Only once since 2005 has a Super Bowl Champion won a playoff game the following season when defending their title.
Let that marinate for a moment…
Why is it so hard to defend The Lombardi?
Well there’s the unavoidable target placed on the collective back of a champion. By nature teams come gunning for you and those teams are among the NFL’s most competitive by virtue of the first place schedule forced upon a champ.
And then of course there’s the issue of the salary cap.
Players and their agents want to capitalize on their market value that has peaked given their recent successes. Some will try to stay with the team. No one really wants to leave a champion. But then the reality of limited cap dollars to go around sinks in and the emotional high of earning that ring wears off.
“Business decisions” are then thrust upon the team and its players.
Many careers are fleeting.
Contract dollars are not guaranteed.
Players want to support their families the best way they can driven perhaps in part by the fear of becoming another millionaire who retires to bankruptcy.
And then, having already sipped from the cup of a champion, perhaps the competitive edge has been tempered a little and the money becomes more important than winning another championship.
During the 2001 season, the Ravens tried to keep the team in tact the best way they could, mortgaging the future and even acquiring a free agent quarterback (Elvis Grbac) and a backup quarterback (Randall Cunningham) who they thought would help upgrade the offense.
The strategy failed.
Over the course of the next 6 seasons, despite a consistently outstanding defense, the Ravens would make the playoffs just twice without winning a single postseason game.
Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome have vowed not to repeat the mistakes they made in 2001. They want to keep their window of opportunity open because as we’ve seen from the Ravens and other teams in recent years, if you can earn a spot on the postseason dance card and get on a roll, even if you have to do so on the road, a championship is possible.
But keeping that window open is the tricky part and it doesn’t happen without making tough decisions.
In 2011 the Ravens parted ways with Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee and Kelly Gregg. Last year they parted ways with Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. This season there will be more.
And yesterday it started with the trade of Anquan Boldin the pain of which is hardly tempered by paltry consolation prize of the 31st pick in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
On the surface, the deal looks like a bad joke. Obviously the Ravens decided that part of their offseason strategy had to include Boldin at a lower cap figure. Boldin didn’t budge and so the team did the right thing by Boldin, sending him to a winning team willing to pay him his $6M.
But this is just one piece of the offseason puzzle and it isn’t fair to judge the Ravens today on one tough, albeit very unpopular decision. Instead, let’s judge Ozzie Newsome & Co. in September when the team takes the field with their best 53-man roster.
Let’s see how they use the additional cap space.
Let’s see how they keep that window of opportunity open.
Let’s see if they can do what no other defending champion has done since 2005.
Let’s see if they can repeat.
None of the moves to part ways with the aforementioned players was ever popular at the time the decisions were made. As fans we attached ourselves to these players. We invest our emotions and saying goodbye isn’t easy.
But have the Ravens really missed any of those players?
Has the multiple parting of ways forced that window of opportunity shut?
Quite the contrary!
The Ravens have been to and won a playoff game in each of the last five seasons, something that no other team in the NFL has done. They’ve won two Super Bowl titles in the last 12 seasons.
I think those guys in the front office know what they’re doing. We all just need to sit back, observe and watch their plan unfold.
Chances are it will be a happy ending even if in the short-term it feels like a Super Bowl hangover is about to set in.