- - Thursday, September 5, 2013

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even Super Bowl champions are susceptible to change.

The 2013 Baltimore Ravens certainly don’t look like the unit that took the field a season ago to win the NFL’s ultimate prize.

After 17 seasons and two Super Bowl titles, linebacker Ray Lewis retired. The Ravens allowed Ed Reed to sign with Houston in free agency.

SEE ALSO: NFL 2013: Ranking all 32 teams in terms of staying power

They cut safety Bernard Pollard, who later signed with Tennessee. They traded receiver Anquan Boldin to San Francisco for a 2013 draft pick. The list continues with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe now in Miami, linebacker Paul Kruger moving on to Cleveland and cornerback Cary Williams joining Philadelphia. Starting defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu was not retained.

In total, that’s eight starters from a championship team that weren’t on the field for Baltimore on Thursday, when the Ravens opened their season on the road against the Broncos. Previously, no Super Bowl champion ever lost more than five starters before the next season.

Strangely enough, there’s been a level of calm throughout the team’s headquarters despite the departures. There have been plenty of questions about the direction the organization is heading with so many big names gone from a championship team — none bigger than Lewis.

“Keep questioning it,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We’re never really going to see what it’s like until we all line up, until we get on the field. This is the first time in the [team’s] history, since the Ravens moved back from Cleveland in ‘96, that there is no Ray Lewis or Jonathan Ogden. It’s definitely going to be interesting to see what it looks like, but I’ve said it before, his legacy [Lewis] has left a standard here and every man on our defense will be held accountable for playing to that standard.”

Consistent winners

After defeating the Colts in the wild card round in January, John Harbaugh became the first NFL coach to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons in charge.

During this time span, the Ravens have also appeared in three AFC Championship games with one Super Bowl title. They’re also the only team to appear in the past five postseasons.

Building this type of team is a tough task, considering the “win now” mentality coaches and players are forced into. Lack of production in just one season can lead to one’s ouster.

Unlike the college ranks, where a coach is asked to build a team in three or four years, professional coaches are tasked with shaping a team to win immediately.

After a 5-11 campaign in 2007, owner Steve Bisciotti brought in Harbaugh to restore Baltimore’s winning ways.

Harbaugh succeeded early and hasn’t looked back. Throughout the process, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has constructed the roster with the long-term in mind. It would have been easy for Newsome to keep Reed around and pay more than he was valued at 33 years old, solely for his years of service to the club.

“Somehow you have to find a balance between doing what’s right and maintaining stability and being a competitor now and years into the future,” said Ted Sundquist, the Denver Broncos’ general manager from 2002 to 2008. “All while giving your head coach the resources and the support he feels he needs right now to address that ever-present win now or else that comes from fans and the media and the game in general.”

Story Continues →