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Rob Gronkowski: The most valuable non-QB in the NFL

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Rob Gronkowski: The most valuable non-QB in the NFL

Posted on 24 July 2014 by Giovanni Insignares

With the news on early Wednesday morning that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was cleared for training camp, a sigh of collective relief poured over Foxboro as fans wondered if the player affectionately known as “Gronk” can stay healthy and finally return to his dominating ways. Since his debut in 2010, Gronkowski has altered the perception of the TE in the NFL. The position is no longer seen as a placeholder for agile blockers or the occasional pass catcher in the slot. TE’s are now arguably the biggest X-factor for offenses. While quarterbacks undoubtedly remain the most impactful position in the league, what is often forgotten amidst the constant arguments over whether or not a particular QB is “elite” is that the supporting pieces surrounding him are what can make or break a championship run, and Rob Gronkowski is making the case for being the most important non-QB in the NFL.

With a combination of size, speed, blocking skills, and hands that cannot be matched, along with a tendency to be the focal point of offensive game plans and defensive coverage schemes, Gronkowski has repeatedly shown that he possesses the most value for his team than any other player in the league that is not a quarterback. Gronkowski owns the NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end in a season (1,327), most receiving touchdowns by a tight end in a season (17), and most offensive touchdowns by any player in his first two seasons (28, tied with Randy Moss). Furthermore, the Patriots’ offense has shown to be dynamic and efficient whenever he’s healthy compared to being occasionally sporadic and worrisome when he’s not. The common phrase “too big for a corner and too fast for a linebacker” is perfect for the New England game changer. Not many players can compete with the impact that Gronk has on his team.

 The player most comparable to Gronkowski, though, is New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham, and even he is not as valuable to the Saints as Gronkowski is the Patriots. Since 2010 (the year both players entered the league), Graham has played in 62 games versus Gronk’s 49, while catching 301 passes versus Gronk’s 224. However, despite these advantages, Graham still trails Gronkowski in career touchdown catches (41 to 42) and only leads in career receiving yards by 640 (3,863 to 3,223). The one factor separating these two is that the Saints offense still fires on all cylinders with their vast assortment of weapons and various schemes; New Orleans does not rely on Graham to the same degree that New England does with Gronkowski. The Patriots’ roster, on the other hand, is made up of young and injury-prone players at the skill positions. Danny Amendola still has to prove whether or not he can play a whole season, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have to show that they understand the system going into their second years, and Steven Ridley has to convince the coaching staff and his teammates that he can hold onto the football. This inconsistency among the various skill players on the roster underscores the significance of Gronkowski and further highlights how important he is to the Patriots’ offensive success.

As great as Tom Brady is, New England’s championship hopes rely heavily on the health of Rob Gronkowski. Without him, the Patriots’ offense is stagnant and relatively tame; with him, their offense is capable of a multitude of different dimensions. For example, during the Patriots’ Super Bowl run in 2011, Gronkowski hurt his ankle in the AFC title game against Baltimore and finished with five catches for 87 yards. Leading up to that game, Gronk tallied 10 catches for 145 yards and three touchdowns in a divisional round win against Denver. He served as a nightmare for the defense and was the ultimate game breaker for Tom Brady. However, once the ankle injury against Baltimore occurred, Gronkowski was a non-factor in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants, managing only two catches for 26 yards. Brady and the offense failed to find a consistent rhythm against the Giants in large part because New York did not have to expend much effort in defending Gronkowski, thus leaving them to roam free against everyone else and causing New England to lose another chance at the Lombardi Trophy.

Gronkowski’s impact, though, goes beyond simply catching passes; an underrated aspect of his game is his exceptional blocking skills. At 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Gronk is a towering figure with quick hands and quick feet, giving him the ability to run block very well, thus presenting the Patriots’ offense with yet another dimension. He is capable is sealing off the edge, providing running backs with lanes to the outside and ultimately allowing the offense to churn out consistent yardage on the ground. As a result, this opens up the play action pass, forcing defenses to constantly remain on their heels and play reactionary football. With defenses going into the game already so focused on slowing down Gronkowski, the possibilities of play action make the Patriots’ offense that much more difficult to defend. Gronk gives New England so much flexibility on offense that they are almost impossible to stop. In the playoffs, the Patriots are 3-2 when Gronkowski plays[1] and 1-2 without him.  

