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Harbaugh looking forward to seeing McKinnie go to work

Posted on 05 May 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the day when the Ravens were wrapping up their mandatory rookie minicamp, coach John Harbaugh answered questions about the return of his starting left tackle and oldest player on the roster.

After agreeing to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $7 million to remain in Baltimore on Thursday, Bryant McKinnie, 33, is expected to come to town this week to finalize the contract and begin offseason workouts. His return means the Ravens have now retained four of five starters from their Super Bowl XLVII offensive line, with only 15-year veteran Matt Birk departing due to retirement.

The Ravens had publicly entertained thoughts of moving second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele to left tackle, but a new contract for McKinnie means Baltimore can keep Osemele at left guard, solidifying another position that would have been a question mark had the 2012 second-round pick made the position change.

“Having Bryant back is a big plus for us. We were hoping that would be the case,” Harbaugh said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him next week and getting him in here and going to work. We want our line to be as strong as it can possibly be and that makes us stronger.”

Harbaugh, run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, and other members of the organization kept in touch with McKinnie throughout the offseason, even when it appeared they had little interest in bringing back the 2002 first-round pick. The Ravens’ involvement in negotiating with McKinnie spiked after they were unable to come away with a left tackle of the future in last weekend’s draft and saw San Diego and Miami make contract offers to his agent Michael George.

Asked if he’s been pleased with what McKinnie has told him in terms of his activity and conditioning level this offseason, Harbaugh spoke in generic terms since he hasn’t seen the left tackle since the end of last season. Specific details of McKinnie’s deal hadn’t been reported as of Sunday afternoon, but it’s believed there will be some incentives related to workouts and playing time.

There was plenty of speculation that McKinnie found his way into Harbaugh’s doghouse last season as he didn’t start a game until the playoffs, but the Baltimore coach reached out to the 354-pound lineman earlier this offseason to make it known that he wanted McKinnie to stay with the Ravens in 2013.

“I’m always pleased with conversations with Bryant McKinnie,” Harbaugh said. “I enjoy talking to Bryant. He’s one of my favorite guys. He’s a sterling conversationalist. We talk a lot about stuff, a lot of different things — a broad range of topics. I always enjoy that. I think he does as well.”

Spagnuolo’s role a work in progress

Sunday marked the first time Harbaugh commented publicly on the hiring of former St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo as a senior defensive assistant, and it appears his role will remain fluid as the offseason moves into training camp and the start of the regular season.

The pair spent seven seasons working together as assistants for the Philadelphia Eagles before Spagnuolo moved on to become the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and ultimately the head coach in St. Louis from 2009 through 2011. Spagnuolo spent last season as the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints but was fired after his unit finished last in yards allowed and 31st in points surrendered.

“His accomplishments speak for themselves. I think it adds to an already very strong staff and just makes us that much better,” Harbaugh said. “The more great coaches and great players that we can build into what we’re doing, the better we’re going to be. He’ll build into the defensive side, he’ll assist where needed, and I think we’ll build that in as we go. He can really work with any position, so it’s a big plus for us.”

Given the 53-year-old Spagnuolo’s impressive resume aside from working with an overmatched New Orleans defense a year ago, it will be interesting to see how closely he works with defensive coordinator Dean Pees and whether his longstanding relationship with Harbaugh may put him in line to be the eventual replacement for the 63-year-old.

Elam impresses early

Sunday offered the media’s first glimpse at first-round safety Matt Elam in a Ravens uniform and the University of Florida product didn’t disappoint, showing good speed and nearly picking off a pass during 11-on-11 drills.

Harbaugh even pointed to some of the leadership traits Elam exuded with the Gators that already were carrying over to the practice field in Owings Mills this weekend.

“Matt really picked things up quickly. He really did a nice job of communicating in the back end, which is not usual for a rookie,” Harbaugh said. “Most rookie defensive backs — even all defensive players — have a tough time with the communication part of it because they’re not confident enough to make the calls. He’s smart. He picked it up quickly, he jumped right back there and made the calls with force and played fast. He looked good.”

Odds & ends

Sunday featured an impressive moment for the Towson Tigers football program as quarterback Grant Enders — invited to try out this weekend — connected with wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard on the final play of Sunday’s practice. However, Enders was also the quarterback nearly picked off by Elam in 11-on-11 drills. “Enders and Sheppard looked really good in this camp,” Harbaugh said. “They are NFL-quality guys.” … Former Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg caught a touchdown from University of Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, who also tried out this weekend. … Second-round linebacker Arthur Brown of Kansas State showed impressive quickness dropping into coverage and blanketed running backs and tight ends running routes on a handful of plays. … Harbaugh said the Ravens are interested in bringing in another kicker who can handle punting and placekicking duties to share reps with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch during training camp.

 

 

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Newly-signed McKinnie ready to pick up where he left off last postseason

Posted on 02 May 2013 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Friday, 11:50 a.m.)

After receiving offers from the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins earlier this week, offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie has decided to stay put in Baltimore.

The Ravens announced a two-year agreement worth a reported maximum value of $7 million with the 33-year-old lineman, who spent the last two seasons in Baltimore and played exceptionally well at left tackle in the team’s march to their Super Bowl XLVII title. The possibility of McKinnie returning was always left on the table by general manager Ozzie Newsome, who likely wanted to see if the Ravens could secure their left tackle of the future in last weekend’s draft.

Instead, the Ravens failed to find a tackle in the first two days of the draft and were faced with the prospects of second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele lining up at left tackle this season after the 2012 second-round pick split time between right tackle and left guard in his rookie year. Head coach John Harbaugh will hope to see the healthy and motivated McKinnie who shut down such pass rushers as Dwight Freeney, Elvis Dumervil, and Aldon Smith in the postseason after the veteran served in a reserve role during the regular season.

