Tag Archive | "ben grubbs"

Free-agent guard Mathis chooses to remain with Eagles over Ravens

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Free-agent guard Mathis chooses to remain with Eagles over Ravens

Posted on 17 March 2012 by Luke Jones

It’s always an uneasy feeling when a free-agent target leaves town without agreeing to a deal.

After departing Baltimore on Friday to ponder an offer from the Ravens, free-agent guard Evan Mathis has decided to remain in Philadelphia, signing a five-year deal with the Eagles. The deal is worth $25 million and includes $7 million in guaranteed money, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Mathis visited the Ravens on Thursday and remained in town overnight before flying back to Arizona on Friday to mull over offers from the Ravens and the Eagles. The 30-year-old left guard received his first opportunity to become a full-time starter in his first season with Philadelphia last year, likely leaving him with a special loyalty to the Eagles.

“To all the Eagles fans who offered me various food and incentives to return… I’ve come to collect,” Mathis wrote on his official Twitter page shortly before official word of the agreement broke.

Mathis ranked as the top left guard in the NFL last season, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

With Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs signing a five-year deal to join the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, the Ravens were hoping to welcome Mathis to Baltimore as an unspectacular but solid replacement. Baltimore re-signed veteran Matt Birk to stabilize the center position on Friday, but there remains a hole at left guard with dwindling options remaining on the free-agent market.

Vernon Carey, Jake Scott, Robert Gallery, and Bobbie Williams are available options, but all would be considered a significant step back from Grubbs. Two sleeper options recovering from injuries would be former Browns guard Eric Steinbach (missed the 2011 season due to back surgery) and Cowboys free-agent guard Montrae Holland, who tore his biceps muscle in late December.

The Ravens will likely look to April’s draft for interior line help, but the consensus top-ranked guard David DeCastro of Stanford will likely be off the board long before the 29th pick. Other potential options in the late-first and second rounds include Cordy Glenn of Georgia, Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin, and Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele.

As far as potential options already on the roster, there has been some speculation that 2011 third-round pick Jah Reid could potentially move to guard. The 6-foot-7, 324-pound Central Florida product would be taller than the prototypical interior lineman, but Reid spent time practicing at guard late in the season when Marshal Yanda was dealing with rib and leg injuries. However, this would appear to be nothing more than a fallback option so early in the offseason.

 

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Ravens agree to three-year deal to keep veteran center Birk

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Ravens agree to three-year deal to keep veteran center Birk

Posted on 16 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After suffering five losses in free agency this week, the Ravens have finally retained one of their own by agreeing in principal to a three-year deal with center Matt Birk, the team announced on Friday.

Despite contemplating retirement after the end of the 2011 season, Birk stated his preference was to remain with the Ravens, and it appears as though he will have the opportunity to finish his career in Baltimore. He spent the last three seasons as the starting center in Baltimore after 11 years with the Minnesota Vikings.

The six-time Pro Bowl center will be 36 in July and struggled in the AFC Championship against Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, but Birk had a solid season in 2011 despite missing the entire preseason after undergoing knee surgery at the start of training camp. With Birk remaining in Baltimore, the Ravens will return four of their five starting offensive linemen from last season after Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs signed with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday.

“One of the things we said earlier this offseason is that we were going to focus attention on the offensive line, and getting Matt Birk back is key for us,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a team statement. “He is a top player, his intelligence is obvious, and he is a leader on and off the field.”

With veteran backup Andre Gurode an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to return, the Ravens will unquestionably look to draft a center in April’s draft, with Wisconsin’s Peter Konz being linked to Baltimore’s 29th pick in numerous mock drafts. Newsome said in the team’s end-of-season press conference the Ravens would add another center to the roster for the 2012 season.

Highly respected in the Baltimore locker room, Birk was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis last month, recognizing his community service as well as on-field excellence.

 

 

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Looking for winning fit, free-agent tackle Winston will visit Ravens on Friday

Posted on 15 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Eric Winston thought he’d be vacationing with his wife this week.

Instead, the free-agent right tackle is looking for a new home after surprisingly being cut by the Houston Texans on Monday after six productive seasons. The 28-year-old is scheduled to meet with the Ravens on Friday after visiting Miami on Wednesday and Kansas City on Thursday. Winston will also reportedly meet with Detroit and St. Louis.

After tasting success with his first playoff appearance and an AFC South championship last season, Winston is looking for the best landing spot to give him an opportunity to win the Super Bowl, making Baltimore an attractive destination.

