In the aftermath of the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship on Sunday, the finality of the season coming to an abrupt end was accompanied by the all-too-familiar feeling knowing that same team will never be together again.
The reality of the NFL’s offseason brings substantial change to all 32 teams — some more than others — and forces players to say goodbye to others for the final time as teammates.
“It’s tough to really think about that,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You know it’s going to happen, but you don’t know which guys it’s going to be, so it’s tough to be in our shoes and go through that. You finally just take it for what it is, and before you know it, you hope you had a good relationship with everybody on the team and said as much as you could say to that guy. We hope we can bring as many people back as we can.”
While other moves will be made — cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr and wide receiver Lee Evans are the strongest candidates to be cut despite being under contract for the 2012 season — the Ravens have 13 unrestricted free agents, four restricted free agents, and four exclusive-rights free agents entering the offseason. I’ve included the entire list with a brief thought on each player’s potential future in Baltimore.
Two dates to keep in mind as the offseason begins are the March 5 deadline to designate a franchise player and the start of free agency on March 13 at 4:00 p.m.
Unrestricted free agents
RB Ray Rice
2011 stats: 16 starts, 2,068 yards from scrimmage, 15 touchdowns
Skinny: Rice isn’t going anywhere as the Ravens will either use their franchise tag on the Pro Bowl back or sign him to a long-term deal, though the latter would certainly create more cap space for 2012.
G Ben Grubbs
2011 stats: 10 starts, first Pro Bowl selection
Skinny: The Ravens clearly would like to bring the left guard back, but with Marshal Yanda receiving a sizable deal a few months ago, can the organization afford to invest so much money in the guard position?
C Matt Birk
2011 stats: 16 starts
Skinny: After 14 seasons in the league, Birk may decide to retire, but the Ravens could elect to go with the slightly-younger Andre Gurode or look to the draft for the center position.
LB Jarret Johnson
2011 stats: 16 starts, 56 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks
Skinny: With Johnson on the wrong side of 30, it might be time to part ways with the veteran linebacker, but the Ravens lack a logical replacement on the current roster with the disappointing development of 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle and the limitations of pass rusher Paul Kruger.
LB Jameel McClain
2011 stats: 16 starts, 81 tackles, one sack, one interception
Skinny: The former undrafted free agent credits Ray Lewis for his growth, so you have to wonder if McClain becomes the next Baltimore linebacker to receive an inflated contract elsewhere.
DE Cory Redding
2011 stats: 15 games (11 starts), 43 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks
Skinny: Before an ankle injury slowed Redding over the final month of 2011, he was having his best season in years, but the Ravens could elect to go with younger — and cheaper — defensive lineman Arthur Jones at this position.
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo
2011 stats: 16 games, 27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, nine special teams tackles
Skinny: The 35-year-old intends to play in 2012 and expects to be back with the Ravens, but the nickel linebacker may not be on the same page as Baltimore in terms of a contract to make his return feasible.
S Tom Zbikowski
2011 stats: 14 games (four starts), 16 tackles, one sack
Skinny: Largely a forgotten man after Bernard Pollard wrestled away the strong safety job early in the season, it appears Zbikowski will likely try to find a new home where he can start.
S Haruki Nakamura
2011 stats: 15 games, three tackles, nine special-teams tackles
Skinny: In a similar position to Zbikowski, the Ravens will likely make a harder push to keep Nakamura due to his exceptional ability as as special teams player.
OL Andre Gurode
2011 stats: 13 games (five starts)
Skinny: Signed as an insurance policy behind Matt Birk, the 10-year veteran wound up being needed at left guard for an injured Grubbs and could be the short-term replacement at center next season.
DT Brandon McKinney
2011 stats: 12 games, 14 tackles
Skinny: A regular part of the rotation along the defensive line, it’s hard to envision teams beating down McKinney’s door, but the Ravens may try to go younger and cheaper than the six-year veteran.
TE Kris Wilson
2011 stats: 15 games, four special teams tackles
Skinny: His touchdown catch in the divisional round was his claim to fame, but the veteran’s competent special teams ability may not be enough to keep him in Baltimore next season.
LB Edgar Jones
2011 stats: nine games, three special teams tackles
Skinny: Though he was active all nine games after being signed in early November, there’s a reason why Jones was unemployed when the Ravens were looking for special-teams depth.
Restricted free agents
(The Ravens can offer a tender attached to a draft pick and then have the right to match any offer from an opposing team and would receive that team’s draft pick if they choose not to match it.)
CB Lardarius Webb
2011 stats: 16 games (15 starts), 68 tackles, five interceptions, sack
Skinny: With another season like he had in 2011, Webb will be looking for a large payday and deservedly so.
CB Cary Williams
2011 stats: 16 starts, 77 tackles, two forced fumbles
Skinny: Easily the most pleasant surprise on the Baltimore defense, Williams will battle 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith for a starting corner job in training camp.
LB Dannell Ellerbe
2011 stats: nine games (three starts), 17 tackles
Skinny: The third-year linebacker always leaves you wanting more but could find himself in position to compete for a starting role depending on how the Ravens address the inside linebacker position this offseason.
RB Matt Lawrence
2011 stats: Did not play (injured reserve)
Skinny: Though a competent special-teams player when he’s been healthy in his three-year career, you have to think the Ravens are ready to cut ties with the injury-plagued back.
Exclusive-rights free agents
(These are players with two or fewer accrued seasons and own no negotiating rights.)
LS Morgan Cox
2011 stats: 16 games
Skinny: There’s no reason to think the Ravens are displeased with Cox’s performance as the long snapper.
CB Danny Gorrer
2011 stats: 11 games, three tackles, four pass breakups
Skinny: Considering he was pushing Chris Carr for the No. 4 corner spot by season’s end and was strong on special teams, Gorrer should have no reason to think the Ravens won’t bring him back.
LB Sergio Kindle
2011 stats: two games
Skinny: The Ravens will bring Kindle back, but he’ll need to make major strides in the offseason and training camp to make the 53-man roster again.
LB Albert McClellan
2011 stats: 16 games (one start), seven tackles, 12 special teams tackles
Skinny: He drew a start for the injured Ray Lewis on Thanksgiving night and is one of the best special teams players on the team, making his return a certainty.