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Chapter 18: Fast as _ _ _ _! The Mile High Miracle and Jacoby Jones

Posted on 29 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“I told myself Joe might throw it to me if I haul my butt off the line,”

– Jacoby Jones (January 2013)

 

 

 

THE NFL PROVIDES PLENTY OF connectivity between its personalities, teams, cities, and rich history. The Ravens had never played a playoff game in Denver and had only faced the Broncos once in January – in the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. That was during the 2001 Super Bowl run when Trent Dilfer beat Brian Griese and Shannon Sharpe caught a miracle pass.

However, this January 2013 game would forever change how NFL fans remember Broncos vs. Ravens.

Baltimore already had plenty of history with both John Elway and Peyton Manning, who had joined forces in the Mile High City. Peyton had now gone to his second NFL outpost and dropped another vicious regular season beating on the Ravens in Baltimore. The Elway history in Baltimore had aged 30 years, but was still very real and a debt unpaid for anyone who had a true sense of local football history and the magnitude of his actions in 1983. Elway was one of the building blocks that allowed the Ravens to exist if you consider that the Colts needed to leave Baltimore before Art Modell could come.

Both Elway and Manning had richly earned villain status in the Charm City. And once again Ozzie Newsome would endure one more battle with Elway and Denver, bringing back the sick history from his Cleveland Browns days. Newsome told author John Feinstein in 2004 that the last words his father ever said to him were: “Watch out for Elway!”

The Manning history was a much fresher scab in Baltimore.

The ugly, pre-halftime Flacco interception and the 98-yard futile chase by the lumbering quarterback was 27 days old, yet still fresh in the minds of his supporters and detractors. The replay ran all day, every day the week of the game. There was that famous picture of Flacco, face down at the goal line after chasing Chris Harris the length of the field that painted a tale of abject failure. It was a well-circulated meme in social media with a myriad of Charlie Brown-like captions.

Ten days after throwing the interception, the Ravens clinched the AFC North crown for the second straight year and made the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time. Flacco came to The Grill at Harryman House in Reisterstown as the guest of Dennis Pitta for a WNST.net & AM 1570 live radio show. He addressed the Harris interception with his usual droll sense of humor.

“It wasn’t any different than any other interception I’ve thrown for a touchdown the other way,” Flacco said. “It’s not good, but stuff like that happens. I try to limit it and do all the things you want to do to make sure it doesn’t happen. But if you play aggressively, you have to deal with it.”

“The next day I was able to try to joke around a little bit about it,” Flacco said. “At least I wanted to see what everybody thought of my blazing speed trying to catch that guy,” Flacco delivered with a smile, sitting next to his best

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Chapter 16: I love you – and I mean it!

Posted on 27 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“If you ask me to give you three words to describe this team, I’ll use three that Ray Lewis used a few weeks ago: faith, hope and love. Those are biblical words, but those are probably the three most important words in the English language. Faith in each other and in whatever greater thing you believe. Always hopeful. You can be discouraged, but there is no such thing as being disheartened. Love is what holds the universe together. It’s a selflessness that you put others before yourself. That’s the ultimate team quality. We’ll need a lot of all three to get us where we want to go.”

– John Harbaugh (December 2012)

 

 

 

 

AFTER A THIRD CONSECUTIVE LOSS in the NFL, if there’s not some palpable tension in the air then you’ve probably got a football team that’s far too comfortable.

Head coach John Harbaugh’s tireless optimism and foundational principles would be tested with the New York Giants coming to town in Week 16 and the home crowd coming back to the stadium after booing and exiting early in the shellacking by the Denver Broncos.

Harbaugh’s core, old-fashioned philosophies about faith, hope and love were drilled into the team in this time of adversity. For the most part, the media didn’t believe. The fans were restless, and the team was that had been 9-2 with dreams of a bye and an AFC Championship home game was a mere shadow of its former self. Now they were just trying to make the playoffs at 9-5 while staring down the defending champs on Christmas weekend, knowing that Cincinnati would be playing to get into the playoffs the following weekend. The losing streak would’ve been four games had it not been for a 4th & 29 miracle in San Diego.

Make no mistake about it, the Ravens were not playing well, and they weren’t healthy.

Sure, Harbaugh used the “us vs. them” mentality and also said that people outside the building didn’t believe. But that only goes so far if the core philosophy isn’t grounded in self-belief and integrity in the work ethic that backs it up.