Now, McKinnie wants to prove his postseason performance is what the Ravens can expect for the entire 2013 season.

“That is my goal coming into this season,” McKinnie told AM 1570 WNST on Friday morning. “Just picking up where I left off in the playoffs.”

Miami and San Diego hosted McKinnie on free-agent visits this week, prompting the Ravens to jump into the fray late in the process after keeping contact with the offensive tackle periodically during the offseason.

McKinnie expressed on several occasions that he was open to a return, but he wanted assurances that he would have the opportunity to compete to be the starting left tackle. With the interest from Miami and San Diego, one can assume the Ravens made it clear that the 2002 first-round pick would have nothing to worry about if he played at a level comparable to what they witnessed in January and February.

“I like [Baltimore] a lot,” McKinnie said. “I really wanted to be a part of the organization.”

In 2011, McKinnie started all 16 regular-season games for the Ravens and was the only starting offensive lineman not to miss a snap. However, his 2012 season was tumultuous to say the least as he was held out of organized team activities due to conditioning concerns and reported late to training camp after telling the Ravens he suffered a fall at his home in Florida. The unceremonious start led to Michael Oher replacing him at left tackle and Osemele starting at right tackle with McKinnie serving in a reserve role for the first time in his career.

A late-season conversation between McKinnie and Harbaugh in which the coach spelled out his expectations brought improved effort in practice that gave the Ravens more confidence that the 354-pound tackle could function in the no-huddle offense.

A toe injury to starting left guard Jah Reid in the regular-season finale helped facilitate McKinnie’s insertion into the starting lineup as the Baltimore offensive line did an exceptional job protecting quarterback Joe Flacco in four playoff games that culminated with the Ravens’ second NFL championship. With ample time in the pocket, Flacco became the second player in league history to throw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in a single postseason.

In his 11-year career, McKinnie has played in 164 career regular-season games (148 starts) and has also participated in 11 playoff contests, starting each one. His durability over the course of his career is a reason why McKinnie doesn’t understand the intense scrutiny he’s faced at different points during his career, which includes the stories of his financial problems off the field.

“What I do outside of football is my business,” McKinnie said. “As long as I’m prepared come training camp and game day, I don’t see the problem.”

With the news of the signing, the Ravens are projected to have a starting offensive line of McKinnie at left tackle, Osemele at left guard, second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard, and Oher at right tackle. Gradkowski is expected to replace veteran Matt Birk, who retired this offseason after 15 NFL seasons split between Minnesota and Baltimore.

Listen to Bryant McKinnie’s conversation with Paul Mittermeier and Damon Yaffe on AM 1570 WNST.net right HERE.

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McKinnie receives contract offers from San Diego, Miami

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Luke Jones

After failing to come away with a high-ceiling left tackle prospect in last weekend’s draft, the Ravens are now faced with the prospects of veteran Bryant McKinnie departing via free agency.

The 33-year-old offensive tackle remained in San Diego on a free-agent visit with the Chargers on Wednesday afternoon and tells WNST.net in a text message that an offer has been made to his agent Michael George. Negotiations continue and the Miami Dolphins have also made an offer, according to McKinnie.

The Ravens have remained in contact with the veteran lineman periodically during the offseason despite not making a formal offer to retain his services. General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh said the week before the draft that second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele would be the team’s starting left tackle if the season were to begin now.

McKinnie met with the Dolphins on Monday before flying to San Diego to begin his visit with the Chargers on Tuesday. Both teams are in need of a starting left tackle.

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Interesting post-draft roster decisions with early look at 2013 Ravens depth chart

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Luke Jones

With the 2013 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens can now begin looking at the offseason roster with a clearer picture of what they’ll have when they travel to Denver for the Sept. 5 season opener.

Of course, there will be a few more additions or subtractions of some consequence between now and the start of training camp in late July, but any drastic changes are unlikely with the Ravens holding just under $4 million in salary cap space.

The Ravens will likely use some of that remaining cap room to address offensive tackle after only coming away with Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner in the fifth round of the draft. The Badgers left tackle will likely be moved inside to guard as it’s not believed that his feet are quick enough to handle the position at the next level, meaning Kelechi Osemele is still in line to be the team’s starting left tackle if the season were to begin now.

The obvious veteran still on the free-agent market is left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who has remained in touch with the Ravens this offseason but visited with the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The 33-year-old McKinnie told WNST.net in a text message that the only post-draft contact he’s had from the Ravens came with run-game coordinator Juan Castillo and right tackle Michael Oher.

A CBSSports.com report said McKinnie is also scheduled to visit with the San Diego Chargers, but the 11-year veteran provided his own update on the visit with the Dolphins on Monday afternoon.

“Just finished a good day of meetings & workouts!” McKinnie wrote on his official Twitter account. “This was the gear of choice 4 2day! Nothing final…”

Even if McKinnie signs elsewhere and Osemele ultimately receives the nod to protect quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside, you’d expect the Ravens to at least add another veteran tackle since Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood would then factor heavily into the competition for the starting left guard spot. With no other additions, Oher would clearly be the replacement for Osemele in the event of an injury, but that would open a huge hole on the right side of the line.

Fullback is another interesting position to watch after the Ravens drafted Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk with their second fourth-round pick on Saturday. All things being equal, you wouldn’t expect the rookie to supplant three-time Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, but the veteran’s hefty cap figure puts him at the top of the list of potential cuts should an opportunity to add a pricier veteran arise between now and the start of the season.

