Tag Archive | "matt birk"

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Baltimore Ravens 2013 Season Preview Part Three: Predicting the Biggest Positional Battles

Posted on 06 July 2013 by jeffreygilley

It’s no secret the Ravens are a different team. Starters that must be replaced include Carry Williams, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Vonta Leach, and Anquan Boldin. Paul Kruger is also gone but he was more of a role player that rotated starts with rookie Courtney UpShaw.

The following are my projections for the most heated roster battles.

Receiver:

Torrey Smith is the only receiver guaranteed a starting spot. Jacoby Jones is a veteran but struggled in Houston when given a larger workload. Therefore, Jones will be competing with Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, David Reed, and LaQuan Williams. So far, Thompson has made the most of offseason workouts. According to reports, he displays great hands and improved route running ability to go along with his blazing speed.

When the Ravens face the Broncos on Sept. 5, Jacoby Jones will start across from Torrey Smith. He is experienced and made plays when given the opportunity last season. The third receiver will be Danton Doss with Deonte Thompson winning the fourth receiver spot on the depth chart. Doss’s skill set translates well to the slot receiver position. His hands, physicality, and ability to get upfield after the catch will make him a nice weapon for Flacco.

Cornerback:

I am a huge Jimmy Smith fan. Smith has too much potential to be the Ravens nickel corner. If he can put everything together, he will be starting opposite Lardarius Webb. Corey Graham would then be the team’s nickel corner. Successfully defending two passes to Michael Crabtree towards the end of the Super Bowl will be positive plays for Smith to build upon.

Chykie Brown could be a sleeper to receive playing time this season. He showed promise last season and played frequently towards the end of the season.

Inside linebacker:

John Harbaugh and the Ravens have a lot of options at inside linebacker. Jameel McClain will likely start. Therefore, the competition really comes down to Arthur Brown and Darryl Smith. Brown was a second round selection in the 2013 draft and is projected to be a defensive rookie of the year candidate. But Smith brings experience and proven ability at inside linebacker. In the beginning of the season, I think Smith will start on running downs and Brown will play on passing downs. Brown has excellent coverage ability and when paired with McClain, they could make up a great duo in pass coverage.

Bryan Hall could also receive playing time pending the training camp competition. Hall played along the defensive line last season but is making the switch to inside linebacker. Hall could play in certain blitz packages but for the most part, will be a special teams player.

Nose tackle

After a solid 2011 season, many thought Mount Cody would break out in 2012. But Cody struggled. He was consistently pushed around and made little impact against teams with great running games. Ozzie Newsome has made an effort to improve the middle of the defense through the draft and free agency. Brandon Williams was drafted in the third round and Marcus Spears and Chris Canty were signed in free agency. Spears and Canty won’t play nose tackle but they will improve the middle of the defense.

I think Brandon Williams will win the starting job. Cody had hip surgery which could explain his poor play in 2012. If Cody can get healthy and play like he did in 2011, the Ravens will have a great rotation at nose tackle.

Center

Replacing Matt Birk will be difficult. Birk was a great leader and will be replaced by either Gino Gradkowski or AQ Shipley. Gradkowski was drafted out of Delaware in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. Gradkowski was projected to be the starter once Birk retired but Shipley played very well for the Colts last season. He played so well that he earned a plus 6.9 rating from Pro Football Focus.

Gradkowski is the early favorite but Shipley is a solid veteran that could start should Gradkowski struggle.

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Birk on White House visit: “I just felt like I’d have been a phony had I gone”

Posted on 07 June 2013 by WNST Audio

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Birk declines White House invitation over abortion issue

Posted on 06 June 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

While other former players missed the Super Bowl champion Ravens’ visit to the White House because of practice commitments to their new teams or due to a falling out with the organization, Matt Birk’s reason for skipping the event was political in nature.

The retired center is a devoted Catholic and declined the invitation to meet President Barack Obama because of his recent praise of Planned Parenthood. The six-time Pro Bowl center spoke in support of traditional marriage and did not support the legalization of same-sex marriage last fall in the state of Maryland.

“I wasn’t there,” Birk said in an interview with KFAN in Minnesota. “I would say that I have great respect for the office of the Presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, ‘God bless Planned Parenthood.’ Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. I am Catholic, I am active in the pro-life movement, and I just felt like I couldn’t deal with that. I couldn’t endorse that in any way.”

Several media outlets have pointed out that Obama’s wording wasn’t exactly the same as Birk’s interpretation.

“Thank you, Planned Parenthood,” Obama said. “God bless you. God bless America.”

Birk told WNST.net in a text message that he will attend the Ravens’ Super Bowl ring ceremony held in Owings Mills Friday night.

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Purple Reign 2: Flacco & Bisciotti met, talked Super Bowls & millions last August

Posted on 30 May 2013 by Nestor Aparicio

This is an excerpt from a new, 480-page book on the Baltimore Ravens championship run called Purple Reign 2: Faith, Family & Football – A Baltimore Love Story. If you enjoyed every aspect of their Super Bowl win in New Orleans, you’ll love this book that chronicles how the team overcame adversity and personal tragedies, and used theology sprinkled with faith, family and love on the way to a Baltimore parade fueled by inspiration, dedication, perspiration and yes, a little bit of luck.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 15 of the definitive book on the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory in New Orleans, Purple Reign 2: Faith, Family & Football – A Baltimore Love Story.

