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Ravens and their “Cap” might not fit Ray’s head now

Posted on 04 March 2009 by Drew Forrester

As Silent-Ray (Day 6) rolls on, the Ravens are moving about the business of trying to find players, draft players and prepare for the 2009 team.  That would be with — or without — Ray Lewis.

The Ravens are still banking on the fact that no one else in the league wants Ray Lewis at the rate they’re willing to pay him in Baltimore.  They might be right.  They probably ARE right, in fact.

Remember, though, as I’ve said all along during this process, it only takes one team to screw it up for the Ravens.  It could be ANY team in the league throwing Ray a cash-bone.  That wouldn’t mean Ray would go play in Detroit, for example, but any offer that rivals or trumps the one in Baltimore would be a problem for the Ravens when you look at their cap situation, which I’ve chronicled below.

And if you’re sitting there right now saying, “no team in the league is going to pay for a 34-year old linebacker in the late November of his career,” might I remind you – gently – that the Minnesota Vikings could have been thinking that on Tuesday about their free-agent, soon-to-be-33-year old center, Matt Birk.  The only problem with that thought?  Birk’s in Baltimore and the Ravens might be the “one team” willing to pay him as much or more than the Vikings.

I can hear them now in Minnesota:  “It only takes one team.”  Followed by: “Yeah, but no one in the league wants an 11-year veteran center who still thinks he’s worth a lot of money.”

Tell that to Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta.

Ray’s still holding out hope he can find that “one team” to upset the apple cart.  I’m fairly certain he’s trying to do that today, in fact, in concert with his agent, David Dunn.

Now, on to the other major issue facing the Ravens:  The salary cap.

As I wrote last week – and fielded a bunch of “expert” criticism from folks who thought my numbers were wrong (they weren’t) – the Ravens are running short on salary cap dough.

After last week’s signing of Domonique Foxworth, and the restricted free agent tenders to Landry, Koch and Williams, Baltimore’s available cap space is now a hair over $10 million for the 2009 season.  And, yes, before you ask — that INCLUDES the additional $4 million given to all the teams last week.

With roughly $10.1 million remaining to be spent, what do the Ravens do?

They can still part company with Samari Rolle and save themselves about $2 million in ’09.  They wouldn’t have to pay him the $4.1 million they owe him but there’d be a couple million in “dead money” to deal with on the ’09 cap.

Rolle spoke out last weekend about “wanting his release” from the club.  Based on every nickel counting at this point – cap wise – that might not be a bad thing.  No one else on the club is really expendable, cap-wise, without major dead-money weight to deal with in ’09 and ’10.  Willie Anderson would save them about $3 million and some change if they axe him, but the Ravens were extremely pleased with him last season and probably aren’t interested in moving him on at this point.

If you don’t think future “dead money” is something to concern yourself with, remember that this year’s cap – 2009 – features nearly $12 million in dead-money, courtesy of bonus monies paid out to Ogden, McNair and McAlister in previous years.

Back to the original question:  What are the Ravens going to do with this $10 million they have left to spend?

It appears as if the Ravens will need about $3.5 million to spend on their ’09 college draft picks.

That leaves roughly $6.5 million to spend on “players”, aka free-agents.

News item:  I’m not sure who in Baltimore first floated this mysterious $17 million guarantee/$24 million offer for Ray Lewis, but I don’t think it’s accurate.  It can’t be.  Unless the Ravens are just going to give Ray the remaining $6.5 million for 2009, somehow.  I haven’t had this confirmed by anyone in Owings Mills yet, but I’m willing to bet the Ravens’ original offer of $12mm up front and $18 million total is still their working number.  I’ll report back if I have that confirmed…or, if I’m wrong, even.

$6.5 million left to spend, give or take a hundred grand or two.  Matt Birk might eat up 75% of that today.

Where, then, would that leave Ray?  Is that original Ravens’ offer still on the table?  The Ravens are telling me “yes, absolutely.”  In fact, if history serves me correctly, I think the only offer the Ravens ever removed from the table was when Gary Baxter jerked them around four years ago and they just said, “Enough is enough…we’re haggling with a dude who is basically an average player at best.”  And, of course, off Baxter went to Cleveland for big money…but he never even approached “average” in a Browns uniform.  He was terrible there and the Ravens, it turned out, were right on that one.

Ray Lewis wants his money.  The Ravens are running out of it.

$6.5 million to spend.

It’s not a lot of cash.

