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Ravens release McClain, Leach in cap-saving maneuvers

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Ravens release McClain, Leach in cap-saving maneuvers

Posted on 27 February 2014 by Luke Jones

Even with an estimated $20 million of salary cap space at their disposal with free agency approaching next month, the Ravens parted ways with two veteran starters to free up more resources on Thursday.

Baltimore announced that inside linebacker Jameel McClain and fullback Vonta Leach were being released in cap-saving maneuvers. By doing so, the Ravens save a total of $4.95 million in room as free agency is set to begin on March 11.

“There could come a point later on when we would consider bringing back Vonta and Jameel,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a team statement. “They are our types of players.”

McClain told WNST.net that the Ravens would like to have him back at a reduced rate and that “the story’s not finished.” The seventh-year linebacker agreed to a pay cut from $3 million to $1.5 million in base salary this past season as he started the year on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from a spinal cord contusion suffered on Dec. 9, 2012.

Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Leach posted a message of thanks on his official Twitter account that included a collage of photos from his three-year run with the organization. The veteran fullback made it clear at the end of the season that he saw the writing on the wall for his future with the Ravens after he played a total of just 12 offensive snaps in the final three games of the season. Of course, Leach was previously cut last summer before re-signing with the Ravens at a reduced rate and seeing his role in the offense diminish as the running game set franchise-worst marks.

“Obviously, I wasn’t in the offense a whole lot this year,” Leach said the day after the season end in late December. “If they had a role for me, ideally, I’d want to come back here. I understand that this is a business.”

Baltimore drafted fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the fourth round last season and could add more of a blocking fullback via the draft or free agency if new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak deems it necessary. Leach is entering his 11th season and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection, two of those honors received while playing for the Ravens and blocking for fellow Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.

The 28-year-old McClain represents one of the better stories in franchise history of an undrafted rookie not only making the 53-man roster in 2008 but carving out a significant role in the defense, starting in 55 games and collecting 316 tackles over the last five years. Told by some he’d never play football again after injuring his neck in 2012, McClain played 10 games last season and made 52 tackles.

“He’s a true leader, and his story from rookie free agent to NFL starter is one of the best in the league,” coach John Harbaugh said in a team release. “You give him so much credit for finding a way to become the player he is. He’s one of those guys who gets the most out of his ability. He has a lot of football left, and maybe, that could be with the Ravens down the line.”

With the Ravens drafting inside linebacker Arthur Brown in the second round of the 2013 draft and already engaging in talks with pending free agent Daryl Smith, McClain’s price tag was deemed too high for a team with a plethora of needs this offseason.

Neither move is surprising as McClain and Leach topped the list of possible cap casualties as the Ravens attempt to bounce back from their first non-playoff season of the Harbaugh era. Also thought to be a potential cut at the start of the offseason, punter Sam Koch — set to count for $2.8 million against the cap in 2014 — told WNST.net Thursday afternoon that he hadn’t heard anything in terms of his roster standing

Newsome and the front office remain in negotiations with tight end Dennis Pitta and left tackle Eugene Monroe as both are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Reports indicate the Ravens are making progress with Pitta before Monday’s deadline to use the franchise tag while they remain far apart in their discussions with Monroe.

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Ravens wrap busy week in Indianapolis with thoughts toward May

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Ravens wrap busy week in Indianapolis with thoughts toward May

Posted on 25 February 2014 by Luke Jones

Facing a critical offseason after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Ravens have wrapped a productive week of evaluating the 2014 rookie class at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Much work remains with pro days still to come and the draft not taking place until May 8, but the combine provides a strong framework of information as well as the first opportunity for teams to meet with underclassmen who declared for the NFL.

In addition to evaluating draft prospects’ physical tools, administering physicals, and interviewing players to gauge their intelligence and character, the Ravens were busy trying to address their pending free agents as general manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged continuing negotiations with the representatives of tight end Dennis Pitta, offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, and linebacker Daryl Smith. However, no deals were considered imminent at the conclusion of the combine on Tuesday.

Of course, Newsome and coach John Harbaugh were also asked about the status of troubled running back Ray Rice, echoing the sentiment that the facts of the case will determine the consequences. As of now, the Ravens have offered no indication that Rice’s future could be in jeopardy after he and his fiancée were charged with simple assault-domestic violence in Atlantic City earlier this month.

Below is a list — though not intended to be a complete collection — of draft prospects the Ravens interviewed in Indianapolis, according to a number of publications including ESPN, the Carroll County Times, and The Sun. It’s important not to read too much into these meetings as it’s common for players to meet with a plethora of teams, but it can indicate special interest in a given prospect.

In addition to a tidbit on each prospect, a estimated projection of when the player might be drafted is included.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Mike Evans, Texas A&M — first round
Skinny: The 6-foot-5 prospect ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and posted a 37-inch vertical leap in addition to showing consistent hands, factors likely leading to him being gone before the Ravens pick 17th.

Marqise Lee, USC — first/second round
Skinny: A 4.52-second 40 time wasn’t overwhelming by any means, but he performed solidly in field drills and pundits think he plays faster than his time indicated in Indianapolis.

Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State — first round
Tidbit: At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Benjamin has freakish size but isn’t as polished as Evans, carrying more of a bust risk while remaining an intriguing prospect.

Brandin Cooks, Oregon State — first/second round
Tidbit: Considered one of the big winners in Indianapolis, the 5-foot-10 Cooks may have solidified his standing as a first-round pick after running a blazing 40 (4.33 seconds) and displaying excellent hands in drills.

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt — first/second round
Tidbit: The 6-foot-3 receiver’s 40 time was much better than many thought, which bodes well for his draft prospects after a monster career playing in the SEC.

Jarvis Landry, LSU — second/third round
Tidbit: A slow 40 time was the result of a hamstring injury, but questions remain about the underneath receiver’s explosiveness as teammate Odell Beckham Jr. outperformed him at the combine.

Mike Davis, Texas — third round
Tidbit: A minor foot injury kept Davis was taking part in field drills, but he remains a viable Day 2 option.

Robert Herron, Wyoming — fourth round
Tidbit: The 5-foot-9 receiver has quick feet with a 4.45 40-yard dash time and compiled more than 2,000 receiving yards in college, making him a name to watch on Day 3.

TIGHT ENDS

Eric Ebron, North Carolina — first round
Skinny: Previously considered a good fit for the Ravens at 17th overall, the 6-foot-4 pass-catching threat had a monster workout in Indianapolis and very well could have vaunted himself into the top 10.

Jace Amaro, Texas Tech — first/second round
Skinny: The 6-foot-5 target posted an underwhelming 4.74-second 40 time and clearly fell far behind Ebron in the battle for top tight end prospect, but he remains a top 50 player despite small hands and some drops during drills.

C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa — third
Skinny: The 6-foot-6 product is known for being a tremendous blocker and fits the mold of a more traditional tight end even if he lacks the upside of the other top prospects at the position.

Troy Niklas, Notre Dame — second
Skinny: Praised by Harbaugh earlier this week, Niklas has a monster 6-foot-6 frame and could be a steal in the second or third round.

RUNNING BACKS

Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona — second/third round
Skinny: A slow 4.70 40 time didn’t do him any favors in trying to improve his draft stock, but his instincts, soft hands, and blocking ability keep him in position to be one of the first running backs selected despite a forgettable combine.

Carlos Hyde, Ohio State — second/third round
Skinny: The Buckeyes back hurt his hamstring running the 40 but remains a candidate to be the first running back to come off the draft board.

Terrance West, Towson — third round
Skinny: All eyes were on the local product to see how well he would test and the record-setting back ran a 4.54-second 40, only helping his stock to be a potential second-day pick as he continues to rise on experts’ boards.

Andre Williams, Boston College — third/fourth round
Skinny: The 230-pound bruiser tested very well in running the 40 (4.54), which follows a 2,000-yard season with the Eagles and bodes very well for his draft status.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Taylor Lewan, Michigan — first round
Skinny: The massive 6-foot-7 lineman ran a remarkable 4.87 in the 40-yard dash and shined in blocking drills to solidify his standing as a top 15 pick and future left tackle at the next level.

Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama — first/second round
Skinny: The combine couldn’t have been much worse for the projected first-round choice as concerns arose about an arthritic knee, and a 5.59 40-yard dash time and underwhelming bench press now threaten to drop him considerably.

Zack Martin, Notre Dame — first round
Skinny: Quickly becoming a favorite of teams with multiple needs along the offensive line like the Ravens, Martin continues to be a likely choice in the second half of the first round and is projected to be able to play multiple positions on the line.

Morgan Moses, Virginia — first/second round
Skinny: Not considered a good athlete despite his strong play on the field, Moses finished near the bottom of speed and agility categories among offensive linemen and remains a fringe first-round talent.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota — first round
Skinny: The 6-foot-6, 318-pound lineman stood out at the Senior Bowl and worked out well in Indianapolis, but his uneven performance in games still leaves questions for teams to investigate.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS/EDGE RUSHERS

Dee Ford, Austin — first/second round
Skinny: After excelling at last month’s Senior Bowl, Ford didn’t work out at the combine due to a medical flag of a 2011 back surgery after proclaiming himself to be better than Jadeveon Clowney a day earlier.

Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech — third/fourth round
Skinny: The pass rusher didn’t work out in Indianapolis due to hamstring and hand injuries, but he’s an intriguing mid-round prospect after collecting 12 1/2 sacks last season.

Michael Sam, Missouri — third/fourth round
Skinny: Impressing mightily in the way he handled his media session, Sam ran a 4.91 40-yard dash and still can’t shake concerns of being too small to play defensive end and not being athletic enough to play outside linebacker.

Adrian Hubbard, Alabama — fourth round
Skinny: His 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame is complemented well by a 4.69 40-yard dash, but uneven production on the field with the Crimson Tide hurts his draft stock.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Lamin Barrow, LSU — third/fourth round
Skinny: His 4.64-second 40 was the third-fastest time among linebackers, and he appears to have the skills necessary to cover running backs and tight ends at only 229 pounds.

