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Your Monday Reality Check-A mountain of misinformation

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Your Monday Reality Check-A mountain of misinformation

Posted on 17 June 2012 by Glenn Clark

I honestly still can’t believe some of the things I read/heard/saw last week about Baltimore Ravens OT Bryant McKinnie.

If you missed it, McKinnie was not on the fall last week in Owings Mills during mandatory minicamp at the Under Armour Performance Center. When asked why McKinnie was not practicing, head coach John Harbaugh said “Bryant McKinnie is a guy that we held out just for conditioning purposes. We’re going to probably continue to do that and continue to try and get him in good shape. I think practice-wise, he’s just as well doing the conditioning part of it.”

Let me start this post by saying I fully understand a few things. One is that Harbaugh has never felt the need to share more information than necessary about any of his players. Another is that the information was new to reporters, so asking follow up questions might not have seemed pertinent. I wasn’t present at minicamp (media availability was scheduled during my radio show “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net each day) and was unable to fully grasp exactly what was going on.

With no media availability scheduled before the start of Training Camp, reporters felt it necessary to question Harbaugh later in the week for more information about McKinnie’s status. Unfortunately the coach was again vague, offering “we will leave that between us. That’s something that is an in-house type of thing right now. Bryant has done a good job, he’s worked hard. It’s not as simple as some of you guys want to make it. It’s just a situation where we are going to do what is best for the team, what is best for Bryant. We want him here; there’s no reason he wouldn’t be here. He has worked hard, so you try to do what’s most beneficial for every guy in every situation, and it’s always individualized.”

Now’s the part where I offer some examples of various stories I’ve read about Bryant McKinnie.

Here’s this from SI.com…

“Cut last season by the Vikings, Bryant McKinnie, who sat out Thursday’s practice, may be on the verge of extending an ignominious streak. Here is a player who has a history of being overweight and struggled with the same problem last season. He also reportedly has financial problems, yet can’t get into good enough shape to participate in minicamp. You have to question his commitment and when a team starts signing veteran offensive linemen and McKinnie gets held out of minicamp, it could be a sign of things to come.”

And this from SB Nation…

“The Baltimore Ravens gave veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie a $500,000 roster bonus earlier this spring, but now might be regretting the outlay of cash. McKinnie came to Baltimore after the Minnesota Vikings cut him last summer for reporting to camp overweight. The Ravens rounded him into shape and he had a pretty solid year, allowing the team to shift Michael Oher over to right tackle and solidify that side of the offensive line.

McKinnie reportedly was on his way to getting in good shape earlier this year, but the most recent news was that the team held him out of the mini-camp this past week for “conditioning reasons.” This does not bode well for either the Ravens nor McKinnie.

Bryant is on the short end of a legal case where he defaulted on a $4 million loan he took out during the NFL Lockout last year and seriously needs a full season paycheck to pay it back. If he does not report to the Ravens Training Camp in six weeks in excellent shape, there is a very good chance that the team may decide to cut ties with him and let him go.”

Allow me to be fair again for a second. The SI.com blurb was a clear re-write with no author attached. While SB Nation does have a handful of experienced journalists and columnists, their sites are still largely made up of part-time writers/editors with no actual experience truly covering a team.

So perhaps CSNBaltimore.com’s veteran writer Ray Frager would be a better source.

“Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie’s conditioning issues have been a big part of the Ravens chatter over this week. There is speculation he is around that 400-pound summit that caused him to lose his job in Minnesota.”

Maybe even the Baltimore Sun’s Mike Preston would be a better option.

“The entire McKinnie episode is strange and you wonder if he is going to be around when training camp opens. Here is a player who has a history of being overweight and struggled with the same problem last season.

He also reportedly has financial problems, yet can’t get into good enough shape to participate in minicamp. You have to question his commitment and when a team starts signing veteran offensive linemen and McKinnie gets held out of minicamp, it could be a sign of things to come.”

