Tag Archive | "ozzie newsome"

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Key dates on NFL offseason calendar

Posted on 12 February 2015 by Luke Jones

Even if we’re in the midst of a rare quiet time in the NFL calendar, below is a look at what’s coming up for the Ravens and the other 31 NFL teams as the offseason kicks into high gear in the coming weeks:

February 16 — First day for clubs to designate franchise or transition players

February 17-23 — NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis

February 24 — Ravens hold their 2014 season-review/2015 season-preview press conference at 2 p.m. in Owings Mills

March 2 — Prior to 4:00 p.m., deadline for clubs to designate franchise or transition players

March 7-10 — Clubs are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2014 contracts at 4:00 p.m. on March 10. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until the official start of free agency on that day.

March 10 — Prior to 4:00 p.m., clubs must exercise options for 2015 on all players who have option clauses in their 2014 contracts.

March 10 — Prior to 4:00 p.m., clubs must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a right of first refusal/compensation.

March 10 — Prior to 4:00 p.m., clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2014 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

“Rule of 51″ begins. All clubs must be under the 2015 salary cap prior to 4:00 p.m.

All 2014 player contracts expire at 4:00 p.m.

The 2015 league year and free agency period begin at 4:00 p.m.

Trading period for 2015 begins at 4:00 p.m. after expiration of all 2014 contracts.

March 22-25 — NFL annual meeting in Phoenix

April 6 — Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2014 regular season may begin offseason workout programs.

April 20 — Clubs with returning head coaches may begin offseason workout programs.

April 24 — Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets

April 29 — Deadline for prior club to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents

April 30-May 2 — NFL draft in Chicago

May 8-11 or May 15-18 — Clubs may elect to hold their three-day post-draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday.

May 18-20 — NFL spring league meeting in San Francisco

June 21-27 — Rookie symposium in Aurora, Ohio

July 15 — At 4:00 p.m., deadline for any club that designated a franchise player to sign such player to a multi-year contract or extension. After this date, the player may sign only a one-year contract with his prior club for the 2015 season, and such contract cannot be extended until after the club’s last regular-season game.

Mid-July — Clubs are permitted to open preseason training camp for rookies and first-year players beginning seven days prior to the club’s earliest permissible mandatory reporting date for veteran players.

Veteran players (defined as a player with at least one pension-credited season) other than quarterbacks or “injured players” may report to a club’s preseason training camp no earlier than 15 days prior to the club’s first scheduled preseason game or July 15, whichever is later.

Veteran quarterbacks and injured players may be required to report to the club’s preseason training camp no earlier than five days immediately prior to the mandatory reporting date for all other veteran players, provided the club has already opened (or simultaneously opens) its official preseason training camp for all rookies and first-year players.

A three-day acclimation period will apply to players who are on a club’s roster up to and including the mandatory veteran reporting date. Players who join the roster after that date may practice (including wearing pads) and play immediately after passing a physical.

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If not Torrey Smith, then who for the Ravens?

Posted on 04 February 2015 by Luke Jones

No Ravens free-agent-to-be has sparked more debate over the last several months than wide receiver Torrey Smith as he’s set to hit the open market in a few weeks.

So much time is spent picking apart his shortcomings in running routes and arguing that he’s not a No. 1 receiver — there aren’t 32 of them in the entire NFL, by the way — that we lose sight of what Smith has brought to the table in his four years with the Ravens. Prior to his selection in the second round of the 2011 draft, the Ravens lacked any kind of a vertical threat for quarterback Joe Flacco and were regularly suffocated by any defense simply playing Cover 2 with aggressive cornerbacks. From the moment he arrived, the speedy receiver brought an ability to not only stretch the field, but make plays in the process of doing so.

The University of Maryland product ranks third on the all-time franchise list in receptions and is second with 30 touchdown catches while never missing a game in four years. After a 2013 season in which he caught 65 passes for 1,128 yards — both career highs — his numbers dipped to 49 catches for 767 yards under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, but Smith still caught a career-best 11 touchdowns and drew an impressive 261 yards on pass interference calls. The six-foot, 205-pound wideout wasn’t a great fit in Kubiak’s system that focused on short-to-intermediate passing, but his skill set is something that would be hard to replace.

By all accounts, Smith is also one of the best men in the Ravens locker room, a factor that shouldn’t be lost in the wake of last offseason when five players were arrested and after the recent reports of Will Hill and Terrence Cody being in trouble with the law. Character can’t be everything when it comes to valuing a player, but it should count for something.