If you enjoy it, please consider buying the books for the holidays as gifts for anyone who loves the Baltimore Ravens.

You can purchase both Purple Reign books by clicking here:

You can read an excerpt from Chapter 9 here where Joe Flacco and Steve Bisciotti talk about the risk of $100 million:

You can read an excerpt from Chapter 15 on the firing of Cam Cameron and its impact on Joe Flacco

This is from Chapter 9, “Injury after insult after implosion – Psychology 2012.” If you enjoy this small snippet you can purchase the book and read another excerpt here. You can also join the Facebook fan page here. The book will be released on May 31st and will be delivered before Father’s Day if purchase before June 5th.

 

AS THE TEAM WAS ASSEMBLED in the preseason, questions lingered, but Harbaugh felt great that the team had survived an offseason without arrests, without incidents, without any member of a veteran team blaming Evans or Cundiff for the New England loss. He inherited a fractured team in 2008, and by the summer of 2012 he was feeling good about the unity of the players and their maturity.

But the obvious questions for fans, media, and The Castle staff were all the same:

Is this the last chance for Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Matt Birk?

Will the offensive line hold up?

Can the Ravens win the big one?

Can Joe Flacco win the big one?

As Bisciotti knew on draft day in 2008, and as Newsome, Harbaugh, and everyone else in the organization had experienced the hard way — it always comes back to the quarterback. Was Joe Flacco going to be the franchise quarterback who would win a Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens?

Flacco, who played perhaps the best game of his career and threw what would’ve been the pass that took the Ravens to the Super Bowl on his last drive in January, somehow went into the 2012 season as the man on the hot seat who had not only turned down a $90 million offer for more than six months, but who had gone on WNST.net & AM 1570 in April and said he thought he was the best quarterback in the NFL. As much as Tim Tebow was the darling of ESPN with a seemingly non-stop Jets theme on SportsCenter, Flacco became something of a punch line for a quarterback who could get a team to the playoffs, but somehow was perceived as “not Super Bowl caliber.”

Short of catching his own pass in Foxborough, he literally had done everything he could do to get his team into the Super Bowl and yet the abuse was seemingly endless.

But the game is won on the X’s and O’s and the execution, and Flacco knew this. Cameron and Flacco had talked about more passing, more shotgun formations, and more pressure on defenses, but over the summer of 2012 it became clear the Ravens would become more of a personalized offense for No. 5. If the Ravens were offering Flacco $90 million dollars, they’d need to trust him to earn that money. He loved the tempo of the no-huddle offense and loved that it allowed him to dictate to the defense both personnel and pace.

“What quarterback wouldn’t want to run the no-huddle or fast-paced offense?” Flacco said. “Let’s be honest, it’s more fun to play quarterback when you do that. We like the pace we’re running on offense right now, but it’s a work in progress. We’ve done OK, and we’ve played pretty quick. But, we know we can play better, and we will play faster as we get into it more.”

Harbaugh endorsed this ideological move from being a team that always allowed its defense to cut loose while always seeming to fear the worst from the offense — trying to utilize the clock, run the ball, and be more conservative. “We’ve talked about the no-huddle [offense] since Joe’s [Flacco] rookie season,” Harbaugh said. “He ran it at Delaware and has had success in it when we’ve run it the last few years. He is a key to running it, and he loves it. And, we have the parts for it right now, including the offensive line. We can run the offense very fast, a little fast, slower, and we can huddle. We’re in a good spot right now with how we can run our offense.”

While some of the idiot sports talking heads and media types were constantly flogging Flacco, the people who watch coaches’ film were always impressed with him, using the evidence and residue of four straight playoff appearances and his improving game to shout down the detractors.

“We’ve spent time with Joe [Flacco], and I perceive a change in him,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who saw Flacco play at Audubon High in his hometown of Philadelphia. “He’s won since Day One with the Ravens, but he’s more confident now. They’re confident in him, too, and the improved offense reflects all of that. He can make every throw. He can bring his team from behind. The question becomes, ‘Can they win a Super Bowl with Joe?’ And the answer is an emphatic, ‘Yes!’”

Mike Lombardi, who was doing NFL analysis in the summer of 2012 before becoming the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, said “That anyone spent the offseason criticizing [Joe] Flacco strikes me as ludicrous. Flacco didn’t drop the ball in the end zone against the Patriots. In fact, it was Flacco who drove the Ravens to give them two chances to win that game. It was others who didn’t make plays. While he doesn’t play in an offense that shows off his skills statistically, Flacco is a winning QB, and his record [45-21] shows it.”

ESPN’s Ron Jaworski spoke out on Flacco’s arm strength and ability to attack opposing defenses. “Arm strength – that’s Flacco’s No. 1 attribute,” Jaws said. “I get so tired of hearing how arm strength is overrated. It’s far more important than people think. He has the strongest arm in the NFL. And he has an aggressive, confident throwing mentality. The element always overlooked by those who minimize arm strength is the willingness of quarterbacks like Flacco to pull the trigger. Few recognize that because there is no quantifiable means by which to evaluate throws that are not made by quarterbacks with lesser arm strength. It’s all about dimensions. Flacco gives you the ability to attack all areas of the field at any point in the game.”

Flacco took the responsibility as a personal challenge and something he embraced.