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Ed Reed no-shows first day of Ravens’ mandatory minicamp

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Ed Reed no-shows first day of Ravens’ mandatory minicamp

Posted on 12 June 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — An unsettling off-season for the future of safety Ed Reed grew more concerning for the Ravens on Tuesday.

Beginning a mandatory three-day minicamp in Owings Mills, the team was without its All-Pro safety as Reed did not appear for the first of the three mandatory days under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. Reed is subject to a fine of up to $63,000 if he skips all three days of the camp, but it is unclear whether the Ravens will follow through with the action.

Coach John Harbaugh briefly addressed the situation, pointing to the terms of the new CBA when asked whether he was concerned with the star safety’s absence.

“I have not communicated with Ed, so I’m not sure what the situation is on that,” Harbaugh said.

Reed has questioned his desire to continue playing while also expressing his preference for a long-term contract. He is slated to make $7.2 million in the final year of his contract this season.

While Reed has not kept in touch with his head coach, linebacker Ray Lewis offered clarity on the situation in revealing he’s been in touch with his longtime teammate. Unsurprisingly, Lewis downplayed the significance of Reed’s absence, insisting the safety is focusing on his family and will report for training camp ready to play their 11th season together in Baltimore.

“These three days won’t take away from what Ed Reed’s focus is,” Lewis said, “and that is to come back and help our defense be the best defense there is in football. I don’t think it’s an issue at all. Not for us.”

Also absent from Tuesday’s workout were left tackle Bryant McKinnie and center Matt Birk. However, their reasons for not being on the practice field were different than Reed’s potential disenchantment.

“Bryant McKinnie is a guy we held out for conditioning purposes,” Harbaugh said. “We’re probably going to continue to do that and try to continue to get him into good shape.”

The Ravens awarded McKinnie a $500,000 bonus earlier this off-season but want to see the veteran shed pounds and get himself in better shape in the final year of his two-year deal signed last August. McKinnie recently said he’d like to be down to 350 pounds by the start of the season and weighed around 365 a month ago.

Birk had a surgical procedure on the varicose veins in his legs, confirming what Harbaugh told media earlier this off-season. The starting center is fully expected to be ready for the starting of training camp.

“Matt Birk had surgery last week on his legs; he’s got those veins,” Harbaugh said. “We tried to get it done earlier. We could not get it done earlier — whatever [the] doctor’s reasons there were. He was not allowed to fly this week, so he wouldn’t have been able to practice anyway.”

Defensive end Pernell McPhee was also missing from the practice field on Tuesday as he recovers from a minor injury. A Scout.com report says McPhee underwent arthroscopic knee surgery a couple weeks ago but will be ready for the start of camp.

Running back Ray Rice (franchise tag) and linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon) were also absent from practice. Wide receivers Tandon Doss (undisclosed) and David Reed (torn ACL) and offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele (undisclosed) and Howard Barbieri (undisclosed) were on the field but not working.

Offensive lineman Jah Reid and cornerback Cary Williams (hip) returned to practice.

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More Questions Than Answers for the Ravens

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More Questions Than Answers for the Ravens

Posted on 25 May 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

#1 – What’s going to happen with Ray Rice?

 Not only has Ray Rice been one of the best pound-for-pound bargains in all of football during his time as a Raven, but unlike many other running backs in similar situations last season Rice played things quiet and trusted that the team would take care of him. Whether or not they do remains to be seen, and whether or not they should is debatable. Running backs come and go quickly in the NFL, but by most accounts Rice has been “special” and is perhaps worth the risk. Either way expect him to play in 2012, but history hasn’t been kind to players who hold out of camp. A bad season for Rice under the franchise tag could be disastrous for him and for the Ravens.

 

#2 – Who’s playing on the offensive line?

 

This question is actually a myriad of different questions. Who fills Ben Grubbs spot at LG? How much does Matt Birk have left in the tank? Can we pencil in Bryant McKinnie at LT? Are Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda still the right side? And where do Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, Gino Gradkowski and Ramon Harewood fit into the picture? The answers to all of these questions could represent the beginning or the end of any offensive hopes the Ravens will have in 2012?

