The Baltimore Raven's move to cut reserve linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo comes as no surprise. Ayanbadejo, a three-time special teams Pro-Bowler, turns 37 this year and his defensive performance has been on the decline. When linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain, and Ray Lewis missed time due to injuries, Ayanbejo saw limited time as the Ravens opted to insert Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes into the lineup at inside linebacker.
Ayanbadejo's release has only modest cap implications (the Ravens will save $800,000), and can be viewed as part of a movement to create a younger—and many have speculated, quieter—team. Reports have come out indicating that Bernard Pollard's release earlier in the offseason was related to his vocal presence in the locker room and his public criticism of NFL rules and rulings. Ayanbadejo, a veteran presence in the locker room and an outspoken proponent of gay and lesbian marriage, may simply not fit the mold cast by head coach John Harbaugh and Co. when it comes to this year's team.
The departure of Ayanbadejo leaves the Ravens with only two players on the roster over the age of thirty, fullback Vonta Leach and cornerback Chris Johnson. With the Ravens clearly looking to get younger, the question inevitably surfaces: is this a “rebuilding” year for the 2012 Super Bowl Champions?
It would be unwise of teams to take this changed squad lightly, however. The addition of top pass rusher Elvis Dumervil means trouble for defenses, who will have to decide how to cover both Dumervil and a healthy Terrell Suggs. The Ravens also addressed a weakness from last year by adding veteran defensive tackles Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. If Haloti Ngata can avoid the injuries that impaired him last year, the Ravens defense could actually be better than the Super Bowl winning defense of 2012.
Furthermore, the Ravens have retained most of their key skill players on offense, with the notable exception of wide receiver Anquan Boldin. The Ravens seem to be counting on the fact that their newly paid franchise quarterback can make use of the pieces around him, and there are plenty of pieces still in place. Running back Ray Rice, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, and receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones will all return to the huddle in 2013.
Meanwhile, Ayanbadejo will be missed on special teams, but the Ravens clearly expect young players to step up and fill in. With twelve picks in the draft, the organization will look to fill their holes with versatile young players. And while it could be said the Ravens are “rebuildling,” it likely would be more accurate to call it “remodeling.”