Not in the NFL, at least.

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Hard to admit: Maybe Ray was right…

Posted on 01 March 2009 by Drew Forrester

I can’t believe I’m going to say this but maybe, MAYBE, Ray Lewis had it right all along.

During Super Bowl week, Lewis was commenting on his future, his free agency and the issues surrounding his possible return to Baltimore – and he said, “What I’m thinking is nobody’s business.  Where I’m going is nobody’s business.  What I think about the situation is nobody’s business.”

I’ve said from the outset – after hearing him talk with Nestor and I (check out the WNSTv vids for yourself) and watching his interviews on NFL Network – that Ray was going about it all wrong.  Here’s the blog I wrote that covered those “early thoughts” of mine.

I said (and wrote) that stuff because I assumed Ray wanted to curry favor with the hometown faithful and, more importantly, to squarely put the heat on the Ravens in the re-sign Ray episode.

Instead, Ray has created tension with the fanbase and the Ravens are still sitting pretty…or, as pretty as a team can sit after losing out on two of their best three free agents.

So, on the whole, I’m still claiming that Ray went about all of this wrong.

However – and if this looks like I’m defending Ray, I guess I am:

Ray might have actually been right all along.

His situation and the negotiations aren’t “our” business.  Ozzie Newsome utilizes a similar philosophy. When’s the last time Ozzie commented on a specific negotiation while it was ongoing?  Rarely, if ever, will “Oz” make a statement or comment unless he’s just offering a generality like, “we’re in negotiations” or “we always have an interest in signing players who can help our football team.”

Ray should have taken a page out of Ozzie’s book and just not said anything.

Everything he’s said over the month has been scrutinized, poured over and broken down like a CSI show. When he speaks, people say, “Ray should just shut up.”  When he doesn’t speak, people say, “Ray should be going public and defending himself.”  When he finally steps forward and elaborates on the issues surrounding his contract situation, folks respond with: “Now he’s just trying to cover his tracks.”

The guy can’t win no matter what he says – or doesn’t say.

I said from the beginning Ray was doing it wrong by not speaking out.  Ray claimed it wasn’t anyone’s business what he was thinking — therefore, saying nothing was, essentially, an indication he was adhering to that philosophy.

It’s just a shame he didn’t follow that philosophy, I guess.

It really ISN’T anyone’s business what Ray Lewis is thinking.  He’s done more than enough to justify his career in Charm City.  He owes nothing to no one.  Likewise, the team – although they’d be better off keeping him than letting him get away – doesn’t really owe him anything either.  They’ve both done right by one another.

It really ISN’T anyone’s business if Ray Lewis wants to pull the curtains on his career in Baltimore and escape for a 3-year bank heist with the (insert team here).  As we just saw with Bart Scott and Jason Brown, you can’t pay the BGE bill with good looks.  They both bolted for a better life and they’re not getting a lot of grief for doing so.  Nor should they.

And, finally, while Ray’s legacy in Baltimore might be important to US – or the team – it just might not be that important to Ray.  In 52’s mind, maybe this has been nothing more than a 13-year vacation of sorts. As all of us know, no matter how much fun you have on vacation, they all come to an end.  Perhaps it was always Ray’s intention to play in the NFL and then retire in Somewhereville, Florida, basking in the glow of the warm sun AND a Hall of Fame football career for the second half of his life.

The first-half chapter, though, looks like it’s going to take an ugly turn in Baltimore no matter what happens with Ray’s contract.  If he signs in Baltimore, the faithful will criticize the Ravens for “caving in”.  If he goes elsewhere, the faithful will whisk him out the same way they did with Eddie Murray some 20-odd years ago…with little regard for what he did and a bunch of broom marks on his rear end.

Far be it for a guy in the media who NEEDS athletes to talk to admit it might have been better if the athlete didn’t speak, but Ray might have been right.

He probably shouldn’t have said a word.

To anyone.

He probably shouldn’t have talked to Deion and Jamie Dukes on the NFL Network.

He probably shouldn’t have talked to WNST.

He DEFINITELY shouldn’t have talked to DeMarcus Ware, if he did.

Who knows if he did?  Why should we believe DeMarcus Ware?  I don’t know him from Adam.

For all we know, Ray Lewis never had a conversation with DeMarcus Ware.

Or, they might have had dinner in Dallas last summer.

Who knows?

Because Ray has a history of being evasive, particularly when things AREN’T going well, it’s tough to gauge the validity of ANY story that comes out about him.

