Every season two teams reach the Super Bowl, and each team subsequently has players pilfered away by teams looking to add championship-caliber players to their own roster.
Win or lose, the Baltimore Ravens will be facing competition to retain the services of some key players as their impending free agency looms.
First and foremost will be locking up Joe Flacco. If Flacco is able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, his price-tag will jump up into the next level.
Flacco already owns the NFL records for road playoff wins and winning a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, but a Super Bowl title would catapult Flacco into elite payday status. Considering he will be entering his sixth season next year, he appears to be entering his prime.
As older veterans like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady draw near the ends of their respective careers, the AFC quarterback mantle could be Flacco’s for the taking.
The other offensive position the Ravens must focus on is at tight end, as both Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are free agents.
The regression of Dickson was overshadowed by the breakout season for Pitta, as he became a legitimate top-10 tight end. Pitta is Flacco’s best buddy on the team off the field, and his security blanket on the field. Assuming the Ravens keep Flacco, signing his favorite pass catcher will be paramount.
Aside from Flacco and the tight ends, the rest of the key free agents for the Ravens are all on the defensive side of the ball.
Paul Kruger had a breakout campaign, as he really stepped up after Lewis missed the majority of the regular season. Kruger’s nine sacks were double that of Dannell Ellerbe and Arthur Jones, who ranked second on the team with 4.5 sacks.
Kruger was a jack-of-all-trades for the defense as he was the only player on the Ravens to register a sack, interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Next season will be Kruger’s fifth season, so he appears to just be entering his prime so losing him now would be disastrous for a defense who will be searching for stability.
The aforementioned Ellerbe and Jones will also be free agents, as they both had an impact at linebacker and defensive end respectively. Kruger, Ellerbe and Jones accounted for 49 percent of the Ravens’ sacks this season, so holding onto them will be a priority.
Throw in the fact that Ray Lewis’ retirement will further weaken the defense and linebacking corp, retaining Kruger, Ellerbe and even Albert McClellan will be top priorities.
The final key free agent on the defensive side is cornerback Cary Williams.
At the beginning of the season Williams was viewed as the weak link of the cornerbacks, as he played opposite of Pro Bowler Lardarius Webb. However, Williams had a breakout campaign as he took his game to another level this season, especially after Webb went down with a torn ACL in Week 5.
Williams led the Ravens with four interceptions during the regular season, and has added two more during the Ravens’ three playoff games. Assuming Webb recovers fully, Williams would be a fantastic second cornerback, so his true value would be making the secondary one of the best in the league, assuming he is joined by Webb, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. Williams has shown he can be a number one cornerback, so his services will be in high demand.
Thus, with the vultures circling and looking to feed on the Ravens’ vulnerable free agents, the Ravens need to finish the job and win the Super Bowl before they lose key personnel.
Considering how hard it is to get back to the Super Bowl in the free agent era, the Ravens must take advantage of their situation because this roster will not look the same next year.