“That’s what you shoot for,” Winston said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST on Thursday. “That’s what you want. I’d be hard-pressed to go back to another rebuilding project.”

Blindsided by the Texans’ decision to dump him, Winston is now making the best out of being a free agent and trying to find the best possible fit for him and his family. The process reminds him of when he made visits with teams as a draft prospect, only he gets to ask more questions this time around.

A 2006 third-round pick from the University of Miami, Winston acknowledges the bond he feels with former Hurricanes such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Bryant McKinnie, even though they played in Coral Gables before his time. He even joked that Lewis was like his grandfather and Reed his father in talking about Miami lore.

“Those guys were just such great examples of what it meant to play there and the intensity and just the passion that you play with at the U,” Winston said. “Of course, you can still look at them now and say that’s the way you’re supposed to play in the NFL.”

Winston hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, starting all 16 regular-season games for the Texans in each of the last five years. He hadn’t been contacted by former Houston teammates and current Ravens Vonta Leach and Bernard Pollard as of Thursday afternoon, but Winston expressed affection for each player.

“Those are great teammates,” said Winston, who joked that he called Pollard “Benny” to irritate him in the Houston locker room. “Those were guys I’ll always remember because of the people and players they are.”

Putting aside the money needed to sign Winston, the Ravens would be in a curious position should they get him to agree to terms. Current right tackle Michael Oher has two years remaining on his original rookie deal, so there’s no reason to think his roster spot would be in jeopardy. However, veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie is owed a $500,000 bonus on Saturday and is scheduled to make a $2 million base salary in the final year of his contract, meaning the Ravens could release the 32-year-old to save cap room.

It’s difficult envisioning the Ravens signing Winston and asking him to play left tackle, a position he hasn’t played since his rookie season when he did it on a very limited basis. Baltimore could move Oher back to the left side, but he has clearly performed better on the right side over his three-year career.

With the Ravens needing a left guard to fill the void left behind by Ben Grubbs — free-agent guard Evan Mathis visited with the team in Owings Mills on Thursday — a more radical idea would be to sign Winston and shift Oher to left guard, a position he hasn’t played since his first year at Ole Miss. Tackles can generally move inside without as much difficulty as interior linemen trying to shift outside, but it would be an unconventional move to say the least.

Of course, this is nothing more than speculation beyond Winston being scheduled to visit with the Ravens on Friday. With the number of teams interested in the right tackle, the Ravens will have a difficult time landing the former Texans tackle at a suitable price, but there’s no disputing his talent.

To hear Winston’s entire interview with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark on Thursday afternoon, click HERE.

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Though expected, Grubbs’ departure still stings for Ravens

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Though expected, Grubbs’ departure still stings for Ravens

Posted on 15 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After Ben Grubbs hit the open market on Tuesday, what felt like the inevitable became reality two days later as the Pro Bowl left guard said goodbye to the Ravens by signing a five-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.

The deal is reportedly worth $36 million and includes a $10 million signing bonus and $16 million in guaranteed money. After losing star left guard Carl Nicks to Tampa Bay a day earlier, the Saints made it clear Grubbs was their target to replace him and paid him as such. The former Ravens guard was regarded by most as the second-best guard available behind Nicks.

“There were a lot of things I had to factor in – winning, the locker room, coaches and location,” Grubbs told the Saints’ official Twitter account. “Location is at the bottom of my list but it is still important to me. When I looked at New Orleans, they had all the variables in the right place. It was an easy choice for me.”

Selected with the 29th overall pick of the 2007 draft, Grubbs was a mainstay on the Baltimore offensive line over the last five seasons. His exit leaves a major void on the left side as general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens visited with free-agent guard Evan Mathis on Thursday and will now look at remaining options on the open market.

With the Ravens only holding between $8 and $9 million of projected salary cap space and needing to address several needs this offseason, it was widely assumed they would be unable to retain Grubbs’ services despite having made a “substantial offer” in coach John Harbaugh’s words a few weeks ago. Unable to reach an agreement with agent Pat Dye prior to Tuesday, the Ravens knew their chances of keeping Grubbs diminished greatly once he hit the open market.

A source tells WNST.net’s Drew Forrester the Ravens offered Grubbs $32.5 million, which would have matched the total money of the contract awarded to Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda last summer. Yanda’s five-year contract included a $10 million signing bonus.

Many have questioned whether the Ravens should award another substantial contract at the guard position with current left tackle Bryant McKinnie’s contract set to expire after the 2012 season, but Grubbs was regarded by most as the Ravens’ top offensive lineman. With McKinnie set to turn 33 in September, the Ravens will need to make major decisions regarding the left side of their line in the coming months.