Sometimes, it’s even tough to believe Ray when he DOES author the quote or story.

Did Ray really tell “a friend” he was DONE in Baltimore?  Was that friend Rod Woodson? Or Deion Sanders?

Who knows – and – who knows…?

It’s been one snafu after another in this “campaign” that’s been produced and directed by Ray Lewis.

His agent, or the person responsible for guiding him along in this process, should give back his paycheck on this one.

And Ray, for all the mistakes he’s made over the last month, probably had it right from the very beginning.

He would have been FAR, FAR better to just maintain that “it’s nobody’s business” line all the way through.

He should have said that to Deion, Rod, Jamie, DeMarcus and anyone else who asked him the big question.

“It’s none of your business.”

When you can’t figure out how to say it the right way, I think that’s the best way to avoid having to talk about it.

In Ray’s case, hindsight being what it is, he would have been better off not talking about it at all.

The fans wouldn’t have understood, but they’re not understanding THIS approach by Ray, either.

Neither are the Ravens, I assume.

No one is, in fact.

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Ward Cleaver would have moved to New York too

Posted on 28 February 2009 by Drew Forrester

Welcome to life in the NFL. 

Or, as one Ravens associate said to me on Friday, “Welcome to the traveling circus.”

On day one of free agency, players scooted around the country like an author on a book signing tour.

There was action just about everywhere:  Tampa Bay.  Baltimore.  New York.  Denver.  St. Louis.  

Do you know what it all means?  Football players just want to play football.  The color of the jersey only matters to the fans.  Purple looks a lot like green.  Or Red.  Different helmets?  Yes.  Football the same size?  Yes.  

As I get older – and maybe (some might argue differently), a little wiser – I’m starting to see this whole thing for what it really is to the players:  A job.

It’s a JOB “playing” football.  But, it’s a job.  It was a JOB to Jason Brown yesterday.  It was a JOB to Bart Scott yesterday.  It was a JOB to Kellen Winslow, Jr.  He just happened to get transferred to a new home office, that’s all.

I don’t begrudge Ray Lewis for treating like it a “job” anymore than I didn’t hold it against Mike Mussina when he opted out of the baseball-hell-hole-that-was-going-to-be-Baltimore and took more money to “transfer” to New York.  

I DO begrudge Ray for not saying the right things last month…for not, at least, humoring us with at least one, “of course I want to finish my career in Baltimore…” line.  But that has nothing to do with Ray’s desire to be treated fairly by his employer.  Don’t we all expect the same thing from OUR boss?

In the end, though, what Bart Scott did yesterday is the same thing Ward Cleaver would have done in 1960 had some other vacuum sales company offered him $11,000 – a $2,400 raise – to move Beaver and Wally and June 1,500 miles across country.  

You can beat up Ozzie Newsome all you want and say he’s having “an off-year” (as some are saying) and you can chastise the players for being money-grubbing skunks (as some are saying) and you can play armchair GM and say, “I wouldn’t give these guys that kind of money” (and your team wouldn’t win any games).

In the end, there’s a $127 million limit on player salaries and your role, as the guy running the team, is to fit 53 players into $127 million.  There’s no rule – and no WAY – that says you have to fit 53 REALLY GOOD players into $127 million.  53 into $127 million.  

That means, occasionally, some guys who used to be a good fit in your 53/127 formula are no longer comfortably wedged in there when they want (and, perhaps, deserve) the Ward Cleaver pay raise.  

It’s life in the NFL.

We can all get worked up about it, but it’s just reality.  

The fan’s option, of course, is to not buy the tickets anymore.

If you’re that distressed about it, sell your seats and do something else on Sunday afternoons.

If you understand, though, that it’s just a JOB to these guys, you’ll be able to deal with it much better, I think.

I’m getting older and wiser.  I don’t like the “older” part.  I can handle “the wiser”, though.

Bart Scott was transferred to a new branch yesterday.

So was Jason Brown.

And, fortunately for us in Baltimore, Domonique Foxworth took a better job on Friday as well.

If those three were vacuum sales professionals, they would have done the same thing they did yesterday.

They would have moved on to a better life.

Ward Cleaver would have done it too.

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Don’t believe what you read: The Ravens DO want Jason Brown…still.

Posted on 27 February 2009 by Drew Forrester

As soon as I heard the “we don’t have plans for Jason Brown” quote yesterday, I scratched my head and thought to myself, “why would Ozzie tell Jason Brown’s agent something like that?”