Harbaugh’s enthusiasm is tireless, and his optimism never ceases. In the first year, many players found it almost hokey, corny in many ways. But it’s what John Harbaugh believes and what his family has preached for his half century on the planet.

Let’s be honest: “Who’s got it better than us?” is implicit in its optimism, right?

His father’s famous refrain, which his brother Jim had adopted with the San Francisco 49ers, and made famous – “Who’s got it better than us?” – with the retort, “Nobody!” had almost become part of the NFL vernacular.

It assumes happiness and steadfastly conveys success and gratitude. And if you woke up and said it every morning – and more importantly, really believed it – you would also be eternally optimistic.

That’s the faith and hope part of the equation.

The love was probably the easiest sell on his players. It’s hard to find a John Harbaugh speech or press conference where he doesn’t convey the value of “team” and “sticking together” as core values. The friendships that had sprung from battling together

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Chapter 12: Oh, where is the ‘O’ in October?

Posted on 23 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“I don’t take any credence in winning ugly; to me it doesn’t mean anything. Look around the league; it’s a tough league. Every team has great players. There are no homecoming opponents. This is the NFL. There is not going to be a lot of ‘pretty.’ There is really not.”

– John Harbaugh (October 2012)

 

 

 

WHEN FOOTBALL IS WORKING AT its best as an entertainment vehicle, it takes its audience away from the real world. The NFL is a pretend world where everyone is given a fresh chance, new players and a new salary cap number each season. If only the real world were that easy.

Despite another strong start on the field, Ravens fans and the players had all been subjected to the real world in the first weeks of the 2012 season, with the loss of Art Modell and Torrey Smith’s brother, Tevin, on the morning of the Patriots game.

On Monday, October 1, everyone in Owings Mills awakened with another gut punch to their hearts as news came from Indianapolis that Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Pagano, just 10 months removed from being in the Ravens’ building every day as the defensive coordinator, had a personal relationship with virtually everyone in the building and some special friendships with coaches and defensive players, who adored him during his four-year stay in Baltimore.

Word was that his form of leukemia was treatable and had an 80-to-90 percent chance of remission, but it was still a rough Monday to be back at work for Harbaugh and his staff in preparing for a trip to Kansas City.

“Chuck’s a fighter in every respect,” Harbaugh said. “Chuck’s got that swagger, and I’m completely confident that Chuck will go to work on this with the same enthusiasm he does everything else in his life, and he’ll be victorious. So, we’ll be pulling for him and praying for him on that.”

Ray Lewis, who knew Pagano from his early days at Miami when he coached Ed Reed in the 1990’s, spoke out about his former coordinator. “He’s a man of men,” Lewis said. “He’s a man that people want to aspire to be like. That when you grow up as a man, that when you’re around Chuck you realize that, you know what, if life offers nothing else it offered me the opportunity to be around a man. A true man.”

“He’s like a dad to me,” said Reed, who originally met Pagano when he recruited him to go to the University of Miami in 1997. “That’s family, which is first before football.”

Defensive tackle Arthur Jones would later shave his head to show his unity with a Twitter and internet movement known simply as #Chuckstrong.

Once the week got started in preparation for the Chiefs, the attention of local sports fans turned away from the Ravens and instead to the Baltimore Orioles, who were in the midst of qualifying for the MLB playoffs for the first time since 1997. On Wednesday, Ravens players sported orange T-shirts that had the team’s October catch phrase, “Buckle Up,” an ode to manager Buck Showalter as the team prepared for a weekend wild card game on Friday in Texas. The entire city was looking forward to the rare road and home doubleheader set to take place on Sunday, October 7th. The Ravens had an afternoon game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and the Orioles would be hosting Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that evening against the New York Yankees.

And even if you find baseball boring by your tastes, there was no arguing that what would take place on the field in Baltimore that night had much more offense than what took place earlier in the day in Kansas City, where the Chiefs and Ravens played perhaps the ugliest NFL game of the year.

The natives were already restless for better football in Kansas City. Chiefs fans were on the warpath before the game began, but much of their ire was directed toward general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel, and quarterback Matt Cassel, who were all put on watch by an angry fan base that has been accustomed to success over the past three decades. The 7-9 finish in 2011 was bad enough, but the Chiefs were off

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Philadelphia offering rooting interest for Ravens fans

Posted on 14 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Ravens fans unable to stomach watching AFC rivals New England and Pittsburgh in the playoffs may find a rooting interest on the other side of the bracket.

