Tag Archive | "matt birk"

Siragusa

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Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 (and Worst 7) Ravens free-agent signings

Posted on 20 March 2012 by Luke Jones

In honor of the Ravens re-signing veteran center Matt Birk to a three-year contract on Friday, The Morning Reaction offers its Tuesday Top 7 (and Worst 7) free-agent signings in the history of the Baltimore Ravens.

Luke Jones ranked the best signings while Drew Forrester identified the worst signings made by general manager Ozzie Newsome and the organization.

To hear the full explanation of their lists, click HERE for Part 1 and HERE for Part 2.

Luke Jones’ Top 7 free-agent signings …

7) Tony Siragusa
Siragusa

6) Trent Dilfer
Dilfer

5) Sam Adams
Adams

4) Michael McCrary
McCrary

3) Derrick Mason
Mason

2) Rod Woodson
Woodson

1) Shannon Sharpe
Sharpe

Drew Forrester’s Worst 7 free-agent signings …

7) Corey Fuller
Fuller

6) Mike Anderson
Anderson

5) Keydrick Vincent
Vincent

4) Deion Sanders
Sanders

3) Elvis Grbac
Grbac

2) Frank Sanders
Sanders

1) Frank Walker
Walker

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jm

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After rocky first week of free agency, what’s next for Ravens?

Posted on 19 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Nearly a week into the signing period and with Peyton Manning finally choosing his next football home — ending our long-suffering national nightmare — it’s safe to say we’ve reached the conclusion of the first wave of NFL free agency.

As expected, it’s been anything but an exhilarating splash for the Ravens as they’ve witnessed five unrestricted free agents depart while only re-signing veteran center Matt Birk to a three-year contract on Friday. Baltimore has six remaining unrestricted free agents to potentially address, with inside linebacker Jameel McClain at the top of the list.

Unlike veteran defensive starters Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, McClain represents a more difficult decision as he’ll only turn 27 in July and has plenty of good football in front of him.  He also represents a known commodity at a position where the Ravens lack depth behind Ray Lewis. Though he doesn’t bring the skills in pass coverage the Ravens would like to see improved among their linebackers, McClain proved valuable when Lewis was sidelined with a toe injury for four games last season, leading the huddle while Baltimore barely missed a beat without its future Hall of Fame linebacker.

The problem is general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens are having a difficult time gauging McClain’s value with the market for inside linebackers developing at a snail’s pace so far in free agency. Most top names at the position remain unsigned, including Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch, Seattle’s David Hawthorne, and Atlanta’s Curtis Lofton.

McClain visited the Broncos on Friday and took a physical, but Denver ultimately decided to re-sign Joe Mays, who will presumably be the guy at middle linebacker after making 12 starts last season. With such a deep group of inside backers still available and most having the same limitations in pass coverage beyond the top names on the list, McClain may not find the payday he’s looking for.

Of course, the Ravens have a limited amount of salary cap space and a number of other positions to address. They also placed a second-round tender on restricted free agent linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, which would pay him roughly $1.92 million in 2012, as a likely insurance policy to losing McClain.

Whether they can ultimately re-sign McClain or not, the Ravens are likely to address the inside linebacker position in the first few rounds of April’s draft. And unless the market remains very cool on McClain, Baltimore will likely roll the dice with the combination of Ellerbe and a drafted rookie to fill the void next to Lewis in defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ 3-4 scheme.

Changing of the guard

With the Ravens missing out on free-agent guard Evan Mathis when the veteran elected to re-sign with the Eagles over the weekend, the remaining options on the open market are underwhelming in trying to replace former Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs.

A few veterans such as Jake Scott and Vernon Carey are still out there but represent a noticeable step back from Grubbs at the position. That’s led many to speculate about the possibility of second-year tackle Jah Reid being moved to guard.

The thought of Reid playing guard has intrigued me since he began working there late last season and was a sleeper candidate to replace the injured Marshal Yanda in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati. You typically don’t see 6-foot-7 guards, but having the tallest starting quarterback in the league eliminates the need for shorter interior linemen.

Evan so, it’s difficult to view Reid as anything more than a project for the position, meaning the Ravens’ best bet might be to select a guard in the first or second round of the draft. While many have cooled on the idea of drafting Wisconsin center Peter Konz in the first round after Birk’s re-signing, another intriguing name that might be available at the 29th pick is Georgia guard Cordy Glenn.