Chris Borland, Wisconsin — third round
Skinny: His measurables weren’t overly impressive at the combine — including short arms and a subpar 4.83 40 time — but his football instincts are highly regarded as he figures to be a solid mid-round prospect at inside linebacker.

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Newsome acknowledges Ray Rice video “doesn’t look good”

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Newsome acknowledges Ray Rice video “doesn’t look good”

Posted on 22 February 2014 by Luke Jones

While echoing John Harbaugh’s sentiment that the facts will determine consequences for Ray Rice, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t sugarcoat his reaction when asked if he’d seen the video of the running back dragging his fiancee from a casino elevator.

“It doesn’t look good,” Newsome said. “But I’m going to reserve all my comments up until I have a chance to talk to Ray.”

While Rice has spoken to Harbaugh, director of player development Harry Swayne, and head of security Darren Sanders, Newsome told reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that he has yet to speak to the seventh-year running back.

Rice and fiancée Janay Palmer were both arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence after a physical altercation in Atlantic City last weekend. However, Newsome said he feels “very good” about Rice’s side of the story told to members of the organization and on the measures the 27-year-old has taken in the aftermath of the incident to address his relationship with Palmer.

“In any of those situations, it’s very concerning, but up until we get all of the facts, we will allow the process run its course,” Newsome said. “I think John said it best yesterday: ‘We will let the facts determine what the consequences will be.’”

Newsome gave no indication that Rice’s future with the Ravens is in jeopardy, but he acknowledged that the entire video must be reviewed by the league and that the organization will follow commissioner Roger Goodell’s lead in that regard. It has been reported that Atlantic City police possess surveillance video of the pair striking each other with Rice rendering Palmer unconscious.

Many have opined that because of the public nature in which this story has played out with TMZ releasing a portion of the video on Wednesday, Rice is likely to face a suspension.

“As a league, we have a conduct policy,” Newsome said said. “Being a member of the league, we will follow that from A to Z. Up until we get to that point, right now, he falls under the personal conduct policy with the league. And we will allow the league to take its position before we will have to take any.”

To hear the entire Ozzie Newsome press conference at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, click HERE.

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Rice’s cap ramifications clear despite stormy legal situation

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Rice’s cap ramifications clear despite stormy legal situation

Posted on 20 February 2014 by Luke Jones

The questions keep coming regarding running back Ray Rice and what actions the Ravens can potentially take in response to his troubling legal situation, but the realities are clear in terms of his contract and the salary cap.

At least for now.

This isn’t about debating whether the Ravens should release Rice as you’ve likely already formulated your position on the alleged domestic altercation between him and fiancée Janay Palmer based on what’s known to this point. General manager Ozzie Newsome said earlier this week that Rice remained in the team’s plans for 2014 and while the organization is taking the situation very seriously, there remains no indication that they plan to cut the 27-year-old as of now.

The Ravens have a history of staying the course with players dealing with legal problems, and there’s no reason to believe this incident would be any different despite their obvious concerns and displeasure with their starting running back.

But if more damning evidence surfaces that’s worse than the troubling video released by TMZ on Wednesday and the Ravens would determine they simply cannot proceed with Rice as a member of the organization, the salary cap won’t do them any favors as was discussed at the start of the offseason when his career-worst 3.1 yards per carry average in 2013 appeared to be his biggest problem.

Rice carries an $8.75 million cap number for the 2014 season, which includes a $4 million base salary and a $4.75 million figure that’s the prorated portion of the signing bonus and option bonus paid in the first two years of his contract. The decision to cut Rice would excuse the Ravens from paying his $4 million base salary, but the hit in dead money would be devastating to their cap.

Because Rice’s contract runs through the 2016 season, releasing him now would cause the $14.25 million in prorated bonus hits over the next three years to count entirely against this year’s cap. In other words, instead of counting for $8.75 million against the cap should he remain on the roster, Rice’s exit would eat up an additional $5.5 million in cap space for a total of $14.25 million on the 2014 cap, making him more costly to jettison than to keep.

That proposition does become a little more palatable with Thursday’s news of the 2014 salary cap increasing to $130 million — currently leaving the Ravens with just under $20 million in room — but it would still be a crippling blow for a team needing to address multiple positions this offseason. If they felt they had no choice but to cut Rice, a post-June 1 designation would clear $4 million in cap space (his scheduled base salary) from his current 2014 number of $8.75 million, but those savings wouldn’t arrive until the summer when the offseason is essentially over and would leave a whopping $9.5 million in dead money on the 2015 salary cap.

There’s just no positive outcome to cutting Rice this offseason from a salary-cap standpoint.

Some have posed the idea of the Ravens trying to void his contract due to a morals clause, but that only provides the grounds for cutting a player due to bad behavior, which only means they wouldn’t have to pay his base salary. The ramifications of the signing bonus would remain on the books, which is the more critical piece at work in the discussion.

For context, it’s worth noting that the New England Patriots remain on the hook for a $7.5 million cap hit in 2014 for former tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was released by the organization and charged with first-degree murder last June.