Answer:  He didn’t.

I suspected such…and then contacted a couple of Ravens sources on Thursday and both of them echoed the same thought.  “Why would Ozzie tell Jason Brown he doesn’t fit into our plans when we’ve been telling him all along that we want him back in Baltimore?”

That’s how I looked at it too.

Why, on the eve of free agency, would the Ravens aggravate Brown and his agent by telling them, essentially, “we’ve been fibbing to you for the last month and not negotiating in good faith with you.” (???)

It didn’t make sense yesterday and it doesn’t make sense today.

I’m not sure what Brown’s agent THOUGHT he heard from Ozzie and I’m not sure what he then translated to Jason thereafter, but I’m hearing from a source that it went something like this:

Ozzie (on Wednesday): “That’s our offer.  If you want to make it happen at those numbers, we can get this done now.  If you’re not willing to move off of your figure, you should probably just go ahead and test the market on Friday.”

That does NOT mean “you’re not in our plans”. 

It means, “We can’t agree on a contract right now and we’ll just agree on that…and you can go ahead and test the market on Friday.  If you get an offer from another team and would like to bring it back to us, we’ll gladly look at it.  If you get an offer from another team and you want to sign it, we understand and we’ll miss you.”

That’s business in the NFL.

Jason Brown might very well sign somewhere else today.  I almost expect it.

But, when he does, it will be because he got a better deal somewhere else.

The Ravens still want him as part of their franchise.

At their price.

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Ray-Week, Day 3 – “Money too tight to mention?”

Posted on 25 February 2009 by Drew Forrester

Hang in there gang, we’re almost to Friday.

That’s when the fireworks REALLY begin.

Beginning this Friday, if Ray Lewis really does reach 12:01am without a signed contract in Baltimore, he’ll hit free agency for the first time in his career.

I assume, by the time I make it to the air at 6:07 for a Friday morning edition of the wildly popular “Comcast Morning Show”, Ray will already be in the news somehow, someway.  Even if no team makes him a bonafide offer in the wee hours of the morning, I’m quite certain someone from his camp will float one out there.

Yesterday, reports circulated that Ray was offered a significant amount of money from the Ravens on Tuesday.  

The only issue with that?  The Ravens might not have “significant money” available to them at this point. 

Why let that important fact get in the way, though, right?

Last August when the Ravens rebuffed Ray’s counter-offer of $20 million, they might have known then that they’d be tight-against-the-cap in February/March of 2009.  

They’re not able to be free spenders this off-season.  They’ve already shelled out $10,170,000 to Terrell Suggs.  They’ve handed over a little more than $1.5 million to defensive lineman Brandon McKinney and a million bucks to Dwan Edwards for 2009.

The Ravens have roughly $123 million to play with (cap-wise) in 2009.  Right now, they’re closing in on $113 million, by my estimation, give a million or so either way.  

If, in fact, they’re $10 million to the good under the cap, what do they do with it?

I know what they CAN’T do with $10 million.  Sign Ray, Bart, Jason and Jim.  In fact, with $10 million, it’s likely they can’t even sign TWO of those guys, unless it’s Leonhard and Brown, the most likely combination that could be pulled for $10 million in cap expense for 2009.

OK, then, who goes in order to make more room under the cap, if that’s even necessary?

And, remember, you can’t be over the salary cap after this Friday at 12:00 am.  In other words, by Thursday at 11:59pm, you need to be under the cap and STAY under the cap throughout 2009.  

So, between now and Friday, the Ravens would have to part company with some significant players – and salaries – in order to fit a few of the “most-wanted” into the 2009 scheme.

Who goes, then?

Trevor Pryce ($1.75 million saved if released before 6/1)?  Samari Rolle ($4.1 million)?  Is it right to release Kelly Gregg after he spent ’08 on the injured list ($1.1 million)?  Frank Walker ($1.6 million) could be expendable but with CMac’s departure, every veteran defensive back could be valuable in ’09.

That eight million sure would help.

Where’s the defensive end pass rush going to come from in ’09?  There’s no Trevor Pryce waiting in the wings, with all due respect to Marques Douglas.

And, with the departure of Chris McAlister, the Ravens are already somewhat hamstrung experience-wise in the defensive backfield.  Losing Rolle wouldn’t HELP the situation back there, that’s for sure.

But, that $8 million would sure help.  