With massive size at 345 pounds and impressive athleticism, Glenn has seen his stock rise substantially since the Senior Bowl. Despite playing left tackle as a senior after playing inside prior to that, Glenn is considered to be best suited for guard by most. However, some still flirt with the idea of him eventually becoming a left tackle at the next level.

It’s far from certain that Glenn will be there when the Ravens pick late in the first round, but he would be the ideal candidate to start at left guard compared to the underwhelming veteran options remaining in free agency. And with veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie entering the final year of his contract, the Ravens could also evaluate whether Glenn could move to left tackle in his second season.

Third wideout

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birk

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

Posted on 16 March 2012 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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newsome

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

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Luke Jones

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

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

When are the Ravens going to do something?

Why does Ozzie insist on sitting on his hands?

They’re definitely taking a step back this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals

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

Posted on 08 March 2012 by Luke Jones

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

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

Franchise tag

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

Unrestricted free agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restricted free agents

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

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

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

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

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

Exclusive rights free agents

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

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JoeFlacco

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Flacco’s agent foresees amicable contract talks with Ravens

Posted on 23 February 2012 by Luke Jones

As coaches, front office executives, scouts, and agents congregate for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis to take a closer look at hundreds of prospective rookies, the event also marks the unofficial start of free agency.

Though the actual signing period doesn’t begin until March 13, front office personnel and agents will secretly meet to discuss soon-to-be free agents and contract parameters before players hit the open market.

As anticipated for several weeks, the Ravens will begin new contract talks for quarterback Joe Flacco, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2012 season.

While both parties have made it clear they want the relationship to continue for many years to come, Flacco’s agent Joe Linta told Glenn Clark on AM 1570 WNST that the weekend will only mark the first step in the negotiating process. Working out any new contract takes time but becomes more complicated when talking about the most important position on the field.

“We are just going to chat on this,” said Linta, who anticipates speaking with team president Dick Cass and vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty on Saturday. “I don’t expect there is going to be a press conference at two o’clock in Indianapolis. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

Deciding where to begin can often be difficult in getting both sides to the negotiating table. Linta sparked plenty of debate in Baltimore last week by suggesting his client should be paid as a top-5 quarterback if taking into account Flacco’s 44 regular-season wins in his first four seasons, most in NFL history.

Flacco has never missed a game while becoming the first quarterback in league history to lead his team to the postseason and to earn a playoff win in each of his first four seasons. The 27-year-old has averaged 3,454 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes, 11.5 interceptions, and an 86.0 quarterback rating over his first four seasons.

“It’s really funny, I made one statement to a guy down there and I said, ‘If your [criteria] is wins and success and durability, he should be paid like a top-5 guy,’” Linta said. “Everyone on Sportscenter, NFL Network, and everywhere else forgot that very powerful two-letter word if.”

Trying to draw up parameters for a new contract will be challenging if relying on recent history for quarterback compensation. Linta and Flacco will unequivocally be looking for more money than the deals handed to Arizona’s Kevin Kolb and Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick. Kolb received a six-year, $65 million deal ($12 million guaranteed) while Fitzpatrick’s hot start to the 2011 season led to a seven-year $62 million contract that included $24 million guaranteed.

On the other hand, the Ravens could balk if Linta asks for money comparable to deals signed by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and the Giants’ Eli Manning. Rivers signed a seven-year, $98 million deal with just under $20 million guaranteed while Manning, now a two-time Super Bowl champion, inked a deal worth just under $107 million with $35 million guaranteed.

Linta pointed out how quickly the market changes from year to year and how the ranking of pay for quarterbacks is cyclical as high-caliber signal callers wait their turn. Signing a five-year contract after being drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft, Flacco will finally get his turn for big money at some point over the next calendar year.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, he is paid as the [fifth-best quarterback] now — he’s only going to be the fifth guy for probably 12 months,” Linta said. “He’ll be leapfrogged by several guys as we go forward, and everybody knows the salary cap is going to go up as years go by. Is it five, is it four? It doesn’t matter. He’s an upper-echelon guy.”