“It’s definitely my offense as a quarterback; it’s my job to get out there and lead these guys and direct them and run the traffic, and get it run the way that I want it to be run,” he said in training camp. “Cam may be running the plays, and I may be controlling certain things on the line depending on what the play is, but the fine details of being a good offense are all of the fine details. And it’s my job to get those correct and that we have everyone on the same page. As long as I’m out there in practice getting it to the games and on game day, as long as I’m doing that and expressing to the receivers, expressing to the running back, and to the offensive line how I feel, and what I see back there and as long as we can get on the same page as that together, then that’s when we’re doing something, and that’s when I’m doing my job.

“You talk about being paid that much money, they don’t do that so that they can go out there to do every job, they do that so they can delegate some jobs onto me. And I can go out there and get it done the way it should be. That’s a big part of being a quarterback. To be able to make sure that everything is running smoothly and everybody sees it the way I see it. And that once we get there on Sunday, we can just react and play. Because we’re all up to speed and we all have the same vision of everything. I think that’s what good quarterbacks are able to do, is to take that and then take a certain play and make it great, just because everyone has a good understanding of that.”

By the beginning of training camp it was very clear that the Ravens and Flacco were at an impasse in negotiating a new contract that would replace the final year of his five-year deal from 2008. Newsome called Bisciotti and said that after tireless conversation with Flacco’s agent Joe Linta, there was no way to get a long-term deal and that the Ravens would need to play out the season and consider signing or franchising their star quarterback in 2013.

Bisciotti authorized a final offer – a “bump and roll” contract that gave Flacco a $1 million per year bonus if he won a Super Bowl and $2 million per year for the six years of the deal if he had won two Super Bowls. It would’ve been a raise that stayed on the books for the life of the deal. The average salary number was $16.7 million per year on the Ravens’ base offer, which would’ve made Flacco the fourth-highest paid quarterback behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. Flacco was essentially turning down $90 million because he was rejecting the notion that he was the fourth best quarterback in the NFL.

Linta and Flacco once again turned it down the week before training camp opened.

Bisciotti was flustered, wanting to get the deal done and ran into Flacco in the cafeteria in Owings Mills during the first week of training camp and summoned the quarterback to his office upstairs.

“I had never, ever – not for one minute – even spoken to Joe about the contract,” Bisciotti said. “That was for Pat [Moriarty] and Ozzie [Newsome] to do, but I wanted to take one more swing at it and try to understand the situation.”

They spent 45 minutes with the door closed.

“There are two things here that I don’t understand,” Bisciotti said to Flacco. “I don’t understand why you’re walking away from this deal? As maligned as you are in the press and as little faith as so many pundits have in you, we’re offering you a $90 million deal and you can go wave that in their face and say, ‘F**k you guys! See, the Ravens DO believe in me!’ ”

Flacco was nonplussed. “I really don’t care about my critics,” he bluntly told the Ravens owner.

Bisciotti was exasperated. “I don’t understand it. Joe, don’t you think you’d play better with a clear head and having this contract behind you?” he continued. “You won’t have to answer questions from anybody, and you can just focus on playing and winning the Super Bowl.”

Flacco said it again. “Steve, I appreciate the offer, but I really don’t care about the media, critics, any of it. I’ve gotta trust my agent, and he doesn’t want any incentives in contracts. And I’ve gotta leave it to him.”

Bisciotti reasoned that until they won a Super Bowl together neither one would get that ultimate respect they desired. “I’m offering you a better deal than the one you’re asking me for if you’re planning on winning the Super Bowl,” he said.

Flacco wasn’t upset or emotional, as is his custom. He simply smiled and said he was going to play out the year. Bisciotti said, “Well, I tried,” as he shook Flacco’s hand. “Then go out and put a few rings on my desk and get what you think you deserve.”

“I figured if he’s fine with it then I should be fine with it,” Bisciotti said. “I wanted it behind both of us. I guess I didn’t really understand how different a guy he was. I told him, ‘You are a different cat, man!’ ”

Flacco remembers the conversation vividly. “Yeah, he couldn’t get over it,” Flacco said. “He said, ‘Do you know what you’re doing? This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!’ I told him I knew what I was doing and my price wasn’t getting cheaper. I saw his point of view but I also thought that I was right. I’m a little bit of a hard head.”

Flacco believed the market always get set by the next elite quarterback that signs and the price always goes up if you perform. “It wasn’t a bad offer but I felt like I could do better if I waited,” he said. Like his adversary in this $100 million negotiation, he had gone to the Bisciotti school of downside management.

“My agent said to me, ‘Think about the worse possible situation and if you’re OK with that then hold your position,” Flacco said. The downside here would’ve been a catastrophic injury or a bad 2012 season on the field. “If I got hurt, I got hurt,” he said. “That’s the nature of the game. I was willing to look in the mirror and live with that.”

Flacco said he turned the tables on Bisciotti: “I told him, ‘You should give me four or five million more now because if I win the Super Bowl’ – and I did say ‘if’ – ‘then it’s gonna cost you $20 million.’ ”

Flacco figured he was still only making his base of $6.5 million in 2012 no matter what. The Ravens weren’t ripping up his deal. It was an extension. And there’s always a new “going rate” for top quarterbacks.