Grubbs’ departure is arguably an unprecedented outcome for the Ravens in dealings with their former first-round picks. Of players selected in the first round in the history of the franchise, the only other one to leave via free agency in which one could argue the Ravens would have liked to retain was cornerback Duane Starks, who departed in 2002 with the Ravens in the middle of a massive salary-cap purge.

The 28-year-old Grubbs had never missed a game in his career prior to being sidelined for six games in 2011 with a turf toe injury. Grubbs’ return to the lineup in early November stabilized an inconsistent offensive line and helped catapult Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice to lead the league in yards from scrimmage. McKinnie credited Grubbs as the main reason why he was able to quickly acclimate himself to the Ravens after being signed late in the preseason last August.

In addition to left guard, the Ravens must address the center position with veterans Matt Birk and Andre Gurode both free agents. They remain in negotiations with Birk’s agent Joe Linta and are scheduled to meet with him this week.

A former standout at Auburn, Grubbs becomes the third unrestricted free agent to depart Baltimore after defensive end Cory Redding and linebacker Jarret Johnson signed deals elsewhere on Wednesday.

 

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With Grubbs likely to depart, Ravens showing interest in other offensive linemen

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With Grubbs likely to depart, Ravens showing interest in other offensive linemen

Posted on 14 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson signing contracts elsewhere on Wednesday, the next potential departure from the Ravens could be even more painful in left guard Ben Grubbs.

The Pro Bowl lineman visited with New Orleans and took a physical on the second day of free agency. With former Saints left guard Carl Nicks signing a reported five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that includes $31 million guaranteed, it could signal the end of the Ravens’ chances of retaining Grubbs.

Nicks’ departure from the Saints opens up a void on the New Orleans offensive line and also shifts Grubbs to the top of the list of available interior linemen. It was already expected that Grubbs would have to take less money in order to remain in Baltimore, but the benchmark set by Nicks’ contract dwarfs any potential offer made by the Ravens.

A number of teams are reportedly in the market for a guard including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Cleveland, so there is likely a suitor to meet agent Pat Dye’s demands for his client.

Not waiting idly for Grubbs to make a decision, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens will welcome free-agent guard Evan Mathis to town for a visit. The 30-year-old spent the 2011 season with the Philadelphia Eagles after three seasons with Cincinnati, making him quite familiar with the AFC North.

“I got to see it for myself for a couple years,” Mathis said on AM 1570 WNST on Wednesday. “It was always a challenge playing teams like the Ravens and the Steelers with those really stout [defenses]. It’d be cool to be a part of again. I want to be on a good team and I want to have a chance to compete. I’m a competitor. I want to win a Super Bowl, and I want to play for an organization that has that chance.”

Mathis became a full-time starter for the first time last season after spending his first six seasons primarily as a backup, but he graded out favorably with the Eagles, rating as the best left guard in the NFL in ProFootballFocus.com’s grading system. The 6-foot-5, 302-pound lineman is considered by most as one of the better guards on the open market.

Though older and with less upside than Grubbs, Mathis would represent a solid replacement at a more reasonable cost. A product of the University of Alabama, Mathis was a teammate to Johnson, who signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers on Wednesday.

That means Newsome — also an Alabama alum — is very familiar with the veteran guard.

“I would love to play for a guy like Ozzie,” said Mathis, who revealed Newsome is a family friend. “If I didn’t want to play for him, I wouldn’t be taking the visit. I like what the Ravens do and I like what Ozzie has always done, so I’m taking this visit and seeing how things play out.”

Multiple reports say the Ravens also have interest in former Texans right tackle Eric Winston and will welcome him to Owings Mills for a visit. The 28-year-old Winston was surprisingly cut earlier this week after six seasons in Houston.

Putting aside the price tag that the talented Winston would demand, his potential addition is an interesting notion considering current right tackle Michael Oher has two years remaining on the original five-year deal he signed as a rookie.

The Ravens seemingly signaled they didn’t think Oher was cut out for the left tackle position by signing veteran Bryant McKinnie last August, so it’s difficult envisioning Oher moving back to the left side. For what it’s worth, Oher played guard in his first season at Ole Miss, but it’s unclear whether the Ravens would consider moving the 2009 first-round pick to the interior line.

McKinnie has one year remaining on his current contract.

To hear Mathis’ full interview with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark on Wednesday afternoon, click HERE.

