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Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Ravens make tough decisions after title

TAMPA - We’ve heard a lot about rebuilding in the past few years at One Buc Place. When the Bucs gutted their roster of veterans after the 2008 season, the talk was about an influx of youth and a process of development that would ultimately lead to another championship run. In Baltimore, they look at things a little differently. The Ravens are conceding nothing, not even after an offseason of startling change for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Franchise icon Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk? Retired. Clutch wide receiver Anquan Boldin? Traded. Safety Ed Reed, cornerback Cary Williams and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger? Gone, baby, gone as free agents. But it’s the man who is still there, calling the shots in the front office, who counts. “We like our football team this year,” said GM Ozzie Newsome, widely considered one of the NFL’s premier executives. “I’d like for someone to be able to tell me that we aren’t good enough to go to the playoffs right now.” The Ravens took some massive hits since that riveting Super Bowl win against the 49ers, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Quarterback Joe Flacco was signed to a long-term extension and two key defenders — linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and tackle Haloti Ngata (knee) — should be healthy. Owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t sit on his checkbook, signing off on free agent Elvis Dumervil, one of the best edge rushers in the league. When Dumervil’s agents and the Broncos couldn’t overcome their differences, Newsome pounced. “For Dumervil to become available, we never would have thought that was going to happen,” Newsome said. Baltimore also signed safety Michael Huff and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, three veterans who will bolster the NFL’s 17th-ranked defense. The challenges are formidable for any defending champion, as the 2002 Bucs will surely attest. The Ravens face the league’s fifth-toughest schedule and they open the 2013 season at Denver, marking the first time a Super Bowl winner has been forced to hit the road for Game 1 since the ’03 Bucs christened Lincoln Financial Field with a 17-0 triumph against the Eagles. Despite all the turnover, Newsome remains confident and undaunted. He vows not to make the same mistakes that haunted the franchise after the 2000 club won it all by routing the Giants in the Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. When the Ravens stuck with their veterans, that loyalty proved misguided. Not this time. “All of those guys were a huge part of what we accomplished,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We walked to a championship together, so that binds us. But like everything in life, things do change. You evolve and grow in another direction. You just have to make sure it’s a successful direction.’’ Baltimore fans have been taken on quite a journey. The Ravens have won at least one playoff game in each of the past five years, capped by the thriller at the Superdome 11 weeks ago. As the confetti dropped, Lewis was already out the door, but Baltimore fans expected Ellerbe and Kruger to return. So, now comes a precarious balancing act as Newsome tries to keep the Ravens competitive in both the short term and the long run. “We just wanted to make sure that when we look downstream that we were able to keep the guys we wanted to keep,’’ he says. “If you don’t make tough decisions this year, it will be tougher to keep those guys in years to come.’’

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