“I was actually glad that he called me up to talk about it because it was a cool conversation to have,” Flacco said. “Even though we weren’t agreeing it was a great conversation. It’s one of those talks that grows a relationship, I think.

“Hey, I tried to throw him a bone and save him some money.”

 

To purchase Purple Reign 2: Faith, Family & Football – A Baltimore Love Story, click here.

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Ravens acquire center A.Q. Shipley from Indianapolis

Posted on 09 May 2013 by Luke Jones

Needing to fill their void at center, the Ravens have acquired A.Q. Shipley from the Indianapolis Colts to compete with second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski for the 2013 starting job.

General manager Ozzie Newsome will send a conditional pick in next year’s draft to the Colts in exchange for Shipley, who made five starts and appeared in 14 games during the 2012 season. The 6-foot-1, 309-pound lineman was a seventh-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 and spent time on practice squads in Pittsburgh (2009) and Philadelphia (2010) before signing with Indianapolis last year.

Considering the Ravens invested a 2012 fourth-round pick in selecting Gradkowski, you’d expect him to have the inside track in emerging as the retired Matt Birk’s replacement. He appeared in 16 games during his rookie season, serving primarily on special teams and saw limited time at center.

Shipley would be the ideal fit for a role similar to the one held by veteran Andre Gurode in 2011 when he served as Birk’s backup and filled in at both guard positions as well.

According to Pro Football Focus, Shipley earned a +6.9 grade in 476 offensive snaps last season. The Ravens drafted Colorado State-Pueblo lineman Ryan Jensen in the sixth round of last month’s draft to presumably offer some competition to Gradkowski, but the addition of Shipley diminishes the rookie’s chances of making the 53-man roster.

Shipley was a four-year letterman at Penn State and was an All-America selection, Rimington Trophy winner, and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year as a senior. He is a native of Moon Township, Pa. and attended Moon Area High School in Pittsburgh. 

The Ravens also announced Thursday morning that they’ve released rookie guard Jeff Braun, who played at West Virginia and attended Winters Mill High School in Westminster.

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The Dismantling of the Ravens

Posted on 28 March 2013 by Tom Federline

It has been 7 weeks. What just happened Baltimore? Where have all our Ravens gone? I’ll tell you what happened, the Baltimore Ravens organization is in mass salary shedding mode. Bisciotti and Newsome are playing the shrewd business man game. They have a product that sells, they have a product at the top of its’ market, they have the upper hand. It’s time to ride the wave and make some cash. While they are on top, why not increase ticket prices, why not renovate the 15 year old stadium with 35 million dollars of upgrades, why not unload salary and dump over-priced contracts? Where are they going to find $120 million dollars to over-pay the Super Bowl QB with a new contract? The time is right for “re-building”, they have an excuse, they  breakdown the championship team and blame it on  “the salary cap”.

Nice purge Ravens, it’s not the first time you have done this, is it? Well they didn’t really purge in 2001, they just didn’t renew the contract for the leader of the offense, Super Bowl winner, Trent Dilfer. I guess they did learn some lessons from that screw up. This time they kept the QB and are letting 40% of the starters go. Ok, two are retiring. Hey, it might work. Just hard to swallow in such a short turnaround time. And Horribaugh, I know you are just on for the ride, so who is going to drive the bus now? It appears the Ravens Nation and front office need an SOS in the form of a “Message in the Bottle” – The Police.

My outlook hasn’t changed, I’m old school, you don’t get rid of the people that got you there. The Ravens organization lost me when they let Trent Dilfer go after winning the Super Bowl in 2001. At that time, the possibility existed for the Ravens to create an NFL dynasty with that defense. Ray-Ray in his prime and they had an offensive leader. The Ravens front office blew-it then. And unless the front office can pull the Easter Bunny out of a hat, they have lost me again, with the “roster purge” of 2013.

This whole Salary Cap excuse – not buying it. They are in panic unload mode, they made to many promises they can’t keep, they extended contracts and monies beyond their means, they got lucky with the Super Bowl win. They had two high salary veterans retire and they still were above the salary cap? Oh that’s right they have a new 20 million dollar man. We just won the Super Bowl – time to raise ticket prices. Come on Ravens – who you trying to kid? Ok, you got your quarterback and made him one of the richest NFL players ever. Good move. Now what do you have? Defense is devastated. Offense may survive. Although losing Boldin, was just plain…………..”fixed”. Nice brotherly bet payoff, huh? By the way, I’m calling it now – the San Francisco 49ers with a real head coach – Jim Harbaugh, just won Super Bowl XLVIII.

Offensively, the 20 million dollar/year mans go to wide receiver – is gone. The heart of the offensive line, the veteran center, the man who called the blocking schemes and delivered the ball to the 20 million dollar Flacco, retired. Defensively – the heart and one of the greatest of all-time, Ray Lewis – retired. The inside linebacker who picked up the slack when Ray was out – Dannel Ellerbe – gone to Miami. The defensive end, Paul Krueger, finally coming into his game – gone to the Browns. The smash mouth sticker of the defense, Bernard Pollard – gone to the Titans. The surprisingly reliable defensive back who picked up with the loss of Lardarius Webb – Cary Williams, gone to the Eagles. And finally the artery that fed the heart, the second in command on defense and one of the greatest safeties of all time – Ed Reed – gone to Houston. All were starters – all are gone.