 

#3 – Do they have enough at wide receiver?

 

Torrey Smith was a pleasant surprise last season, but whether he can refine his route running and improve his hands still remain to be seen. He’s now a proven field stretcher but will need to add to his game in order to be a bona fide playmaker. Anquan Boldin was worse than expected last season, but was also injured, He’ll need to be more like the Anquan Boldin of old to lead these Ravens forward on the offensive side of the ball. And beyond those two the questions are even bigger. Is Jacoby Jones a wide out or a just a special teamer? Will Tandon Doss be ready to play in 2012? Who is Tommy Streeter and if he’s any good, how did the Ravens get him so late? Before we start comparing Joe Flacco to the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, let’s make sure he has some weapons that he can rely on.

 

#4 – Are the tight ends good enough?

 

Ed Dickson is big and athletic enough but has struggled with his hands. Dennis Pitta has very good hands but may not be big or athletic enough to impose his will on defenders, as modern tight ends are prone to do. Until one or the other shows marked improvement the Ravens will hesitate to use the middle of the field in the passing game, where coincidentally the best offenses all seem to have fantastic weapons. And who is Lamont Bryant?

 

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Ravens rookie OL Gradkowski looking forward to working with Birk

Posted on 10 May 2012 by WNST Audio

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve already gotten about a hundred messages via email/Facebook/Twitter/text/Pony Express that said something along the lines of “well Glenn, you got what you wanted.”

To at least an extent, the people sending those messages have been right. After pounding on the desk of the studio at 1550 Hart Rd. in Towson for months (if not years), the Baltimore Ravens acquired a size receiver in the NFL Draft.

In the 6th round of the Draft, the Ravens selected Tommy Streeter, a 6’5″ wide receiver from the University of Miami. Combined with impressive speed (Streeter posted an impressive 4.40 forty time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis), Streeter seemingly adds a more unique dynamic to Cam Cameron’s offense in 2012. Streeter’s size presents an immediate matchup problem in the red zone (and specifically in the end zone) that the team simply didn’t have in their receiving corps in 2011.

Well…mostly anyway.

You see, the Ravens actually DID briefly have a receiver like that in 2011. If you’ll remember, the Ravens acquired former Buffalo Bills WR James Hardy late in the 2010 season in hopes he could make the team out of Training Camp. Nagging injury issues and a lockout later, Hardy couldn’t crack the 53 and the lack of a size receiver played a role in the Ravens finishing 18th in the NFL in red zone offense.

So Streeter solves all of those problems, right? Right?

As I was also quick to point out, simply being tall wasn’t the only desirable attribute in a new Ravens receiver. Clarence Moore was tall. Randy Hymes was tall. Even Marc Lester was tall. The Ravens not only needed a tall receiver, they needed a receiver who could catch the ball and become a consistent threat in a National Football League offense.

While I liked the team’s decision to draft Streeter, I will admit that I don’t believe the Ravens (and 31 other teams) passed on him for five and a half rounds because they were TOO worried about how good he was. There have been questions about Streeter’s hands, as well as his overall ability to develop into a consistent standout receiver. Those questions may or may not be fair, as the former Hurricanes star could show 31 teams they made a mistake in the coming seasons or they could show one particular team they made the wrong decision to take him even as late as the sixth round.

I guess that’s basically the entire point of this week’s column. After the NFL Draft, analysts attempt to identify “winners” and “losers” from three days of selecting players. Some of these players will go on to outstanding pro careers, others will leave little in the way of a legacy at the NFL level and others still will never play in even a single NFL game.

So do I think the Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft? Yeah…I guess. I guess the Baltimore Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft.

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Ravens select Delaware center Gino Gradkowski with 98th overall pick

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Ravens select Delaware center Gino Gradkowski with 98th overall pick

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Needing to address the center position with veteran Matt Birk not getting any younger, the Ravens wasted no time on the third day of the draft by selecting Delaware’s Gino Gradkowski with the third pick of the fourth round.

