Jussel: Offseason hits to Ravens, Pats help Broncos

National Football League training camps are still a month away from opening, but it isn’t too early to start salivating.

If you’ve been following along since Baltimore held off San Francisco to win Super Bowl XLVII, you will have noticed several developments that have changed the NFL landscape, especially in the AFC where the Denver Broncos reside.

The biggest developments have come from two teams that have been perennial contenders, the defending-champ Ravens and the New England Patriots. Both organizations are putting on happy faces, but both have taken huge offseason hits.

The Ravens have lost more than half of their defensive starters and, despite grabbing Elvis Dumervil from Denver, have done little to replace departed stars other than to move second-stringers up a notch or put draftees at the top of the depth chart.

The Ravens’ depth chart on defense lists eight different starters from last season. Gone are surefire Hall of Famers Ray Lewis to retirement and Ed Reed to Houston via free agency. Think they might be missed?

Baltimore has two rookies listed as starters, safety Matt Elam and inside linebacker Arthur Brown, and it has three other starters who have had injuries that have them questionable to return in time for training camp. One of their listed starters, safety Michael Huff,  whose past two seasons bordered on terrible, was picked up after being cut by the Raiders.

And although they re-signed free agent quarterback Joe Flacco to a massive new contract, they lost his favorite target, Anquan Boldin, to free agency. Flacco’s starting wideouts are now Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, both of whom can fly, but neither of whom can run a route over the middle where Boldin was so successful.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh did what he had to do earlier this month when assessing his team, saying he could see no reason they wouldn’t win a second straight Super Bowl.

Brave words, too much roster turnover.

What has happened with the Ravens’ roster pales in comparison to what has gone on in New England.

First, as all good Bronco fans know, Wes Welker did indeed take his 100-plus catches per season and head to Denver.

And quarterback Tom Brady rightly pouted. But the loss of Welker isn’t the only thing Brady will be feeling once the games start.

All-World tight end Rob Gronkowski had a fourth surgery on a forearm, then had another surgery, this one on the back. His return is questionable, not only by the start of training camp, but by the start of the season. If he is on the physically unable to perform list the first week of the season, he can’t even practice until the sixth week.

Then, of course, there is the loss of their second All-World tight end, Aaron Hernandez, to his arrest and murder charge this week. The Patriots, not wanting to deal with the media circus, cut him.

Making a bad situation even worse, top wideout Brandon Lloyd was released, and the top running back-receiver, Danny Woodhead, is now a Charger.

If the season were to start right now, the Patriots would have Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells at tight end and Danny Amendola and Donald Jones at wide receivers.

Scare you? I thought not.

Combine all this with the 29th-ranked defense against the pass (and little free-agent help), and you’ve likely seen the last of Bill Belichick’s run of titles in the AFC East.

Miami has gone about the business of stocking up with free agents on the offensive side and has had one of the league’s top defenses for several years. And Tim Tebow has left the Big Apple, something that may actually help the Jets get back on track, not to mention drive Belichick crazy with stupid-reporter questions during training camp since Tebow is now a Patriot.

Yes, these events have taken a chunk out of two teams who were among the powers of the AFC last season.

Sitting at the top smirking are teams like the Broncos, Houston, Indy and Cincinnati. Those are the teams with the real happy faces.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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