It’s true that Smith profiles best as a good No. 2 receiver, but that still carries substantial value, evident by a CBS Sports report indicating the Ravens offered him a five-year, $35 million contract prior to the 2014 season. And even if the 26-year-old won’t cash in on his gamble in the same way that Flacco did in his walk year two years ago, offers in that same neighborhood — or slightly better — will still be thrown his way on the open market. Resources such as Spotrac.com have projected Smith to be worth slightly above $7 million per year, and that’s before learning whether top free-agent receivers such as Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and Randall Cobb will even hit the market.

If you’re convinced the Ravens shouldn’t pay Smith what they offered him a few months ago or sweeten the deal a bit to potentially get it done, then what?

Even if Bryant, Thomas, and Cobb find their way to the market, the Ravens won’t have the salary cap space to make a competitive offer. Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin would be next on the list, but most project him to fetch more than Smith in free agency. A look at contracts signed in recent offseasons likely puts Smith in line with the deals received by Eric Decker and Golden Tate last offseason, but the final price will depend on the supply of quality receivers on the market and the number of teams willing to spend.

Whether re-signing Smith or not, the Ravens will take a long look at the wide receiver position in the draft, but Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White will be long gone by the time they pick 26th overall. And let’s not forget that general manager Ozzie Newsome’s sterling draft reputation doesn’t extend to the wide receiver position where Smith is the Ravens’ biggest success story in two decades. Going into the draft needing to find a starting receiver with a late first-round pick isn’t a recipe for success for a playoff-caliber team.

Drafting a wideout such as DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham, Jaelen Strong, or Devin Funchess could pay off in the long run, but few positions are as unpredictable as wide receiver, especially if you’re expecting one to play a significant role immediately.

Should Smith depart, the Ravens would be looking at a 36-year-old Steve Smith as one starter and a competition among the likes of Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, and Jacoby Jones (if he isn’t a cap casualty) for the No. 2 spot. Those receivers are complementary parts — not NFL starters — at this stage, and the Ravens can’t depend too much on Steve Smith, who slowed down at different points last season after a blazing start.

As they have in the past, Baltimore could look for another short-term veteran fix, but there’s only so much upside to be had with receivers on the wrong side of 30, especially if you’re looking for someone to stretch the field.

Of course, Smith will also need to prove just how much he wants to remain in Baltimore as he told WNST.net last week that he won’t necessarily go to the highest bidder and complimented the organization for giving him a chance to win every year. If the Ravens are still offering the fifth-year receiver what they did a few months ago and are willing to offer a little more as a show of faith in him, Smith can’t accuse them of disrespecting him after a season he’s described himself as less than stellar.

Most agree that Smith needs to be “the right player at the right price” for the Ravens to continue their relationship with him, but his departure would spell bad news for a team trying to build on a 10-6 season that ended in the divisional round.

His detractors have had few problems pointing out what Smith isn’t, but replacing him would be more difficult than many are willing to admit.

 

 

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2015 salary cap cuts

Posted on 03 February 2015 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl XLIX now in the books and the 2014 season officially over, the Ravens are continuing to make plans for 2015 as they evaluate a tight salary cap and try to improve from a 10-6 campaign that resulted in a trip to the divisional round of the playoffs.

The NFL has yet to set the 2015 salary cap, which is projected to increase from $133 million this past season to somewhere between $138 million and $142 million for the upcoming year. That’s good news for the Ravens as they currently own a commitment of over $137 million for players currently under contract, per Spotrac.com.

With a slew of key free agents to address as well as visions of trying to improve other areas of the roster, general manager Ozzie Newsome will face some difficult decisions pertaining to several veterans on the roster. That begins and ends with five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata, who is entering the final season of a five-year, $61 million deal signed in 2011. Easily one of the best players in franchise history, the 31-year-old defensive tackle finds himself in a similar position to the one Terrell Suggs was in last year before he signed a contract extension to lower his 2014 cap figure.

A name not included on the list of potential cap casualties below is tight end Dennis Pitta, whose $4 million base salary for 2015 is guaranteed. It remains unclear whether Pitta will play football again after suffering two serious hip injuries in two years, but cutting him this offseason would increase his cap figure for 2015.

It’s important to remember the rule of 51 as the top 51 cap numbers on the roster count against the salary cap. The savings from any released player are offset in part by an additional player jumping into the top 51 from the bottom of the list. For example, if a released player carrying a $3 million cap number is replaced in the top 51 by another player carrying a $405,000 cap number, the end result is a $2.595 million savings on the salary cap.