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Ravens free agents Grubbs, Redding taking visits elsewhere

Posted on 13 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Two Ravens free agents have already scheduled visits with other teams after failing to come to terms on new contracts prior to hitting the open market on Tuesday afternoon.

Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs has scheduled a Wednesday visit with the New Orleans Saints, according to multiple reports. With Saints guard Carl Nicks the top interior lineman on the open market and rumored to be heading to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Grubbs would be a suitable — and more affordable — replacement on the New Orleans offensive line.

Veteran defensive end Cory Redding was on his way to visit Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday evening, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. With Pagano targeting free agents from the defense he worked with as the Baltimore defensive coordinator in 2011, Redding would provide strong veteran leadership as well as a more affordable price than linebacker Jarret Johnson, who has also been rumored as a potential target for Indianapolis.

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With free agency upon us, Ravens will lean on continued growth from within in 2012

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With free agency upon us, Ravens will lean on continued growth from within in 2012

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency less than 24 hours away, you can already hear the cries if you listen carefully.

And you know exactly what I’m talking about if you pay attention to talk radio, internet message boards, and Twitter over the opening days of free agency every year.

When are the Ravens going to do something?

Why does Ozzie insist on sitting on his hands?

They’re definitely taking a step back this season.

Never were those exclamations louder than last season, an unprecedented period of free agency that coincided with the start of training camp after the 134-day lockout. General manager Ozzie Newsome waved goodbye to veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee in a series of cap-saving cuts, and a number of veterans including Chris Chester, Dawan Landry, and Josh Wilson found richer contracts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ free-agent additions for 2011 were relatively modest over the course of the preseason, adding fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, center Andre Gurode, and running back Ricky Williams in addition to re-signing right guard Marshal Yanda to a long-term contract. The “offseason” timetable was stunted by the lockout, but Newsome operated in the way he typically does — calculated and conservative. In fact, the most dynamic move he made — trading a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for veteran receiver Lee Evans — turned out to be the biggest failure.

The history lesson is worth repeating as the Ravens embark on free agency for the 17th time in franchise history. Projected to have approximately $14.45 million in salary cap space (before tendering restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents), Newsome will devote much of that to retaining as many of his own free agents as he can.

Of Baltimore’s 12 unrestricted free agents, five were starters last season, meaning the Ravens could be looking at more significant roster turnover than you’d like from an AFC North championship team that was one touchdown catch from advancing to the Super Bowl.

Expecting a dramatic splash of throwing money at elite free agents such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson or outside linebacker Mario Williams is only setting yourself up for disappointment. Even in the years in which he’s had the most cap room, Newsome rarely targets the players grabbing the headlines in the opening days of free agency, instead focusing on keeping his own and laying plans for value free agents that fulfill a need without eating up precious cap room.

As was the case last season, the Ravens will look for continued growth from within to aid in their quest for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Entering the 2011 season, Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, and Dennis Pitta were well-known draft picks from the previous season but had yet to emerge as starting-caliber players in the NFL. Even bigger question marks surrounded Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams before they became legitimate starting cornerbacks for one of the league’s top defenses. And fighting serious doubts after a poor preseason, wide receiver Torrey Smith set franchise rookie records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches.

Their contributions were as critical as any free-agent acquisition the Ravens made en route to a 12-4 record and their first division title in five years.

This season, the Ravens will potentially look to younger players such as defensive ends Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, offensive lineman Jah Reid, and linebackers Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Albert McClellan to help fill potential voids left behind by free agents Cory Redding, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Jarret Johnson, and Jameel McClain. Of course, the Ravens will add new pieces via free agency and next month’s draft to fill some of those needs, but it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll need to lean on some combination of the aforementioned players for expanded roles in 2012.

After tendering their restricted free agents and exclusive rights players, the Ravens will be left with somewhere between $6 million and $7 million to address their own unrestricted free agents and shop the open market. It doesn’t take an economics major to realize that money will only go so far.

But, as he usually does, Newsome will make the most of it.

As the frenzy of free agency begins on Tuesday and the big names start coming off the board — possibly even a few from the Ravens’ own backyard leaving for greener pastures — remember many of the biggest factors determining how the Ravens fare in 2012 already reside in Owings Mills.

It may get ugly, with many of their unrestricted free agents not expected to return, but Newsome and the Ravens never strive to “win” the first week of free agency. They’ll look closely for that under-the-radar talent that nobody is talking about right now. And, as always, the Ravens will plan to shine during April’s draft.

