The Super Bowl champs will have plenty of new faces when summer training camps come around. The Baltimore Ravens have already lost two key players to retirement and potentially another three to free agency just over a month into the offseason. That means the front office will have plenty of work to do on the market and in the draft to fill some roster voids.
Baltimore took care of priority No. 1 by signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a monster deal, but the team has already let a pair of defensive starters walk. Danelle Ellerbe signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Dolphins on Wednesday, while Paul Kruger agreed to a five-year, $40 million offer from Cleveland.
Ed Reed may be close to leaving, as the the 49ers are expected to make a play for the veteran safety. In addition, Reed's backfield mate Bernard Pollard was released by the team on Wednesday. Combine those departures with Ray Lewis' retirement, and Baltimore already has nearly half of its starting defense to replace.
The Ravens have already began plugging holes. Baltimore signed free agent Chris Canty on Tuesday. Canty doesn't produce at the level of Kruger and Ellerbe, but he does bring seven years of experience as an NFL starter with the Cowboys and Giants.
In addition to Canty, the Ravens may be looking at Cincinnati free agent linebacker Rey Maualuga, according to Jason Garrison of Bengals blog Cincy Jungle. As Garrison points out, the Ravens aren't flush with cap room, so any signings will have to come on the cheaper side (like Canty). Maualuga posted a career high in tackles last season, and may provide some good value.
Free agency won't be the only place to find defensive replacements. Second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw is ready to step in as a full-time starter after appearing in all 16 games his rookie season. Marc Sessler of NFL.com reports the Ravens are also hoping to get Jameel Mclain back from a spinal cord injury.
Mocking the Draft believes Baltimore will seek linebacker help through the draft by selecting Alec Ogletree out of Georgia with the final pick in the first round. LSU's Kevin Minter and Notre Dame's Manti Te'o are also listed as possibility for the linebacker-starved Ravens.
On the offensive side, Baltimore needs to figure out who will be snapping the ball to Flacco. Center Matt Birk has joined Lewis in retirement after spending the last four seasons with the Ravens.
Many of the top free agent centers are already spoken for, but there are still some available. Denver's Dan Koeppen and St. Louis' Rob Turner both have experience at center and could be options. If not taking one of those options, the Ravens could promote Gino Gradkowski or grab someone with a draft pick.
Flacco is also going to need someone to throw the ball to, following the deal that sent Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick. Boldin led the Ravens in both catches and receiving yards last season. He was especially important during the team's playoff run, catching 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns.
Baltimore still has Torrey Smith and Jacob Jones to stretch the field in Cam Cameron's offense, but Flacco could miss his top possession receiver. For now, Dennis Pitta will carry an increased load, and the key may be getting Smith to be a more well-rounded option in the shorter, intermediate parts of the field.
What separates the Ravens from most teams going through a cap purge is general manager Ozzie Newsome. This isn't the first time that Newsome has allowed top players to bolt for free agent riches. His track record in, and out, of the draft has kept the Ravens well supplied with talent, from first-round picks like Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco to undrafted players like Daniel Ellerbe, who signed a $35 million deal with Miami on Tuesday.
Newsome's Midas touch also extends to free agency, where he's been able to augment the lineup over the years with stars in their twilight or key role players to bridge the gap.
With a big void on defense and at least one hole to fill an the offensive line, the Ravens have a busy offseason ahead. The team defending the title in the fall will certainly look a lot different than the one that raised the Lombardi Trophy in February.
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