot of bootlegs, waggles, designed roll-outs and an outside zone running game, that all plays right to Jeremy's strengths. He's very athletic. He can execute cut-off blocks, get to the second level, pull and finish with aggressiveness.
He can really move well laterally in pass protection. He can do all the things that won't allow him to get exposed one-on-one as he did at times in the Tampa scheme. If you look at him as a center and guard, he's much better at center. At guard, that's where he got overextended, got up on his toes and didn't have consistent hand usage. He's a natural center.
We’ll leave Ricky Wagner out of the evaluation since we don’t know what to expect from him, but the other four linemen have the athleticism and power to become a formidable group up front.
Along with pass-rushers, the receiving corps is one of the two glaring areas of long-term need for the Ravens. Torrey Smith’s contract expires after this season, but BaltimoreRavens.com notes both sides have expressed interest in getting a long-term deal finalized.
After him, however, the pickings are pretty slim.
To recapitulate, Newsome has transitioned from an aging, championship team to a reloaded, youthful roster with only one 8-8 season—which is a spectacular “rebuilding” year—and two major long-term needs left to address.
Judging from Newsome’s track record, Ravens fans can sleep easy knowing that he’ll find a way to draft starting-quality players at each position—although drafting receivers has been somewhat of a kryptonite for Newsome—or find bargain deals on the open market.
It’s still too early to truly evaluate the job that Newsome has done, but everything he’s done so far has looked like the right move to rebuilding a true contender.
There’s a reason the mantra of Ravens Nation is, "In Ozzie We Trust."