The only course of action that could result in the Ravens receiving some financial forgiveness in terms of the signing bonus would be to keep Rice for the 2014 season and await the possibility of him missing games due to jail time or a suspension from the league. Not only would the Ravens receive cap credit for the prorated portion of his base salary that meets the number of games missed, but the organization would have the right to recover a portion of his signing bonus coinciding with the length of the suspension.

Teams have the same option to try to recover bonus money if a player abruptly retires or holds out, which would also qualify as what’s known as a “forfeitable breach,” a term that became commonplace during the Aaron Hernandez murder investigation last summer. The Ravens could have elected to use the same language in trying to recover money from linebacker Terrell Suggs two offseasons ago when he tore his Achilles tendon because of a non-football activity, but they likely elected not to do so because of the long-term fallout it often creates in the working relationship.

These factors point to there being little chance of the Ravens parting ways with Rice this offseason unless what’s already been a troubling story grows uglier in the coming weeks and the organization concludes that it has no choice but to terminate their relationship with the three-time Pro Bowl running back.

For now, the Ravens appears to have few choices but to sit back and hope for the best for all involved parties.

 

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How far must the Ravens go to keep Pitta?

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How far must the Ravens go to keep Pitta?

Posted on 18 February 2014 by Luke Jones

With linebacker Terrell Suggs’ long-term future secure and the Ravens gaining an additional $4.6 million in cap space in the process, they now turn their attention to the next biggest items on the offseason agenda.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta are the top priorities, and the ability to work out agreements for both unrestricted free agents is aided by the Ravens holding just under $16 million in salary cap room after Suggs’ contract extension. However, with the start of free agency on March 11 only three weeks away, it becomes more and more difficult to persuade a pending free agent to agree on your terms as he sees the benefit of a wide-open market in full focus.

As contract talks remain far apart with both players, the Ravens have until March 3 to decide whether they want to place the franchise tag on an unrestricted free agent, but such an option appears too expensive for Monroe as the tag for an offensive lineman is projected to be a hefty $11.1 million for the 2014 season and he simply isn’t regarded as one of the best left tackles in the NFL. That leaves Baltimore with the decision of whether to use the designation on Pitta with the 2014 franchise tag projected to be $6.7 million for a tight end.

Such an option would appear to make sense if the sides couldn’t agree and the Ravens were unsure of Pitta’s worth or the fifth-year tight end simply wanted to reestablish his value after a serious hip injury limited him to just four games last season.

If only it were that simple.

Few have paid closer attention to the showdown between New Orleans and All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham than the Ravens as New Orleans is prepared to use the franchise tag on Drew Brees’ top pass-catching target who collected more than 1,215 yards and 16 touchdown catches last season. As a threat who lines up in the slot and out wide more often than as a traditional tight end, Graham is expected to contest that he should be tagged as a wide receiver, which carries a tender that’s $4.8 million more than the anticipated tight end figure in 2014.

While Pitta isn’t at Graham’s level in terms of production, he can easily file a similar grievance after he lined up in the slot on 79.7 percent of his routes last season, according to Pro Football Focus. And while many have argued that the tight end position is simply evolving — with the 6-foot-7 Graham as transcendent as anybody — the collective bargaining agreement makes it clear that a franchise player is to be tendered at the position “at which [he] participated in the most plays during the prior league year.”

In the same way that they prefer not to tag Monroe because he isn’t a top-five tackle in the league, the Ravens can’t risk the possibility of needing to tie an $11.5 million commitment to Pitta. Of course, Baltimore found itself in a similar position with Suggs years ago when he argued that he should be viewed as a defensive end before the sides eventually split the difference in the franchise tag costs for a defensive end compared to a linebacker.

But even a compromised figure of just over $9 million would eat up much of the Ravens’ available cap space in an offseason in which they have a plethora of needs on both sides of the football after the first non-playoff season of the John Harbaugh era.

And Pitta’s agent, Justin Schulman, is aware of that reality as talks continue.

There’s no disputing Pitta’s importance to the offense as one of Joe Flacco’s favorite weapons over the last couple years, but quantifying that on a relatively small sample size is problematic for a player who will turn 29 in June. His best year came in 2012 as his 61 catches ranked ninth among tight ends and his 669 receiving yards were 11th. Pitta has 61 additional catches for 575 yards in his three other seasons combined in Baltimore.

Prior to his devastating hip injury last July, Pitta was expected to fill an expanded role out of the slot to ease the pain of Anquan Boldin’s departure, but the Ravens were never able to see that come to fruition with him missing more than four months of action. At the very least, Pitta was able to prove he was healthy enough to continue his career at a high level after playing in the final four games of the season and recording 20 catches.

With the uncertainty surrounding the price of the franchise tag and Pitta’s absence being an obvious detriment to the offense last season, are the Ravens being backed into a corner from a negotiating standpoint?

