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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2014 class of free agents

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Stay or leave: Forecasting the Ravens’ 2014 class of free agents

Posted on 04 March 2014 by Luke Jones

With free agency set to begin at 4 p.m. next Tuesday, it’s time to predict who remains and who departs among the Ravens’ 13 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents, and six exclusive-rights free agents.

The 2014 salary cap was officially set to a record-high $133 million last week and the Ravens have just under $25 million in cap space after signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract that includes a cap figure of just $3.2 million for the 2014 season. Most media attention focuses on unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens’ list of restricted free agents and exclusive-rights players will take up a noticeable portion of that available cap space when tendered.

In much better cap position than they’ve been in a few years, the Ravens will likely have the ability to be a bigger player in the free-agent market than they are in most years, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has also valued compensatory picks over the years and signing unrestricted free agents hurts the formula in determining those.

Though the signing period officially begins on March 11, the NFL allows teams to enter into negotiations with the certified agents of players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in the three days leading up to the start of the new league year, meaning the rumors and speculation will pick up this weekend before the start of the signing period.

To see how I fared last year, check out my 2013 free-agent forecast HERE.

Unrestricted free agents

TE Dallas Clark: LEAVES
Skinny: Earlier this offseason, Clark expressed uncertainty whether he would play again in 2014, but it’s all but guaranteed that he won’t be back with the Ravens after he was no longer a factor when Pitta returned from injury last December.

NT Terrence Cody: LEAVES
Skinny: The 2010 second-round pick wasn’t quite the bust that fellow 2010 class member Sergio Kindle was, but he was certainly a disappointment in his four-year run with the Ravens and never really improved.

TE Ed Dickson: LEAVES
Skinny: He may have been the best blocking tight end on the roster the last couple years, but that was still an issue for the Ravens in 2013 and both sides appeared ready to move on by the end of last season.

CB Corey Graham: STAYS
Skinny: Viewed more as a luxury than a pressing need, Graham may ultimately fit into the Ravens’ plans with an improved cap position and the lack of quality cornerback depth behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb.

DT Arthur Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: Emerging as one of the better 3-technique defensive tackles in the AFC in his first full year as a starter, Jones figures to fetch the kind of deal that will be more than the Ravens are willing to pay with so many needs on the other side of the ball.

WR Jacoby Jones: LEAVES
Skinny: The door will remain open for a return at the right price, but the shortage of quality wide receivers on the open market will likely lead to another team overvaluing Jones’ limited ability as a wideout.

S James Ihedigbo: LEAVES
Skinny: All things being equal, the Ravens would like to have Ihedigbo back, but he deserves to start somewhere and 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam is a better fit at the strong spot than at the free safety position where he struggled as a rookie.

S Jeromy Miles: STAYS
Skinny: Plucked from Cincinnati’s roster early last season, Miles is a strong special-teams player and shouldn’t command more than the veteran minimum to remain with the Ravens.

OT Eugene Monroe: LEAVES
Skinny: The 26-year-old remains the Ravens’ top priority, but it’s clear that the sides have a difference in opinion of his value and a number of teams are looking for a left tackle, which doesn’t bode well for the chances of him re-signing.

OT Michael Oher: LEAVES
Skinny: A high-ranking member of the organization expressed the belief that Oher would be viewed as a left tackle if he were to remain with the Ravens, but he appears to be no more than a Plan C or D at this point.

RB Bernard Scott: LEAVES
Skinny: With Ray Rice dealing with legal problems and Bernard Pierce coming back from shoulder surgery, the No. 3 running back job has suddenly become a bigger priority and the Ravens will be looking for a substantial upgrade over Scott.

LB Daryl Smith: STAYS
Skinny: The Ravens took a chance on Smith last summer and he rewarded them handsomely with a strong 2013 season, so it makes too much sense to re-sign him after Jameel McClain was cut due to cap reasons last week.

WR Brandon Stokley: LEAVES
Skinny: The man who caught the first touchdown of Super Bowl XXXV announced his retirement at the end of last season but will always be a popular figure in Baltimore.

Restricted free agents

Restricted free agents have three accrued seasons in the league. The Ravens can offer a first-round ($3.113 million), second-round ($2.187 million), or original-round tender ($1.431) million to any of these players, giving them the right to match any offer sheet from an opposing team or to receive that team’s draft pick that matches the designation. The low tender awards a draft pick equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. If the player originally went undrafted, it simply provides the team the right to match an offer sheet but awards no compensation should the player sign elsewhere.

WR Tandon Doss: STAYS
Skinny: The 2011 fourth-round pick has disappointed as a receiver, but his ability as a punt returner will lead to the Ravens either offering him the low tender or re-signing him on a cheap two-year contract.