Or, do the Ravens just go ahead and sign Jason Brown, and Jim Leonhard and squeeze the two signings into the roughly-$10 million they have to left to play with?  They could probably get Brown for a $7 million signing bonus over four years and another $2.5 million per-year…and Leonhard would cost them roughly $1.5 million a year for three years.  In other words, they could sneak those two in for ’09 and fit them under the $10 million they have left.  Keep in mind, too, my numbers are more rounded off than they probably should be…the Ravens might be working with $8,882,019 dollars for all I know. In other words, every dollar counts.  

By the way, the Ravens need $5 million or so to sign their draft picks.  Anyone know how they’re going to do that?  Yeah, me neither.

Keep in mind, the Ravens haven’t even perused the free agent list yet to see who might be available on Friday morning.  And they have their own contributors hanging out there as well:  Matt Stover is wondering if he’s coming back – and getting paid.  Same for Dan Wilcox.  And Kyle Boller.  Let’s take a truth-pill here.  As hard as it is to swallow, if there’s no money for Jason Brown and Bart Scott (not to mention Ray Lewis), there’s certainly no money for Stover, Wilcox and Boller.    

It’s all coming clear now:  Unless Ozzie and DeCosta make some dramatic moves over the next 72 hours, they aren’t going to have enough money for their own players, let alone guys parading around the league for a new deal.  

I’m glad I’m not making the decision(s).

And, it’s not Fantasy Football either.

Most fans just say, “Give Ray and Bart the money and get it over with already, would ya?”

It’s just not that easy.

Sports is weird.  

The Orioles have gobs of money to spend and don’t want to spend it.

The Ravens would love to have an unlimited amount to spend, but they can’t.

It sure is fun to talk about, though.

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Is the sun setting on Ray’s purple career?

Posted on 17 February 2009 by Drew Forrester

The first public volley in the “Ray Lewis Battle” was fired by the Ravens this afternoon.

But, it didn’t involve #52.

The initial blow to Ray’s hopes of landing one more mega-millions lottery ticket from the Ravens comes in the form of an announcement that the club will place the franchise tag on Terrell Suggs for the 2009 season if he doesn’t sign a new contract by February 19 (Thursday).

The tag will cost the Ravens $10,170,000 for another season of Suggs’ services.

Look at it like this:  That’s $10 million-plus that Ray WON’T be getting.

It’s not a huge shock that the Ravens are franchising Suggs again.

I remarked on today’s edition of The Comcast Morning Show that the secret-blackboard in Ozzie’s office has Suggs as the team’s #1 off-season priority, followed by Ray Lewis at #2.

It’s not such a secret anymore, is it?

The Ravens decided today that the player they can least afford to lose is NOT the franchise player, Ray Lewis, but the franchise-tag-designee, Terrell Suggs.

I can’t argue with them on this one, either.

Suggs is a beast.  He’s 26.  He has a lot of good football left in his shoes.  “Sizzle” is in the June of his career calendar.  Ray’s career calendar says, “Thanksgiving is next week, here are some tips on how to cook a great turkey.”

There is a chance, of course, that Newsome could construct and sign-off on a new contract with Suggs in the next 48 hours and avoid the $10,170,000 price tag that goes with the franchise designation.

Perhaps Suggs won’t cost the Ravens over $10 million in ’09.  Maybe he’ll cost a million or two less.

There’s certainly a chance they can still sign Ray Lewis.  I’m sure from the beginning the Ravens were hoping to have both #55 and #52 on the sidelines in purple for ’09 and beyond.

Today, they made it clear they’re going to get one of them.

Today, they also made it clear that Ray’s value to the team might not be as high as Ray thinks it is.

After all, they were NOT willing to let Suggs test the free agent market.

The first shot has been fired.

Stick around, there’s plenty more where that came from.

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Ravens release Chris McAlister this afternoon

Posted on 16 February 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

As has been suspected, reported and speculated, the Chris McAlister era in Baltimore has come to an end. ProFootballTalk.com first reported that McAlister will be released. His $8 million base salary was too much for Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh to stomach. His antics at the team’s hotel in Miami were legendary and it was no secret that Harbaugh thought the team was better off without him. And, of course, the team came four minutes away from going to the Super Bowl without him.

Newsome met with McAlister earlier today in Owings Mills and told him that he would be released.