Even if Pitta’s representation would have a difficult time making the argument that he deserves to be paid in the same stratosphere as talents such as Graham or New England’s Rob Gronkowski, hefty contracts handed out to non-elite tight ends such as Jared Cook ($16 million guaranteed), Zach Miller ($13 million guaranteed), and Marcedes Lewis ($12.85 million guaranteed) in recent years certainly won’t help general manager Ozzie Newsome. The top tight ends in the league generally have an average salary of $7 million per season over the course of their contract, but it always comes down to how much guaranteed money a team is willing to hand over.

After Cook secured $16 million in guaranteed money last offseason — which included a $5 million signing bonus and three years of guaranteed salary — it isn’t farfetched that Pitta could be looking for guaranteed money approaching the $20 million range.

His production and talents indicate that he should be paid as a top-10 tight end, but his leverage with the franchise tag and what’s still viewed by some as untapped potential may drive the cost much higher than the Ravens would prefer to go.

The clock is ticking on not only the decision to use the tag but the possibility of Pitta hitting the open market with the organization already declaring the need to add an impact wide receiver to an offense that ranked 29th in the NFL last year.

The Ravens can’t afford to lose their starting tight end.

But whether they can afford him without making sacrifices elsewhere remains to be seen.

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Newsome says Rice remains in Ravens’ plans for 2014

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Newsome says Rice remains in Ravens’ plans for 2014

Posted on 17 February 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said Monday he had yet to speak to Ray Rice following his weekend arrest in Atlantic City but added that the running back remains in the team’s plans for the 2014 season.

Addressing the media to announce a contract extension with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Newsome said that he continues to gather information regarding an alleged physical altercation between Rice and his fiancée Janay Parker that led to the pair being arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence. Newsome said that he or head coach John Harbaugh plans to speak to Rice within the next 24 hours.

According to a police statement, Rice and Parker struck each other with their hands and the incident was captured on video surveillance at the Revel Casino.

“When I left my office 20 minutes ago and John had probably been in there 15 minutes before then, Ray Rice was still a big part of what we plan to do in 2014,” Newsome said early Monday afternoon. “I don’t know the situation. I’ve only gotten what has been written. I have not had a chance to talk to Ray, [and] I have not had a chance to talk to [director of security Darren Sanders]. I really don’t know the situation. With me, I get all the answers, then that’s when we make decisions within this organization — once we get all the information we can get.”

Rice and Parker both refused medical treatment on the scene and were released after being given a summons to appear in court.

The seventh-year back is scheduled to make a $4 million base salary and carries an $8.75 million cap number for the 2014 season. However, the Ravens wouldn’t have any flexibility from a cap standpoint should they want to part ways with Rice as the accelerated cap hit would be greater than the space he currently commands this season.

A Ravens team official released the following statement Sunday night after the news had been initially broken:

“We are aware of the Friday night situation with Ray Rice and his fiancée. We have spoken with Ray and know that they returned home together after being detained.”

 

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Ravens, Suggs reach contract extension through 2018 season

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Ravens, Suggs reach contract extension through 2018 season

Posted on 16 February 2014 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Monday 2:30 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the start of free agency less than a month away and the Ravens hoping to clear more salary cap space to address a number of needs, the future of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been resolved with the veteran having a reasonable chance to finish his career in Baltimore.

And that’s exactly the way he wanted it.

“That is definitely the message,” Suggs said. “That’s the plan I see unless Ozzie [Newsome] has a trick up his sleeve. That’s definitely it. Sizzle will be a Raven for life.”

According to multiple outlets, the general manager and Suggs’ agent, Joel Segal, reached a long-term contract extension that reduces his $12.4 million cap figure to $7.8 million for the 2014 season and gives the six-time Pro Bowl selection and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year the opportunity to complete his career with the team that drafted him in 2003. Suggs was entering the final season of a six-year, $62.5 million contract signed in 2009 and was owed a $7.8 million base salary this season before receiving a four-year, $28.5 million extension that includes $16 million in guaranteed money.

Suggs will reportedly now receive an $11 million signing bonus with a $1 million base salary in 2014 and a $4 million guaranteed salary for the 2015 season. The extension totals four years and $28.5 million, but the Ravens will have the necessary flexibility to escape the deal after 2015 should Suggs’ production drop significantly as he enters his mid-30s.

“We’ve tried to put together a deal that’s a win-win for the player and for the organization,” Newsome said. “Now, whether he plays two years or three years, we have a mechanism to be able to deal with the salary cap that would make it friendly for us and friendly for Terrell.”

Newsome made it clear at the start of the offseason that the Ravens would look to adjust Suggs’ contract status in hopes of not only providing cap relief but to keep him in Baltimore beyond 2014. Had the sides not reached an agreement, it was possible that the Ravens would part ways with the 31-year-old in a manner similar to how they traded veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin last winter.

Rebounding from an injury-plagued 2012 season, Suggs began last season looking like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate by recording nine sacks and 60 tackles in his first eight games but struggled in the second half of the season, collecting only one sack and 20 tackles in the final eight contests. That late-season decline and his advancing age likely made the possibility of hitting the open market less appealing to the 2003 first-round pick, who has 94 1/2 sacks in his 11-year career.

In looking back at the second half of the season, Suggs admitted there were times in which he was trying to do too much and not playing withing the structure of the defense.

