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Wink is Gone in a Blink

Wink Martindale
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Ravens Part Way With Defensive Coordinator Martindale

Frustration and stress defined Ravens headquarters for the better part of December and into January. The Ravens were circling the drain. They knew it. We knew it, yet we all hoped that they might find a way to win a couple of games down the stretch to secure a spot in the postseason dance. But today the party continues on without them.

Injuries are part of the NFL. The teams that survive are oftentimes those that are the healthiest. And in the modern day, that includes the effects of COVID. The eight teams still standing as of this writing, are among the league’s healthiest.

[Related Article: Divisional Round Predictions]

That’s a description never applied to the Ravens at any point during the 2021 season. The player personnel people and the coaching staff worked hard to cobble together a team that could compete and for 11 games they did exactly that. But then it all came crashing down. Six straight losses to end a season never sits well, particularly when the next shot at redemption is still 8 months away.

The taste is bitter.

That said, it was the general consensus that the extent of injuries would be accompanied by a hall pass for the coaching staff. How could their performances be fairly judged with such short-handedness in personnel? Apparently a hall pass wasn’t among the stocking stuffers this Holiday Season for Don “Wink” Martindale.

“After several productive conversations, Don and I have agreed to move forward in separate directions. We have had a great run on defense, and I am very proud of what has been accomplished and the work he has done. Don has been a major contributor to the success of our defense since 2012, and especially since he became defensive coordinator four years ago. He has done a great job. Now it is time to pursue other opportunities. Sometimes the moment comes, and it’s the right time. I am personally grateful for our friendship and for everything he has done in Baltimore.” ~ John Harbaugh on Don Martindale

The timing of the announcement is a bit odd. The guess here is that the team struggled with the decision. Wink is well-liked throughout the organization and is really embraced by the players, particularly the defense. The friendship he shares with John Harbaugh runs deep, which challenges objective business decision making. Despite the injuries, the popularity and the friendship, the choice was still made to part ways with Martindale.

The Ravens have invested heavily in their defense – 14% more cap dollars landed on Wink’s side of the ball than on Greg Roman’s. Yet the results weren’t there. Communication breakdowns were the norm leading to 74 plays of 20+ yards and 16 plays of 40+ yards. Fourth quarter meltdowns were a pattern – not just in 2021 but dating back three or more seasons and that likely influenced Harbaugh’s decisions to go for two against the Steelers and Packers. Whispers of predictability floated about.

Lately, free agent defenders leave Baltimore only to find greater success elsewhere. Za’Darius Smith, Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue and Chris Wormley immediately come to mind. It wasn’t long ago when the opposite was true from departed defenders. Is Martindale guilty of jamming players into a system instead of coordinating a defense that allows them to get the most out of their abilities? Has predictability set in? Are the players too comfortable with Wink and the relationships so chummy that accountability is missing?

Martindale was in the final year of his deal with the Ravens and according to NFL Insider Albert Breer, other teams were aware and came calling. Maybe the Ravens weren’t willing to add more years to Wink’s deal and that, coupled with the overtures from other teams paved the way to what we hope was an amicable split.

Perhaps it’s a combination of all of these things.

Martindale’s departure might not be the last. Rob Ryan was brought on board by his buddy Wink and the bet here is that he’ll follow Martindale out of The Castle’s doors. Others could go as well if the Ravens bring in a coordinator from outside of the building. That said, my gut tells me the new DC will be D-Line Coach Anthony Weaver, but that’s just an educated guess. I’ve heard nothing to confirm or dispel that. It’s pure speculation.

There’s also speculation that more controversy is simmering beneath the surface in Owings Mills and that it could boil over. The author of that speculation is the normally reliable “Barstool Banks” who writes:

“I can already tell you right now there’s a lot of other shit under the surface completely unrelated to Wink that may or may not surface this off-season. Stuff that would make your head spin. My hope is that this is the worst to come and we can put the pieces together to run it back with a healthy roster next season. Fingers crossed on that. But be warned. This may just the tip of the iceberg of things that could happen in Baltimore this offseason.”

I’m a fan of Banks work and he appears to be well-connected at The Castle. But the above excerpt is worded with phrases like “could” and “would” and “may or may not” that I wonder why it’s even being written. It really looks like the work of Jason LaCanfora who qualifies his drivel with similar words that are rich with escapability, so that when his rumor mongering flames out, he can dodge culpability.

As for those spinning heads in Owings Mills, time will tell. A frustrating season like that which the Ravens experienced in 2021, is a breeding ground for finger-pointing. But the Ravens have outstanding leadership and a little cooling down period coupled with purposeful direction, will get the team back on track.

Iceberg or no iceberg, the Ravens are not the Titanic.

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