Despite losing Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury last month, Philadelphia is now a win away from the Super Bowl after edging Atlanta 15-10 in Saturday’s divisional-round meeting. Several former Ravens are helping the Eagles’ cause both on and off the field.

The most popular among them is wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose wacky 20-yard catch off a deflection helped set up a 53-yard field goal to end the first half. It wasn’t an impressive season for Baltimore’s 2011 second-round pick with just 36 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns, but Smith finished with three catches for 39 yards in his first playoff game since 2014, the last time the Ravens qualified for the postseason.

Smith isn’t alone as defensive tackle and 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan has found a home in Philadelphia, evident by the four-year, $48 million extension he signed earlier this season. Traded to the Eagles in a swap of 2017 third-round picks in April, Jernigan registered only one tackle Saturday and had only 2 1/2 sacks this season, but he’s considered an important member of one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts.

Two other Super Bowl XLVII champions are helping the Eagles in complementary roles as defensive back Corey Graham has played in sub packages and on special teams this season and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe even started and finished with two tackles in Saturday’s playoff game. Ellerbe has dealt with a slew of injuries since leaving the Ravens in 2013, but the 32-year-old signed with Philadelphia in mid-November and has helped fill the void of starting middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, who sustained a torn Achilles tendon in October.

Edge rusher Steven Means was inactive for Philadelphia on Saturday, but he also spent parts of two seasons with the Ravens.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a former Baltimore assistant and Mount Saint Joseph alum, and the ties run deeper in the front office as former Ravens scouts Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl are integral parts of Philadelphia’s draft process. Douglas spent more than 15 years in Baltimore and served as the organization’s national scout before departing for Chicago in 2015 and being hired to serve as the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel a year later. He’s already beginning to earn consideration as a general manager as Philadelphia will likely have a tough time keeping him for long.

Weidl spent more than a decade with the Ravens in various scouting roles and is now Philadelphia’s assistant director of player personnel.

The Eagles will still be viewed as the underdog with backup quarterback Nick Foles under center in the NFC championship game, but there are a number of reasons for Ravens fans to pull for them next Sunday.

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Cornerback Graham signs four-year contract with Buffalo

Posted on 12 March 2014 by Luke Jones

While the Ravens were able to re-sign wide receiver Jacoby Jones earlier in the day, cornerback Corey Graham agreed to a four-year contract with the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday.

According to CBS Sports, the deal is worth $16 million and could rise to $19 million with playing-time incentives as Graham was looking for more money and playing time than the Ravens would provide. A Buffalo, N.Y. native, Graham came to Baltimore known primarily as a special-teams player and emerged as a starting cornerback for the Super Bowl XLVII championship team after injuries forced him into a significant role.

The 28-year-old grabbed six interceptions and made 134 tackles in 32 regular-season games for the Ravens after signing a two-year, $3.95 million contract in 2012. His biggest claim to fame came in the 2012 divisional round when he twice picked off Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, returning one for a touchdown and securing a second to set up the Ravens on a short field in overtime that eventually led to the game-winning field goal.

After struggling in the season-opening loss to the Broncos last season, Graham was replaced by Jimmy Smith as a starter and served as the No. 3 corner for the remainder of the year. His departure leaves Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson in a competition for the third spot in the nickel package, but the Ravens are likely to add another cornerback via free agency or the draft to bolster their depth.

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Ravens now turn to others after locking up Monroe

Posted on 11 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Having accomplished their primary goals of locking up left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens may now turn their attention toward other needs as the first day of free agency concluded on Tuesday.

Signing Monroe to a five-year, $37.5 million contract to clear up their left tackle picture for the long haul, the Ravens still hope to re-sign inside linebacker Daryl Smith despite the sides reportedly not being close to an agreement at the start of free agency. However, the recent signings of two other veteran linebackers have established a reasonable idea of Smith’s price tag.

Indianapolis signed former Browns standout D’Qwell Jackson, 30, to a four-year, $22 million contract last week, and Cleveland responded by inking the 32-year-old Karlos Dansby to a four-year, $24 million deal on Tuesday. The 31-year-old Smith would have good reason to ask for a similar deal after a strong first season with the Ravens in which he excelled in pass coverage and admirably occupied Ray Lewis’ former inside linebacker position.