The Ravens find themselves in the unique position of negotiating a long-term deal for a franchise quarterback after never having one prior to Flacco’s arrival in Baltimore. While both sides anticipate remaining amicable in talks, Linta will fight for what he feels his client deserves.

Flacco is set to make $6.76 million in the final year of his contract after reaching escalators for playing time and a postseason win in 2011. The two sides want the same end result, but with Flacco’s scheduled free agency still a year away, neither party will feel the urgency to cave to the other side’s demands.

With that in mind, negotiations could drag into the summer months when the free-agent market has played itself out and the draft is a distant memory.

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bengrubbs

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest offensive needs

Posted on 13 February 2012 by Luke Jones

If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, or so the saying goes.

It’s been three weeks since the Ravens fell a few tenths of a second short — how much longer Lee Evans needed to hold the ball in the end zone — of advancing to Super Bowl XLVI. The organization is now faced with difficult decisions while trying to improve but also acknowledging just how excruciatingly close it came to reaching the pinnacle contest of the NFL.

With free agency set to begin in one month (March 13 at 4:00 p.m.) and the draft just over two months away, the Ravens are evaluating their biggest needs in all three phases of the game. In the first of a three-part series, I offer thoughts on the offensive side of the football and rank the positions of greatest need entering the offseason.

1. Left guard

I’ve tried to think of as many conceivable scenarios as I can for the Ravens to re-sign Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs while not putting their future salary cap space in jeopardy, but I continue to come back to the same theme over and over.

In the modern era, NFL teams simply cannot and do not spent an extraordinary amount of money at the guard position. And after signing Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda to a $32 million contract with $10 million guaranteed, it’s difficult envisioning general manager Ozzie Newsome forking over even more money for Grubbs, especially with quarterback Joe Flacco and cornerback Lardarius Webb set to become free agents following the 2012 season.

Neither the Ravens nor Grubbs have spoken with any level of confidence that the 2007 first-round pick will be back in Baltimore, so a hometown discount appears unlikely. Though Baltimore has retained all but one (2005 selection Mark Clayton) of its first-round picks since 2002, it appears Grubbs will find a new home in 2012.

So, how do the Ravens replace him? The only viable in-house candidate might be 2011 third-round tackle Jah Reid, who practiced at both tackle and guard last season, but his 6-foot-7 frame isn’t ideal inside and he’d be making the transition from the right tackle position.

The draft would figure to be the logical outlet, with a young guard such as Stanford’s David DeCastro or Georgia’s Cordy Glenn potentially available at the end of the first round. However, the Ravens could elect to address other positions of need in the early rounds and roll the dice in finding a competent veteran on the free-agent market.

2. Center

On the surface, the center position would appear to be an urgent need with no veteran currently under contract for 2012, but the Ravens have short-term veteran options in Matt Birk and Andre Gurode.

Birk has yet to decide whether he’ll play in 2012 or retire, but the Ravens could elect to re-sign the five-time Pro Bowl center Gurode, who is three years younger. Regardless of which way the Ravens go, they will need to think about the future at the position with both players close to the end of their respective careers.

Former Ohio State product Justin Boren finished the season on the practice squad and could be a center to groom for 2013 and beyond. Should the Ravens elect to draft a center in April, it likely wouldn’t be until the middle or late rounds unless Wisconsin’s Peter Konz would strike their fancy at the end of the first round.

3. Wide receiver

The receiver position has seemingly showed up on the list every year, but this unit appears to be in better shape than it has in quite some time.

Veteran Anquan Boldin is clearly not a No. 1 receiver at this point in his career, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a better season in 2012 after he played with a partially-torn meniscus for most of 2011. When he returned for the postseason after late-season surgery, Boldin appeared more effective, catching 10 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown in two playoff games.

Torrey Smith figures to only get better with a full offseason to work on his route-running and build a stronger rapport with Flacco. If he can become a bigger threat in the short-to-intermediate passing game, Smith might become the No. 1 receiver the Ravens have lacked since the infancy of the franchise.

The disappointing Evans is under contract for the 2012 season, but it’s hard to envision the Ravens paying the receiver a $1 million roster bonus in March and tolerating his near-$6 million cap number for the upcoming season. He’ll likely be released, with a small chance for a return at a reduced rate.