Here is the Ravens’ official press release:

Feb. 16, 2009

For Immediate Release


The Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of CB Chris McAlister this afternoon, it was announced by Ozzie Newsome, the team’s general manager and executive vice president.

McAlister, a three-time Pro Bowl standout, played 10 seasons for the Ravens after being selected in the first round (10th pick) in the 1999 draft. A starter on the 2000 Super Bowl championship Baltimore team, “C-Mac” produced 26 career interceptions, good for third place on the franchise’s all-time list (behind S Ed Reed, 43, and LB Ray Lewis, 28). McAlister also scored seven career touchdowns – six by interceptions and one on a missed field goal return, which set a then-NFL record for longest play (107 yards).

McAlister, who will be 32 in June, played in six games in 2008, starting five, before being placed on Injured Reserve with a knee injury on Nov. 11. Before being hurt, he stole three passes and made 19 tackles (17 solo).

“First, we want to thank Chris for all he did for the Ravens in the past 10 years,” Newsome explained. “He was a major contributor to many big wins, including the Super Bowl. To play the type of defense we have used here, you have to have corners who can cover one-on-one. He was one of the best at that for us. He was physical, and he could run with the best.”

“All of us who had the opportunity to coach Chris for the first time this season have an appreciation for all the good things he did for this team through the years,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’ll be remembered by us and the fans as one of the best to ever play for the Ravens. He’s a tough guy and loves football. He’ll play again, and he’ll play well.”

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Ray Lewis: “I’m prepared to do anything God wants me to do…”

Posted on 30 January 2009 by Drew Forrester

I’m sure there will be plenty of discussion today now that we’ve all heard from Ray Lewis for the first time since the season-ending loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship.

If you missed the interview on today’s edition of The Comcast Morning Show, you can hear it (in the audio vault) or see it all at WNST.net.

As we were talking to Ray yesterday, the first thing that dawned on me was – “you really have to BE here to see Ray’s mannerisms, facial expressions and body language” to appreciate the conviction of his words.  

Fortunately, through the wonders of the internet, you’ll actually be able to see all of that if you check out the video interview at WNST.net.

In an interesting way, Ray Lewis is probably a guy who is much better suited for radio and TV than newspaper – when it comes to quotes and such – because he’s animated and highly energized.  It’s hard to make words mean something special in the newspaper.  But when you can HEAR it in a man’s voice or SEE it in his face, you have the ability to make a judgement on how important the subject is to him.  

So, here’s my take on Ray Lewis and his current situation.  This is based solely on the 15-minute interview we did with him…other than a handshake after the interview, we didn’t have any kind of “off the record” conversation or anything like that.  Don’t mix what I “hope” happens with Ray with what I “think” might happen.  They’re totally separate.

I want Ray to sign here.  I think the Ravens should pay him. I said that throughout the season and nothing I’ve seen (or heard) has changed my opinion on that.

But…I think the $12 million signing bonus offer from Ozzie last August was a gamble that might turn out to the rare dice-roll from Oz that turned out poorly.

Here’s what I think having talked to Ray and having sat in his presence and watched him react to questions and answer them:  I believe Ray has come to terms with the fact that it might be over in Baltimore.  

It might have all started in August when the club low-balled him with $12 million and Ray’s agent countered with a $20 million request and the Ravens said, “let’s just put this on hold until the season ends.”

That’s always code word for:  “we’re gonna take a gamble that maybe you have an off year and we’ll wind up getting you for OUR price when it’s all said and done.”

Only problem with that?  You shouldn’t EVER bet against Ray Lewis.  

That’s essentially what the Ravens did when they didn’t sign #52 last August.

And, now, I think Ray looks and talks like a man who is at peace with the fact that he’s given everything he could have given and if it comes to pass that he moves on to a new team, so be it.

Ray’s most eye opening quote of the interview:  “The whole thing will be done in five minutes…”

That means, simply, “the high bidder gets me.”  

“The whole thing will be done in five minutes”…doesn’t mean, “It’s gonna be awfully tough for me to leave Baltimore.”  It means, “when I get that phone call from my agent and he says XXXX team just offered you the number we’re looking for…” – the whole thing gets done in five minutes from that point.

I hope that call comes from the Ravens.

It SHOULD come from the Ravens.

But, I’m convinced – now – that Ray is at peace with the whole process.  If he has to leave Baltimore, he will, and he’ll have no regrets.

