The Baltimore Ravens have a tall order this time around in the NFL draft. The Ravens defense not only lost two future Hall-of-Famers, but they also lost the two defenders who lined up next to the star veterans last season. The Ravens have received credit for building successfully through the draft, and this credit was legitimized with an unexpected playoff run that ended in confetti. The team will have to live up to their reputation for drafting well to remain contenders in 2013 and beyond.
With the retirement of legendary inside linebacker Ray Lewis, the loss of inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe in free agency, and doubt following the season-ending spinal injury to inside linebacker Jameel McClain, an opposing offense lining up against the Ravens today would being staring wide-eyed at the void in the middle of the Ravens defense.
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.
This is the way it was supposed to end. In fact, the game had been closer than predicted. Mile High Stadium filled with the crowd's roar of approval as the Broncos, leading by a touchdown, lined up to shut down the Baltimore offense. Thirty-one seconds to go, third down and three, Baltimore on their own thirty-yard-line with no timeouts. Cameras panned to Ray Lewis, slumped on the sideline as the final moments of his career wound down. Then the snap, the pressure, the throw on the move off the front foot. The ball cut a high arc, long through the icy air. Touchdown Ravens! Seventy yards from impossible to anything is possible.
Ray Lewis is a cheater. So implies a Sports Illustrated story released Tuesday, five days before Lewis ends his career on the stage of Super Bowl XLVII. The legendary linebacker vehemently denies allegations that he used a substance banned by the NFL to recover more quickly from a triceps tear that was expected to sideline him for the season. Lost amidst the media frenzy, however, is the fact that the substance he is accused of taking would not have had any impact on his recovery or his body in general. So, while the intrepid investigative reporting staff of SI can be applauded for exposing big controversy regarding a big name, they won't be getting any nods from Science Weekly.
He Said/He Said
The Baltimore Ravens made waves Monday with the announcement that Cam Cameron, the team's offensive coordinator of nearly five years, had been fired. While no one would have blinked an eye if the much-maligned Cameron had been let go at the end of the year, releasing the coach at this point in the season is highly uncharacteristic of the Ravens organization—and nearly unheard of for a team that leads their division in mid-December.
However, the timing of this move is not as strange as it seems. The decision has as much to do with quarterback Joe Flacco as it does with the team's hope to improve their offensive performance this year. Flacco is playing in a contract year, and his up-and-down performances are making it difficult for the Ravens to assess just how much their presumed franchise quarterback is worth. He has not met the expectations set for him at the beginning of the season.