The Ravens will need to decide if Smith is worthy of a deal approaching $5 million to $6 million per season, but they could make the decision to pass on the veteran’s services in favor of the draft or being able to find a value free agent like last offseason when they were able to sign Smith on a cheap one-year deal at the start of the summer. Baltimore is already penciling in 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown as the starting weakside inside linebacker while Josh Bynes also brings starting experience to the unit.

Baltimore remains interested in wide receiver Jacoby Jones, but the Pro Bowl return specialist is scheduled to visit the New York Giants, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.

Corey Graham is another player the Ravens would like to retain at the right price, but the No. 3 cornerback is exploring the market for the best opportunity to start and will visit the Washington Redskins and other visits could be in place, a source told WNST.net.

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2014 class of free agents

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin at 4 p.m. next Tuesday, it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 13 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents, and six exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2014 salary cap was officially set to a record-high $133 million last week and the Ravens have just under $25 million in cap space after signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract that includes a cap figure of just $3.2 million for the 2014 season. Most media attention focuses on unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens’ list of restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players will take up a noticeable portion of that available cap space when tendered.

In much better cap position than they’ve been in a few years, the Ravens will likely have the ability to be a bigger player in the free-agent market than they are in most years, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has also valued compensatory picks over the years and signing unrestricted free agents hurts the formula in determining those.

Though the signing period officially begins on March 11, the NFL allows 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, 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 2013 free-agent forecast HERE.

Unrestricted free agents

TE Dallas Clark: LEAVES
Skinny: Earlier this offseason, Clark expressed uncertainty whether he would play again in 2014, but it’s all but guaranteed that he won’t be back with the Ravens after he was no longer a factor when Pitta returned from injury last December.

NT Terrence Cody: LEAVES
Skinny: The 2010 second-round pick wasn’t quite the bust that fellow 2010 class member Sergio Kindle was, but he was certainly a disappointment in his four-year run with the Ravens and never really improved.

TE Ed Dickson: LEAVES
Skinny: He may have been the best blocking tight end on the roster the last couple years, but that was still an issue for the Ravens in 2013 and both sides appeared ready to move on by the end of last season.

CB Corey Graham: STAYS
Skinny: Viewed more as a luxury than a pressing need, Graham may ultimately fit into the Ravens’ plans with an improved cap position and the lack of quality cornerback depth behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

DT Arthur Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: Emerging as one of the better 3-technique defensive tackles in the AFC in his first full year as a starter, Jones figures to fetch the kind of deal that will be more than the Ravens are willing to pay with so many needs on the other side of the ball.

WR Jacoby Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: The door will remain open for a return at the right price, but the shortage of quality wide receivers on the open market will likely lead to another team overvaluing Jones’ limited ability as a wideout.

S James Ihedigbo: LEAVES
Skinny: All things being equal, the Ravens would like to have Ihedigbo back, but he deserves to start somewhere and 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam is a better fit at the strong spot than at the free safety position where he struggled as a rookie.

S Jeromy Miles: STAYS
Skinny: Plucked from Cincinnati’s roster early last season, Miles is a strong special-teams player and shouldn’t command more than the veteran minimum to remain with the Ravens.

OT Eugene Monroe: LEAVES
Skinny: The 26-year-old remains the Ravens’ top priority, but it’s clear that the sides have a difference in opinion of his value and a number of teams are looking for a left tackle, which doesn’t bode well for the chances of him re-signing.

OT Michael Oher: LEAVES
Skinny: A high-ranking member of the organization expressed the belief that Oher would be viewed as a left tackle if he were to remain with the Ravens, but he appears to be no more than a Plan C or D at this point.

RB Bernard Scott: LEAVES
Skinny: With Ray Rice dealing with legal problems and Bernard Pierce coming back from shoulder surgery, the No. 3 running back job has suddenly become a bigger priority and the Ravens will be looking for a substantial upgrade over Scott.

LB Daryl Smith: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens took a chance on Smith last summer and he rewarded them handsomely with a strong 2013 season, so it makes too much sense to re-sign him after Jameel McClain was cut due to cap reasons last week.

WR Brandon Stokley: LEAVES
Skinny: The man who caught the first touchdown of Super Bowl XXXV announced his retirement at the end of last season but will always be a popular figure in Baltimore.

Restricted free agents

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer a first-round ($3.113 million), second-round ($2.187 million), or original-round tender ($1.431) million 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 should the player sign elsewhere.

WR Tandon Doss: STAYS
Skinny: The 2011 fourth-round pick has disappointed as a receiver, but his ability as a punt returner will lead to the Ravens either offering him the low tender or re-signing him on a cheap two-year contract.