By the time July arrives, they’ll address the offensive line and the linebacker position in some form as well as add a few pieces in other areas to optimize a team that was only a few tenths of a second away from going to the Super Bowl back in January.

Just remember that when you or someone else feels the urge to panic and ask if Newsome is asleep at the wheel over the next week or so.

To borrow an expression from another era and another sport here in Baltimore, it’s “The Raven Way” of doing business.

And if history is any indication, it’s worked pretty well.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the fate of Ravens’ free agents

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the fate of Ravens’ free agents

Posted on 08 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m., it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 12 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and seven exclusive rights free agents.

As of Thursday afternoon, the 2012 salary cap had yet to be set, but most reports indicate it will remain right around the $120 million used for the 2011 season. The Ravens are projected to have somewhere between $11 and $12 million in cap space, depending on what the final cap number will be.

Franchise tag

RB Ray Rice: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens have until July 15 to reach a long-term agreement with Rice or he will play for the $7.7 million salary mandated by the franchise tag for running backs.

Unrestricted free agents

G Ben Grubbs: LEAVES
Skinny: General manager Ozzie Newsome expressed optimism at the NFL Combine, but the Ravens won’t engage in a bidding war when Grubbs hits the open market. 

C Matt Birk: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens will meet with Birk’s agent Joe Linta next week and could sign the veteran to a cap-friendly, short-term deal to finish his career in Baltimore. 

LB Jarret Johnson: LEAVES
Skinny: Despite little depth at outside linebacker, the Ravens appear ready to move on and won’t be able to afford Johnson in a thin market for linebackers. 

LB Jameel McClain: LEAVES
Skinny: Assuming the Ravens do not strike a deal for Grubbs, some of that money could be allocated to retain McClain, but other teams historically throw too much money at Baltimore linebackers in the open market. 

DE Cory Redding: STAYS
Skinny: Though third-year defensive lineman Arthur Jones could step into the starting lineup, Redding might have more value to the Ravens than other potential suitors at this stage in his career. 

LB Brendon Ayanbadejo: STAYS
Skinny: With the lack of depth at inside linebacker and Ayanbadejo’s ability in pass coverage, the Ravens will hold onto the 35-year-old at a lower rate than the four-year contract he signed with the team in 2008. 

S Tom Zbikowski: LEAVES
Skinny: After four years serving primarily as a backup, the former Notre Dame product is looking for an opportunity to start elsewhere and doesn’t bring enough to the table as a special teams player to warrant overpaying. 

S Haruki Nakamura: STAYS
Skinny: In the same position as Zbikowski, Nakamura’s versatility as a defensive back as well as his special teams prowess will force the Ravens to pony up a little extra to keep him in Baltimore. 

OL Andre Gurode: LEAVES
Skinny: With the Ravens looking to select an interior lineman or two in April’s draft, the five-time Pro Bowl center will continue his career elsewhere. 

DT Brandon McKinney: STAYS
Skinny: A solid member of the defensive line rotation, McKinney won’t figure to draw a ton of interest on the open market, and the Ravens want to maintain their depth up front. 

TE Kris Wilson: LEAVES
Skinny: Adding a veteran tight end was a shrewd move after Todd Heap’s release last season, but Wilson’s spot will be assumed by a younger, cheaper option. 

LB Edgar Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: Injuries opened the door for Jones’ return last season, but he wouldn’t figure to fit into the team’s plans for the 2012 season. 

Restricted free agents

(The Ravens can offer a first-round, second-round, or low tender to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted.)

CB Lardarius Webb: STAYS
Skinny: Webb will receive the first-round tender worth roughly $2.75 million as the Ravens will explore a long-term agreement with the fourth-year cornerback. 

CB Cary Williams: STAYS
Skinny: A report indicated the Ravens will offer Williams a first-round tender, but the second-round designation (an estimated $1.9 million) saves money and would still deter teams from trying to pry away the biggest surprise of the 2011 season.

LB Dannell Ellerbe: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens could roll the dice and offer the low tender ($1.25 million) to the inconsistent linebacker, but that would mean they wouldn’t receive a pick (Ellerbe was an undrafted free agent) if they declined to match a potential offer sheet.

RB Matt Lawrence: LEAVES
Skinny: Even with little depth at running back behind Ray Rice, there’s no way to justify even offering the low tender to the oft-injured running back entering his fourth season.

Exclusive rights free agents

(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)

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PFW’s Mike Wilkening Says Foster Deal Helps Set Rice Parameters

Posted on 06 March 2012 by WNST Audio

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Is cutting Ed Reed an option Ravens should explore?