Able to play both center and guard, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Gradkowski will compete for the vacant left guard job as well as continue to develop at the center position. The younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, the Blue Hens product joins quarterback Joe Flacco in Baltimore.

“It’s a perfect spot for me,” Gradkowski said. “Come in and maybe play guard my first year and eventually take over at center, and that’s what I was looking to do. Get in behind a veteran like Matt Birk. I’m really excited to meet him and pick his brain about football. It’s a perfect scenario, and I just couldn’t be happier.”

Gradkowski was the second center taken off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft after Wisconsin’s Peter Konz was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the third round. The Houston Texans took the third center off the board with the pick immediately following the Ravens, grabbing George center Ben Jones with the 99th overall pick.

The Ravens showed plenty of interest in Gradkowski throughout the draft process as he reportedly made a pre-draft visit to Baltimore.

“I’m elated right now because Baltimore plays football the way it’s supposed to be played,’ Gradkowski said.

The Gradkowski pick at 98th overall was made possible by general manager Ozzie Newsome’s decision to trade the Ravens’ first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for the third pick of the second round (35th overall) and the third pick of the fourth round, where Baltimore grabbed the center.

A Pittsburgh native, Gradkowski began his collegiate career at West Virginia before transferring to FCS school Delaware due to a lack of playing time with the Mountaineers. He was a co-captain for the Blue Hens in his senior season.

Though he transferred to Delaware after Flacco was already taking snaps in Baltimore, Gradkowski is looking forward to potentially forming an all-Blue Hens quarterback-center combination in the future.

“I have heard a lot of great things about him, and I am excited to meet him,” Gradkowski said. “I feel like, from the things I have heard, we are very similar personality wise.”

Listen to Gradkowski’s conference call with the Baltimore media here.

 

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Harbaugh envisions Kruger at outside linebacker for Ravens

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Harbaugh envisions Kruger at outside linebacker for Ravens

Posted on 27 March 2012 by Luke Jones

After longtime linebacker Jarret Johnson signed a four-year contract with the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, the Ravens began the process of finding his replacement at the strong-side linebacker position.

Pass rush specialist Paul Kruger is the consensus choice among options currently on the roster, and coach John Harbaugh confirmed that notion at the NFL owners’ meetings in Florida on Tuesday. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Kruger struggled to find a role on the defense in his first two seasons before becoming a regular contributor in passing situations last season.

“I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the ‘Sam’ linebacker job,” Harbaugh said. “I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost [Johnson], I went back and watched all of Paul’s tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we’d be comfortable with him in there. He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well.”

The 26-year-old Utah product collected 5 1/2 sacks while playing in all 16 games last season after struggling to simply avoid the inactive list in his first two seasons. Kruger had only one sack and five tackles over 20 games in 2009 and 2010 as the coaching staff evaluated whether he was better suited for defensive end or linebacker.

He and rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee became mainstays of the defensive line on third down last season as the pair combined for 11 1/2 of the Ravens’ 48 sacks. Now, new defensive coordinator Dean Pees will take a long look at Kruger as the replacement to the run-stopping, blue-collar Johnson, who started every game at strong-side linebacker over the last five seasons.

“Obviously, he’s a very good pass rusher,” Harbaugh said. “I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it.”

Kruger’s ability to play the run and to drop in pass coverage remains a mystery after limited opportunities in his first three professional seasons. The Ravens will look hard at the draft if a prospect such as Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw or North Carolina’s Zach Brown is available early, but with other positions to address and limited cap space to potentially add another veteran linebacker, Kruger may find himself in position to be the starter when the preseason begins.

“He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it’s been done for the Ravens,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you want out of one of your players.”

Of course, Harbaugh’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt when you remember we’re four months away from the start of training camp. The coach is clearly going to show as much faith as he can in players currently on the roster without dwelling too much on hypothetical additions down the road.

The other player mentioned by some as a potential candidate to replace Johnson is 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle, but Harbaugh didn’t exactly speak about him in the same encouraging terms as he did with Kruger. Active for only two games last season, Kindle more closely resembles a player fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster than a viable starting option after the slow recovery he endured from a fractured skull just days before the start of the 2010 training camp.