While Gronkowski’s impact cannot be ignored, other players warrant mention in the discussion as well, such as J.J. Watt, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Richard Sherman, and Jamaal Charles. However, unlike Gronkowski, these players do not influence their teams to the same degree. With the NFL’s continued emphasis on the passing game and its persistent focus on mismatches, the value of Rob Gronkowski only soars. In addition, no team in the NFL in the last four years has had their Super Bowl runs more deflated by the loss of a single player than the New England Patriots.

Ultimately, Gronkowski’s impact on the Patriot’s offense and on opposing defenses is undeniable. The common phrase of “being too big for a corner and too fast for a linebacker” is understatement when referring to him. He not only disrupts pass coverages, but significantly impacts the running game with his exceptional skills as a blocker, as well. Without him, Tom Brady and the Patriots are simply a good offense. With him, New England threatens to move the chains and put up points at will. If healthy, Gronkowski’s potential is limitless, and so are the Patriots’ championship hopes. Aside from the QB position, Rob Gronkowski is the most valuable player in the NFL.


[1] 3-1 if you choose not to count the Super Bowl in which his ankle injury clearly affected his play to the point that he was non-existent on the playing field.

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Steve Smith’s expectations realistic in coming to Ravens

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Steve Smith’s expectations realistic in coming to Ravens

Posted on 23 July 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Steve Smith has talked plenty about motivation this offseason but is also grounded in reality as he officially begins his first training camp with the Ravens on Thursday.

Understandably having a chip on his shoulder over being released by the Carolina Panthers after spending the first 13 seasons of his career in Charlotte, the 35-year-old wide receiver is looking to prove he still has plenty left in the tank to help the Ravens, but there are no predictions of a 1,300-yard season or a return to the Pro Bowl. His motivation is shaped by perspective with an eye toward the end of his career knowing nobody wins the battle with Father Time.

“You can never perform at as high a level at 35 that you did at 25,” Smith said. “My job is to go out there and catch what’s catchable and have fun doing it. [I don’t want to] really concern myself too much on the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘Should I be here?’ or ‘Should I be there?’ The things that I’ve experienced in my career, honestly, they’re not going to get any better, and the reason why is because my perspective is different. Hopefully, I will accomplish better things statistically, but I’m living the dream.”

It’s difficult to predict what to expect from Smith in terms of production on the field as his yards per catch average has decreased from 17.6 in 2011 to 16.1 in 2012 to 11.6 last season, which was his lowest mark since 2007. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound wideout has depended on speed on the outside for much of his career, but he will need to reinvent himself as more of a possession receiver to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s offensive system while Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones provide two stronger outside options in the vertical passing game.

The University of Utah product turned in an excellent spring, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running crisp shorter routes whether working outside or in the slot. Smith downplayed how long it will take to build a rapport with quarterback Joe Flacco — simply explaining he’ll catch anything that should be caught — but also recognizes he doesn’t have to be the primary focus of the passing game like he was for more than a decade with the Panthers.

“I understand there are going to be times when I’m the premier receiver,” Smith said, “and there are times that I need to clear through for Torrey or Jacoby or Marlon [Brown]. You have to be able to be efficient in any offense; you’ve got to understand in every play what your role is.”

Of course, the Ravens’ motivation in signing Smith to a three-year, $11.5 million in March went beyond the number of passes he’ll catch as the offense lacked vocal leadership and swagger last season following the trade of veteran wideout Anquan Boldin. Smith has already shown he isn’t afraid to stir the pot as he mixed it up with cornerback Lardarius Webb during last month’s mandatory minicamp.

He’ll need to be productive on the field to authentically establish himself as a leader, but the early returns suggest both sides of the ball have benefited from his competitive fire during practices. It’s a reputation that was well known to the Ravens long before the veteran stepped foot in Owings Mills this spring.

“We get another defensive guy playing offense with Steve coming over,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is one guy last year [who defensive coordinator] Dean Pees told us not to anger, and it was a preseason game. The goal was to do our time and get out of there. It’s great to have him on our team.”

Smith’s ability to rebound from an underwhelming 745-yard season a year ago will go a long way in determining whether the Ravens can substantially improve their 29th-ranked offense in 2013. He doesn’t need to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but the veteran will be asked to catch shorter passes and help move the chains on third down, an area in which the Ravens ranked only 20th last season.