The Ravens could pull this rebuilding, salary restructuring off. Hey, they pulled off the improbable “Ray-Ray, Last Dance, Super Bowl Run”. Let’s see who they replace these guys with. Elvis Dumervil? Could be a start, even though I think this cat is carrying some excess baggage. Now a new DB in Mike Huff from Oakland. Mike who? We all knew Ray-Ray was done. We figured Birk was on the same boat. And Mr. Two Tickets to the Hospital, Ed Reed………..is one plough-over from a juiced up fullback to be put the DL, for the rest of his career. The loss of Ellerbe and Pollard hurt. The line backing crew is in dire straits. At least “Ngata Chance” is still here! Or will they dump all hope?

Are the Ravens just letting it ride this year? Are they grabbing the cash while they can? Are they really rebuilding? We’re not going to know until November. Let’s also see what they say about the “salary cap” next year, after they have adjusted to the 20 million dollar/year one man contract. Hey, I am a Flacco fan. Always have been, always will be, he’s a leader. I am not a fan of the obnoxious sports salaries and contracts. It has ruined the game. Bottom line – The Ravens won another Super Bowl and that is cool. Watching the exodus of the players that got them there – is not. And “O” yeah, no Ray Lewis next year. Cha, cha, changes……….time to face the strange.

D.I.Y.

Fedman

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Your Monday Reality Check: Can the “regression” talk regress now?

Posted on 25 March 2013 by Glenn Clark

Two of my absolute favorite people on the face of the planet are WNST.net’s own Luke Jones and Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole.

I really mean that. They’re not just two of my favorites in the business, they’re two of my favorites in the world. I love to talk shop with those guys, I love to chat about the world in general with them and I love getting the chance to spend time with them socially.

(This type of statement always leads to a “BUT….”, right? Not exactly this time.)

Both Jason and Luke joined me on “The Reality Check” during the first week of NFL free agency and separately brought up the same word, a specific word that has been repeated to me by a number of callers and e-mailers over the course of the last couple of weeks.

The word is “regression.” If you were playing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the moderator would tell you the word was of latin origin and could be defined as “a trend or shift toward a lower or less perfect state.” Perhaps the word could be used in a sentence along the lines of “After losing the players the Baltimore Ravens have lost thus far, we can expect regression from the team in 2013.”

That was essentially how both guys (and others) used the word over the last few weeks.

(You’re now CERTAIN there’s going to be a “BUT…” coming, aren’t you?)

I had to start every discussion about the term that I’ve had both on-air and off since the offseason began by accepting that Luke, Jason and everyone else who has suggested the Ravens are going to “regress” in 2013 are…well…probably right. I’m sorry. It had to be said.

They’re right because the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012 and it will be very difficult for them to win the Super Bowl again in 2013. Any scenario that doesn’t involve the Ravens hoisting a third Vince Lombardi Trophy would technically mean they had “regressed” from where they were last season.

(Okay, now it’s time.)

BUT…I was never REALLY willing to accept the notion of “regression” for the Ravens at any point. Sunday’s signing of former Denver Broncos pass rusher Elvis Dumervil re-inforces that belief, but it absolutely did not establish it. I just hope the addition of Dumervil will force others to similarly push aside the notion of “regression” in 2013.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens center Birk walks away after 15 NFL seasons, first Super Bowl triumph

Posted on 22 February 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After a 15-year NFL career and finally winning a Super Bowl earlier this month, Ravens center Matt Birk figured it was the perfect time and setting to reveal he was walking away from the game.

In lieu of a fancier press conference at the team’s Owings Mills facility next week, the 36-year-old offensive lineman announced his retirement on Friday morning while dedicating a literacy center at Battle Grove Elementary School in Dundalk. Wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “Finish Everything,” Birk couldn’t specify a time when he made his final decision but spoke to head coach John Harbaugh for roughly an hour last weekend and said he hadn’t made up his mind at that point. He phoned the coach and general manager Ozzie Newsome on Thursday afternoon to reveal his decision.

Taking questions from the Battle Grove students before opening up to the gathered media, Birk was asked why he was retiring. The quick-witted center didn’t disappoint in laying out his answer.

“Why am I retiring? I’m old, I have six kids, and it’s just time. I really enjoyed football. I got to play for a long time. I’ve been very fortunate, but I just feel like it’s time to do something else.”

Birk spent the last four seasons with the Ravens after playing for his hometown Minnesota Vikings for the first 11 years of his career. Named to six Pro Bowls in his career, the Harvard University graduate was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 draft and earned his first championship in being part of the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.

It was the perfect ending for a career that began with Birk struggling to make the Vikings’ 53-man roster in 1998 and ended with the grizzled veteran celebrating with teammates and his family on the turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans after finally reaching the pinnacle of the NFL for the first time.

“You can’t ask for anything more,” said Birk, who went to work out at the Ravens’ practice facility a final time Friday morning. “It is a great way to end it, but like I said, no one’s entitled to a Super Bowl. Certainly not me. I was just so grateful and fortunate that I was able to be part of this team. It is a special team and the run that we made — the championship that we won — is something that I’ll never forget. I was telling [Harbaugh], you get a reason to come back and get together and relive those days. You’re forever linked, and that’s pretty cool.”