Here’s how I’d rank the list of possible candidates to be cut for cap purposes (with the pre-June 1 cap savings noted in parentheses), in order from most likely to least likely:

1. DE Chris Canty ($2.66 million)
Skinny: The 32-year-old may take this decision out of the Ravens’ hands as he acknowledged at the end of the season that he’s contemplating retirement. Injuries limited his production in 2014, and the Ravens will likely push to re-sign the underrated Lawrence Guy while looking toward young defensive linemen Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to be factors at Canty’s 5-technique defensive end spot. With so many other pressing needs elsewhere and a few younger options at this position, Canty returning would be more of a luxury than a necessity for next season, making it likely that he’s played his final game with Baltimore.

2. WR Jacoby Jones ($750,000)
Skinny: On the surface, the minimal savings gained by cutting the return specialist now wouldn’t appear worth it, but you have to wonder where Jones fits after falling behind the likes of Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken on the depth chart and not appearing as explosive in the return game in 2014. A possible strategy would be to designate Jones as a post-June 1 cut, which would create $2.5 million in savings for the summer and autumn when the Ravens need a “rainy day” fund to account for injuries. The only problem with that strategy is his scheduled 2015 cap number of $3.375 million staying on the books during the first few months of free agency, but it just doesn’t feel like there’s a place for Jones moving forward.

3. LB Albert McClellan ($1 million)
Skinny: A core member of Jerry Rosburgh’s special teams units over the last few years, McClellan has been a reliable player, but other young inside linebackers such as Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr are cheaper and should be ready to handle more responsibility. Of course, we’re not talking about a great deal of savings here, but veteran special-teams players are typically among the first to go when teams are dealing with cap pains.

4. P Sam Koch ($2.5 million)
Skinny: Many assumed Koch would be a cap casualty last year with his high price tag for a punter, but the Ravens value his ability a great deal and regard him as one of the best in the NFL. That said, Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker is a restricted free agent and will be looking for a long-term contract over the next 12 months. If Koch is willing to sign a team-friendly extension to lower his cap number, the Ravens would be more than happy to keep him around, but they probably can’t afford to pay their kicker and punter in the top 10 at their respective positions. Entering the final year of his contract, Koch is more likely to be a casualty this year than he was last offseason.

5. DT Haloti Ngata ($8.5 million)
Skinny: The only certainty is that the longtime Raven won’t be playing for his scheduled $16 million cap figure. Whether that means he signs an extension like Suggs or is cut remains to be seen. Ngata’s 2014 season was his best in a few years, but his four-game suspension for Adderall use allowed the Ravens to take an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who played very well in the 31-year-old’s absence. The sides talked about an extension last season with little progress, so it will be interesting to see how motivated Ngata is to make amends for his suspension and finish his career in Baltimore. The Ravens must be smart as it’s typically unwise to throw money at defensive linemen on the wrong side of 30.

6. CB Lardarius Webb ($2 million)
Skinny: It was a disappointing year for the 29-year-old after he missed all of training camp and three of the first four games of the season with a back injury. Since suffering the second anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career in 2012, Webb has looked like nothing better than average, which is problematic when he’s carrying a $12 million cap figure for 2015. However, cutting him this winter would only save $2 million and create less depth at a position where the Ravens are already looking to improve. Newsome may ask Webb to take a pay cut, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens depleting their depth at cornerback further — even if he’s no more than average at this pointby cutting him outright for minimal savings.

 

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Gase interviews for Ravens offensive coordinator job

Posted on 19 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens wasted little time in officially beginning the process to replace offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak by interviewing Denver assistant Adam Gase Monday night.

Serving as the Broncos offensive coordinator in each of the last two years, Gase traveled to Baltimore to meet with head coach John Harbaugh before the Ravens staff traveled to Arizona to coach the Pro Bowl this week. Though interest has been lukewarm for Gase in trying to become a head coach this offseason, Jacksonville and several other teams have courted the 36-year-old to become their offensive coordinator.

Gase has come highly recommended by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as he helped orchestrate the NFL’s top-ranked offense in 2013 and No. 4 unit in 2014. However, some have questioned how much of Gase’s success should be attributed to working with a Hall of Fame quarterback who has essentially run his own offense in Denver.

After spending time as an offensive assistant with the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, Gase was hired by then-coach Josh McDaniels to join the Broncos staff in 2009 and was retained by John Fox when he was hired in 2011. As a quarterbacks coach, Gase was credited for getting enough production out of quarterback Tim Tebow to get the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011 before Manning arrived on the scene the following year.

