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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Coach John Harbaugh promised the Ravens would make changes in an effort to improve as they entered the bye week with an underwhelming 3-4 record and that promise came to fruition Wednesday morning.
Backup free safety Michael Huff and veteran defensive tackle Marcus Spears were expected to be key cogs in revamping a defense that struggled a season ago despite a Super Bowl title, but both were waived on Monday after just seven games in Baltimore. The pair joined recently-jettisoned left tackle Bryant McKinnie as offseason signings that failed to pan out for general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Though Harbaugh downplayed any hidden agenda behind the decision to part ways with the two veterans, the remaining players on the roster understand what’s at stake over the final nine games of the regular season as the Ravens hope to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.
“The message is, ‘Win,’ plain and simple,” said defensive end Chris Canty, who teamed with Spears for four seasons in Dallas. “If you don’t get your job done, they’re going to find somebody else that can get it done. And in the case of Michael and Marcus, they felt like it was in the best interest of the team to move forward.”
Safeties Brynden Trawick and Omar Brown were promoted from the practice squad to fill the vacated spots on the 53-man roster and to boost the specials teams, an area where Huff and Spears weren’t contributing.
Signed to a three-year, $6 million contract to assume the departed Ed Reed’s free safety spot, Huff was benched following a disastrous performance in the Ravens’ 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos in the season opener. The 30-year-old hadn’t played a defensive snap in the last three games and was guilty of losing outside containment on the final kickoff return that set up Pittsburgh’s game-winning drive two weeks ago.
Spears agreed to a two-year, $2.75 million contract to add depth to the defensive line, but a knee injury limited the 30-year-old to just five games. The former Cowboys defensive end made just 11 tackles and appeared to be in danger of losing reps to rookie Brandon Williams and the returning Terrence Cody after the bye before the Ravens decided to release him ahead of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Any player — veteran or rookie — failing to make significant contributions at his offensive or defensive position or on special teams will quickly find his roster spot on shaky ground as Harbaugh said last week that the coaching staff would find players who wanted to play special teams, a message that could have been interpreted as a shot at Huff’s poor efforts in that area.
“There’s always the fact of life in the National Football League,” said Harbaugh about Wednesday’s cuts. “And what we’ll always try to do is have the strongest roster we possibly can to be as good a team as we possibly can be on Sunday. We feel like these moves move us in that direction.”
Though neither player represented a steep financial investment with long-lasting ramifications — the Ravens will carry $1.3 million in dead money on next year’s cap as a result of their releases — their in-season departures tarnish Newsome’s reputation for making savvy veteran signings that often fly under the radar. And the latest development only fuels the lingering criticism over the Ravens’ decision to trade wide receiver Anquan Boldin after the veteran wouldn’t agree to a $2 million pay cut from his scheduled 2013 salary of $6 million in early March.
With Spears and Huff both vested veterans, their contracts are guaranteed and the Ravens will not recover any cap savings for the remainder of the season. The pair account for $2.55 million on this year’s salary cap.
Trawick and Brown are expected to boost the special-teams units, which have had two punts blocked and have experienced issues in kick coverage at different points this season.
“Those are guys who will give us a chance as backup safeties but also special teams players that have done a good job in practice on special teams and in games when they’ve been in there,” Harbaugh said. “It will give us a chance to bolster that area a little bit. These are two good, young safeties. We have high hopes for both of these guys.”
The Ravens signed wide receiver Kamar Aiken and quarterback Nick Stephens to fill the open spots on their practice squad.