While it’s true that Kindle has never had the benefit of a full offseason program at the team’s Owings Mills facility, it’s clear he has plenty of work to do before the Ravens can afford to keep him on the roster for a second straight season.

“If he comes back and becomes a player in the NFL, it’s going to be an unparalleled accomplishment,” Harbaugh said. “You know what? We think it can happen, and we’re going to know by the end of training camp.”

Cundiff competition

Ever since kicker Billy Cundiff missed a last-second 32-yard field goal that would have sent the AFC Championship game into overtime, fans and media alike have pondered how the Ravens should handle the kicker position next season.

As he did when he spoke to WNST.net at the NFL Combine last month, Harbaugh reiterated that he fully expects Cundiff to handle kicking duties again this fall. However, the Ravens are looking to create some competition for the incumbent kicker in the preseason.

Whether the Ravens choose to add a veteran or sign a rookie following the draft, Harbaugh sees no reason why they shouldn’t explore every avenue to get better — while clearly maintaining faith in the 2010 Pro Bowl selection.

“I say that so I’m not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker,” Harbaugh said. “I would anticipate Billy [being] our kicker for the opening game of the season. I think he’ll have a great preseason. I think he’ll have a great season next year, but everybody gets competition and he’s no exception.”

Running without Rice?

Continue >>>

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Plenty of work remains, but Friday’s activity a modest step forward for Ravens

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Plenty of work remains, but Friday’s activity a modest step forward for Ravens

Posted on 23 March 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The first 10 days of free agency had been anything but smooth for the Ravens, even if it was expected by anyone paying attention.

With limited salary cap room and 12 unrestricted free agents becoming available, coach John Harbaugh knew there would be difficult decisions to make, including waving goodbye to veterans Ben Grubbs, Jarret Johnson, Corey Redding, Haruki Nakamura, and Tom Zbikowski. Even when the Ravens targeted a potential outsider to help fill one of those voids — such as their flirtation with Eagles guard Evan Mathis — they found themselves without sufficient funds to close the deal.

Other than the re-signing of veteran center Matt Birk last week, the lack of activity was causing some restless nights among the fan base. But with the second week of free agency nearing its conclusion, this is typically when general manager Ozzie Newsome begins hunting for the best value.

Newsome and the Ravens apparently found it on Friday, re-signing linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo and inking former Bears cornerback Corey Graham and veteran safety Sean Considine to contracts.

“[Waiting] probably wasn’t as hard for me as it was for the fans, because I had a little bit more of a front seat into what we were doing and those conversations are happening every day,” Harbaugh said. “We were involved with guys all the time, but we had our limits as to what we were going to be able to pay certain players.”

While none of the four moves should be labeled as significant splashes, the retaining of McClain allows the Ravens to cross off inside linebacker as one of their most pressing needs this offseason. Though not an elite player, McClain acquitted himself nicely in the absence of fellow inside linebacker Ray Lewis for four games last season.

The 26-year-old repeatedly stated his preference to remain with the organization that took a chance on him as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008, but many expected McClain to find a new home somewhere else once he hit the open market on March 13.

“There’s always that possibility, because this game is unpredictable,” McClain said. “We never know what’s going to happen at the end of the day. But in the back of my heart, I always knew that Baltimore was home.”

With a deep group of available inside linebackers and a slow pace to the market, McClain’s only visit came with the Denver Broncos, who eventually re-signed inside linebacker Joe Mays. Those circumstances led to increased optimism that the Ravens would be able to keep McClain in Baltimore, which became reality on Friday afternoon.

“I probably wasn’t real confident early on because we just know what kind of a player he is,” Harbaugh said. “I think you guys have seen him. Our fans know how good of a player he is. For whatever reason, the inside backer market just didn’t really go crazy.”