The hiring of Gase would likely bring a shift in offensive philosophy as he is known for an up-tempo, pass-happy style that differs from Kubiak’s West Coast offense that worked so well in Baltimore this past season. However, Gase adapted to a more run-oriented attack in the second half of 2014 when Manning struggled through the final weeks of the season with a quadriceps injury, leading you to believe his system can be more balanced.

A certain amount of mystery remains over how successful Gase can be as an offensive coordinator without Manning — or his many offensive weapons in Denver — but his credentials are impressive for someone who didn’t even play college football, let alone compete in the NFL. He began his coaching career as an undergraduate at Michigan State helping out coach Nick Saban, who then took Gase with him to Louisiana State as a graduate and recruiting assistant. Given general manager Ozzie Newsome’s relationship with the current Alabama coach, you can assume the Ravens have done their homework on a man regarded as one of the finest young offensive minds in the NFL.

Should the Ravens decide Gase is the right choice to replace Kubiak, they may need to move quickly given the interest he’s drawn from other teams and the high number of offensive coordinator jobs that remain unfilled around the league.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2015 class of free agents

Posted on 13 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is roughly two months away, but the Ravens face a number of important decisions in their efforts to build upon their return to the playoffs in 2014 after a one-year absence.

As is often the case, salary cap space will be a substantial concern as the Ravens entered the offseason with an estimated cap commitment of roughly $138 million, according to Spotrac.com. The 2015 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $133 million in 2014 to somewhere between $138 million and $141 million for the new season, which leaves general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens with very tough maneuvering ahead.

Of course, the Ravens could elect to terminate or renegotiate several veteran contracts with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and his $16 million cap figure for 2015 at the top of the list. Baltimore would like to extend Ngata in a way similar to what they did with Terrell Suggs last winter, but cutting him outright would save $8.5 million. Cornerback Lardarius Webb carries a $12 million figure next season, but his release would only save $2 million in space as it would leave $10 million in dead money with the Ravens still needing to replace him.

Other veterans such as defensive end Chris Canty, wide receiver Jacoby Jones, linebacker Albert McClellan, and punter Sam Koch don’t carry lucrative cap numbers but could be released to create moderate savings for 2015.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to re-sign any of the following 14 unrestricted free agents before they can sign with any other team beginning on March 10 at 4:00 p.m.

CB Antoine CasonSigned in early December, the 28-year-old was leapfrogged on the depth chart by former Miami Dolphins practice squad cornerback Rashaan Melvin, telling all you need to know about his standing.

DT Terrence Cody - I was surprised the Ravens brought back the 2010 second-round pick on a one-year deal last offseason, and he was a non-factor after returning from the reserve physically unable to perform list in November.

LS Morgan Cox - The veteran is hitting the point in his career where the Ravens usually want to go cheaper for a snapper, but they had some issues with both Kevin McDermott and Patrick Scales after Cox was lost for the season.

TE Owen DanielsThe 32-year-old had some inconsistent stretches this season, but you’d like to bring back an established option with Dennis Pitta’s status in doubt and 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore still developing.

RB Justin ForsettThe feel-good story of the 2014 campaign will draw interest elsewhere, but his knowledge of Gary Kubiak’s zone schemes as well as his patience and vision make it important for the Ravens to bring him back.

CB Danny GorrerThe journeyman cornerback suffered a season-ending knee injury in December and won’t be a priority, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him re-signed to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

LB Pernell McPheeHis 7 1/2 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, and 35 quarterback hurries likely price him out of the Ravens’ budget as other teams will throw a lot of money at the rush specialist while envisioning a bigger role for him.

S Jeromy MilesMiles is a good special-teams player and emerged to earn a significant number of snaps in the defensive backfield, so you would think the Ravens would like to bring him back at a reasonable rate.

G Will RackleyThe former Jacksonville Jaguar sustained a concussion early in training camp and was placed on injured reserve, making it unlikely the Ravens will bring him back with their offensive line in much better shape now.

OL Jah ReidThe 2011 third-round pick never lived up to expectations to even become a reliable backup, so it would be surprising to see the Ravens bring him back on even a minimum contract for 2015.

CB Aaron RossThe 32-year-old tore his Achilles tendon on the eve of training camp and has dealt with other injuries in recent years, making you think his NFL career could very well be over.

WR Torrey SmithThe Ravens and the University of Maryland product both want to continue their relationship, but will other suitors offer No. 1 receiver money for Smith’s skill set and leave Newsome with a difficult decision?