The longtime Panther knows his career is winding down but thinks he’s found the ideal place to fit his personality.

“I’m lucky to even be here,” Smith said. “After you hit 35, you should be with a walker and all that stuff. I’m just happy to be playing ball and have the opportunity to play in a conference where it’s smash-mouth football, and I’m going to fit in perfectly [with] that.”

Pierce, Reid ready to go

The Ravens will conduct their first full-squad workout on Thursday morning and enter the summer with a short injury report as running back Bernard Pierce and offensive lineman Jah Reid both participated fully in Tuesday’s workout.

Pierce has now been cleared after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery while Reid was sidelined with a calf injury in the spring.

“These two days they both looked good. They both looked fine; they have no problems,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There are some full-speed-type drills out there, not contact, but the speed of it, and they had no problems. We’ll work them through the first two days. Thursday and Friday are both full speed, but they’re not full contact, so that’ll be another chance for them to take the next step that way. I don’t anticipate any problems.”

Defensive tackle Terrence Cody is the only veteran with a clear injury concern entering camp as he’s still recovering from offseason hip surgery. Harbaugh said the fifth-year lineman is progressing, but there is no clear target date of when he’ll return to the practice field.

Dumervil grateful for opportunity provided by Bowlen in Denver

With Wednesday’s news of Pat Bowlen stepping down as owner of the Denver Broncos due to Alzheimer’s disease, Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil offered his support after spending the first seven seasons of his career in Denver.

“He helped impact my life [and] my family for generations to come,” Dumervil said. “He was a great guy. He always asked about my health, and when I was out for the year [in 2010], we talked a bit. He was always great to me, and I was always grateful for that. When I heard about the news, it was a sad day for that.”

 

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Ravens still awaiting official word on Rice discipline

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Ravens still awaiting official word on Rice discipline

Posted on 22 July 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens officially welcome veterans back to their Owings Mills facility for the start of training camp on Wednesday while continuing to remain in the dark on the status of running back Ray Rice.

The 27-year-old running back and his wife met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on June 16, leading many to assume a ruling on a potential suspension would come before the start of camp as the Ravens try to rebound from an 8-8 season that saw them miss the postseason for the first time since 2007. Head coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday he was unaware of when a decision or announcement would be made regarding Rice’s standing for the start of the 2014 season.

The seventh-year coach wouldn’t say whether he was surprised not to already know Rice’s fate at this late stage of the summer.

“I’d rather not get into that. It’s not for me to say,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not my decision to make or any of us here. It’s in other people’s hands. I’m sure there are a lot of complications in making those kinds of decisions. There are many sides to every story, and there are a lot of factors. There are other people involved; there are other disciplinary situations involved around the league. That has to be weighed and taken into context.

“They’re going to have to sort through that and be fair about the whole thing. I know the league is very judicious about that. I think they work really hard to do the right thing. I don’t think they worry about public opinion too much. I think they want to do the right thing by the people involved, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Rice took part in organized team activities and mandatory minicamp in the spring after pleading not guilty to a third-degree charge of aggravated assault and being accepted into a pretrial intervention program. His legal trouble stemmed from a February incident in which he was arrested and charged for allegedly striking his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J. casino.

According to Harbaugh, the Rice suspension will not impact preparations for the start of the regular season until after the second preseason game. Third-year backup Bernard Pierce, veteran Justin Forsett, and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro are expected to compete for more reps while Rice serves his expected suspension.

“We’ll just be business as usual until then,” Harbaugh said. “We’re installing for the first six days [of camp] and working situations through the first two preseason games. Once we get past the second preseason game, then we’ll need to know that. Whenever they’re ready to let us know, we’ll be ready to hear it.”

The Ravens coach didn’t have much to offer in response to the arrest of cornerback Jimmy Smith earlier this month.

The fourth-year defensive back was arrested and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct after an incident at a Towson bar on July 12. Smith became the fifth Ravens player to be arrested this offseason.

“I understand what happened,” said Harbaugh, who reiterated that the message about off-field conduct has been delivered to his players extensively. “I heard it from a lot of different sources, and I haven’t thought about it since. I think I’ve given it the amount of attention that it deserves.”

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 21 July 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh enters new territory this summer in trying to guide the Ravens to a bounce-back season after missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure a year ago.

