Newsome is no fool, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned during his illustrious 18-year tenure in the team’s front office, it’s that he always has a plan.
So what’s the plan now?
After all, the Ravens are being gutted. Despite some concerns about Newsome’s decision-making process over the last several days, some of what happened to the Ravens happens to most Super Bowl-winning teams. As they say, “it’s just part of the business.”
On Monday, Anquan Boldin, the team’s leading receiver over the past three seasons, was shipped off to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick.
After the free-agent market opened at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, the Ravens’ leading sacker this past season, signed a five-year, $41 million contract with division rival Cleveland. Less than two hours later, Dannell Ellerbe, who was thought by many to be the heir apparent to Ray Lewis, inked a five-year, $35 million with the Miami Dolphins, leaving the team without its two starting middle linebackers from the Super Bowl. The bleeding didn’t stop there, however, as free safety Bernard Pollard, the team’s leading tackler with 98, was released, a move that will save the Ravens about $1 million on the salary cap.
Counting the retirement of Lewis, that means four of the 11 defensive starters during Super Bowl XLVII have left the reigning champions since they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy last month in New Orleans.
At first glance, these personnel decisions, excluding Lewis’ retirement, may be a tough pill for some fans to swallow. But if you look at last season’s statistics, it’s shouldn’t come as a surprise.
While Kruger became Baltimore’s top pass-rushing threat in 2012, notching a career-high nine sacks during the regular season and recording 4.5 more during four postseason games — he’s basically just that — a pass rusher. Kruger is a part-time player, and he’s a major liability against the run. As the Browns’ second highest-paid defensive player, behind cornerback Joe Haden, they’re gambling on him to be something he never showed he was capable of during his four years in Baltimore — an every-down linebacker.
Meanwhile, Ellerbe, the Ravens’ second leading tackler with a career-high 92 stops last season, received $17 million
guaranteed from the Dolphins. That’s quite an investment for someone who has never played more than 13 games in any season during a four-year career. Translation: Miami overspent on him.
As for Pollard, this is simply a case of a guy wearing out his welcome, which is why he’s played for three organizations in seven seasons. Sure, you can point to Pollard’s struggles in pass coverage. Opposing quarterbacks did complete 75 percent of their passes against him, according to Pro Football Focus, but he didn’t yield a touchdown last season.
Pollard’s play can’t be measured on numbers alone. He was the physical enforcer in the secondary. It was that physicality that led him to force New England running back Stevan Ridley’s key fumble during the Ravens’ 28-13 victory over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
This past season, however, the Ravens defense wasn’t close to being as dominant as it has been during the last decade, finishing No. 17 in yards allowed, the unit’s lowest ranking since 2002, when the team finished 7-9. Moreover, for the first time since the Ravens began play in Baltimore in 1996, the defense surrendered more than four yards per carry during a season, snapping an NFL-record rush-defense streak of allowing foes less than four yards per carry.
As part of Newsome’s efforts to improve last season’s 20th-ranked run defense, the Ravens signed defensive tackle Chris Canty to a three-year, $8 million deal with $2.8 million guaranteed on Tuesday, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
Though this might not have been the splash some were expecting, Canty adds much-needed depth to a Ravens defensive line that lacked it behind All-Pro Haloti Ngata and fourth-year veteran Arthur Jones.
The 6-foot-7, 317-pound Canty gives the Ravens a five-technique defensive lineman, something the team lost after defensive end Cory Redding signed with the Indianapolis Colts last offseason.
Don’t underestimate Newsome. He always has a plan. Always.