Newsome was asked following the conclusion of the draft what Jusczcyk’s selection meant for Leach’s future, but the Ravens executive didn’t exactly provide a guarantee that Leach would be opening running lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in 2013. Baltimore won’t cut Leach for the sake of simply saving $3 million in cap space, but if they need more cap space to address another need such tackle or wide receiver, the Ravens won’t hesitate to give Jusczcyk the starting job.

“We want to make decisions based on how guys perform out on the football field,” Newsome said. “We’re going to get Kyle in here, and the thing we like about Kyle other than his ability to play on the offensive side is we expect him to be a very good special-teams contributor. Could there be a place for both of them? Yes, there could be, because as John and I try to put our 53-man squad together, we want to keep the best 53 players.”

Troubled inside linebacker Rolando McClain remains with the Ravens as of Monday afternoon, but you have to wonder how much shorter his leash became after the selection of Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown. Considering the Ravens traded up in the second round to select Brown in fear of another team taking him before their scheduled pick at 62nd overall, you’d expect that coach John Harbaugh envisions him to be a starter from Day 1.

To this point, the Ravens have said all the polite things about McClain’s latest arrest on April 21 and his right to due process, but the need to keep an average player with such baggage diminished greatly after adding one of the top inside linebackers in this year’s draft class. You have to wonder if McClain will even make it to training camp at this point, or whether he’ll be able to keep himself out of trouble between now and then.

“He is one of the 90,” Newsome said on the final day of the draft. “We’re going to make the determination, starting Sunday, who we think is going to be on our top 53. We’ll start making those decisions. It’s going to be some tough decisions, but as of right now, Rolando is still a part of our football team.”

Below is an all-too-early look at the 2013 depth chart, which doesn’t include undrafted rookie free agents until the full list is officially announced by the Ravens. High draft picks such as Matt Elam and Brown are viewed more favorably than lower-round selections like Ryan Jensen and Aaron Mellette in terms of where they rank on the current depth chart. In many cases, roster holdovers from previous seasons have been given the nod over rookies with the full understanding that some — if not many — will be supplanted.

Teams are allowed to have a maximum of 90 players on their offseason roster.

Projected post-draft 2013 depth chart

Offense
QB: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Caleb Hanie
RB: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Anthony Allen, Bobby Rainey, Damien Berry, Lonyae Miller
FB: Vonta Leach, Kyle Juszczyk
WR: Torrey Smith, David Reed, LaQuan Williams, Aaron Mellette
WR: Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, Tori Gurley
TE: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, Alex Silvestro
LT: Kelechi Osemele
LG: Jah Reid, Ramon Harewood, Antoine McClain
C: Gino Gradkowski, Ryan Jensen, Reggie Stephens
RG: Marshal Yanda, Ricky Wagner, Jack Cornell
RT: Michael Oher, David Mims

Defense
DE: Chris Canty, Pernell McPhee, DeAngelo Tyson, Kapron Lewis-Moore
NT: Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Brandon Williams
DT: Arthur Jones, Marcus Spears, Swanson Miller
Rush: Terrell Suggs, John Simon, Michael McAdoo
Will: Arthur Brown, Rolando McClain, Albert McClellan, D.J. Bryant
Mike: Jameel McClain, Josh Bynes, Bryan Hall, Nigel Carr
Sam: Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Hamilton, Spencer Adkins
LCB: Lardarius Webb, Chykie Brown, Chris Johnson, Marc Anthony
SS: Matt Elam, James Ihedigbo, Christian Thompson
FS: Michael Huff, Emanuel Cook, Omar Brown, Anthony Levine
RCB: Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, Asa Jackson

Special Teams
K: Justin Tucker
P: Sam Koch
LS: Morgan Cox
KR: Jacoby Jones, David Reed, Deonte Thompson
PR: Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Lardarius Webb

 

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Bring Back B-Mac

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

 

When it comes to the relationship between the Ravens and left tackle Bryant McKinnie, there’s a lot of water under the bridge, and it’s probably fair to guess that neither side is feeling a whole lot of trust in or loyalty to the other. That, said, it’s becoming more and more clear with each passing day of the NFL off-season that McKinnie and the Ravens need each other.

 

It’s not as though the Ravens failure to land a starting left tackle in the draft should be a surprise to anyone. Sitting with the 32nd pick overall makes it tough to put together the type of package that could get a team into a position to land a tackle in whom they could have a lot of faith right away. That may have been even truer in this year’s draft where the top tackles were flying off the board in spots usually reserved for quarterbacks and franchise changing play makers.

The debate over where Joe Flacco fits in the hierarchy of NFL quarterback talent has been raging since Flacco’s first season in the league, and a Super Bowl MVP and a $100 million contract have only helped to add fuel to the arguments on both sides.

Clearly Flacco’s regular season statistics don’t measure up against the NFL’s “best of the best” at the QB position. On the other side of the argument however, throughout his career Flacco has seen at least a 40% turnover on his offensive line each year, and substantial turnover at the receiver position too. Chemistry certainly means something when formulating a complex NFL passing offense, and the Ravens haven’t prioritized fostering chemistry for their young franchise QB.

Ironically, it was a shake up on the offensive line to begin the playoffs that, perhaps more than any other factor, set the tone for the Ravens successful run to a Super Bowl title last season. The promotion of McKinnie to the starting left tackle improved the offensive line exponentially by moving Michael Oher to right tackle where he was an upgrade over Kelechi Osemele, and by moving the displaced Osemele to the left guard where he too was an upgrade over the revolving door of “answers” the Ravens had fielded at that spot throughout the regular season. Understandably, any move at left tackle for the Ravens that involves Oher moving from right tackle and/or Osemele moving from left guard will be seen as taking multiple steps back. The retirement of center Matt Birk only serves to compound those concerns.

Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has earned the trust of the fans, and reinforced that trust this off-season with a number of “game changing” acquisitions. After experiencing a substantial defection/exile of talent in the early stages of the off-season, redemption came quickly for the Ravens GM via the additions of a number of talented veterans. Unfortunately for the Ravens new $100 million man Flacco, all of those pick-ups came on the defensive side of the ball.

The secondary market has typically been good to the Ravens and to Ozzie Newsome. Every year as players find their way to new locations through free agency and the draft, a number of other players become displaced by those acquisitions. The Ravens have been good at finding serviceable, even high level talent on this secondary market, especially during the Joe Flacco / John Harbaugh era. With the number of left tackles available in free agency and early in the draft it seemed logical to wait and see what kind of secondary tackle market might develop. Now that the dust has settled though, outside of Roger Saffold (Rams) and maybe King Dunlap (Eagles), the secondary market on left tackles doesn’t look quite as promising as one might have hoped. And let’s face it, if Saffold and Dunlap were sure things their teams probably wouldn’t have been so anxious to replace them.

The market for McKinnie has been slow to non-existent too, so it appears that the time has come for the Ravens and McKinnie to swallow a bit of pride and find their ways back to one another. It doesn’t seem that either have any better options. Then the Ravens can focus on the business of trying to find a 2nd and/or 3rd receiver candidate that’ll hopefully provide more upside than TJ Houshmandzadeh or Lee Evans…unless they believe that Tandon Doss is more ready to break out than he’s shown to this point in his NFL career.

Here’s a quick look at the Ravens revolving door of pass blockers and pass catchers during the Joe Flacco era:

LT: 08-Gaither, 09- Gaither, 10 – Oher, 11 – McKinnie, 12 – Oher, 12 (PO) – McKinnie 13 – ?

LG: 08- Grubbs, 09- Grubbs, 10- Grubbs, 11- Grubbs/ Gurode, 12 – Harewood, Reid, 12 (PO) – Osemele, 13 – ?

C: 08- Brown, 09- Birk, 10- Birk, 11- Birk, 12 – Birk, 13 – Gradkowski

RG: 08- Chester/Yanda, 09- Chester/Yanda, 10- Chester, 11- Yanda, 12 – Yanda, 13 – Yanda

RT: 08- Adam Terry/ Willie Anderson (TE), 09- Oher, 10- Yanda, 11-Oher, 12 – Osemele, 12 (PO) – Oher, 13 – ?

FB: 08- Neal, 09- McClain, 10- McClain, 11- Leach, 12 – Leach, 13 – Leach?

RB: 08- McGahee/McClain, 09- Rice/McGahee, 10- Rice/McGahee, 11- Rice/Williams, 12 – Rice/Pierce

TE: 08- Heap/Anderson 09- Heap, 10- Heap/Dickson, 11- Dickson/Pitta, 12 – Pitta/Dickson, 13 – Pitta/Dickson

WR1: 08- Mason, 09- Mason, 10- Mason/Boldin , 11- Boldin, 12 – Boldin, 13 – Smith

WR2: 08- Clayton, 09- Clayton, 10- Mason/Boldin, 11- T. Smith, 12 – Smith, 13 – Jones

WR3: 08- Williams, 09- Clayton, 10- Houshmandzadeh, 11- Evans/L.Williams?, 12 – Jones, 13 – Doss?

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Ravens conclude draft with two major concerns remaining

Posted on 27 April 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens appeared to accomplish a great deal by the conclusion of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Frankly, to evaluate a draft as good or bad immediately after it takes place is a pointless endeavor, but you can look at a team’s list of needs entering the annual event to determine how successful an organization was in addressing those positions. Whether those picks ultimately work out or not won’t be known for a few years in many cases.

General manager Ozzie Newsome did what he set out to do after stating just a few days after the Super Bowl that the Ravens needed to get stronger up the middle defensively. With their first three picks of the draft, the Ravens selected Florida safety Matt Elam, Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown, and Missouri Southern State defensive tackle Brandon Williams to add to the middle of defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ unit.

Baltimore added more depth to its front seven with the selections of defensive ends John Simon (Ohio State) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (Notre Dame), though the latter is currently recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the BCS national title game. The Ravens added interior offensive line depth with the additions of Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner and Ryan Jensen of Colorado State-Pueblo. A cornerback was drafted with California’s Marc Anthony, reinforcing Newsome’s proclamation before the draft that you can never have too many despite the Ravens already having quality depth at the positon.

The Ravens found their fullback of the future in Harvard’s Kyle Juszczyk, who may even push veteran Vonta Leach off the roster should Newsome decide the team needs an extra $3 million in cap space to address other areas. Juszczyk isn’t the same punishing blocker that Leach is, but he could serve in an H-back capacity with his impressive ability as a receiver out of the backfield.

Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, and head coach John Harbaugh deserve praise for addressing many of the needs created by a plethora of free-agent departures, difficult releases, and retirements made earlier this offseason.

But the fact that the Ravens were unable to significantly address two of their most glaring questions, left tackle and wide receiver, is one that cannot be dismissed. The fifth-round selection Wagner played left tackle for the Badgers, but he isn’t considered quick enough for the position at the next level and the Ravens have already said they view him as more of a guard. Seventh-round receiver Aaron Mellette posted big-time numbers at FCS school Elon, but to say he’s any better the other young receivers currently in the mix on the roster would be a stretch.