The Ravens would love a young receiver with height to complement the speedy Smith moving forward, but it’s easier said than done in the pass-happy NFL where every team is looking for big, speedy targets on the outside. A veteran free agent such as Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, or Dwayne Bowe would provide another threat at receiver but would not provide the height the Baltimore receiving group lacks. San Diego wideout Vincent Jackson would be the ideal 6-foot-5 name in free agency, but his price tag will be hefty.

Adding another impact wide receiver might be the only way to truly gauge whether Flacco can take the passing game to the next level, and the Ravens will try their best to do it this offseason.

4. Running back

(see next page)

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suggsandben

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Suggs nabs top defensive award, but quiet finish left sour taste to season

Posted on 04 February 2012 by Luke Jones

Before anyone gets carried away, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs had a tremendous season.

He was recognized for it by winning the 2011 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award.

Suggs was the top player on the league’s third-ranked defense and turned in the best campaign of his nine-year career. His career-high 14 sacks — most in the AFC — and franchise-record and league-leading seven forced fumbles reflected just how well he played during the 2011 season.

Becoming the third Baltimore player to receive the honor in the last 12 seasons — Ray Lewis received the award in 2000 and 2003 while Ed Reed earned the distinction in 2004 — Suggs is certainly appreciative of the recognition for his work in wreaking havoc against opposing quarterbacks.

“I want to thank the Ravens organization, my teammates, my position coach [Ted Monachino], all of our defensive coaches, and most importantly, the city of Baltimore,” Suggs said. “Our fans are the NFL’s best. I’ve always said that I play for our fans, and this honor is a tribute to them. I’m very appreciative of Ravens Nation and their love and support throughout the past nine years.”

His “Ball So Hard University” slogan began as a funny quip in a nationally-televised telecast and quickly transformed into a lucrative merchandising craze not seen in the Charm City since the coining of “Festivus” for the Ravens’ Super Bowl run during the 2000 season. Suggs’ battles with ESPN’s Skip Bayless were entertaining and brought plenty of notoriety for a player who has spent his entire career playing in the shadows of all-time greats Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

The media like his colorful outlook on football and other walks of life, offering quotes that steer away from the all-too-tired cliches that most athletes are coached to use when speaking publicly. All in all, the 29-year-old linebacker is one of the most likable players the Ravens have ever had.

So, why is it that Saturday’s announcement that Suggs was named Defensive Player of the Year felt underwhelming?

Perhaps the NFL’s decision to wait until the night before the Super Bowl to announce honors that had previously been awarded closer to the end of the regular season might have something to do with it. Or, maybe the sting of the Ravens’ crushing 23-20 loss in the AFC championship doesn’t allow for much celebration of personal accolades.

Taking nothing away from his All-Pro season, a closer look still leaves me thinking Suggs was not the most deserving of the NFL’s top defensive honor.

On a pragmatic level, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen finished with a league-leading 22 sacks, eight more than Suggs and just short of the NFL record of 22 1/2 set by Michael Strahan in 2001. Though the Vikings finished with a 3-13 record this season, does the league’s top defensive player have to play for a winning team in the same way critics argue for most valuable player awards?

There’s also the argument of how consistently Suggs’ impact was felt throughout the season. Of his 14 sacks this season, nine came in three games after turning in three-sack showings against Pittsburgh (in the season opener), San Francisco, and Indianapolis. His five remaining sacks were spread over 13 games, suggesting Suggs may have been the league’s supreme defensive player in spurts but not on the consistent basis you’d expect from the award winner.

In comparison, Allen was held without a sack in only three games all season while Suggs was shut out eight times.

In fairness, Suggs has more responsibilities in the Baltimore defense and does not line up as a pass rusher on every single play in the same way that Allen does for Minnesota. A defensive player’s full impact cannot be quantified in terms of numbers when you consider how much an opponent might have to account for premier players such as Suggs and Allen or the likes of Lewis and Reed in the prime, creating opportunities for teammates to make plays.

As the season wound down, teams began using a tight end to chip Suggs at the line of scrimmage, offering an assist to opposing tackles in keeping the pass rusher away from the quarterback. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano responded by occasionally shifting Suggs to the opposite side of the defensive line to match up against the opponent’s right tackle.

