When the Ravens hold their annual state-of-the-team news conference on Wednesday at the Under Armour Performance Center, we would all do well to listen closely to what owner Steve Bisciotti and his upper management team have to say.
This is the one opportunity for the media and fans to get a real sense of how the Ravens front office feels about the just-completed season and how the top executives are planning to reconfigure the team for 2014 and beyond.
Of course, you've got to read between some lines. The NFL is built on a foundation of secrecy and competitive paranoia, so it's not like Ozzie Newsome is going to do a PowerPoint presentation on his specific plans to upgrade the offensive line or make use of the franchise's most favorable draft position of the John Harbaugh era. But the Ravens have used this opportunity in the past to give a general idea of how they will approach the offseason.
Lest anyone doubt this, a cursory look back at the transcript from last year's season review — which took place a month later because the Ravens were somewhat occupied in January and early February — reveals a number of hints at how the offseason would proceed and a concession from Bisciotti and Newsome that they would not gamble the franchise's future on a long-shot bid to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The team learned its lesson trying to do that after its first Super Bowl title in 2001.
"We will not repeat what we did in 2001, because we are trying to build where we can win Super Bowls more than just one more time,'' Newsome said. "But, I think our team is structured differently this time also. We do have some veterans that will probably be retiring, but we have a great nucleus of young players, players who are just hitting into their prime that we are going to build this team around. But, we are not going to be restructuring contracts and do all of those different things to be able just to maintain this team to make another run."
What followed was an offseason during which the Ravens traded go-to receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers to gain some payroll cap space and lost more than half their starting defensive lineup to retirement or free agency. The team had not yet signed Joe Flacco to that giant contract, but Newsome clearly knew that was coming and would have to reconstruct the decimated defense on a much tighter budget.
The departure of Boldin and veteran safety Bernard Pollard disappointed fans, and not all of Newsome's defensive additions panned out, but he made it clear at the outset that the Ravens were going to lose some popular players and would have to depend on some bargain free agents to remain competitive in 2013.
Bisciotti also said last February that he didn't favor an all-or-nothing attempt to win a second straight NFL championship.
"We are 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,'' he said. "Every single veteran was restructured, I think, so that every single veteran could stay, and then we ended up losing so many people the next year."
Newsome talked about beefing up the middle of the defense and acquiring another elite pass rusher, then did just that with several free agent signings and the surprising acquisition of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil.
The Ravens didn't end up being a Super Bowl contender, but they did field a team that was still in playoff contention in Week 17, in spite of a number of significant personnel losses.
So, where do they go from here?
We should get an idea on Wednesday how far the Ravens will go this year to retain some of their pending free agents and just what Newsome and Harbaugh consider to be the team's top offseason priorities.
It'll be interesting to hear what they have to say about the running game, which ran aground this year, and an offensive line situation that Newsome seemed fairly happy with 11 months ago. It's also fair to wonder which of last year's starters (Jacoby Jones? Michael Oher?) might be headed out of town.
Don't look for any specifics, but if the past is prologue, you'll probably come away with some idea of what the Ravens roster will look like when they open training camp six months from now.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.