LB Albert McClellan: STAYS
Skinny: McClellan was a non-factor defensively last season but is a strong special-teams player and has the ability to play all four linebacker spots, making him a likely choice to receive the low tender or an inexpensive two-year deal.

Exclusive-rights free agents

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Examining the Ravens’ 2014 class of free agents

Posted on 02 January 2014 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens face a number of critical decisions in their efforts to bounce back from missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season.

As it is most seasons, salary cap space will be a concern as the Ravens entered the offseason with 37 players under contract for an estimated cap commitment of roughly $112 million, according to Spotrac.com. The 2014 salary cap has not been officially set, but most are projecting a limit of $126.3 million for the new season.

Of course, the Ravens could elect to terminate or renegotiate several veteran contracts when considering that a staggering $70.9 million in cap space is devoted to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, quarterback Joe Flacco, linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb, running back Ray Rice, and right guard Marshal Yanda. Of those six, Suggs would appear to be the only player in serious danger of being released — he is owed a $7.8 million base salary in the final year of his contract — as the termination of any of the other five contracts would bring large quantities of dead money on the cap and little to no net savings.

Other veterans such as fullback Vonta Leach, linebacker Jameel McClain, and punter Sam Koch don’t carry lucrative cap numbers but could be released to create moderate savings in 2014.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to re-sign any of the following 14 unrestricted free agents before they are free to sign with any other team beginning on March 11 at 4:00 p.m. Each player’s 2013 base salary is noted in parentheses and a brief thought is included:

TE Dallas Clark ($940,000) – The 34-year-old didn’t see one snap after Dennis Pitta’s return and is more likely to retire than to have any chance to return to the Ravens in 2014.

DT Terrence Cody ($630,000) – It’s clear the 2010 second-round pick never panned out as a starter and is unlikely to return next year.

TE Ed Dickson ($1.323 million) – Pitta’s hip injury was a big opportunity for Dickson to prove his worth as a starting-caliber NFL tight end and he was unable to do it, making it likely both sides will move on.

CB Corey Graham ($2.05 million) – Coach John Harbaugh expressed a strong desire to keep Graham earlier this week, but you wonder if other teams will come calling with an opportunity to start and more money.

DT Arthur Jones ($2.023 million) – Jones blossomed into arguably the Ravens’ most complete defensive lineman in 2013, but his strong play will likely make his price tag too high for the Ravens.

WR Jacoby Jones ($3 million plus $1 million roster bonus) – Jones showed improved ability as an intermediate receiver late in the season, but he may prove too costly with so many other needs on both sides of the ball.

S James Ihedigbo ($715,000) – With 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam better suited for strong safety, the Ravens need to allocate resources for a free safety with better coverage skills and Ihedigbo doesn’t really fit that mold.

S Jeromy Miles ($1.323 million) – Miles is a strong special-teams player and the Ravens would likely be interested in bringing him back at a cheaper rate.

OT Eugene Monroe ($3.8 million) – One of the Ravens’ top priorities this offseason, Monroe proved himself worthy of a long-term contract after being acquired from Jacksonville in early October, but how much money will he command?

OT Michael Oher ($3.785 million) – Coming off a disappointing season at right tackle, Oher is unlikely to be back with the Ravens, who will concentrate their efforts toward retaining Monroe and look for another option for the right side.

TE Dennis Pitta ($2.023 million) – It’s unlikely that Pitta is going anywhere as the Ravens will try to work out a long-term deal and could use the franchise tag ($6.8 million for tight ends in 2014) as a last resort.

RB Bernard Scott ($715,000) – With Rice’s future as a feature back in question and Bernard Pierce’s durability an issue, the Ravens are more likely to draft a running back in the middle-to-late rounds than to keep Scott.

LB Daryl Smith ($840,000 and $285,000 signing bonus) – The 31-year-old was a great value signing, but the status of McClain as well as the development of 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown are important factors to consider here.

WR Brandon Stokley ($940,000) – The 37-year-old has already announced his plans to retire after a 15-year NFL career that began with the Ravens in 1999.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens must tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that happens, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens choose not to match the offer sheet, they would receive compensation based on which tender was initially offered to that player.