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Ravens: “We’re reluctant to franchise Ray”

Posted on 21 January 2009 by Drew Forrester

The year-end press conference at Owings Mills today didn’t produce much real news.  There were questions about nearly every facet of the organization and most of those were summed up here in Nestor’s live blog from 1 Winning Drive.

The hot button topic with Owner Steve Bisciotti centered on the team’s desire to re-sign Ray Lewis and to what extent Bisciotti will be involved in those discussions.

“We want Ray to sign here and we’re confident he will, “Bisciotti said,  “But that’s ultimately up to Ozzie to work out in concert with Ray’s agent.”

Both Bisciotti and a Ravens official commented on the potential use of the “franchise tag” for Lewis if the team fails to sign him to a deal by late February.

“Again, that’s really Ozzie’s area, but I don’t see franchising Ray as our best solution,” Bisciotti remarked.

A Ravens staffer told me later: “We’d be reluctant to franchise Ray simply due to the fact that we’re not looking to have a yearly negotiating session with him.  Ozzie and his agent will strike a deal or they won’t. Putting the franchise tag on him only puts off it for another year and Ray’s not getting any younger.”

One veteran Ravens player told me on Monday that Ray spoke about “next year” with several of the players following Sunday’s loss to the Steelers.  “There wasn’t one moment where he said, ‘If I’m here next year’ or ‘if we’re all together again next year’ when he spoke after the game.  Everything was ‘this is what we need to do next season and here’s what we learned this year that we can carry over to next year’. Ray will be back. His heart lives in Baltimore.” 

Rumors continue to float around about the Dallas Cowboys having interest in Ray Lewis, but those stories are as wild as tales of the tooth fairy and Jack and the Beanstalk.  For starters, the Cowboys can not even talk with Lewis or his agent until March 1st.  And, if the league learned that Dallas officials have engaged in conversations with Lewis about 2009 and beyond, tampering charges would be filed and the verdict would be quick and decisive.  The Cowboys franchise would suffer greatly if they were found guilty of that kind of conduct.

Don’t believe for one minute that the Dallas Cowboys have talked to Ray Lewis about a $25 million contract/signing bonus, because they haven’t.

That’s not to say that Dallas might not make him an offer if Ray becomes a free agent in March.

But, for now, the only team permitted to negotiate with Ray Lewis is the Baltimore Ravens and they plan on doing everything they can to have him signed prior to the beginning of the March 1st free agency period.

Last summer, the Ravens proposed a new contract to Lewis that included a $12 million signing bonus and #52 politely declined.  His agent floated the $20 million figure out there and the Ravens politely declined.

I’m sure Ray’s price tag has gone up now that the Ravens have produced a 13-6 season and advanced to the AFC title game.  That’s the gamble Ozzie took when he offered a $12 million bonus last August.  

If it doesn’t get settled soon, things might not be so polite in March.

Ray Lewis will sign with the Ravens and finish his career in Baltimore.  But it’s going to cost the Ravens some serious money.

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Ravens will sport a new look in ’09

Posted on 20 January 2009 by Drew Forrester

Where will we be this time NEXT year?  

The Ravens’ playoff run for the 2008 season hasn’t been over for 48 hours and they are already forging ahead at Owings Mills in preparation for 2009.

A suggested theme:  “Let’s play one more game”.

After all, in 2008, the MAXIMUM amount of games a team could have played — 20.  The Ravens played 19.

If only they could have played one more game.

Maybe next year.

But, there will be a lot of action, a lot of news and a lot of changes next year in Baltimore.  Those changes are both obvious and subtle, but equally important.  Some might be changes for the better.  Some might not.  

We won’t know until this time next year.

The most glaring of the changes will be the departure of Baltimore’s long-time defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.  Rex was not only a fixture here, but he takes with him to New York the one intangible that every coach in any sport craves to own — his players enjoyed playing for him.

Forget about the money.  Forget the “contract year” stuff.  Dismiss styles, schemes, etc.  

Almost to a man in Owings Mills, the players played for Rex Ryan first and foremost.

He will be missed.  The players knew his departure was inevitable.  But that won’t make it any easier when training camp rolls around next July.  Will the new defensive coordinator command the same respect as Rex?  Only time will tell.

When a coach leaves, other’s follow.  Players look around the room and say, “that was MY guy…maybe the next coach won’t appreciate me the way Rex did.”  Some might head out of Baltimore with that thought in mind.  A few players have openly talked about Rex in New York and wondered aloud if perhaps their career trail might lead them to the Jets and a stint in the Big Apple.  

