OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If Sunday’s season-ending loss left the Ravens shocked over missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, cleaning out their lockers brought a sense of finality to the 2013 season less than 24 hours later.
Players gathered at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills Monday for a meeting before collecting their belongings from the locker room in a scene that felt like the last day of school. However, the mood was more sobering for the Ravens after finishing 8-8 and failing to reach the postseason despite winning Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans less than 11 months ago.
For aging veterans with larger cap numbers and impending free agents, Monday also marked the potential end of their run with the organization. The Ravens have 14 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents — though veteran Brandon Stokley has already announced his retirement — and a number of others who may not be retained for salary-cap purposes.
One of those veterans is fullback Vonta Leach, who can see the writing being on the wall in terms of his future with the organization. With a season remaining on the two-year, $3.75 million he signed with Baltimore in August after being cut earlier in the summer, Leach is unlikely to return after being phased out of the three-wide, single-back offense the Ravens used more prevalently in 2013.
“I’m going to sit down with them in the next couple days,” said Leach, who played a total of 12 offensive snaps in the final three games of the season. “Obviously, I wasn’t in the offense a whole lot this year. If they had a role for me, ideally, I’d want to come back here. I understand that this is a business.”
For free agents such as defensive tackle Arthur Jones, inside linebacker Daryl Smith, and left tackle Eugene Monroe, the Ravens will be interested in retaining their services but will only have so many resources with $70.9 million in cap space already tied to just six players — Haloti Ngata, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb, Ray Rice, and Marshal Yanda — for the 2014 season. Of the Ravens’ 14 unrestricted free agents, tight end Dennis Pitta, Monroe, and Smith figure to be at the top of the wish list to re-sign while Jones has likely priced himself out of the Ravens’ plans after a strong 2013 campaign.
In his first season in Baltimore, Smith led the Ravens in tackles and provided a strong veteran presence at the inside linebacker spot vacated by the retired Ray Lewis.
“I think they want me back, but we’ll see,” said Smith, who signed a one-year, $1.125 million deal last June after nine years in Jacksonville. “Only time will tell. I know they’ve got a lot of stuff to do this year, and a lot of guys up [with expiring contracts]. We’ll see.”
Others such as wide receiver Jacoby Jones, strong safety James Ihedigbo, and cornerback Corey Graham figure to be too pricey for general manager Ozzie Newsome, who will look for younger and cheaper options — or upgrades — to fill their roles. The door isn’t completely closed to their returns, of course, but the potential of needing to move elsewhere crosses any free agent’s mind at this time of the year.
Known primarily as a special-teams player before signing with the Ravens in 2012, Graham was a starting cornerback for the Super Bowl XLVII championship team and remained a dependable nickelback for Dean Pees’ defense this season, meaning he could draw some interest as a starter with other teams this offseason.
“I would like to be here,” said Graham, who led the Ravens with four interceptions this year. “When you win a Super Bowl somewhere, you get the opportunity to play somewhere, and things start to go well for you, you want to be in the place where they gave you opportunities. It’s a good organization; they gave me a chance to play. When I first came here, all I said was that I wanted an opportunity — they did that. I’m grateful for every opportunity I’ve gotten here.”
Free agency will begin on March 11, the same date on which teams must be under the 2014 salary cap.
Here’s a list of the Ravens’ 14 unrestricted free agents:
TE Dallas Clark
DT Terrence Cody
TE Ed Dickson
CB Corey Graham
DT Arthur Jones
WR Jacoby Jones
S James Ihedigbo
S Jeromy Miles
OT Eugene Monroe
OT Michael Oher
TE Dennis Pitta
RB Bernard Scott
LB Daryl Smith
WR Brandon Stokley (intends to retire)
Osemele progressing well after back surgery
Left guard Kelechi Osemele told reporters his recovery from November back surgery is going well and he expects to be fully cleared to begin offseason workouts in roughly a month.
The second-year lineman had been dealing with a herniated disc since his rookie year and missed the final nine games of the 2013 season. However, Osemele said his back hasn’t felt this good since his college days at Iowa State and he’s looking forward to being back on the field in 2014.
Where Osemele might line up for the Ravens next year remains to be seen as both of their starting tackles are unrestricted free agents. The 2012 second-round pick played right tackle in his rookie year before he was shifted inside to left guard for the 2012 postseason and played at an exceptional level in helping the Ravens win the Super Bowl.
“To be honest with you, it really doesn’t matter,” said Osemele when asked if he preferred playing guard or tackle. “I’m going to play wherever they put me. Whether I play guard or play tackle really doesn’t matter, especially off an injury. I just want to get back on the field.”
Most believe Osemele is better suited for guard, but his versatility does provide Newsome and the front office more flexibility in trying to revamp an offensive line that played poorly this season.
Ravens sign eight to reserve-future deals
In a procedural move following the conclusion of the 2013 regular season, the Ravens signed eight members of their practice squad to reserve-future deals on Monday.
Headlining the list was former Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg, who is currently recovering from sports hernia surgery and spent the entire year on the Ravens’ developmental squad. With all three tight ends on the 53-man roster scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and only Pitta being a strong bet to be retained, Furstenburg figures to have a good chance of making the active roster in 2014.
The Ravens also signed wide receivers Gerrard Sheppard and Kamar Aiken, defensive tackle Cody Larsen, offensive tackle David Mims, tight end Nathan Overbay, quarterback Nick Stephens, and center Reggie Stephens to offseason deals.
Baltimore did not announce a reserve-future deal for running back Jonas Gray on Monday, the only member of the practice squad to finish the season who hadn’t been signed as of Monday afternoon.