Senior NFL Columnist

The Ravens will be just fine

The Baltimore Ravens, fresh off a Super Bowl victory, are taking a beating.

Public perception and media perception is that they are being ripped apart in free agency, their losses too much to overcome. They're done. Forget a repeat chance.

That's 100-percent garbage.

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All of the players they've lost, or will lose if Ed Reed leaves, are replaceable. Yes, some, like linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, are good, rising players, but let's be realistic and study their losses in depth and offer reasons why Baltimore fans shouldn't be panicking.

It starts with general manager Ozzie Newsome and director of player personnel Eric DeCosta running things. That's a plus-2 for the Ravens in that category. They are both among the best in the NFL at what they do, and they have a knack for finding the right guys to fill in when others leave.

And let's not forget the 12 draft picks they have in the April draft. That will give them ample opportunity to find quality replacements.

Now let's take a detailed look at who they lost, and how they will be replaced.

Ellerbe. He is a violent, run-and-chase linebacker who had his best season in 2012. He will be missed. But you know where the Ravens found him? He was a nondrafted free agent. One more thing about Ellerbe: He has missed a lot of time in his career, and the Ravens have been fine without him. He has 14 starts in four years. I love the way Ellerbe plays, but linebackers are always replaceable the way the game is played now.

OLB Paul Kruger. They drafted Courtney Upshaw in 2012 with the idea he would be their starter. Kruger outplayed him, came on strong late, and cashed in with a big contract in Cleveland. It's Upshaw's time now. He has to get in shape, something he wasn't last summer, and he can become a force off the edge. He has much more explosiveness than does Kruger. In four seasons, Kruger had 15 1/2 sacks. He had nine last season, but 1 1/2 when Terrell Suggs was out and wasn't on the other side. That's telling.

WR Anquan Boldin. He was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick because his $6 million salary was too high. People in the media went nuts over that deal, but the Ravens had no choice. Boldin is a good player, but he doesn't run that well and he will be a year older, which means even slower. He had a big postseason, but a study of those catches shows he made a lot of them with people all over his body. He doesn't get open. The Ravens will use tight end Dennis Pitta more in the slot to offset that loss and they will have speed outside in Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith. They both had big, long touchdown catches in the postseason. The Ravens can also find a slot receiver in the draft, one who is faster than Boldin.

S Bernard Pollard. The Ravens released him for cap reasons Wednesday. Pollard is a box safety who is good against the run, but not great against the pass. I thought he played pretty well last season -- better than Reed -- but he is a box safety in a league where they are being phased out. With offenses so spread now, it's hard to cover up the safeties who can't run and play more like linebackers. One more thing about Pollard: His next team will be his fourth. There's a reason for that.

S Ed Reed. He is a free agent and could still come back. But it's unlikely. Reed wasn't very good last year. He didn't tackle at all and seemed to do little at times as he played the deep middle. The Ravens have a young second-year safety in Omar Brown, who flashed late in the season and had a nice preseason. Reed even said Brown reminded him of himself. If not, they will find a safety. That player might not be Reed in his prime, but Reed of 2012 wasn't anything close to that player either.

So there you have a look at the supposedly huge hits the Ravens have taken. Yes, they've lost some good players. But are any of them irreplaceable? Not even close.

Newsome and DeCosta have been here before. They'll fix this -- and probably make it even better.

Oh, one more thing: They still have a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, which is the most important thing of all.

 
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