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Ray Lewis. There are few figures in sport who divide public opinion to the extremes which Lewis does. Love him or hate him, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker performance on the field, and his skills as leader, not only in the locker room, but also in the franchise, are unquestionable.
His announcement that this year’s playoff run would be his ‘last ride’ was something every Baltimore fan knew was coming sooner or later, but few, if any, had prepared themselves to truly accept this as a reality.
Super Bowl XLVII proved to be a fitting farewell for Lewis as the 17-year veteran collected his second Super Bowl trophy in what, barring a dramatic change of heart, was the linebackers last ever game.
Whilst losing a player of Lewis’ caliber could never be seen as a good thing, some of us hope to take a pragmatic approach to his departure, and give Ravens’ fans some positive aspects to focus on. Just in case winning the Super Bowl was already getting a bit old (…)
Most importantly, Baltimore are now an offensive-dominated team. With stars like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith on offense, this team is now capable of going head to head with the league’s premier offenses and winning. This has not been the case in Baltimore for Lewis’ entire tenure at the franchise, and should help ease the pains that losing Lewis will cause.
The defense, despite not being at its vintage best this season, is also better equipped now to cope with the loss of Lewis, than it has been in recent years. Inside linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain are both good enough to start in most NFL teams and will minimize any potential drop off in playing ability on the field.
The loss in leadership cannot be underestimated, Lewis is a ‘once in a generation’ type player, but key players like Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata will be ready to step up and help fill the void. Flacco’s growth in ability and confidence will undoubtedly see him assume the mantle of the teams’ ‘general’.
The Ravens are also facing the challenge of retaining many of their players who are coming to the end of their contracts. The list is long, and includes the likes of Reed, Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams and Bryant McKinnie, not to mention recent Super Bowl MVP, Flacco, who is due a very big contract indeed. Lewis’ departure won’t free up a lot of cap room, but it may be enough to make room for a couple of new contracts for their upcoming free agents.
Having tried to remove as much sentiment as possible from this article, I have to be perfectly honest; the Baltimore Ravens will never be the same again. Lewis’ retirement won’t devastate the franchise, General Manager Ozzie Newsome is too smart of an operator to allow that to happen, but number 52 certainly cannot be replaced. He is one of a kind.
This marks the beginning of a new era for Baltimore. The last of the ‘original Ravens’ is heading off into the horizon. The time is ripe for a new group of players to cement their legacy in ‘Charm City’ and I for one cannot wait to see who steps up to the plate.