While the Rex decision didn’t fall at the feet of the Ravens, the Ray Lewis decision most certainly will be one they make on their clock.

It will go down as the hot-button topic of the off-season, without a doubt.

It appears as if Ozzie’s summer of ’08 gamble to let Ray play out his contract is going to come back to haunt Steve Bisciotti where it hurts the most – at the bank.  Ray kept his mouth shut all year and played football.  At a high-level.  And when Baltimore trotted out of the locker room on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, they took to the field in large part because of #52’s fearless competitive streak and his Hall-of-Fame performance in 2008.  

Ray deserves to get paid.  

Someone in the league WILL pay him.

It would be grossly unfair if it weren’t the Ravens.

But that’s THEIR decision now.  They have a variety of options.  They can re-sign Ray and give him some sort of staggering signing bonus in the vicinity of $20 million for a 4 or 5 year deal.  They can slap the franchise tag on him and extend him one more season – but Lewis will most likely bristle at that option since he’ll say he played 2008 “in good faith” and the franchise tag is looked upon by most players as a method the club uses to duck out of their obligation to reward a player.  They can also apply the little-used transition tag on Ray and allow him the chance to go out on the open market and secure his best deal – and then the Ravens can match it, and keep him, or let him wander off to (insert team here).

As Ray goes, so will the rest of the off-season.

Baltimore has a number of key players getting to roam around sniffing for a new deal.  If Ray signs, where does that leave Terrell Suggs?  What about Bart Scott?  Jim Leonhard?  Jason Brown?

Who is going to catch the football for Baltimore in 2008?  Isn’t it time for the franchise to make a dedicated commitment – like they did with the QB position last April – to the passing game by adding a couple of quality, reliable, wide receievers who can endure the tough AFC North?  It would appear that the triple threat of Mason-Clayton-DWilliams isn’t going to get the job done.  That’s not to say that one or two of those players can’t fill a role on next year’s team, but Baltimore needs an upgrade at the receiver position. No hard feelings.  

The secondary is in need of an overhaul and a move toward youth.  Perhaps no department on the team battled injuries like this year’s secondary and on the “heart meter”, it zooms past 10 and goes straight to the top.  But, as we saw Sunday night in Pittsburgh, you can have all the heart in the world but that doesn’t matter to Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes.  The Ravens need to add experience, speed and strength in the secondary.  Better ball hawks.  Better tacklers.  Better players.  That’s what they need back there if they want to beat the Steelers next year.  

George Kokinis will be heading off to Cleveland to take over as the Browns’ GM and the Ravens will lose a high-quality front office mind.  He’s a behind-the-scenes guy at Owings Mills that very few people know. I’ll sum up Kokinis for you in about 50 words.  Do you like Jim Leonhard as a player? Justin Bannan? Fabian Washington?  Those are three important parts of the ’08 team that were all signed off on by Kokinis and handed over to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh.  Kokinis will be missed.

There’s little doubt that chemistry and personal affection for one another – to a man – had as much to do with Baltimore’s success in ’08 as any element of on-field play with perhaps the exception of the new quarterback from Delaware.  

There’s an old saying:  “you can’t catch lightning in a bottle…twice.”

How will this team come together next year?  New people.  New personal agendas.  New philosophies.

It might be better, of course.  

But, it might not be.

Joe Flacco will be better.  So will Jared Gaither.  Most of the young players who played a role this year have plenty of upside.  It’s the team experienced corps of veterans who are starting to show the inevitable wear and tear.  But those veterans also comprise the heart and soul of the locker room.  Dan Wilcox is a lion and a player that every man in that locker room looks up to — and he might be moving on if the Ravens elect to not sign him to a new contract.  What happens if Ray Lewis doesn’t get rewarded like he believes he should? Who steps in for him and becomes the team’s beating heart?  

That’s why losing on Sunday was so damaging.

This team – this exact gathering of men – will not be back for a second go-round next season.

These chances don’t come along very often.  

And that’s why Sunday’s loss hurts.

But, teams lose coaches and players every year and they all stay in business and they all do their best to rebound and move on to the next challenge.

For the Ravens, though, the next challenge will come with different people in place.

We trusted the folks in charge of the challenge this year.

It will be hard to replace those that have departed or will move on in the next month or so.

Let’s hope we don’t learn a hard lesson in 2009.

2008 was just too much fun.

And, after all, we’re only asking for the team to play one more game next year.

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