|National Football League|
Ravens won't sacrifice future for chance to repeat
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- Panthers ink deal with rookie Lotulelei
By DAVID GINSBURG
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The last time the Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl, they mounted an all-out charge to pull off an encore.
That won't happen again.
"You have to make sure that the excitement of the day doesn't cloud what we promised to build, and that was a consistent winner," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said Thursday. "I'm just proud for Baltimore, and there is a great pressure off of us."
Although the Ravens have placed a high priority on signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a long-term deal, the team has no intention of overpaying potential free agents or having several players restructure their contracts in order to keep the current roster intact.
That's what happened 12 years ago, when general manager Ozzie Newsome sacrificed the future to mount another run at a championship. The Ravens backed up their 34-7 Super Bowl win over the New York Giants by returning to the playoffs, but they didn't get back to the Super Bowl.
And then, after the season, they suffered the salary-cap blues.
"We're not going to get caught up in the moment and do things to our salary cap and make decisions in the euphoria of winning that could hurt us in 2014 and 2015, like we did in 2001," Bisciotti said. "Every single veteran (in 2001) was restructured so that, I think, every single veteran could stay, then we ended up losing so many people the next year. We don't want to do that."
Newsome feels the same way.
"We will not repeat what we did in 2001," he said. "We're trying to build where we can win Super Bowls more than just one more time. I think our team is structured differently this time, also. We do have some veterans that will probably be retiring (linebacker Ray Lewis and possibly center Matt Birk) but we have a great nucleus of young players and players that are just heading into their prime that we're going to build this team around.
"We're not going to be restricting contracts, do all of those different things just to be able to maintain this team just to make another run. We're not doing that. But that doesn't mean that we don't want to try and go and repeat."
The first step in that process is getting Flacco on board. The Super Bowl MVP's contract expired after Baltimore's season-ending 34-31 win over San Francisco last Sunday.
"I'm coming away today thinking that we can get a deal done," Newsome said, noting that in similar situations the team signed Haloti Ngata, Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs.
"I've got a very good owner who understands the business, who understands the importance of certain positions," Newsome said. "So I'm optimistic."
If the sides don't reach an agreement, the Ravens can slap the franchise tag on Flacco. But they would prefer to avoid that scenario because it would take up salary cap space.
There are plenty of other issues to deal with during the offseason, so much so that Newsome, Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh and other high-ranking team officials met for 10 hours Wednesday to discuss virtually every player on the roster. Six starters become unrestricted free agents, including Flacco, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, and safety Ed Reed.
Reed, 34, basked in the glow of his first Super Bowl title Sunday night. He remained giddy during the parade Tuesday, which gives Newsome hope of getting the nine-time Pro Bowl star under contract for 2013.
"I think he wanted to let some time clear and at that point, he and I will sit down," Newsome said. "I think he realizes there may be some other options out there, but I think if you watched him, if you watched his body language over the course of the last eight to 10 days, (it's apparent) that he loves being here in Baltimore. I think we can use that to help make that relationship last a little bit longer."
Although they won the Super Bowl, the Ravens are still looking to fill some holes. The retirement of Lewis, along with the potential loss of Ellerbe and free agent defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu, has not escaped Newsome's attention.
"We think we've got to get better at defensive tackle," Newsome said. "We know that we have one linebacker retiring and one that's a free agent. We've got a safety that's a free agent and some young guys that have yet to step up. So we would say the middle of the defense is probably the one area that we will concentrate on."
Winning a Super Bowl is a tough task. Doing it in succession is far more difficult. So the Ravens have decided to start anew next year instead of looking to repeat.
"The word repeat means nothing," Harbaugh insisted. "You go back to work."
The Ravens are the only team in the NFL to reach the playoffs in each of the past five years. Their task next year will be to extend the streak to six, then hope the postseason drive ends with a victory.
"I don't really believe in the defending champ thing," Harbaugh said. "It's not boxing. They don't give you a belt and you fight for the title. The 2012 champions were the Baltimore Ravens. Next year's champion depends on who plays the best, who handles adversity the best, who comes out on top."
Updated February 7, 2013