The Baltimore Ravens defense is historic.
Their consistent success over 22 seasons has been a staple of the organization since their legendary 2000 Super Bowl team and their 2018-19 roster proved no different.
Ranked as the NFL's No. 1 defense for just the second time in team history (2006), the squad allowed 292.2 yards per game and permitted the league's second-fewest points per game (17.9) behind the Bears' 17.7.
But 2019 could bringing a different looking Ravens defense. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive end Brent Urban and linebacker Za'Darius Smith will all become unrestricted free agents. The Ravens could also free up a $21 million in cap space by parting ways with safety Eric Weddle and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.
Not only is that a boatload of talent that acts as the nucleus to the defense's success, but a plethora of leadership.
"I’m still at a loss for words, honestly, especially [when thinking about] ‘Urb’ and ‘Sizz,’"defensive tackle Michael Pierce said on what 2019 could bring. "They’ve been here since I’ve been here. They’re like brothers to me. ‘Sizz’ is an amazing leader. I couldn’t imagine being here without him. I’m a little at a loss for words for that. Hopefully, we can get those guys back.
Drafted by the Ravens in 2003, Suggs is the team's all-time leader in sacks and has played more games than any player in Ravens history. He finished his 15th season with 34 combined tackles and seven sacks and is undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer.
"I would love to be a Raven for life," Suggs said after the team's 23-17 loss Sunday. "I’m healthy, and I still feel like I have some juice in the tank. I would love to be a Raven for life. We’ll have to see what happens. It’s a long time between here and March. So, we’re just going to enjoy it and hope we can work it out. If not, I’ll be lining up for somebody next year.”
Mosley, who was the team's first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, finished out his rookie contract and enters the offseason with his future with the Ravens in question. In those five season, the linebacker posted 579 combined tackles, 8.5 sacks, 35 passes defended and earned four Pro Bowl nominations. His Week 17 fourth quarter interception off of Browns' Baker Mayfield launched the Ravens into the postseason for the first time in three years.
Weddle has already decided that if his future doesn't involve the Ravens he will be calling it a career after 12 seasons.
“If they want to go in a different direction, I’m not going to play for another team," Weddle said. "That’s not where I’m at in my career. It’s either play my last year here, and that’ll be it and enjoy it, or this has been it. It’s pretty simple. I’m a simple kind of guy.”
Eric DeCosta has his hands full in his first season as general manager with a defensive legacy lead by Ozzie Newsome up in the air. Parting ways with a veteran like Terrell Suggs would certainly spell the end of an era with Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and Ed Reed long gone.
While those returning can't imagine their No. 1 defense without its core leaders, there's a new leader emerging on the opposite side of the ball.
“I think a leader is kind of what other people think of you," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said on if he's prepared to help lead the defense.
"I don’t really know if it’s something [that] you can just say, ‘I’m going to be a leader this year.’ But, you have a rookie quarterback that led us to a lot of wins. I think [Lamar Jackson] is a natural leader in itself, so whatever way it falls, I always know we’re going to have Lamar. He definitely was emerging as a big leader on this team.”
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