“Don’t try to do so much of everybody else’s job,” Suggs said. “Let the coverage be itself, play the play, trust the play that’s being called and just be Sizzle. I think I was probably, down the stretch, trying to do too much. As one game went by, as two games went by, it was just like, ‘Alright, I need to get a sack. I need to get a sack,’ and I stopped letting the game come to me.”

The Ravens can now shift their focus to left tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta, who are regarded as their top unrestricted free agents to re-sign before the start of free agency on March 11. Prior to the news of an extension for Suggs, the Ravens had just under $12 million in cap space, but that didn’t exclude addressing any of their exclusive-rights or restricted free agents.

Without offering names, Newsome acknowledged that the Ravens have entered discussions regarding additional contract extensions, but the completion of the Suggs contract provides consolation in not only knowing he’ll be a member of the Ravens defense in the foreseeable future but the flexibility to address significant needs on both sides of the ball.

“What it does is just allow us to have the opportunity to pursue some of our own guys, but also be prepared for when free agency opens on March 11,” Newsome said. “If there are some players that are attractive to us, then we can pursue them.”

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Harbaugh fires back at detractors over coodinator search

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Harbaugh fires back at detractors over coodinator search

Posted on 01 February 2014 by Luke Jones

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has heard the criticism in recent days about a perceived track record of hiring unqualified coaches and how he was allegedly overruled by owner Steve Bisciotti in the process of finding new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

He fired back at his critics in an exclusive interview with WNST.net in New York on Friday afternoon where he was accepting the NFL’s Salute to Service award this weekend.

“It’s definitely insulting; it’s really stupid,” Harbaugh said. “It’s reflective of not knowing the facts. People who are putting it out there know darn well what they’re saying and they know it’s not true.”

Harbaugh didn’t shy away from the fact that he communicated regularly with Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome throughout the process as he does on a variety of matters related to the organization. Many have assumed that Bisciotti was enamored with hiring a big name such as Kubiak or longtime NFL offensive coodinator Norv Turner, but the owner wanted to be thorough enough to potentially “find the guy that nobody had ever heard of before,” according to Harbaugh.

This led the seventh-year head coach to consider a number of college names as he looked at upwards of 30 potential candidates for the job Kubiak ultimately won. After previously working under the assumption that Kubiak wouldn’t be interested in the position, Harbaugh reiterated that it was a conversation with new quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison — originally about former Washington Redskins offenive coordinator Kyle Shanahan — that prompted a call to Kubiak and set the wheels in motion for the former Houston Texans coach to be hired for the coordinator job.

Bisciotti remained in the loop and offered insight along the way but never gave the directive of who to hire, according Harbaugh.

“Of course he’s going to have a lot of insight into that,” Harbaugh said. “You’d be pretty dumb not to listen to it. Steve and I talked probably through that process more than we usually do. He knew what was going on, who we were interviewing [and was] asking me questions. ‘Have you talked to this guy? Have you talked to that guy? Why haven’t you talked to him? Are you going to talk to him?’ He wanted to know all of that.

“His biggest piece of advice was if you weren’t going to hire right away out of the gates and you didn’t know who you had, then take a thorough process on very similar to the one that [the Ravens] used when they hired me in 2008. He kind of laid out to me how that works. That was really great and very helpful in terms of how to go about doing it. That was really it. He didn’t give me any interview questions or anything like that, and he certainly didn’t say who to hire.

“Steve Bisciotti would never do something like that, and not very many coaches in this league would stand for something like that. That’s not what it’s about.”

In addition to Kubiak and Dennison, new tight ends coach Brian Pariani is coming over from the former Texans staff, but Harbaugh refuted reports that other Texans assistants would be coming to Baltimore to fill the vacant running backs coach and wide receivers coach openings.

Harbaugh said Kubiak identified Dennison and Pariani as assistants he would need to help install and teach his offensive system, but the Ravens will look at “some younger guys” for the remaining two openings instead of hiring other former Houston assistants.

In addition to shooting down reports about Bisciotti and Newsome going over his head to hire Kubiak, Harbaugh took exception to the criticism of his track record hiring assistant coaches as many have used offensive line coach Juan Castillo as a damning example and predicted that he would tab wide receivers coach Jim Hostler as the new offensive coordinator despite his unsuccessful one-year stint with San Francisco in 2007.

The 51-year-old coach reminded that he’s hired a number of former or future NFL head coaches as assistants, ranging from Rex Ryan, Cam Cameron, and Chuck Pagano to Jim Caldwell, Jim Zorn, and Steve Spagnuolo. Kubiak became the Ravens’ first external hire for a coordinator position since Cameron was selected as Harbaugh’s first offensive coordinator in 2008.

“I want to have the best coaches we possibly can,” Harbaugh said. “If you go back over the last six years all told, it’d be hard to find a better six years of coaching staffs than the Ravens have had. Criticize me the other way –- say that I need great coaches around me to be successful. But don’t say that I’m hiring bad coaches or guys that won’t speak their opinion.”