The seventh-year head coach is coming off his most difficult offseason in not only revamping his offensive coaching staff but dealing with the arrests of five different players, painting the organization in a more negative and embarrassing light than it’s faced in quite some time. Of course, the Ravens are hopeful they’ve made the necessary changes to rebound from an 8-8 season and return to the postseason playing in what appears to be a wide-open AFC North.

As rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans coming off injuries officially take the practice field in Owings Mills on Tuesday, here are five questions — of many others, quite frankly — to ponder:

1. Will different automatically translate to better for the Ravens offense? If so, how much better?

The easy answer is the 29th-ranked offense in 2013 couldn’t be much worse, so it’s no profound statement to say the unit will be improved under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will bring a stronger emphasis on running the football. The real question is how much better the Ravens will be after averaging a league-worst and franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Kubiak has an excellent reputation dating back to his days with Mike Shanahan in Denver, but quarterback Joe Flacco’s adjustment to a West Coast offense centered around timing, excellent footwork, and shorter throws — not regarded as his biggest strengths — will be interesting to watch after he showed encouraging improvements as spring workouts progressed. Of course, the Ravens hope the free-agent signings of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in addition to a fully-recovered Dennis Pitta will provide the quarterback with consistent weapons he sorely lacked beyond wideout Torrey Smith last season.

Steve Smith was the standout acquisition of the offseason and has been praised for the leadership and swagger he’s already brought to the offense, but he has plenty to prove as a 35-year-old receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three straight years. Daniels figures to be a clear upgrade as the No. 2 tight end behind Pitta, but he played in only five games last season and must prove he can still gain separation entering his ninth NFL season.

The ultimate factor in determining how high the offense can climb will be the improvement of the offensive line with new center Jeremy Zuttah and the return of left guard Kelechi Osemele from season-ending back surgery. Zuttah will be an improvement over Gino Gradkowski with his physical style of play and will be a leader by example in the trenches, but you wonder if there will be some growing pains in making line calls with the veteran having spent more time at guard during his career. Osemele was impressive during spring workouts, but the Ravens need to see his surgically-repaired back hold up during the daily rigors of camp and the third-year lineman had to alter his workout practices as a result of the procedure.

And, of course, the Ravens still aren’t sure who will line up at right tackle, with Rick Wagner the favorite entering camp.

The offense will look quite different, but will there be enough improvement for the Ravens to climb back among the AFC’s elite?

2. How does maligned offensive line coach Juan Castillo fit with the Kubiak system?

After all the hand-wringing over Castillo and calls for him to be dismissed after the offensive line’s woeful 2013 campaign, the hiring of Kubiak all but eliminated that chatter. However, his seat will heat up again very quickly if his unit doesn’t produce immediately in 2014.

Players have dismissed any notion of growing pains last season, but it was clear the coexistence of Castillo and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller wasn’t a good fit. The bigger question this year will be how effectively Castillo implements Kubiak’s brand of stretch outside zone blocking that has produced a plethora of 1,000-yard running backs over the years.

Castillo demands a lot from his his unit before, during, and after practices, which made him a favorite in Philadelphia for so many years, but Harbaugh will have a difficult time sticking with his longtime colleague if the offensive line gets off to another slow start in 2014.

3. How many younger players are ready to make the jump to become standouts?

It’s no secret that the Ravens have undergone quite a transformation since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but a major key in rebounding from last year’s 8-8 finish will be the emergence of younger impact players, something there wasn’t enough of in 2013.

Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith took sizable leaps last season, but others such as Osemele, safety Matt Elam, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, running back Bernard Pierce, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams must become more dynamic players if the Ravens are going to bounce back in a significant way.

Entering 2014, how many great players — not good or solid ones — do the Ravens currently have? Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata might still be considered great around the league but are on the wrong side of 30 and not as dominant as they were a few years ago.

Yes, the Ravens will lean on the likes of veterans Steve Smith, Daniels, and Zuttah to upgrade their respective positions, but substantial improvement in 2014 will only come if the draft classes of 2012 and 2013 are ready to make a larger impact than they did a year ago. And if the likes of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan can bring immediate impact as rookies, Baltimore will be that much more dangerous.

Simply put, the core of this roster needs younger and more dynamic talent to emerge.

4. What can we expect out of Ray Rice?

Even putting aside the ongoing saga of when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will finally make a ruling on a suspension for the embattled running back, it’s difficult to project what kind of player Rice will be entering his seventh season and coming off the worst year of his career.