Despite playing well this past season, Birk was expected by many to retire to spend more time with his family as the father of six children. He said Friday that his wife Adrianna had offered her blessing for him to continue playing if he wanted to return next season. Birk signed a three-year, $8.525 million contract after contemplating retirement last offseason, but the deal was structured in a way that many expected the longtime lineman to either retire or be released after the first year of the deal.

Asked whether he thought he had anything left in the tank to continue playing if he desired, Birk quipped that no one would be able to find out the truth.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” said Birk as he laughed. “Anyone who wants to challenge me, yeah, I’ll tell them [I can still play] because there’s no way you’re going to find out. It was great. Last year, I felt great and that was a blessing. It’s a physical game; it’s a violent game. I was able to feel good about what I put out there on the field. It was just a good way for me to end.”

The Ravens will save $2.05 million in salary cap space with Birk’s retirement, which will provide some relief as they deal with limited space and hope to work out a long-term contract with quarterback Joe Flacco. Baltimore drafted Delaware’s Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round of last year’s draft with the intention that he’d eventually take over for Birk.

The retiring center expressed confidence that Gradkowski would be ready to take over at center in his second professional season.

“Gino will be fine. The biggest thing about football is it’s a character game because it’s hard,” Birk said of his 2012 understudy. “It’s different from other sports. Gino’s got that. He’s a great guy. Gino will do whatever it takes to be successful.”

Birk was named the NFL’s 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his work in the community, which includes his HIKE foundation to improve literacy. His foundation’s goal is to “impact the lives of at-risk children by providing interactive programs and resources needed to guide a child through the key educational transitions between elementary, middle, high school and college.”

Several teammates expressed congratulations to Birk via social media on Friday morning as the veteran was considered one of the leaders in the locker room in a different way from the demonstrative and vocal leadership of Ray Lewis, who was the first member of the championship team to announce his retirement back in January.

Birk was touched by messages posted on Twitter from several teammates including Vonta Leach, Jameel McClain, and Torrey Smith.

“That means a lot,” Birk said. “You play the game for a lot of reasons, but the respect of your opponent and more so the respect of your teammates is probably the biggest thing you’re shooting for.”

Cognizant of player safety concerns in the NFL, Birk has said he will donate his brain to Boston University’s School of Medicine for research into concussions.

His post-football intentions remain unclear, but the Minnesota native predicted Baltimore hasn’t seen the last of him by any shot.

“I’ll continue to advocate for player safety and retired players’ rights — now that I am a retired player,” Birk said. “We’ll see. I don’t have any plans for what’s next. I certainly didn’t plan on playing football for 15 years. Kind of not having a plan has worked out for me so far. I’m going to stay with it.”

Making the difficult decision to leave the hometown team he grew up rooting for following the 2008 season certainly wasn’t part of any plan, but he was immediately impressed with Harbaugh’s vision for the Ravens despite the coach having only finished his first season in Baltimore.

It’s safe to say the gamble paid off in choosing a new football home after 11 seasons in Minnesota.

“At the time, I just said, ‘[With] the limited information I have about the Ravens, I’m going to bet on this guy and I’m going to come here,'” said Birk, who labeled Harbaugh a friend first and foremost. “I’m sure glad I did. From the beginning, the organization and the city just welcomed us with open arms.

“I don’t need to tell anybody what this team means to this city. It’s definitely a special connection. To have the honor of playing here for four years and playing under coach Harbaugh and his staff, it was truly an honor.”

 

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Sizing up the Ravens’ possible salary cap cuts

Posted on 14 February 2013 by Luke Jones

Unless you’ve been hibernating since the glory of Super Bowl XLVII, you’re well aware of the Ravens’ salary cap woes and how critical the negotiations with quarterback Joe Flacco will be between now and March 4.

The entire offseason will hinge on whether the sides will come to an agreement on a long-term contract by that date or if the Ravens will need to use the franchise tag on their starting quarterback. Further complicating the matter would be the decision to use the $14.6 million non-exclusive tag — leaving Flacco able to negotiate with other teams — or the exclusive tag that will cost somewhere around $20 million but would take him off the market entirely.

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations before the start of the new league year on March 12, the Ravens are likely to make at least a couple cuts in hopes of signing some of their unrestricted free agents. However, the reality of using the franchise tag would mean multiple changes simply to fit Flacco under the salary cap as Baltimore is estimated by NFL.com to be $12.9 million under the cap before addressing the signal-caller or any of its restricted free agents or exclusive rights players.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player is offset in part by an additional player making it into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. Bobbie Williams ($1.2 million)
Skinny: The offensive lineman was relegated to reserve duties in favor of Jah Reid midway through the season and will either retire or be released. At 36, Williams will need to find a home elsewhere to continue his career, but after finally winning a Super Bowl after years in Cincinnati, he would be picking an ideal time to walk away from the game. The Ravens will go younger and cheaper to fill his reserve role in their group of offensive linemen.

2. Matt Birk ($2.05 million)
Skinny: When Birk signed a three-year contract last offseason, it was structured with an understanding of it essentially being a one-year deal as the cap figures grow substantially over the last two years of the deal. The Ravens drafted Delaware product Gino Gradkowski in the fourth round last April to be the heir apparent to Birk at the center position, so all signs point to him taking over for the 2013 season. The 36-year-old Birk is contemplating retirement and there remains a possibility the Ravens decide to keep Birk — who played very well down the stretch — for one more season if they can sign Flacco to a long-term deal in time, but most signs point to the veteran’s days being finished in Baltimore.