LB Albert McClellan: STAYS
Skinny: McClellan was a non-factor defensively last season but is a strong special-teams player and has the ability to play all four linebacker spots, making him a likely choice to receive the low tender or an inexpensive two-year deal.

Exclusive-rights free agents

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Newsome, Devereaux headed to National High School Hall of Fame

Posted on 04 March 2014 by WNST Staff

Five outstanding former high school athletes, including legendary Cleveland Browns’ tight end Ozzie Newsome from Alabama and pro basketball star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway from Tennessee, headline the 2014 class of the National High School Hall of Fame.

Joining Newsome and Hardaway as athletes in the 2014 class are Casey Blake, a four-sport star at Indianola (Iowa) High School, who had a 13-year professional baseball career; Michael Devereaux, a four-sport standout at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Wyoming, who enjoyed an 12-year professional baseball career; and Suzy Powell, a basketball and track and field star at Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, California, who competed in three Olympic Games.

These five individuals, along with four high school coaches, one contest official, one administrator and one in the performing arts, will be inducted into the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) National High School Hall of Fame July 2 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place in Boston, Massachusetts. The 32nd Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be the closing event of the 95thannual NFHS Summer Meeting.

High school coaches slated for induction this year include Bob McDonald, basketball coach at Chisholm (Minnesota) High School who is retiring this year after a legendary 59-year coaching career; Morgan Gilbert, who retired last year from Tuckerman (Arkansas) High School after winning more than 1,000 games as both a basketball coach and baseball coach during a 48-year career; Katie Horstman, who started the girls sports program at Minster (Ohio) High School in 1972 and led the girls track team to eight state championships; and Frank Pecora, who becomes Vermont’s first inductee in the National High School Hall of Fame after leading Northfield (Vermont) High School to 15 state baseball championships.

Other members of the 2014 induction class are George Demetriou, a football and baseball official from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who is a state and national officiating leader in both sports; Sheryl Solberg, a state and national leader in the development of girls athletics programs during her 34 years as assistant to the executive secretary of the North Dakota High School Activities Association; and Randy Pierce, a state and national debate leader who coached debate at Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights, Missouri, for almost 40 years before retiring in 2012.

 

ATHLETES

Ozzie Newsome was a three-sport standout (football, basketball, baseball) at Colbert County High School in Leighton, Alabama, in the early 1970s. He helped Colbert County to state championships in football and basketball in 1972 and to the state finals in baseball in 1973. After four years at the University of Alabama, Newsome became one of the greatest tight ends in National Football League (NFL) history during his 13-year career with the Cleveland Browns. He has been general manager/executive vice president of the Baltimore Ravens since 1996 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway scored more than 3,000 points during his three-year basketball career at Treadwell High School in Memphis, Tennessee, from 1987 to 1990. As a senior, Hardaway averaged 36 points and 10 rebounds per game and was the Parade National Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball in Tennessee. Hardaway was an all-American at Memphis State University and a four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) all-star with the Orlando Magic. He played with three other NBA teams during his 15-year career and was a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic basketball team that won a gold medal.

Casey Blake was named the Top Male High School Athlete in Iowa in 1992 at the conclusion of his four-sport, four-year career at Indianola High School. As the team’s quarterback, he led Indianola to the state football playoffs twice and was the leading scorer on the basketball team. He was the first freshman to play on the school’s baseball team and was named all-state two times, and he was a medal winner in the 400-meter hurdles in the state track meet. Blake was a three-time All-American at Wichita State University and retired in 2011 after a 13-year career in professional baseball with five teams, including the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Michael Devereaux was one of the greatest high school athletes in Wyoming history at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper (1979-81). He led the track team to the 1981 state championship while setting state records in four events (100, 200, 400 and high jump), helped the basketball team to back-to-back titles in 1980 and 1981, and was a member of the state football championship team in 1980. Though the Wyoming High School Activities Association does not sponsor baseball, Devereaux led his American Legion team to three state titles. The highlights of his 12-year professional baseball career were with the Baltimore Orioles in 1992, when he finished seventh in the MVP voting, and with the Atlanta Braves in 1995, when he was MVP of the National League Championship Series and helped the Braves to the World Series title.

Suzy Powell was one of the top discus throwers at all levels of competition in this country – from her days at Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, California, until her retirement in 2012. Powell set the national high school girls discus record of 188-4 in 1994 and held the mark until 2009. She was three-time California state champion in the discus and was the California Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 1994. Powell also played basketball and averaged 21.6 points per game as a senior. She was a member of three U.S. Olympic teams (1996, 2000 and 2008) and was ranked No. 1 in the United States in the discus as recently as 2007.