McClain represents a rock-solid starting option next to Lewis and quells concerns at the position, but the Ravens will still look to address the inside linebacker position in April’s draft with an eventual replacement for Lewis in mind. Pass coverage still remains an issue, but the re-signing of Ayanbadejo does give the Ravens another option in the nickel package.

Friday also represented an encouraging day for the Ravens’ special teams with two Pro Bowl selections secured for a unit that finished 30th in the NFL in 2011, according to FootballOutsiders.com. The returning Ayanbadejo as well as Graham and Considine will try to help the Ravens improve on their 31st-ranked kickoff coverage and 24th-ranked punt coverage last season.

Of the three signings, Graham represents the most intriguing upside. Regarded as one of the best gunners in the league, he will start on all special teams units and be a focal point for which other teams will have to game-plan. Though clearly behind Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and Jimmy Smith, Graham does have secondary experience in addition to his special teams prowess.

“He’s kind of a guy like me who you’re going to have to scheme against him and double-team him and come up with ways to stop him,” Ayanabadejo said about his former Chicago teammate. “And anytime you double-team one guy, that’s going to leave someone else open.”

While Friday can be regarded as a modest sigh of relief for the Ravens and their fans, plenty of holes remain with the draft nearly a month away. Identifying starting replacements for Grubbs at left guard and Johnson at outside linebacker are still the top priorities. After that, the Ravens will look to address the third receiver spot as well as to try to find a viable return specialist.

The four signings eat away most of the near-$5 million in cap room the Ravens held entering the day, meaning they will likely need to sit tight until the draft and reassess the roster and the open market after selections have been made.

Yes, Friday represented a satisfying move in the right direction, but it will likely put the Ravens back in the familiar position of waiting.

With plenty of work still to do between now and the start of the season.

Hear interviews with John Harbaugh, Jameel McClain, and Corey Graham in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault right here.

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Ravens bolster special teams by re-signing Ayanbadejo to three-year deal

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Ravens bolster special teams by re-signing Ayanbadejo to three-year deal

Posted on 23 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Using the second Friday of the free-agent signing period to strengthen their special teams, the Ravens have re-signed linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.

The three-time Pro Bowl special teams standout will remain in Baltimore on a three-year contract, according to Pro Football Talk. Ayanbadejo has spent the last four seasons with the Ravens, playing an active role in the special teams units as well as providing depth at the linebacker position.

After spending three years with the Chicago Bears, the 35-year-old has seen an increased role defensively in Baltimore in the defense’s nickel package and was regarded as one of the Ravens’ best pass-coverage linebackers. Ayanbadejo becomes the second unrestricted free agent to stay with the Ravens after veteran center Matt Birk signed a new three-year deal last week.

Ayanbadejo ranked second on the team with nine special teams tackles and also recovered a fumble. Defensively, he finished with 27 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, and two pass breakups.

Earlier in the day, the Ravens agreed to a two-year deal with former Bears cornerback Corey Graham, who was selected to the 2011 Pro Bowl as a special teams standout for Chicago.

Prior to the signings of Ayanbadejo and Graham, the Ravens were projected to have just under $5 million in salary cap room.

 

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Ravens’ free-agent target Ginn elects to stay in San Francisco

Posted on 22 March 2012 by Luke Jones

Addressing the return game is a clear objective of the offseason, but the Ravens won’t be enlisting the services of former first-round pick Ted Ginn Jr. to do it.

After visiting with the Ravens last week, the return specialist has elected to remain with the 49ers on a one-year contract. Ginn has played in San Francisco the last two seasons after spending the first three years of his career with the Miami Dolphins.

Ginn is one of the better kick returners in the league — producing six career return touchdowns — but the Ravens are also looking for a No. 3 receiver to replace veteran Lee Evans. The 26-year-old caught only 19 passes for 220 yards this past season and has six career touchdown receptions in his five-year career.

Deep into the second week of free agency, the Ravens have only re-signed veteran center Matt Birk while losing five unrestricted free agents to other teams. Baltimore has roughly $5 million in salary cap room despite needing to address number of positions this offseason.

 

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