Protecting quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside and providing him another trustworthy receiving target are two obligations that remain unfulfilled, which is concerning when most looked to the draft as the primary avenue to address them. As Newsome said in the Ravens’ post-draft press conference on Sunday evening, much could still change between now and the start of the season on Sept. 5.

As it relates to those two positions, many will certainly hope so.

“If you look at our history, we picked up Willie Anderson a week before our first game,” Newsome said. “We picked up Bryant McKinnie before the last preseason game. It’s so fluid. We don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then, so everything has to remain fluid.”

In fairness to the Ravens’ brass, the possibility of adding anything more than a project at left tackle was never going to be easy when picking at the end of each round as the Super Bowl champion. The top three left tackle prospects in this year’s draft were gone in the first four picks of the first round and the tier of tackles — including Florida State’s Menelik Watson and Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead — that was available to the Ravens didn’t stack up as favorably as the defensive selections of Elam and Brown in the first two rounds.

The Ravens said before the draft that second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele would be their starting left tackle if the season were to begin today and it appears nothing’s changed in that regard. Of course, the absence of a new tackle prospect will reignite desires for Baltimore to re-sign the veteran McKinnie to at least serve as an insurance policy for Osemele.

The only other obvious option out there appears to be the exploration of a trade for Kansas City’s franchise player Branden Albert, who sees the writing on the wall after the Chiefs took Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher with the first overall pick. However, the Chiefs’ asking price for Albert won’t be cheap and the 28-year-old seeks an expensive long-term contract.

Even if new run-game coordinator and highly-respective offensive line guru Juan Castillo believes Osemele is capable of handling the left tackle spot, it’s difficult to imagine the Ravens not bringing in another tackle to at least compete. Newsome didn’t sound too concerned when asked about the potential need to add a veteran, however.

“We’ll get the chance to roll the ball out there this week,” Newsome said. “You just can’t go against each other. We’ll have somebody lined up at left tackle.”

Replacing the production of veteran Anquan Boldin was another need many viewed as a priority for the Ravens and the organization praised the depth of the position in this year’s draft. As a result, most assumed the Ravens would come away with a wideout at some point during the first two days of the draft, but a receiver’s name wasn’t called by the Ravens until Mellette was announced as the 238th overall pick of the draft.

The outcome was similar to last year when the Ravens did not choose Tommy Streeter until the sixth round. Once again, Newsome remained true to the board this year, even as several well-regarded receivers appeared to slide more than many experts thought they would on Day 3.

Of course, the Ravens were also able to sign wide receiver Jacoby Jones after last year’s draft and the speedy return specialist also served as an upgrade at the No.3 receiver spot. It’s possible a similar scenario will play out when teams around the league readjust their depth charts with a new batch of rookies joining the fold.

“Were there receivers in every round that we considered? Yes,” Newsome said. “Did one receiver get taken when we were set to take the guy? No, that did not happen at that point. As far as [Mellette], when we got to that point in the draft, he was our highest-rated guy and that’s why we decided to take him.”

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Mellette was wildly productive in his career at Elon, catching a remarkable 210 passes and 30 touchdowns over his final two collegiate seasons. His 4.54-second 40-time suggests he may have enough speed to complement his impressive size, but to consider him to be anything more than a long-term project would be too ambitious.

The Ravens have thrown out many compliments for the likes of Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, and David Reed as it pertains to the slot receiver spot, but to expect any of the aforementioned names to step up in a dramatic way to replace Boldin’s production is asking to be disappointed. Maybe Mellette or Streeter can be a diamond in the rough, but there were reasons why so many teams — including the Ravens multiple times — passed on these tall and speedy receivers.

For now, the burden falls heavily on Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta as well as Flacco to overcome the absence of the safety net Boldin provided when the vertical passing game was struggling.

As they will at the offensive tackle position, the Ravens will keep their eyes open to other teams potentially releasing veteran receivers or dangling them in trades as a result of what they fetched in this weekend’s draft. Newsome has used future draft picks to acquire veterans before and certainly wouldn’t hesitate if the right opportunity were to come along.

Perhaps another veteran receiver or left tackle drops into the Ravens’ lap between now and the start of the season, but it’s impossible not to feel uneasy about each position with the draft now coming and going.

And as good as this draft might ultimately end up being in other areas, it did very little to answer those two major questions.

 

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Osemele earning serious consideration as Ravens left tackle

Posted on 16 April 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Many have debated how the Ravens should handle their left tackle position as they continue preparations for the 2013 season, but a new favorite was mentioned during Tuesday’s pre-draft press conference in Owings Mills.

Coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the offseason that second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele would receive consideration at left tackle after splitting his rookie season between right tackle and left guard, but general manager Ozzie Newsome provided the most definitive assessment we’ve heard yet regarding Osemele’s standing in the race. Veteran Bryant McKinnie remains an unrestricted free agent, but the Ravens are expected to wait and see how next week’s draft plays out before making a decision on the 33-year-old.

However, Osemele — and not former left tackle Michael Oher — appears to have the inside track at the position should the Ravens pass on McKinnie and fail to come away with a tackle in the draft. The Iowa State product started at left tackle for three years in college and was an All-Big 12 selection at the position.

“He could potentially be our left tackle, too. I think we are very open,” Newsome said. “Like I said, the dialogue has been very good with [McKinnie] from my standpoint, and I think John would echo the same thing. If we had to line up today with the group that we have, I think John told [owner] Steve Bisciotti that K.O. would probably get that opportunity.”

McKinnie has received interest from New Orleans and San Diego as well as the Ravens during the offseason, but no talks have progressed beyond the preliminary stages with any of the aforementioned teams.