 

COACHES

            After 59 years and at the age of 80, Bob McDonald concluded his amazing basketball coaching career this year. McDonald spent the final 53 years at Chisholm (Minnesota) High School and finished with an overall record of 1,012-428, which included three state championships and 11 state tournament appearances. He is one of only 13 coaches nationally to surpass 1,000 victories. McDonald also coached track and field at Chisholm for 50 years and won a state title in 2001. 

Morgan Gilbert is the only high school coach in history to surpass 1,000 victories in both basketball and baseball and ranks among the top 10 all-time leaders in both sports. After concluding his remarkable 48-year career last year, including the past 40 years at Tuckerman (Arkansas) High School, Gilbert ranked sixth all-time in baseball coaching victories with a 1,030-396 career mark and seventh all-time in basketball with a 1,077-593 career record. His teams competed in the state basketball playoffs 38 times and the state baseball playoffs 39 times.

Katie Horstman was considered a pioneer in the area of girls athletics in the state of Ohio after starting the girls athletic program at her alma mater – Minster High School – in 1972. In her 25 years at Minster, Horstman coached volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, track and field, cross country and softball. Her track and field teams won eight state titles and finished second four other times, and she led the cross country team to one state title and three runner-up finishes. Prior to returning to Minster, Horstman played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1950s.

The first person from Vermont to be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame, Frank Pecora had an outstanding career as baseball coach at Northfield High School. In 38 years (1973, 1976-2012), Pecora’s teams won 15 state championships, including five in a row from 1997 to 2001, and finished second four other times. Pecora was the school’s athletic director as well during his career at Northfield. He was president of the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association and served on the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Board of Directors.

 

OFFICIAL

George Demetriou has officiated high school baseball and football in Colorado for 25 years, including three championship games in baseball and two in football; however, his contributions to officiating in those sports go far beyond his on-the-field accomplishments. Demetriou has served as the Colorado High School Activities Association baseball and football rules interpreter and has authored widely distributed books in both sports. He has written more than 300 articles, many of which have appeared in Referee magazine, and he is the author of an annual football study guide for NFHS and NCAA rules.

 

ADMINISTRATOR

Sheryl Solberg was one of the leaders in the development and growth of girls sports programs – in her state and across the nation – during her 34 years as assistant to the executive secretary of the North Dakota High School Activities Association (1978-2012). At the state level, she handled coaches and officials programs for most of the state’s sports, and was involved with several national rules experiments, including rally scoring and the libero position in volleyball and the smaller-size basketball for girls. She also led numerous officiating camps and clinics throughout the country.

 

PERFORMING ARTS

Randy Pierce was a leader in high school debate at all levels – from almost 40 years at Pattonville High School to his work with the Missouri State High School Activities Association to his work with the NFHS and the National Debate Topic Selection Committee. Pierce coached the Pattonville High School mock trial team to six state championships and qualified students to MSHSAA state championships for 37 consecutive years. In 2010, Pierce received his seventh diamond award from the National Forensic League.

The National High School Hall of Fame was started in 1982 by the NFHS to honor high school athletes, coaches, contest officials, administrators, performing arts coaches/directors and others for their extraordinary achievements and accomplishments in high school sports and activity programs. This year’s class increases the number of people in the Hall of Fame to 423.

The 12 individuals were chosen after a two-level selection process involving a screening committee composed of active high school state association administrators, coaches and officials, and a final selection committee composed of coaches, former athletes, state association officials, media representatives and educational leaders. Nominations were made through NFHS member associations.

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Ravens elect not to use franchise tag on left tackle Monroe

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Ravens elect not to use franchise tag on left tackle Monroe

Posted on 03 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Needing to decide by 4 p.m. Monday whether they would designate left tackle Eugene Monroe as their franchise player, the Ravens elected not to use the tag on their starting left tackle.

The Ravens would have been required to offer an $11.654 million tender if they’d named Monroe their franchise player. Prior to signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract on Friday, the Ravens had roughly $26 million in cap space, which does not include tenders for exclusive-rights free agents and restricted free agents. However, with other pressing needs on the offensive line as well as at wide receiver and free safety, the tag price was considered a steep investment with no guarantee of a long-term deal in the future.

Several outlets reported Monday morning that the sides remained far apart in long-term contract negotiations as other teams such as the Miami Dolphins have already leaked interest in the 26-year-old should he hit the market when free agency begins on March 11. The 2009 first-round pick has routinely been ranked in the top 10 of available NFL free agents by various outlets.

