"The message is 'win,' plain and simple," Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty said an hour after the roster moves were announced Wednesday. "If you don't get your job done, they're going to find somebody else that can get it done."
There's been an increased sense of urgency with the defending Super Bowl champions ever since linebacker Terrell Suggs declared a "state of emergency" after the Ravens lost at Pittsburgh. Harbaugh ratcheted up the pressure on the players when he said last week that the Ravens would do whatever it takes to improve this team -- and he wasn't bluffing.
When a team cuts ties with two longtime veterans (and two former first-round picks), it delivers a wake-up call. That's what this move is to a Ravens team that has lost three of its past four games.
"It's shocking," Canty said of the moves.
It's legitimate to criticize general manager Ozzie Newsome for whiffing in free agency this offseason. The Ravens signed four veterans from other teams in the first wave of free agency, and half of them are gone with the releases of Huff and Spears.
What you have to like about the Ravens is the immediacy in recognizing their mistakes. How much are the Ravens committed to turning around their disappointing 3-4 season? The Ravens are going to pay Huff and Spears a total of $926,470 the rest of the season not to be on the team because they saw younger players as upgrades. That doesn't include the combined $2.1 million in signing bonuses for those veterans.
"[What] we'll always try to do is have as strong of a roster as we possibly can and to be as good a team as we possibly can be on Sunday," Harbaugh said. "We feel like these moves move us in that direction. We feel like these are the necessary moves that we need to make to be the best team we can be in all three phases. Any message beyond that is guys already understand those things."
These moves are intended to improve the Ravens' special teams and run defense.
Huff was benched in the season opener when he failed to fill the void of Ed Reed and then became a liability on special teams. The breaking point for Huff was when he lost outside containment on Emmanuel Sanders' 44-yard kickoff return, which jump-started the Steelers' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter two weeks ago.
Spears never got in great shape and he was being outplayed by rookie third-round pick Brandon Williams. The impact of Spears in the defensive line rotation was never felt in an underachieving run defense, which has fallen to No. 13 in the NFL.
By not sitting on their hands, the Ravens believe they can still catch the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals or land a wild-card spot. Baltimore is 2.5 games behind the Bengals in the division and is one game behind the San Diego Chargers for the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot.
"I really have high hopes for this team," Harbaugh said. "I've told the players that. I really believe this team is really going to catch fire."
Harbaugh added, "I really believe we can be a great football team. We just have to go and get it done."
If the Ravens don't show immediate results, you can expect more changes to come. The Ravens have set the precedent.