Today, we say goodbye to the Baltimore Ravens, a team that has many players who are not Billy Cundiff, though it's been easy to forget that over the past couple of days.
Fact: The Ravens were good enough to be a Super Bowl team this season; it just didn't happen to work out that way. One pass couldn't be squeezed and one kick went wide left, and we go from elation (or at least contentment) to abject failure. It probably shouldn't work like that, but for a lot of fans, it does.
If the Ravens were a college team, things wouldn't seem so bad. There, you can lose every game on your schedule, but if you can stomp your hated rivals, you can be happy at the end of the day. The Ravens, though they came up short of the Super Bowl, did own the Steelers in 2011. At least there's that.
There was some really encouraging development among young players, too. I'm particularly excited about Torrey Smith. He seems to be 204 pounds of speed and playmaking ability, and I can see him torturing secondaries for years to come. I don't think he'll ever be the kind of guy to lead the league in catches, but he's one of the best in the league right now at pulling the top off of a defense.
The Ravens' own secondary is in good hands, too, with Lardarius Webb emerging as a stud corner and rookie Jimmy Smith showing good signs on the other side. If it's not already, that will soon be regarded as one of the league's best corner tandems.
And all the defensive studs will be returning, too, obviously ‒ Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs. Jarret Johnson will be a free agent, which is probably the biggest defensive free-agent concern.
On offense, Ray Rice will be unrestricted, and I think they have to bring him back. I know you get into a difficult area when talking about giving running backs big money, but Rice is such a huge part of their offense. I don't know if this is one of those teams that can get away with a downgrade at running back. Ben Grubbs is the other big unrestricted free-agent concern.
There's also the issue of whether or not Joe Flacco gets a new deal. He won't be a free agent this year, but he is heading into the last year of his contract, and it's getting to be decision time. And we've seen plenty of debate recently about Joe Flacco and if he's good enough to win a Super Bowl. To me, that's not even the question ‒ the question is, if you do get rid of Joe Flacco, what can you replace him with that does win you a Super Bowl?
Unless you can get Peyton Manning, getting rid of Joe Flacco seems like a no-win proposition for me. Is he in the class of Brady, Manning, Manning, Brees and Rodgers? Of course not. But who are you going to get that is? You don't draft early, and you'd have to give up five or more draft picks to move up high enough to get a guy with that much potential. Note, too, that that guy would come with no guarantees.
And even if you could land Peyton Manning ‒ you get maybe two years out of him, and then what? You're back to a rotating cast of guys like Tony Banks, Elvis Grbac and Jeff Blake. Flacco's your guy. For better or worse, that's what you have, and you're not going to have a better option anytime soon.
The good news with that is that this team, with Flacco, was good enough to be a Super Bowl team. Forget about what he doesn't bring to the table, keep getting better everywhere else, and you're golden. This team is in very good shape for 2013.