To hear Ravens head coach John Harbaugh’s entire conversation with WNST.net on Radio Row in New York, click HERE.

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Seven players to watch in Senior Bowl from the Ravens’ perspective

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Seven players to watch in Senior Bowl from the Ravens’ perspective

Posted on 24 January 2014 by Luke Jones

Though many have considered this year’s Senior Bowl to be fielding its worst batch of NFL talent in recent memory, that didn’t stop the Ravens’ brass from flocking to Mobile, Ala. this week to continue preparations for the 2014 draft to be held in early May.

After 73 underclassmen entered last year’s draft and nearly 30 prospects declined this year’s invitation because of injury or personal preference, it’s understandable not to find a bumper crop of first-round talent, but that doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz haven’t identified players who could be of interest to Baltimore.

Having needs all over the offensive line as well as at wide receiver, free safety, and tight end, the Ravens could be in the hunt for the proverbial “best player available” more than ever with few positions on either side of the ball overflowing with talent. Baltimore could also be looking to improve its depth at running back and along the defensive line once you move past the more pressing needs.

Much of the best talent in this year’s draft can be found among the record 98 underclassmen declaring early, but the Senior Bowl (Saturday 4 p.m. on NFL Network) will contain prospects projected to go from the second half of the first round all the way through the seventh and final round in May.

With each number representing a loose — and very early — projection of the round in which the prospect could be drafted, here are seven players of varying degrees of talent to watch in the 2014 Senior Bowl who could be of interest to the Ravens:

1. OL Zack Martin (Notre Dame)
6-foot-4, 305 pounds
Skinny: A four-year starter for the Fighting Irish, Martin’s performance at practices in Mobile turned plenty of heads to solidify his standing as a likely first-round pick. He doesn’t have the length you’d like to see in an offensive tackle, but draft experts think he has the technique and quickness to be a Pro Bowl guard at worst. His versatility makes him an attractive option for the Ravens, who aren’t set at any position on next year’s offensive line other than right guard. 

2. WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)
6-foot-3, 206 pounds
Skinny: Underclassmen such as Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and Marqise Lee dominate the top of the wide receiver rankings, which could make Matthews a very attractive pick in the second round. Very productive in his collegiate career and considered to be good after the catch, Matthews is a cousin to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and is a smart player with a good feel for the game. With the Ravens on the hunt for a receiver, Matthews would be a fine choice if they go in a different direction in the first round.

3. FS Terrence Brooks (Florida State)
5-foot-11, 200 pounds
Skinny: Brooks played cornerback early in his collegiate career before switching to safety and excelling for the Seminoles. A standout performer in the national championship game earlier this month, he is strong against the run but has the range to play in the back end of the defense. With 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam expected to shift to strong safety this coming season, Brooks could be an intriguing Day 2 pick to be a factor at the free safety spot. 

4. OT Seantrel Henderson (Miami)
6-foot-7, 331 pounds
Skinny: The massive right tackle never realized his full potential with the Hurricanes, but his combination of size and quickness makes him an intriguing pick for any team willing to take the risk. With the Ravens’ stated desire to be much bigger across the offensive line, Henderson would be an interesting mid-round selection to take the place of free agent Michael Oher at right tackle. However, his history of suspensions due to violating team rules at Miami brings his maturity into serious question.

5. RB James White (Wisconsin)
5-foot-10, 195 pounds
Skinny: After living in the shadow of Montee Ball in previous years, White rushed for more than 1,400 yards in his senior season and was praised for his ability in pass protection during Senior Bowl practices this week. Though not an impressive physical specimen, White runs with toughness and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. With Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both coming off poor seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens take a look at a running back in the later rounds. 

6. WR Kevin Norwood (Alabama)
6-foot-2, 195 pounds
Skinny: Besides the obvious Alabama connection that Newsome will like, Norwood could be an intriguing late-round option at wideout and has a reputation as a target who can effectively move the chains. Blessed with good size, Norwood is sound fundamentally and has a championship pedigree playing for the Crimson Tide. Speed is the biggest question mark for Norwood, which will likely make him a late-round pick, but he could be an intriguing developmental player working out of the slot.

7. P Kirby Van Der Kamp (Iowa State)
6-foot-4, 202 pounds
Skinny: It’s no secret that Sam Koch’s $2.8 million cap number for 2014 makes him a prime candidate to be cut, and Van Der Kamp is viewed by some to be the best punter in this year’s draft class. Whether the Ravens choose the late rounds or simply elect to go the undrafted free agent route, there’s a reasonable chance someone other than Koch will be punting for Baltimore in 2014. Van Der Kamp wouldn’t appear to be a bad choice in this batch of rookies. 

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Five questions about the Ravens’ offensive coordinator search

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Five questions about the Ravens’ offensive coordinator search

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Luke Jones

As the search for a new offensive coordinator to replace Jim Caldwell continues, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday that the Ravens will look inside and outside the organization to find the best candidate.

Several names have already been offered by numerous outlets for consumption, but the Ravens’ history with the hiring of Harbaugh as their head coach in 2008 supports the possibility of the next offensive coordinator being an off-the-radar candidate no one is currently discussing.