The 27-year-old was noticeably leaner and faster during spring practices, but it’s difficult to measure elusiveness — or any ability to break tackles — when players aren’t participating in full-contact drills. Much like we ponder about the entire offense, it’s not difficult to envision Rice being better at a lighter weight and with a better offensive line in front of him, but it’s fair to ask if his days as a game-changing back are over.

It will also be fascinating to see if Kubiak views Rice as an every-down back or is more eager to continue to hand opportunities to the likes of Pierce, veteran newcomer Justin Forsett, or rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro even after the sixth-year back returns from his anticipated suspension. Rice split time with Forsett working with the starters this spring — Pierce was still limited returning from offseason shoulder surgery — but it’s difficult to gauge how much of that was Forsett’s experience in Kubiak’s system as well as the Ravens preparing for the suspension.

5. Is the commitment to winning strong enough top to bottom on the roster?

You never like to make generalizations about what’s currently a 90-man roster when referencing five specific players being arrested during the offseason, but it’s fair to question the overall commitment when your players make up more than 25 percent of the NFL’s total number of reported arrests since last season.

Most already expected Harbaugh to have a tougher training camp following the first non-playoff season of his tenure in Baltimore, but the poor off-field behavior lends even more credence to the head coach working his players harder than in past summers.

Make no mistake, there are countless individuals on the roster who are fully dedicated to winning, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the Ravens will be under the microscope in not only how they conduct themselves off the field but how they perform on it this season. The poor choices of several individuals unfortunately drew that scrutiny for the entire roster as critics question the organization’s leadership and overall character.

“We have good, really good guys,” Harbaugh said on the final day of mandatory minicamp last month. “Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, the less inclined you are to do anything to jeopardize that.”

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NFL Network’s Breer says Flacco will be better fit for Kubiak offense than most think

Posted on 18 July 2014 by WNST Audio

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Ravens place defensive tackle Cody on active PUP list

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Ravens place defensive tackle Cody on active PUP list

Posted on 18 July 2014 by Luke Jones

Only days away from the official start of training camp, the Ravens announced Friday that they’ve placed defensive tackle Terrence Cody on the active physically unable to perform list.

The move was not unexpected as the fifth-year defensive lineman missed the entire spring after undergoing hip surgery earlier this offseason. The designation allows Cody to return to the practice field whenever he’s ready this summer but keeps him eligible for the reserve PUP list used at the start of the regular season should his recovery take longer than expected.

Coach John Harbaugh said during this spring’s organized team activities that he had expected Cody to be sidelined until training camp. The 2010 second-round pick became an unrestricted free agent this past winter before ultimately signing a one-year, $730,000 contract in early April that included no guaranteed money.

Once regarded as the heir apparent to former Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg, Cody never lived up to expectations as he lost his starting job in 2012 after starting all 16 games during the 2011 season. In 56 career games, Cody has collected 45 tackles while primarily playing the nose tackle position.

After missing spring OTAs and seeing the Ravens have such high hopes for 2013 third-round pick Brandon Williams and 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, Cody will need to have a strong preseason to make the 53-man roster and re-establish himself as an option in the defensive line rotation.

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The Peter Principles (Ch. 3): How close did Angelos come to owning Baltimore’s NFL team?

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The Peter Principles (Ch. 3): How close did Angelos come to owning Baltimore’s NFL team?

Posted on 14 July 2014 by Nestor Aparicio

3. Giving Peter The Ball & Scabs

“I think they are concerned about litigation, but they feel as we do, that no one wants to litigate but one has to sometimes and the chances for success are excellent. I’m confident that Baltimore is the best applicant for an NFL franchise both from a financial and a fan standpoint.”

– Peter Angelos, May 18, 1994 to The Sun regarding Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke blocking his rights to buying an NFL franchise

 

TO UNDERSTAND BALTIMORE’S INNATE YEARNING for a National Football League team is to understand what the Baltimore Ravens have meant to the town, its sports psyche and the league since returning in 1996. After winning Super Bowls in 2001 and 2013, it’s very hard to fathom that time and space between March 28, 1984 and Nov. 6, 1995 ­– when the town that participated in what became known as The Greatest Game Ever Played in 1958, the place that the Colts of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Raymond Berry and Jim Parker roamed on 33rd Street in what was affectionately known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum – was without the NFL.