Other teams may begin negotiating with Monroe on March 8, but no contracts may be signed before next Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the start of the new league year. However, with no tag in place, it appears unlikely that the offensive lineman wouldn’t want to at least explore other offers on the open market.

According to Pro Football Focus, Monroe earned the fourth-best grade of any tackle in the league over the final 11 weeks of the 2013 season, the period of time in which he played with the Ravens. The University of Virginia product has never been named to the Pro Bowl but has started 73 of 76 games in his five-year career, showing durability and consistent play despite spending most of that time with the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

Monroe has continued to work out at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills and has acknowledged he would like to remain in Baltimore after the Ravens forked over fourth- and fifth-round picks to acquire him from Jacksonville last October, but he does not intend to give them a hometown discount.

“I want to be here, but I know there could be opportunities everywhere,” Monroe said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST last month. “I just have to be patient and wait for things to unfold. Everyone in the business should understand that you have to get the absolute best, and that you can’t give any discounts because you have to have you and your family’s best interest at heart.”

The Ravens have routinely used the franchise tag as a mechanism to extend the negotiating window in order to eventually reach a multi-year contract, but a simple look at the last three times general manager Ozzie Newsome used the tag indicates the tender amount ultimately provides a framework for the average cost per year of a long-term deal, which may have made Baltimore leery over a figure approaching $12 million.

In 2009, linebacker Terrell Suggs was tagged with a $10.2 million tender before signing a deal worth $10.5 million per season over six years, Two years later, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata received a $12.4 million franchise tender before signing a contract worth $12.2 million per year over five seasons. And two years ago, running back Ray Rice was set to play for a $7.7 million franchise amount before inking a five-year contract paying an average of $7 million per season.

In other words, Monday’s decision could simply be viewed as the Ravens not valuing Monroe as an $11.65 million-per-year player.

In their 19-year history, the Ravens have used the franchise tag on five players — designating cornerback Chris McAlister and linebacker Terrell Suggs twice each — and only failed to reach a long-term agreement with one as offensive lineman Wally Williams departed after the 1998 season to sign a contract with the New Orleans Saints.

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Newsome says Ravens could bring back McClain or Leach

Posted on 27 February 2014 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Baltimore Ravens have terminated the contracts of vested veterans FB Vonta Leach and LB Jameel McClain, general manager/executive vice president Ozzie Newsome announced Thursday.

“Vonta and Jameel are two of our most important players over the last few seasons, helping us to the playoffs and giving the Ravens the Super Bowl win after the 2012 season,” Newsome stated. “Vonta proved to be one of the best fullbacks in the league, plus he added leadership and toughness to our offense. Jameel is a Ravens’ success story who came to us as a rookie free agent. He changed positions from playing on the defensive line and outside to becoming a good inside linebacker and starter. People close to our team understand his commitment to being the best he can be and the leadership he gave on and off the field.

“There could come a point later on when we would consider bringing back Vonta and Jameel. They are our types of players.”

A 10-year NFL veteran and three-time Pro Bowl selection, Leach spent the past three seasons with the Ravens, earning All-Star honors twice (2011-12). Seeing action in 146 career games (79 starts), Leach originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Green Bay Packers in 2004. In his three seasons with the Ravens, he played in all 48 games (36 starts) and served as the lead blocker for RB Ray Rice, who was tabbed as a Pro Bowler during the 2011 and 2012 campaigns.

“He’s the big, physical fullback you like to have when you pound the ball and are on special teams,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “And, who doesn’t like Vonta? He’s fun to be around, and his personality helped lift the energy at a lot of practices. People know we like to be physically dominating, and when we did that in recent years, Vonta was a big part of that.”

McClain, a six-year NFL veteran, originally signed with the Ravens as a rookie free agent in 2008. Seeing action in 87 career games (55 starts), he recorded 338 tackles (214 solo), 4.5 sacks (-33.5 yards), one interception, 10 passes defensed, three fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown) and one forced fumble. McClain’s 338 stops rank 17th on the Ravens’ all-time tackles chart, while he also registered a franchise-record two safeties (both during his 2008 rookie season).

“There is so much to like about Jameel, the player and the person,” Harbaugh added. “He’s a true leader, and his story from rookie free agent to NFL starter is one of the best in the league. 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.

“Both of these men helped the Ravens win a lot of games and the Super Bowl Championship. We are thankful for all they gave us.”

McClain earned the team’s 2013 Ed Block Courage Award after returning from a spinal cord contusion injury he sustained in 2012. Missing the final three regular season games and each playoff contest in 2012, McClain then sat out the first six games of the 2013 campaign before returning for its final 10 contests (all starts). He totaled 50 tackles (27 solo) and one forced fumble last season.

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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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