Wide receivers coach Jim Hostler will interview for the position — he was San Francisco’s offensive coordinator in 2007 — but it remains unclear if any other in-house candidates such as offensive line coach Juan Castillo will interview. Of course, most think the Ravens are more likely to bring in an outside option for the job, but their exact specifications for Caldwell’s replacement remain unclear.

“We’re confident that whether we select someone currently on our staff or from another team, we will have a coach that best fits what we want to be, where we want to go and understands what Ravens football is all about,” Harbaugh said in a released team statement. “I have a profile in mind, and we are excited about the coaches who have shown interest in the job.

“One of the positives with the change is that we’re reminded that this franchise — and team — is attractive to many in the profession. We will have a coaching staff that will get the most out of our players.”

With Harbaugh and the Ravens not exactly willing to share a clear list of candidates at the onset of the search, several important questions must be answered as they look for the best man for the job:

1. Are the Ravens looking for a coordinator to tweak their current system or to offer something new entirely?

The offensive system received some new wrinkles with the increased use of the three-wide, single-back formation and the introduction of the pistol formation in 2013, but it’s clear the Ravens will be looking for at least some changes to revamp the league’s 29th-ranked offensive attack. How much change will be the question as a different offensive system comes with new verbiage and a learning curve for newcomers and veterans alike.

Ultimately, Harbaugh will want some say in his team’s overall offensive philosophy, so it remains to be seen whether the Ravens will prefer some minor modifications — along with their anticipated personnel changes — or a complete revamping. The knee-jerk reaction will be to blow it up and start fresh after an 8-8 season full of offensive ineptitude, but there are drawbacks to that and Caldwell showed late in the 2012 season that the offensive system is capable of being successful with the right personnel.

2. How much will they value experience against the appeal of an up-and-coming younger coach?

There’s no such thing as the perfect candidate as critics will view established names as underwhelming retreads while scoffing at guys they’ve never head of, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens prefer more play-calling experience after previously promoting Caldwell, a man who had never served as an offensive coordinator. Hiring an experienced coordinator is the safer play, but it can also take away mystery in opponents’ minds as tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses are no secret in the NFL establishment, possibly limiting the coordinator’s ceiling for success in the process.

An up-and-coming coach might bring enthusiasm, new ideas, and exciting potential, but you never quite know how he’ll respond if he hasn’t been a play-caller at the NFL level. Being a major asset in meeting rooms and on the practice field as a positional coach is valuable, but that doesn’t always translate to success as an offensive coordinator in the same way that not all great coordinators are capable of making the successful leap to a head coaching job.

3. Is the thought of continuity a bigger priority as the Ravens are about to have their third offensive coordinator in the last 13 months?

The Ravens are clearly looking for the best candidate to breathe life into their struggling offense, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll value a candidate who’s more likely to remain on the staff for the long haul than one who could easily bolt for a head coaching job in the next year or two even though that’s often difficult to predict. If Harbaugh doesn’t go with an internal candidate, this would mark the first time the Ravens won’t hire from within for a coordinator job — offensive or defensive — since Cam Cameron joined the new staff in 2008 as Greg Mattison, Chuck Pagano, Dean Pees, and Caldwell were already in the organization.

Baltimore had interest in interviewing the 36-year-old Ben McAdoo before he was hired as the Giants offensive coordinator on Tuesday, which could be an indication that they’re not worried about choosing a coordinator who could bolt for a head coaching gig sooner rather than later. As Harbaugh mentioned in Wednesday’s statement, having assistant coaches leave for better jobs reflects favorably on the organization, but a lack of continuity on the staff can stunt the growth of your football team when you can’t find the ideal replacements.

4. Will the Harbaugh connection be a relevant factor — for or against — any potential candidate?

One of the silliest criticisms that fans have for Harbaugh is his preference to hire coaches with which he shares connections when you realize coaches everywhere have the same tendency. Just like any other career field, networking is a major factor in the hiring process and it’s human nature to gravitate toward familiarity, whether it’s right or not.

Because of that, it would be unwise to immediately dismiss candidates who share ties with Harbaugh such as former Vikings head coach Brad Childress. However, it’s possible that owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, or even Harbaugh himself have decided that a coordinator who doesn’t have a history with the head coach would be the best fit at this particular time.

5. How much will quarterback Joe Flacco be involved in the interviewing and hiring process?

This is easily the most interesting question as it appears to be a no-brainer to have the seventh-year quarterback’s input as the Ravens consider the various candidates. Flacco certainly isn’t going anywhere, so why wouldn’t you want a candidate that he has endorsed and feels comfortable with?

Ultimately, the new offensive coordinator needs to be Harbaugh’s decision, but it would be counterproductive not to have your veteran quarterback involved in the interviews in some way to offer his input on whether he thinks he can work well with a given candidate. Whether it’s to offer feedback after observing interviews or to be directly involved in the questioning, Flacco should have a significant voice in helping to idenitfy the man who will not only lead the offense but also strive to make the franchise quarterback better after a disappointing 2013 season.

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