The Orioles were the toast of Baltimore for sure in the early 1990s but there was always something missing in the Charm City when there weren’t NFL games on those 12 seasons of Sundays in the fall. After a decade of high-speed pursuits by the state of Maryland, Mayor of Baltimore and then Governor William Donald Schaefer, the Maryland Stadium Authority and several bidders in 1993, the city was repeatedly turned down in the expansion process. By the time Angelos had purchased the Orioles, the NFL had found itself in a precarious situation with Baltimore sitting empty and several suitors working every angle possible to steal an existing team and essentially steal another city’s team the way the Colts were stolen off in the middle of the night in 1984 by owner Robert Irsay. And Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke had tried every possible way to keep Baltimore from ever having a team again and once attempted to get a stadium built in Laurel to ensure it. Schaefer blocked Cooke and then rallied support for civic monies to be held to fund a Baltimore football stadium at Camden Yards if the NFL granted the city a franchise.

Despite all of the efforts of Schaefer and his steward Herb Belgrad, it didn’t work. In early 1995, the city of Baltimore was considered to be further away than ever in a search for a return to the NFL now that a pair of expansion teams had gone to Jacksonville and Charlotte and it was clear St. Louis was in the final stages of swiping the Rams from Los Angeles.

It was a dirty business, this franchise ownership, league gamesmanship, civic hostage taking of teams and the politics of modern sports. But Baltimore and Maryland were a unique player in the revolving door of NFL cities vying for the theft of teams from other markets where old stadia were failing to lure more revenue or ownerships were dissatisfied and looking for a bigger, better deal – led of course by Irsay’s decision to leave the land of pleasant living a decade earlier and the machinations of Al Davis in California with the Raiders.

Because of what the Orioles meant to the area and the success of the downtown revitalization spurred by the facility, Baltimore, Maryland had real money in the state coffers to fund a new stadium in the parking lot adjacent to the baseball stadium at Camden Yards. The area had always been earmarked as the site of a potential NFL team but the only problem was finding one of the existing 30 teams to find the deal too $weet to pass up. There was a lot of money to be made on an NFL franchise in Baltimore and the thought was that with many municipalities hard-lining NFL owners on the stadium issue on behalf of local taxpayers, it was only a matter of time before someone moved a team to the former home of the Colts. The insiders knew just how much money and how rich the Baltimore deal was for an owner who wanted to flee but the media and local fans were very skeptical after a decade of operating in the fog of having lost the Colts.

Once again, Angelos went into his office in Baltimore and tried to don the cape as a civic hero, flying in to save the day and bring the NFL back to his hometown.

But there were several other suitors pushing to be the winner in this grab for a football team in 1994.

Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass left Angelos’ partnership before it ever really began in September 1993 – he never invested in the team after being the original local person who was interested in the club when Eli Jacobs put it up for sale. At the time he said it was in an effort to pursue an NFL team that he hoped to call the Bombers, paying homage to the World War II planes that were built in Eastern Baltimore County at Martin Marietta.

Malcolm Glazer and his sons Bryan and Joel had been one of the three failed efforts by Baltimore to win the 1993 NFL expansion process. Now, they had set their sights on buying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their home state of Florida, where they lived in Palm Beach.

Baltimore beer distributors Bob Footlick and Bob Pinkner had also partnered with Robert Schulman in an effort to pursue an NFL team.

And, of course, with his August 1993 victory in the New York auction house and his leading man status as the owner of the Orioles, Angelos was funded and motivated to join Miami’s Wayne Huizenga as the second man to own an NFL and MLB franchise simultaneously. There had previously been language to disallow such a local

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct

Posted on 13 July 2014 by Luke Jones

The latest chapter of a difficult offseason for the Ravens occurred Saturday night as starting cornerback Jimmy Smith was arrested and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

According to The Sun, Smith was cited for failing to obey a lawful order of a police officer in an incident at The Greene Turtle in Towson. The 25-year-old was assisting an intoxicated female who was unconscious in the bathroom when Baltimore County police arrived on the scene.

Smith told police that he and the woman had taken part in a photo shoot together earlier in the evening. According to the police report, officers found a small bag of what was believed to be cocaine in the woman’s purse.

After medical personnel arrived, Smith allegedly refused police’s requests to step aside, insisting he was trying to help the woman. The defensive back was then arrested after becoming argumentative but did cooperate after being taken into custody. Smith was released at approximately 11:15 p.m. Saturday night after being issued a citation with a court date pending.

