Ravens' history is reloading, not rebuilding

Only 45 minutes had passed into the official start of free agency, and the Baltimore Ravens traded one of the best players in franchise history and watched three of their top four free agents sign elsewhere.

For many teams, this is a tell-tale sign of rebuilding. For the Ravens, their history says it's time to reload again.

Tuesday marked another gut-wrenching beginning to free agency as the Ravens said goodbye to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (traded to Detroit), wide receiver Torrey Smith (signed with San Francisco), linebacker Pernell McPhee (signed with Chicago) and tight end Owen Daniels (signed with Houston).

In a flash, the Ravens' greatest defensive lineman of all-time, their best deep threat, their top young pass-rusher and starting tight end were all gone.

It should have felt familiar. It was a replay of so many offseasons in the past for the Ravens. Each time, the Ravens parted with starters, key contributors and pieces of their history. Each time, they advanced into the thick of the postseason the following season.

In 2011, two of the best targets in team history (tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason) and their longtime nose tackle (Kelly Gregg) were released and three free-agent starters (fullback Le'Ron McClain, safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Josh Wilson) signed elsewhere. The Ravens came one failed catch from reaching the Super Bowl.

In 2012, three free-agent starters left (guard Ben Grubbs, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Cory Redding) and backup running back Ricky Williams retired. The Ravens went on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy that season.

Few teams replenish talent as quickly and as well as the Ravens. Their needs this year are apparent: wide receiver, running back, tight end, cornerback and pass rush. After trading Ngata, the Ravens have about $10 million of cap room to work with and 10 draft picks (when you factor in the projected compensatory ones).

The Ravens potentially could sign Justin Forsett or Pierre Thomas at running back, add Dwayne Bowe or Stevie Johnson at wide receiver and bring in Jermaine Gresham, Anthony Fasano or Zach Miller at tight end.

There's no guarantee that the Ravens will fill their major voids the way they did in 2011 or 2012 and make another deep playoff run. But their track record shows that nobody should count out the Ravens one day into free agency.