Harbaugh spoke to McKinnie on the phone a few weeks ago to see if the tackle was staying in shape and to express his desire for the veteran to return to Baltimore for a third season.

“I’ve had conversations with his agent prior to today,” Newsome said. “I have a good relationship with his agent Michael George. John and [run game coordinator Juan Castillo] have both been in communication with Bryant. It is a process with Bryant. Could we open up our first game this year – wherever that is, whenever it is – and he be our left tackle? He potentially could be.”

The Ravens are extremely unlikely to see any of the top three tackle prospects — Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma — available when they pick at No. 32, but assistant general manager Eric DeCosta mentioned several other intriguing tackle prospects to watch, including Florida State’s Menelik Watson, Kent State’s Brian Winters, Syracuse’s Justin Pugh, Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner, and Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Newsome downplays Alabama connection with newcomer McClain

Asked about the signing of troubled inside linebacker Rolando McClain and his Alabama roots, Newsome made a very clear assessment of why the Ravens signed the former Oakland Raider, who was released earlier this month.

Awarded only a one-year deal with a base salary of $700,000 and no guaranteed money, McClain appears to be a favorite to start in the Ravens’ 3-4 base defense, but the 23-year-old will need to prove he’s overcome his off-field problems and character flaws that led to Oakland deciding to absorb roughly $11 million in dead money on their 2013 salary cap just to be rid of him.

“Rolando is just getting an opportunity to come and make our 53-man squad,” Newsome said. “That’s it.”

Director of college scouting Joe Hortiz was the first person Newsome consulted in weighing the possibility of signing the young linebacker. Ironically enough, Hortiz attended Auburn, the Crimson Tide’s biggest rival.

Newsome’s conversations with Hortiz coupled with the strong infrastructure of the Baltimore locker room made McClain a realistic fit with minimum risk. If McClain doesn’t fall in line, the Ravens can release him with no financial ramifications.

“He is coming here just to be a part of this football team,” Newsome said. “I think the guys in the locker room will be able to provide him with the proper guidance that he needs as to the way John wants his football team and his football players to be.”

Webb, J. McClain on track for returns

Harbaugh offered positive outlooks on the respective recoveries of cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Jameel McClain as the Ravens began their voluntary offseason workout program on Monday.

Webb tore the ACL in his right knee last Oct. 14, an injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve, but the cornerback is expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp.

“He looks really good. He should be ready to roll [for] training camp, it looks like,” Harbaugh said. “We are going to make sure we don’t have a setback. That’s the most important thing.”

McClain’s status remains trickier as he hasn’t been officially cleared to return to the field after suffering a spinal cord contusion on Dec. 9 of last season. The sixth-year linebacker and the Ravens have remained optimistic over his long-term prognosis and how it relates to his career.

His return would give defensive coordinator Dean Pees a pair of McClains at inside linebacker.

“It’s nothing but positive from the doctors about Jameel,” Harbaugh said. “He’s in training mode. He’s actually going to head out for a week to Los Angeles. There’s a certain type of trainer out there that he’s going to work with for a week out there. That will be important for him. It’s just a healing process.

“There’s a certain type of a bruise that happens that caused his issue, but it’s going away on schedule. We don’t know for sure, but I’m approaching it as if Jameel is going to be out there for us, and it looks like he has a good chance to do that – a really good chance of doing that.”

McPhee on the move

The Ravens revealed earlier this offseason that defensive lineman Bryan Hall was switching to inside linebacker and defensive end Pernell McPhee will experience a more subtle position change.

After bulking up last offseason to become a three-down defensive end in a 3-4 system, McPhee was limited with knee, thigh, and groin injuries. Harbaugh and his staff would like to use McPhee in more of a pass-rush specialist role for 2013.

“We’re kind of a hybrid, 4-3, 3-4 team, so we’re going to emphasize Pernell a little bit more at outside linebacker in Terrell Suggs’ spot and see how he does out there,” Harbaugh said. “But, he’ll still bounce. He’s an outside linebacker that can play defensive end, and he’ll be a defensive end/pass rusher in our even fronts, in our pass-rush scheme.”

The move to rush linebacker will likely require McPhee to lose a considerable amount of weight, which could ease some of the strain on his problematic knees. The third-year defensive lineman is also recovering from offseason groin surgery.

 

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2013 class of free agents

Posted on 07 March 2013 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin at 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 12 unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents, and 10 exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2013 salary cap was officially set to $123 million last week and the Ravens have roughly $11 million in cap space after signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a six-year, $120.6 million contract. Most media attention focuses on unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens’ list of restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players will eat up a sizable portion of that remaining cap space.

Of course, the Ravens still have the option of cutting players under contract or potentially re-signing or restructuring the contracts of players already committed to the organization to create more cap space.

A new wrinkle to consider this year is the NFL allowing teams to enter into negotiations with the certified agents of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in the three days leading up to the start of the new league year (March 12 at 4 p.m.), meaning the rumors and speculation will pick up this weekend before the start of the signing period.

To see how I fared last year, check out my 2012 free-agent forecast HERE.

Unrestricted free agents

LB Dannell Ellerbe: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens’ top priority among their unrestricted free agents, Ellerbe easily figures to trump the three-year, $10.5 million contract Baltimore awarded Jameel McClain in a deep inside linebacker market last offseason and will be looking for a deal worth at least $20 million. 

S Ed Reed: LEAVES
Skinny: If the future Hall of Fame safety is willing to take a modest two-year deal, he could have his chance to finish his career in Baltimore, but I’m guessing Reed will bolt for a more generous offer from another team looking for his services.