3. Vonta Leach ($3 million)
Skinny: The Pro Bowl fullback has done everything the Ravens could have possibly expected after signing him two summers ago, but his high cap number makes him a prime candidate to be cut considering his position just isn’t a big enough priority with the offense continuing to move toward the passing game. The Ravens would certainly miss Leach’s punishing blocking ability, but they could shift tight end Ed Dickson to more of an H-back position while also adding a younger, cheaper fullback coming out of college. With other positions to address and the lack of cap room, Baltimore just can’t justify paying a fullback so much money.

4. Brendon Ayanbadejo ($806,000)
Skinny: His lower number is the reason why the reserve linebacker isn’t ranked higher on the list, but Ayanbadejo would easily be expendable given his age and role on the team. The defense depended on him less in passing situations this season and the 36-year-old also had some lapses on special teams down the stretch. Saving less than $1 million on the cap doesn’t do much, but parting ways with the former Pro Bowl special-teams player would seem like a logical move to make with minimal impact on the makeup of the team if you need to clear money from the cap.

5. Jameel McClain ($1.8 million)
Skinny: If you could look into the crystal ball and guarantee the Ravens would re-sign fellow inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, it would be a no-brainer to part ways with McClain, who missed the end of the season after suffering a spinal cord contusion in early December. However, considering the Ravens are losing the retiring Ray Lewis and potentially Ellerbe, general manger Ozzie Newsome would be hesitant to part ways with another inside linebacker. McClain is solid against the run, but his limitations in pass coverage make him an expendable player if the Ravens are confident they can lock up Ellerbe, which obviously isn’t a sure thing at this point.

6. Jacoby Jones ($4 million)
Skinny: The return specialist and No. 3 receiver carries a large cap number, so his status will be in jeopardy if the Ravens need to use the franchise tag on Flacco. His speed on the outside was a major asset in taking pressure off fellow speed receiver Torrey Smith and opening the intermediate portion of the field to Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, but he is still a part-time player offensively. You’d hate to lose Jones’ tremendous return ability, so there’s a good chance the Ravens would explore a contract extension to lower his cap figure and keep him for a few more years before potentially making the difficult decision to release him. Jones is owed a $1 million roster bonus in March, so that could complicate the situation further.

7. Anquan Boldin ($6 million)
Skinny: The wide receiver’s appearance on this list is based strictly on his cap number and how far that space would go in curing the Ravens’ problems if it comes down to the franchise tag for Flacco. His quarterback would be one of the first to say he wants Boldin to remain in Baltimore, so it’s likely Newsome will pursue an extension with the 32-year-old to reduce the 2013 cap number before resorting to a release. Boldin has already said he’d retire if the Ravens cut him, so perhaps the general manager could remind him of that in trying to strike a cap-friendly deal. The departure of Jones would hurt, but parting ways with Boldin would almost appear to be crippling in the short term as there is no logical replacement on the roster to count on with the disappointing development of Tandon Doss.

 

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Birk believes taking care of older players right thing to do

Posted on 31 January 2013 by WNST Staff

CENTER MATT BIRK

(on what has impressed him most in the playoffs about QB Joe Flacco) “I don’t think it’s just this postseason. He’s done it all year. He does it all the time. He just goes to work and does his job. He’s certainly played well. I think Joe always plays well. There have been some games this post season – because of situations we’ve been in or the way defenses have played us – where they’ve kind of said that Joe’s not going to be the one that beats us, so they focus on Ray Rice and try to take away the running game. Those games have kind of been in Joe’s hands and he’s stepped up and gotten the job done. I’m impressed by it, but I’m not surprised by it.”

 

(on being satisfied with the medical care he’s provided as a player) “I’ve always felt like I’ve gotten great care from the teams I’ve been on. Obviously it’s a tricky situation. As players, we expect to be safe and we want to be safe but at the same time we play a very physical game. I think that we can always make strides and always continue to improve the type of care that we’re giving our players while they’re playing and after they’re playing. We can’t expect them to take care of everything. I guess I’m saying that unfortunately it’s part of the game. Guys suffer. I’m not saying we should try to solve it, but we should try to take care of them the best we can. Doctors aren’t perfect. The medical system isn’t perfect. So I would say that I’m satisfied. I think that we do get great care and obviously they invest a lot of money in players to try to keep us well and keep us productive and on the field. Some of that responsibility has to fall on the player.”

 

(on adjustments the offensive line has made this postseason) “Bryant McKinnie had to move to starting left tackle. Jah Reid went down. He was our starting left guard, so Bryant moved into left tackle. Michael Oher goes from starting left tackle to right tackle. Kelechi Osemele moved from right tackle to left guard. So there are three new pieces in there and it’s worked out well. The guys have had to move have had the biggest adjustments and they just did it. That’s what was best for the team. We figured that gave us the best chance to win and have those five guys out there. We would just try to make the most of it.”