But the numbers don’t lie as the Baltimore pass rush floundered down the stretch, with no one picking up the slack for Suggs in the process.

Counting two postseason games, Suggs was held to just one sack over the Ravens’ final 300 minutes of football this season.

There’s no question that Suggs played the best football of his career. He was certainly the best player on a great Baltimore defense and one of the finest defensive players in the entire league.

But the end of his season reflected the conclusion of the Ravens’ successful 2011 campaign.

It left you wanting a little more.

And if that’s too much to ask, perhaps he wasn’t quite worthy of the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Birk named Man of the Year

Ravens center Matt Birk is one of the class acts you’ll find in the NFL, and that was recognized on Saturday night with Birk being named the 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

The award recognizes off-the-field community service as well as excellence on the field, two areas in which Birk has thrived during his 14-year career in Minnesota and Baltimore.

“I am honored and truly humbled to be named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” Birk said. “This award is not about the recipient, but rather a celebration of the decades-long tradition of NFL players using their unique platform to touch lives and make a positive and lasting impact in the communities in which they work and live.”

Birk has not decided whether he will play again next season, but fans should recognize the impact he’s made in his three seasons in Baltimore. Besides simply calling out the signals for the offensive line, the 35-year-old has embraced the community through his Hike Foundation, various reading programs, and other charitable endeavors.

While it isn’t easy for fans to truly know what their favorite players are like off the field, take satisfaction in knowing Birk is one of the best men you’ll encounter in professional sports.

He’d be the first to tell you that numerous players are worthy of the honor he received on Saturday night, but it doesn’t make him any less deserving of the award.

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Ravens C Birk Wins Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award

Posted on 04 February 2012 by WNST Staff

BALTIMORE RAVENS CENTER MATT BIRK NAMED WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR

MATT BIRK of the Baltimore Ravens was named the 2011 WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF THE YEAR, it was announced today.  The award recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence.

The announcement was made during NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special airing nationally on NBC Saturday night.

NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL and JARRETT AND BRITTNEY PAYTON, the late Walter Payton’s children, will honor Birk on-field tomorrow before kickoff of Super Bowl XLVI.

“I am honored and truly humbled to be named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year,” said Birk. “This award is not about the recipient, but rather a celebration of the decades-long tradition of NFL players using their unique platform to touch lives and make a positive and lasting impact in the communities in which they work and live. Walter Payton left a legacy that went beyond the playing field. He continues to be an inspiration and example of what a complete NFL player should aspire to become. I am grateful to have played for two organizations, the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, which encourage and support their players’ community efforts. I have always considered it a privilege to play in the NFL and serve the communities that support our game.”

Birk, who just completed his in 14th NFL season, is the anchor of the Ravens offensive line and an undisputed leader on and off the field. The perennial Pro Bowl center has started 96 consecutive games, the NFL’s second-longest active streak among centers. In 2011, Birk helped pave the way for Ravens running back Ray Rice to score a franchise-record 15 total touchdowns and rush for a career-high 1,364 yards, also leading the league with 2,068 yards from scrimmage.

A family man and father of six with a passion for emphasizing the importance of education, Birk has focused a great deal of his energy on promoting literacy among the youth around him. The Harvard graduate’s “Ready, Set, Read!” program, an initiative of his H.I.K.E. Foundation (hope, inspiration, knowledge and education), reaches close to 100,000 children in the Baltimore area and motivates students to read at home through an incentive-based system. Birk’s work carries well past the many initiatives and successes of his own foundation. He is committed to bettering himself, his team, his community and the world. Birk has agreed to donate his brain and spinal cord tissue to the Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University’s School of Medicine to help assist in researching the effects of repeated head traumas. Birk is an eight-time Man of the Year (seven with the Vikings, one with the Ravens), and was a finalist for the national award in 2008.

Birk joins an esteemed list of winners of the annual award, including 17 Pro Football Hall of Famers.  Recent winners of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award include MADIEU WILLIAMS, then of the Minnesota Vikings (2010), BRIAN WATERS, then of the Kansas City Chiefs (2009), and former Arizona Cardinals quarterback KURT WARNER (2008).

