The truth about Matt Stover’s departure from Baltimore

January 13, 2010 | Drew Forrester

In a number of ways, the single worst thing that could happen to the Ravens this weekend in Indianapolis would be for the team to lose by three points and have the Colts field goal kicker boot one home with 0:14 to play to end it.

First, losing to the Colts in any way, shape or form will be tough to digest here in Baltimore.  The ONLY thing that would soften the blow is the fact that the game is in Indy and not Charm City.  Seeing Indy win is one thing…seeing them doing it on the M&T Bank Stadium turf would be just too much to handle.  We’ve been there, done that, of course.

For the record, I think the Ravens are winning on Saturday in Indy.

But this is a “what if?” blog.

What IF the Ravens lose by a field goal on Saturday?  That means Matt Stover would be the hero.  And that would be particularly aggravating considering Stover’s long run in purple and his departure in the recent off-season.  His initial replacement, Steve Hauschka, is long gone — and the Ravens are relying on journeyman kicker Billy Cundiff to get them through the remainder of the playoffs.

And IF Stover happens to factor in a Colts win on Saturday, there will be lots of bellyaching going on from Ravens fans about how “we (Ravens) let Stover get away.”

Ozzie Newsome will get beat up.

John Harbaugh will get beat up.

The organization will be taken to task.

Unfair.

Unfair.

And unfair.

Matt Stover isn’t on the Ravens because of a contract dispute.

The Ravens didn’t “let him go”.  The Ravens wanted him to be their kicker.  Period.

Stover, though, became “unsignable” when he demanded a guaranteed contract from the Ravens during the negotiating process last summer.

The money was somewhat troubling to the Ravens, sure.  They really didn’t want to spend $1.5 million on a field goal kicker and another $400k or so on a “specialty kicker” like Hauschka who would have handled kick-offs and long-range field goals.

But money isn’t what kept Stover from staying in Baltimore.

Stover kept himself from staying by demanding a guaranteed deal from the Ravens.

But it wasn’t just any kind of guaranteed deal.  Stover wanted it guaranteed that he’d be paid in full if the team parted company with him in training camp.  He was smart enough to know that a kicking competition was probably on the horizon.  He was also wise to the fact that if, in fact, he did get cut in late August, it might not be easy to catch on with another team at the latter stages of training camp.

Hence, the demand for a guaranteed deal in training camp.

The only problem?

The Ravens don’t do that.

For anyone.

They don’t do it for Ray Lewis.  They didn’t do it for Jamal Lewis, or Chris McAlister or Peter Boulware, either.

They’ve never guaranteed a player’s deal in training camp.

And they weren’t going to break that rule for Matt Stover.

Stover, of course, stuck to his guns.  And so did the Ravens.  Stover waited out the early part of the season and then hooked on with the Colts when Adam Vinatieri went down with an injury.  The Ravens, meanwhile, felt the bite of Matt’s departure when Hauschka got off to a slow start and then missed a game-winning field goal attempt in Minnesota in week #5.

I’m not really judging Matt Stover for his desire to have a guaranteed deal.  I understand it all quite well.  He was in a good bargaining position and probably felt like he deserved that nod of respect from the Ravens after all the great work he put in for the club.

But the Ravens can’t run their organization effectively if they’re willing to bend a forever-in-stone-in-house-rule for ANY PLAYER, Stover or otherwise.

And, of course, it must be noted that Stover could have tried his power-play until the 11th hour…and then caved in at the end and said, “OK, OK, I’ll come to camp with a contract like the rest of the guys on the team and if I make the team, then it’s guaranteed.  I’ll see you in camp next week.”

He COULD have done that.  After all, that’s what Ray Lewis does every summer.  He reports to training camp like the lowest guy on the totem pole and his contract isn’t “guaranteed” in August.

Teams put themselves in a bad position when they start handing out back-door deals to players, regardless of status, length of service or production.  Players NEVER keep a secret…they just don’t.  Agents NEVER keep a secret either.  Make a deal with the devil and everyone in hell knows about it before the next shipment of firewood comes in.

So, yes, the money was an issue, but it was a negotiable issue, as far as the Ravens were concerned.  What wasn’t negotiable was the issue of Stover’s contract being guaranteed in training camp.

So Matt Stover moved on.

That’s the deal…the REAL story behind Matt Stover’s departure from the Ravens.

It wasn’t John Harbaugh “giving up” on Matt Stover and it certainly wasn’t Ozzie Newsome deciding to go with Hauschka over Stover.

It was this: Two people – in this case, player and club – sticking to their principles and doing what was best for themselves.

No hard feelings.

But just remember how it all shook down IF, by chance, Stover happens to be the hero on Saturday in Indianapolis.

The Ravens didn’t let him go.

Matt Stover made a stand and the Ravens didn’t buckle.

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