This marks the fifth arrest of a Ravens player this offseason, joining running back Ray Rice (felony aggravated assault), offensive lineman Jah Reid (misdemeanor battery), wide receiver Deonte Thompson (felony possession of marijuana), and rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (misdemeanor destruction of property, drunk and disorderly). Rice and Reid were accepted into pretrial intervention programs while the case against Thompson was dismissed. Taliaferro has a court date scheduled at the end of the month.

Despite a checkered past at the University of Colorado that included at least one reported failed drug test and citations for underage drinking and third-degree assault, Smith hadn’t been in trouble with the law since being selected in the first round of the 2011 draft by the Ravens.

After two injury-riddled seasons to begin his career, Smith blossomed to become one of the Ravens’ best defensive players in 2013, collecting 58 tackles, two interceptions, and 15 pass breakups in 16 starts. In his career, Smith has accumulated 112 tackles, four interceptions, and 26 pass breakups.

Veterans report to Owings Mills for the start of training camp on July 23.

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Dorsey’s Dugout – Andre Johnson’s Best Destination and Domino Effect of NBA Free Agency

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Dorsey’s Dugout – Andre Johnson’s Best Destination and Domino Effect of NBA Free Agency

Posted on 11 July 2014 by Nick Dorsey

 

Andre Johnson

The longtime Texan star is entering the 12th season of his career and Andre Johnson wants out of Houston. Johnson is 33 years old and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting just a bit brighter. After going through a 2-14 season while hauling in passes from Case Keenum on a consistent basis, Johnson deserves an opportunity to be dealt to a contender.

Houston is not far out from contending for the AFC South division title and a shot back into the AFC playoff race, but they are missing the most crucial piece of a franchise. Johnson was patient enough to see if general manager Rick Smith would add a potential franchise quarterback through the draft, but Smith waited around to the fourth round to draft former Pitt QB Tom Savage.

With a quarterback battle ahead in training camp featuring Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Tom Savage, Johnson has a right to be displeased with his situation. A player that has accounted for 221 receptions and 3,005 receiving yards the past two seasons deserves better than the weak QB depth he is presented with at this point in his career.

There are four teams rumored to be interested in the former Hurricane standouts services according to sources around the league. Two of the rumored teams standout as the perfect fit for the six-time pro-bowler.

After an off-season that featured an arms race between two AFC powerhouses, New England might not be done yet making big moves. Everyone saw the struggles Tom Brady had to endure last year with inconsistency at the wide receiver position. New England would be the number one ideal fit for Johnson at this time.

Tom Brady is desperate for a number one receiver and getting a dependable target like Johnson would certainly tickle his fancy. With the uncertainty of Amendola and Gronk’s health, bringing in Johnson would ease Brady’s comfort since Johnson hasn’t missed a game during the last two seasons.

This transaction is a possibility with the familiarity between new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and Bill Belichick. The Patriots front office has pulled off trades for aging wide outs before such as Randy Moss and Chad Johnson, so this situation is not unrealistic.

There were all kinds of rumors during the off-season about O’Briens interest in acquiring Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. With New England selecting Jimmy Garoppolo early in the 2014 NFL draft, Mallett is an asset that could be dealt. The Texans need another potential starting quarterback to at least compete in training camp and O’Brien has coached the former Razorback.

With the potential interest in Mallett, the Patriots front office could make this trade a possibility. New England would most likely have to give up a draft pick or two to go along with Mallett to get Johnson in a Pats uniform. This trade would certainly be worth the price because it would make New England the front-runner to represent the AFC in next year’s Super Bowl.

The other destination that could be a reality is the Carolina Panthers. After losing Steve Smith and other parts of the wide receiver corps, Carolina is lacking a true number one target.

The Panthers selected former Seminole Kelvin Benjamin in the first round, but that is not enough for Cam Newton. In a division that features the Saints with the Falcons and Bucs back on the rise, Carolina needs to make this move.

Getting a reliable target like Johnson as Newton’s go-to wide out would keep Carolina in contention for the NFC South title. Adding Johnson to the mix to go along with Benjamin and Olsen would make for a good three-headed receiving corps for Newton to work with.