 

(on being outspoken about player safety and defense) “There’s just a sense of what’s right. I’ve always felt very fortunate to be able to play this game, and obviously to make a very good living doing it. That hasn’t always been the case for players. I came into the league in 1998 and played with guys who were in the league in the 1980s. Financially speaking, they were quick to tell me it always hasn’t been like this. In 1994, things started getting pretty good for the players. They’ve continued to be good. They reminded me that it hasn’t always been like this. This has been a long, hard fight. It started way before I got here. So I think there is a sense with those guys that because of their actions and their sacrifices, they’ve allowed us to do this and be able to provide for our families in such a manner that we owe it to them that we try to take care of them as much as we can and give back a little bit. Because medical care, all of those things, it wasn’t the same 30 or 40 years ago but the players today are the ones benefiting from it.”

 

(on plans to donate his brain when he died) “You get used to (the conversation). Like I said, I compare it to being an organ donor. To me it’s not that big a deal. Terrible pun – it’s a no-brainer (joking). It really is, because once you’re gone, you’re gone, and if some or your organs or body parts can help somebody else or help further the understanding of the effects of football then I’m all for it.”

 

(on worrying about the effects of football in his life) “Sometimes you worry about it, especially if something happens like you can’t find your car keys. You think, ‘Oh my gosh.’ You overreact a little bit. You think, ‘Is this from football, is that why I can’t remember why I came into this room?’ It’s not, especially if you’re a parent. You have mush brain. Do I worry about it? I don’t worry about it but I surely try to do everything I can to keep myself healthy and if I can try to prevent something that happens down the road, I’m going to take those precautions.”

 

(on his current level of play and deciding whether or not to retire) “I will think about my decision after this game. I’m playing until I’m not. There’s a lot that factors into that. It’s not just football. It’s family. I just really like playing with this group and this team, with the group of guys playing the offensive line, playing for Coach (Andy) Moeller and Coach (John) Harbaugh and all of those guys. I think that’s why I’m so inspired and motivated every day to keep working hard to keep trying to get better.”

 

(on taking his time to think about retiring) “I don’t think that anything would happen Sunday that would make me decide right then and there or sway my decision either way.”

 

(on Joe Flacco in the playoffs) “It’s Joe. He’s always had great focus. He doesn’t get caught up in all the things that come along with being an  NFL quarterback. He’s always focused on the task and I think he just loves football, loves preparing, and loves going out there and competing. The catch that he gets, the contract and all that stuff, I don’t think it’s really that important to him. It is but it isn’t. At the end of the day I think his main focus and his task is to just play in the game and to play as well as he can.”

 

(on the Joe Flacco saying the offensive line has been a key in the post season) “That’s just of Joe to say, but we just try to do our job and give Joe and Ray (Rice) and Dennis (Pitta) and Anquan (Boldin) and Torrey (Smith) and Bernard (Pollard), all our guys, all our playmakers, chances to make plays. That’s our job, to do our job so that those guys can do the special things that they can do.”

 

(on his previously expressed opinion opposing gay marriage and how that differs from his openness to having a gay teammate) “I guess I could say this as many times as I want and people aren’t going to believe you, but that’s not a hateful attitude towards people who are gay. I have gay people in my life – gay people in my life that I love. If you’re asking me if I would accept a gay teammate: yeah absolutely. It would be really not that big of an issue to me personally.”

 

(on why no NFL player has publicly come out as gay) “It’s probably because of fear and how they’re going to be accepted or not accepted in the locker room. I think most NFL players feel very fortunate to be able to do this for a living, so maybe if a gay player comes out, they might think it might hurt their career or their chances. Unfortunately, I think it’s just based on fear of the unknown and how people are going to react.”

 

(on whether or not he and Brendon Ayanbadejo (who has advocated for gay marriage) have had debates on the issue) “Yeah, we’ve had some discussions. Obviously on the issue of marriage we couldn’t be further apart, but he’s my teammate and I respect him. I’ve known him since before he was my teammate and continue to respect him. I just think he’s wrong and I’ll just kind of leave it at that.”

 

(on where the Ravens are in terms of preparation for the game) “I think we’re right where we normally are for games, come this time of the week. You try to keep things as normal as possible and just try to prepare like we always do as players and as a team. We’re kind of creatures of habit. We have comfort in our routine and that takes some of the guesswork out of things, so we’re just trying to keep things as normal as possible and I think we’re right where we’re supposed to be.”

 

(on practice translating to game play) “You can’t practice hard and well and not get better and that’s our motto. That’s how Coach Harbaugh runs it – Coach John Harbaugh (laughs). We came ready to work and are going to work, because we’re here so we might as well work and make it a great day. In anything, whether football or life, hard work is the key to success.”

 

(on distractions in the media this week) “During the course of the season, it’s so long that stuff happens whether it’s public or in your private life. Stuff happens. Part of being a professional player is being able to block that stuff out and compartmentalize things and stay focused on the task at hand. That’s what it takes to be a professional athlete. Some guys can’t handle that. They don’t last long. I don’t think teams that can’t handle issues that come up are going to be successful, because things happen. Life happens. I’m not really concerned about the distractions or issues that the 49ers have had. There’s stuff out there about lots of different things on this team. That’s fine. We’re not going to let it impact our preparation and our performance on Sunday. That’s just the mindset that we have.”

 

(on practicing on a baseball field with crosswinds in New Orleans) “It’s just part of the deal. It’s the way it is. You can’t do anything to change it. Like I said, we were out there and said, ‘Hey, let’s just go to work and work hard and not worry about what we don’t have but focus on the opportunity that we do have to have a great Wednesday practice.’ I think we did that.”

 

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