There are three different tenders that can be made: a first-round tender (estimated $3.02 million) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.12 million) would award the competing team’s second-round selection, and a low tender ($1.389 million) would award the competing team’s draft selection equal to the round in which the player was originally chosen. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would simply hold the right to match the offer and would not receive any compensation if they elected not to match a competing figure.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

WR Tandon Doss (fourth) Doss would either receive no more than the low tender or be re-signed at a lower rate and displayed some added value as a punt returner earlier in the season after Jacoby Jones injured his knee in Week 1.

LB Albert McClellan (undrafted) McClellan fell out of the mix defensively in 2013 but continues to be a strong special-teams player, making his return at the low tender rate or at a lower salary a reasonable possibility.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and must be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Historically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s essentially nothing more than an invitation to training camp provided to each.

LB Josh Bynes
LB Adrian Hamilton
LB D.J. Bryant
S Anthony Levine
S Omar Brown
S Brynden Trawick

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Veterans, free agents ponder future with Ravens in 2014

Posted on 30 December 2013 by Luke Jones

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.

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The Tomlin sideline jig — big deal…or not? I’ll tell you why it’s “not”

Posted on 29 November 2013 by Drew Forrester

OK, I’ll go ahead and make my obligatory comment on Mike Tomlin and “Sideline-Gate” from Thursday night’s 22-20 Ravens win over Pittsburgh.

I don’t quite see it as the big deal that lots of folks in town are making it out to be.

Now — admittedly — as I tweeted during the game from the M&T Bank Stadium press box, had Pittsburgh somehow finagled their way to a comeback win last night, the Tomlin “play” would have been all anyone in the country was talking about today.

Thankfully, for a lot of reasons, it didn’t happen that way.

That said now, I can go back to my reaction on the whole thing:  It’s pretty much…………”meh”.

Why?

Because players intentionally violate the rules ALL THE TIME in the NFL.  Sometimes they’re penalized, sometimes they’re not.

In fact, earlier in the game, Pittsburgh’s supposed all-world cornerback Ike Taylor stopped an almost sure-fire touchdown by grabbing Torrey Smith’s arm and shoulder as #82 whizzed by him on a sharply run stop-and-go route down the same sideline of the Tomlin-quick-step.

On that occasion, actually, the referee threw a penalty flag on Taylor, so he was cited for his infraction.  But, smartly on Taylor’s part, the damage had been done.  His move kept the Ravens from scoring a touchdown.  The ensuing Justin Tucker field goal on the series resulted in the proverbial four-point swing.

How is Ike Taylor intentionally grabbing Torrey Smith to keep him from catching a touchdown pass any different than what Tomlin did?

To me, it’s not.

The most obvious part of the whole situation is that Tomlin’s dancing effort didn’t actually affect the result of the game.  Sure, it COULD have, but it didn’t.  Only in the disdain-filled Steelers-Ravens rivalry could a scene that didn’t alter the outcome be this discussed and debated.

Now, if you want to throw in a comment or two about how Mike Tomlin is the coach and, therefore, has a higher moral standard to uphold, I’d buy a few shares of stock in that argument.

Tomlin – or any coach in the league – shouldn’t be involved in a play like the one on Thursday night.

He’ll get fined by the NFL and rightfully so.

The REAL blame from Thursday’s “Sideline-Gate” should go to the referee crew.  There already IS a rule in place to cover things like the coaching stepping out on the field.  It’s called “a 15 yard penalty”.  The refs just didn’t apply the rules correctly on Thanksgiving night.

Some folks are clamoring for a Tomlin suspension — and I think that’s mainly home cooking from rabid Ravens fans who see black and yellow and turn into mean old wet hens during a late Saturday afternoon summer storm.

What Tomlin did was wrong.

And, WITHOUT QUESTION, the league needs to come up with a more penalizing rule – quickly – to strongly discourage any coach from being involved in a play like that in the future.  Should it result in an immediate ejection?  Maybe.  How about an automatic penalty of half the distance to the goal-line for any coach who steps on the sideline stripe?  Sure, perhaps.

Frankly, the referee TEN FEET BEHIND Tomlin on the sideline should have penalized him on the spot.

But, let’s not make it out to be anything other than it was:  An attempt to gain an edge.  And, in the end, it didn’t work because his team lost.

It’s the same thing, in my eyes, as Corey Graham clutching the left arm of Antonio Brown in the 4th quarter on a sideline throw and then NOT having a penalty flag thrown on the play.

It’s just football.

To borrow an old phrase familiar to the likes of Kentucky basketball, “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”

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