LB Paul Kruger: LEAVES
Skinny: With rumors of the situational pass rusher potentially fetching more than $8 million per season, the Ravens will turn to Courtney Upshaw for an increased role and move on from Kruger, who is not strong against the run and played in only 22 of 62 defensive snaps in Super Bowl XLVII.

CB Cary Williams: LEAVES
Skinny: With Lardarius Webb, Corey Graham, Jimmy Smith, and Chykie Brown all under contract, the Ravens will remember their depth at cornerback and allow Williams to seek a well-deserved payday somewhere else.

OT Bryant McKinnie: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens will explore other options on the open market, but McKinnie should be an affordable stopgap as they’ll look to draft a left tackle of the future on the first or second day of April’s draft.

NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu: LEAVES
Skinny: The 34-year-old’s comeback was a nice story last year, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has made it a priority to upgrade the depth at defensive tackle, making Kemoeatu’s return unlikely at this point.

S James Ihedigbo: STAYS
Skinny: With Reed’s status in doubt, Ihedigbo is a nice depth player the Ravens would like to re-sign at the right price and he was a strong special-teams player last year as well.

DL Ryan McBean: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens had high hopes for the former Denver Bronco last year before a season-ending ankle injury in the preseason opener, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to retain McBean’s services at a cheap rate.

S Sean Considine: LEAVES
Skinny: Though he was a solid special-teams contributor, the Ravens are likely to fill Considine’s spot with a younger, cheaper option.

TE Billy Bajema: LEAVES
Skinny: With Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next offseason, the Ravens should look to a younger option with some upside to fill their third tight end spot.

CB Chris Johnson: LEAVES
Skinny: The slew of injuries at the cornerback position midway through the season prompted the Ravens to sign the speedy veteran, but his services will no longer be needed.

LB Ricky Brown: LEAVES
Skinny: A preseason concussion landed the veteran on injured reserve, but Brown was little more than a camp body last summer.

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 sheet 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. If the player originally went undrafted, it simply provides the team the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation for losing the player.)

TE Dennis Pitta: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens may explore a multi-year extension for their talented tight end, but the second-round tender should be enough to keep Pitta in Baltimore for the 2013 season.

DL Arthur Jones: STAYS
Skinny: Jones started six games and really emerged in the second half of the season as an impact player along the defensive line, making him a likely candidate to receive a second-round tender.

TE Ed Dickson: STAYS
Skinny: Though his blocking skills are underrated, Dickson’s dwindling role as a receiver makes it likely that he’ll receive the low tender, meaning another team would have to fork over a third-round pick — the round in which he was drafted in 2010 — to sign him.

LS Morgan Cox: STAYS
Skinny: Happy with Cox’s services, the Ravens will either offer him the low tender or re-sign him to a lower salary than the $1.32 million attached to the tender.

OL Ramon Harewood: STAYS
Skinny: The 2010 sixth-round pick clearly fell out of favor after starting the first five games of the season at left guard, but the Ravens could look to sign Harewood at a lower rate after non-tendering him.

WR David Reed: LEAVES
Skinny: It’s possible the Ravens would re-sign Reed at a smaller salary, but they have several young wide receivers and Deonte Thompson can back up returner Jacoby Jones, which could prompt the 2010 fifth-round pick to seek an opportunity for more playing time elsewhere.

Exclusive-rights free agents

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Difficult decisions still loom for Ravens after locking up Flacco

Posted on 02 March 2013 by Luke Jones

General manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens front office had to wake up smiling the morning after reaching an agreement in principle with Joe Flacco on a six-year, $120.6 million contract that’s expected to be finalized Monday.

The move not only locks up the franchise quarterback for the long haul, but it’s also expected to provide short-term relief to a tight salary cap that would have had a difficult time absorbing a minimum of $14.9 million with the non-exclusive franchise tag. All the terms of the record-setting contract have yet to be released, but the 2013 cap number is just $7 million, according to CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora.

Estimated to have roughly $18 million in cap space before accounting for their quarterback or any of their unrestricted, restricted, or exclusive-rights free agents, the Ravens will now have some space to maneuver but not enough to change the entire landscape of their offseason. Moderation will be the key as Newsome will look to sign a couple of his own unrestricted free agents, make wise decisions on his seven restricted free agents, and then turn toward the open market to explore some shrewd signings.

Here’s a rundown of what to expect as the Ravens address their remaining free agents:

No tag this year

The first order of business will be the potential use of the franchise tag as teams have until Monday at 4 p.m. to designate a player if they so desire. Many have begun asking if Newsome and the Ravens will now use the tag on outside linebacker Paul Kruger or inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, but we received a preliminary answer to that query just a few days after the Super Bowl.

“If we get a deal done with Joe, we will not franchise another player,” said Newsome as he appealed to owner Steve Bisciotti with a humorous tone. “We will not do that. You are OK with that, right?”

The 2013 tag numbers released by the NFL on Friday suggest that stance isn’t changing as the Ravens would be looking at a $9.6 million cost at the linebacker position. As it relates to Kruger, the pass rusher could contest that he should be considered a defensive end, which commands an $11.175 million tag number for the 2013 season.

Those price tags are far too expensive for Kruger or Ellerbe as the Ravens would be looking at massive cuts to accommodate the franchise tag, regardless of what Flacco’s 2013 cap number ultimately is.

Cuts still coming

We’ve spent plenty of time discussing which veterans might be on the chopping block due to cap constraints and the Ravens will still pull the trigger on a few. It just won’t be the mass exodus that was feared if Flacco had received either of the franchise tag options.