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Is cutting Ed Reed an option Ravens should explore?

Posted on 27 February 2012 by Drew Forrester

If you were given an expansion team in the NFL for the 2012 season and the rules were such that you could take THREE of the four players below and add them to your roster, which three would you take?

Ray Rice, Ben Grubbs, Joe Flacco, Ed Reed

I think nearly everyone doing this exercise said to themselves, “Well, Flacco and Rice are definites…it comes down to Grubbs and Reed.”

I know that’s what I thought.

Then you have to make a determination between Ben Grubbs, the talented, physical offensive guard and Ed Reed, the future Hall of Fame safety who can still step up and be a difference like he was in the January home playoff win over Houston.

Who do you take?

It’s not an easy choice, but it’s an obvious one.

You take Ben Grubbs.

That exact scenario could be an option for the Ravens this spring as they try and move forward under a salary cap ($127mm) that doesn’t provide for much flexibility given the team’s recent signing splurges like Foxworth, Ngata and Suggs.

If the Ravens want to keep Ben Grubbs and Ray Rice, both, plus get Joe Flacco’s new contract handed to him before the season kicks off, it might mean a few veterans have to go.  Domonique Foxworth is a likely casualty, saving the team $5.6 million on the salary cap.  Lee Evans ($3.2mm) is a name to look at, too, although I wouldn’t be completely shocked if the team keeps him at a reduced salary.  Keeping in mind that the Ricky Williams-retired-story potentially saves the club $1.5mm and you have about $10.5 million worth of money that can quickly be used to invest on Grubbs, Rice and Flacco.  Add that to the $8.5mm the Ravens entered the off-season under the cap and Baltimore is working with roughly $19 million of “new money” for 2012.

That’s what’s facing Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens.

How do we get those three players signed – as well as others – and do it for less than $19 million?

I’ll offer a solution.

Cut Ed Reed.

It would be almost unheard of to mention those three words in the same sentence – Cut. Ed. Reed. – but as we saw last summer when Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg and Willis McGahee all got the axe in the same week, putting together a roster that fills all the needs of the team and honors players for their service at the same time is not a working concept in the NFL.  Even great players like Ed Reed have to be considered, carefully, because anytime a player enters the December of his career you have to always ask yourself if the previous season might have been his last hurrah.

One thing for sure.  Last season definitely wasn’t the last hurrah for Flacco, Grubbs or Rice.

But it might have been for Ed Reed.

And that’s not a low blow, it’s just a fact.

Cutting Reed would give the Ravens another $7.2 million to fiddle around with and most definitely go a long, long way in striking a deal with “The Big Three” this off-season.

I’m not Pat Moriarty and I don’t have a degree in Capology, but I know you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken poop.  You either fit 53 players into the salary cap or you don’t.  There’s no scooting around the fact that you just can’t sign everyone you want.

I’ve come around a lot on Grubbs over the last three months or so.  I think we saw in the games he missed in 2011 that his absence not only creates a consistency issue at his position, but the left tackle and the offense as a whole feel the effect as well.  The Ravens were a better offensive team – sometimes by a lot – when Grubbs was healthy and playing last season.  Flacco and Rice are both operating at a high level after four years in the league.  Rice’s career – given the typical bell curve expectancy of a running back – is probably nearing Labor Day or so.  I don’t hesitate to say that I think still has at least four more years of high level play in his game before the hits and pounding starts to take its toll.  Flacco hasn’t even reached Memorial Day on his career calendar yet.

Those three need to be signed.

In a way that only team sports can connect three people with varying degrees of ability and capability, Flacco, Rice and Grubbs deserve to be signed as much for what they’ve done for the other two as they’ve done for themselves.

Flacco is the player he is because he has a very good left guard and a very good running back.  When those two are operating at their premium, the Ravens offense is better and they’re scoring points and winning games.

Just flip the names around and the trick still works.  ”Rice is the player he is because he has a very good left guard and a very good quarterback…” — “Grubbs is the player he is because…”

I know the Ravens have to be careful because Rice is trying to back them into the proverbial corner by having his agent throw out stuff like “We’re looking for an Adrian Peterson type contract” and Grubbs is likely to get at least one team who thinks they’re a Pro Bowl-caliber offensive lineman from making a real run to say, “Let’s back up the Brinks truck for that Grubbs guy in Baltimore”.  In a perfect world, I think they’d get Flacco signed first so they know for sure exactly what they can spend on the other two given that they’ve locked up their quarterback — which most definitely is their top priority this off-season.

(please see next page)

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