All 32 team nominees for the award receive a $1,000 donation from NFL Charities to the charity of their choice.  The three Man of the Year finalists received an additional $5,000 donation in their name. The selection panel is comprised of NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL, former NFL Commissioner PAUL TAGLIABUE, CONNIE PAYTON, Pro Football Hall of Fame members FRANK GIFFORD and ANTHONY MUÑOZ, Giants great and Executive Director of the NFL Alumni Association GEORGE MARTIN, 2010 winner MADIEU WILLIAMS, and Sports Illustrated football writer PETER KING.

The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will receive the Gladiator statue, an original art creation by the noted sculptor, DANIEL SCHWARTZ.  In addition, the player’s favorite charity will receive a $20,000 donation in his name.

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Veteran center Birk still unclear on football future with Ravens

Posted on 04 February 2012 by Luke Jones

Nearly two weeks after losing in heartbreaking fashion to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship, Ravens center Matt Birk still can’t bring himself to watch a replay of the closing seconds of the game.

However, time heals all wounds in the 35-year-old’s mind. It wasn’t the first time the veteran offensive lineman fell one game short of the Super Bowl after he was a member of the Minnesota Vikings teams that lost conference championship games in 1998 and 2000 — two of Birk’s first three seasons in the NFL.

“You recover,” Birk said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST in Indianapolis on Friday. “I think it’ll be better once the [Super Bowl is] over. Then, everyone can move on.”

However, moving on may hold different meaning for Birk, who still hasn’t decided whether he’ll return for a 15th professional season. He is an unrestricted free agent and may have fallen short in his final chance to reach a Super Bowl when Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard attempt sailed wide left in the final seconds of Baltimore’s 23-20 loss in Foxborough.

Though the offensive line struggled in the postseason against the Texans and Patriots, Birk held up well while making 16 starts after missing the entire preseason due to arthroscopic knee surgery. The Ravens elected to sign five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode as an insurance policy, but Birk was able to play at an effective level throughout the season.

As tempting as a final run at the Super Bowl would be for a man who’s never reached the NFL’s brightest stage, Birk has more on his mind than his health as he contemplates returning for another season. The father of six children — including a baby boy Birk’s wife Adrianna gave birth to back in December — may feel a stronger need to stay home with his family than to bang heads with 300-pound defensive linemen next fall.

“The first thing I’ve got to make sure is what’s best for my family,” said Birk, who plans go on vacation after the Super Bowl. “Then, the second, I [need to] feel if I’m able to play at a level or a standard that’s acceptable.”

Of course, the Ravens must decide if they want to retain Birk’s services or go in a different direction next season. With Pro Bowl left guard Ben Grubbs also set to become an unrestricted free agent, general manager Ozzie Newsome is faced with difficult decisions in trying to improve an offensive line than struggled at times while maintaining the continuity that also helps a unit as years go by.

Even if Birk decides he wants to play one more season, the Ravens could try to re-sign the veteran Gurode — who’s expressed a desire to return to Baltimore — or explore other avenues for younger options at center.

“I will say this: Before we line up and play in 2012, there will be another center on this football team in some capacity – free agency, draft, or whatever,” Newsome said at the Ravens’ end-of-season press conference.

Should the Ravens find another answer at the center position, it’s unclear whether they’d want to retain Birk as a backup to a player who essentially took his job. However, Birk’s professionalism and reputation in the locker room would make him the perfect one-year stopgap if the Ravens draft a center in need of a season to grow before assuming starting duties.

Active in the community with his Hike Foundation and reading programs throughout the Baltimore area, Birk was in Indianapolis this weekend as a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, an honor that recognizes community service as well as excellence on the field. Despite being a Minnesota native and having played the first 11 seasons of his career for his hometown Vikings, Birk has felt a strong bond with the community since joining the Ravens in 2009.

And it’d be difficult to leave so late in his career.

“That’d be tough at this point in my life with six little kids,” Birk said. “It definitely takes its toll. The people we’ve met in Maryland and the love they’ve shown us and the way they welcomed us, it’s been absolutely fantastic. Obviously, if I decide I want to play again, I hope it’s with the Ravens. It is a top-notch organization.”

To hear the entire interview with Matt Birk on radio row at the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, click HERE.

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