Offensive lineman Bobbie Williams is the easiest decision as the Ravens will clear $1.2 million from their cap by releasing the 36-year-old lineman. Linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo ($806,000 in savings) and Jameel McClain ($1.8 million saved) are also likely to go, with McClain becoming far more expendable if the Ravens can sign Dannell Ellerbe to a long-term deal before he hits the open market.

It would be an unpopular decision, but fullback Vonta Leach remains an intriguing option to release as it would save $3 million in cap space. Leach is tremendous at what he does as the best pure fullback in the NFL, but the Ravens are clearly moving toward a pass-heavy attack after committing the richest contract in league history to their quarterback.

The 31-year-old Leach took part in just 39.7 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in the postseason, so can you justify devoting that big of a cap number to the fullback with other pressing needs at left tackle and all over the defense? Should they part ways with Leach, tight end Ed Dickson could serve in more of an H-back capacity and the Ravens could look to a younger, cheaper option coming out of college.

The Flacco contract means wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones are very likely to be safe, but the Ravens could explore reasonable contract extensions for both as they enter the final years of their respective contracts, thus lowering their cap numbers for 2013. This is especially true for Boldin, who carries a $7.5 million number for the upcoming season and proved himself worthy of a couple more years in Baltimore after an outstanding postseason.

Prioritizing unrestricted free agents

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Clock ticking, exclusive tag price falling (a little) for Flacco and Ravens

Posted on 28 February 2013 by Luke Jones

As the clock ticks for the Ravens to strike a long-term agreement with quarterback Joe Flacco ahead of Monday’s deadline to use the franchise tag, there have been no indications that the sides have engaged in contract talks since the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Flacco’s agent Joe Linta and Ravens vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty entered contract discussions last weekend for the first time since last August, but there was no report of a deal being imminent. Of course, this doesn’t mean that progress hasn’t been made and it’s not surprising the sides are without an agreement as the March 4 deadline for designating a player with the franchise tag is now only days away.

Deadlines provide a greater sense of urgency to get deals done as we’ve seen in recent years when long-term agreements were struck with running back Ray Rice, linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata with only hours — or even minutes — to spare in each case.

Linta has stood firm in his quest to make Flacco the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL and league insiders such as ESPN’s Adam Schefter have said a potential deal will exceed New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ five-year, $100 million contract that included $60 million guaranteed over the first three years of the deal. As has been said countless times since Super Bowl XLVII, you’d be hard-pressed to find a recent example of a player having this much leverage over a team strapped for salary-cap room and knowing they will need to fork over big bucks to a quarterback who just completed one of the greatest postseason performances in league history.

The question isn’t whether Flacco really deserves to make more than any other quarterback in football but rather do you want to keep him in Baltimore for the long haul.

The Ravens did receive some good news this week in terms of the exclusive franchise tag with New England quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reworking their current deals to lower their cap figures for the 2013 season. While neither is expected to impact the long-term negotiations between Flacco and the Ravens, the lower cap numbers for both Brady and Roethlisberger have taken them out of the league’s top 5 quarterback cap listings, which are averaged to determine the tender amount for the exclusive franchise tag.

As a result, the exclusive tag has been lowered from just under $20.5 million to a reported $19.13 million, making the use of the pricier option that takes Flacco off the free-agent market completely a bit more appealing. The non-exclusive tag is expected to cost $14.6 million for a quarterback, but it would allow another team to sign Flacco to an offer sheet and potentially surrender two first-round picks to the Ravens if they were unable to match the deal.

The lower number might do more to entice the Ravens to use the exclusive tag, but it requires an extra $4.5 million of cap room that the team already doesn’t have. In deciding between using the non-exclusive tag and the exclusive one, it could be the difference between keeping wide receiver Anquan Boldin and needing to make the painful decision to release him to clear an additional $6 million in cap space. The exclusive number also creates a natural springboard for Linta to use for negotiating by reminding the Ravens they already view Flacco as a $19.13 million-per-year player at worst in using the exclusive tag.

However, the cheaper non-exclusive tag would also result in sleepless nights for general manager Ozzie Newsome over the thought — as highly unlikely as it might be — of a team with a dramatic cap surplus like the Cleveland Browns swooping in and signing Flacco to a front-loaded offer sheet with an absurd cap number for 2013 that would either prohibit the Ravens from matching or force them to cut even more players to match the offer.

Regardless of where you fall on the decision of which tag the Ravens should use — and opinions are split around the league — it’s apparent how urgent this situation is for the Ravens as they’ve engaged in virtually no discussion with other free agents because they don’t have a clear picture of what their salary-cap picture will be at this point. Baltimore has been in contact with the agent for inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe — considered the second-biggest priority among their unrestricted free agents — but even keeping him would be extremely difficult if Flacco is to carry either tag number.

Ellerbe, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, safety Ed Reed, and any other free agent — with the team or not — remain little more than an afterthought at this point in time.

We’ll begin to receive more clarity by 4 p.m. on Monday, the last day teams may designate a player with the franchise tag, but it won’t mean negotiations will automatically break off should the Ravens announce they are tagging their quarterback. The significant time for the Ravens and Flacco to have a long-term contract in place by falls on March 12 at 4 p.m. for the start of the new league year — and the opening of free agency — when teams must be in compliance with the salary cap.

But in those final days leading up to the start of free agency, the ax could fall on a few of Flacco’s teammates as the Ravens wouldn’t be able to assume a long-term deal will happen in time to quell their cap concerns.

The clock is ticking as the Ravens and Flacco approach the first tangible deadline of the offseason and their negotiations.

As I wrote right after the Super Bowl, the real question is when — not as much if or how — the deal gets done.

And the Ravens are in a holding pattern with the rest of their offseason until it does.

 

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