Benjamin is entering his rookie season and will have to adjust to the speed of the next level. With Johnson entering the mix, it would allow for Benjamin to excel in the red zone while learning to stretch the rest of the field. It would than be up to Johnson and Olsen to work the rest of the field.

NBA Free Agency Dominoes

The NBA free agency period is unlike any other professional sports free agency. The NHL and NFL free agent markets open and teams rush right away to sign the top tier prospects. The NBA period is just a waiting game to see where the first star chooses to go and then the dominoes fall at a fast rate.

The first domino is LeBron James and his decision has the biggest impact on the league. Everyone is awaiting the “Decision 2.0” on whether he goes back home to Cleveland or South Beach because it determines where the rest of the stars of the free agent market go.

Every fan of the sport is frustrated in playing this waiting game, but is there anyone who can be more disturbed than Chris Bosh? The former member of the Heat’s big three has a max deal offer from the Houston Rockets on the table. Bosh is waiting on LeBron because if the King heads back down south, he will follow.

Bosh is playing this waiting game with LeBron, but he should take the max deal offer and become a Houston Rocket. Although the Rockets are in the more difficult Western Conference, the Rockets would have a much better shot at winning than the Heat.

With Bosh entering the mix with James Harden and Dwight Howard, there would be a new big three in the NBA. Harden is a versatile player who can get the rest of his teammates involved regularly or take over a game himself. Howard would make for a dominant presence inside and Bosh would compliment that style the best.

Chris Bosh during his days with the Heat tended to favor shooting around the perimeter. With Howard running the show inside, it would allow for Bosh to do what he feels most comfortable doing at this point in his career.

The Rockets need to react fast with Chandler Parsons signing an offer sheet with the Dallas Mavericks. If LeBron does not make a decision within the next few days, Houston will have to essentially make a salary cap decision to either match the Mavericks offer or hope that Bosh comes to Texas.

The Kings decision does more than just change up destinations for the free agent pool, it changes the landscape of the league. When the Akron native elected to go to south beach, the league went into a power team format. Franchises were signing several stars to one team in attempt to grab the Larry O’Brien trophy.

If the King elects to go back to Cleveland, the short era of superstar teams comes to an end. The Super team era showed its success during the four-season run as the Heat won two out of four championships. The other two losses were to teams that weren’t considered lineups with one or two superstars, but teams that played well together with several different complimentary pieces.
With the success that the Spurs have had in the past few years showing how they all work and play together as one unit, the landscape of the league could be swinging back to that style. When LeBron makes his decision final, that will be something to watch out for as the rest of the players find their homes.

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Former Ravens center Birk named NFL director of football development

Posted on 10 July 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

Former Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens center MATT BIRK has been named director of football development, the National Football League announced today.

Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, was a standout center for the Vikings and Ravens from 1998-2012, concluding his career by helping Baltimore to a victory in Super Bowl XLVII. He spent the 2013 season working as an NFL-NFLPA appeals officer.

In his new role, Birk will assist in developing the game at all levels of the sport, from players to coaches to front office personnel. He will also assist in the administration of NFL game day operations.

Birk will guide the continued evolution of the Scouting Combine and Regional Combines as well as the annual all-star games for aspiring NFL players, such as the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game.

“I’m very excited to begin this next chapter of my football career,” says Birk, who becomes the eighth former player to take a job at the NFL office, joining Merton Hanks, Dwight Hollier, Patrick Kerney, James Thrash, David Tyree, Troy Vincent and Charles Way. “It’s a real honor for me to be entrusted with developing the game in so many different ways.”

A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Birk will play a leading role in the continuing evolution and emergence of the Career Development Symposium, oversee the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship program and NFL-NCAA Future Football Coaches Academy initiative.

“Matt’s experience as a terrific NFL player, a model citizen in his community and a reputation as a forward-thinking leader make him ideally suited for this role,” said NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations TROY VINCENT. “There is no doubt he will continue to make a positive impact on our game and be a trusted advocate for those who play and coach at every level.”

Birk, who will also serve as a liaison for the Football Operations department on the international development of the game and assist in further strengthening the NFL High School Player Development program, will be based at NFL headquarters in New York.

A graduate of Harvard University with a degree in economics, Birk was the recipient of the 2011 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his excellence on and off the field, including his commitment to emphasizing the importance of education through his H.I.K.E. Foundation (hope, inspiration, knowledge and education).

Birk and his wife, Adrianna, are the parents of six children.

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