S Darian StewartThe former St. Louis Ram played better in the second half of the season and wouldn’t be a bad option to bring back to compete with 2014 third-round pick Terrence Brooks for the safety spot opposite Will Hill.

QB Tyrod Taylor - The writing was on the wall for Taylor when the Ravens drafted Keith Wenning in the sixth round of last May’s draft, so it appears unlikely that he’ll be back with Baltimore.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that happens, Baltimore has seven days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens choose not to match the offer sheet, they would receive compensation based on which tender was initially offered to that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2015 salary cap is finalized — that can be made: a first-round tender ($3.113 million in 2014) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.187 million in 2014) would award the competing team’s second-round selection, and a low tender ($1.431 million in 2014) would award the competing team’s draft selection equal to the round in which the player was originally chosen. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would simply hold the right to match the offer and would not receive any compensation if they elected not to match the competing figure.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

DL Christo Bilukidi (sixth) - The former Cincinnati Bengal appeared in only four games before being placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him non-tendered and re-signed to a cheaper deal. 

DE Lawrence Guy (seventh) - Added in late September, Guy emerged as a reliable member of the defensive line rotation and passed DeAngelo Tyson on the depth chart, making it likely the Ravens will want to bring him back.

S Will Hill (undrafted) – The bright spot in an otherwise difficult year for the secondary, Hill could receive the second-round tender to prevent other teams from trying to sign him away as the Ravens clearly want him back.

K Justin Tucker (undrafted) – The Ravens will explore a long-term deal with one of the best kickers in football, but the 2013 Pro Bowl selection would figure to receive a second-round tender to discourage other teams from sniffing around.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Historically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s essentially nothing assured beyond a likely invitation to training camp for each.

WR Kamar Aiken
CB Chris Greenwood
CB Tramain Jacobs
OL Ryan Jensen
S Anthony Levine
LS Kevin McDermott
DE Steven Means
CB Rashaan Melvin
LS Patrick Scales
TE Phillip Supernaw
RB Fitz Toussaint
S Brynden Trawick
DT Casey Walker

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Returning Ngata auditioning for future in playoff run

Posted on 30 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The timing couldn’t have been better for the return of Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from a four-game suspension.

Not only do the Pittsburgh Steelers loom in the first round of the AFC playoffs, but Baltimore lost rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan — Ngata’s replacement over the last month — to a foot injury in the regular-season finale. Even if the Steelers are without Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell on Saturday night, there’s no understating the boost a five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman can provide for a postseason run.

“He was missed a lot in the locker room, especially by me,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who’s teamed with Ngata for the last nine years. “But as soon as we won [last Sunday], we saw the score, we’re in, and we’re like, ‘Yo, we get Haloti back.’ Now the locker room is kind of back [and] complete, so to say. It’s good to have one of the best interior linemen in the game going into a big playoff game like this.”

Teammates and coaches appear to have welcomed Ngata back with open arms after a positive test for Adderall cost him the final four games of the regular season, but it’s fair to wonder how much damage might have been done to his potential future in Baltimore. Ngata is scheduled to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in 2015 — the final year of a $61 million deal signed in 2011 — and many wondered how the Ravens would plan to address his contract long before the news came of his suspension on Dec. 4.

The 2006 first-round pick is one of the best players in franchise history and has been a respected member of the locker room for nearly a decade, which made his suspension as surprising as it was disappointing. In the midst of his strongest season since 2011, Ngata testing positive for Adderall was, at best, a substantial error in judgment as it now makes critics question how long he’s used a drug the NFL considers a performance-enhancing substance without a prescription.

Ngata was noncommittal when asked if he’d seek a prescription to use Adderall in the future, preferring to keep the focus on the Ravens’ fourth all-time postseason meeting with Pittsburgh.

“It was rough — definitely rough,” Ngata said of his ban. “I was talking to a bunch of the guys, and it felt like I was retired watching football during the season while I was just at home watching the game. It felt weird, but I’m just glad that we were able to get the wins and get into the playoffs.”

The 30-year-old has played at a high level this season, but his suspension offered the Baltimore defense an opportunity to see how it would fare without him. Winning three of four games, the Ravens remained stout against the run as second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams and Jernigan anchored the defensive line for the league’s fourth-ranked rush defense. In truth, the unit didn’t appear to miss a beat, which is more of a compliment to the rest of the defensive line than a slight to Ngata.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and the front office have often preached about an “80/20 rule” for valuing players in which the Ravens will seek out players offering 80 percent of the production for 20 percent of the cost of a high-priced player. One wonders if spending high draft picks on Williams and Jernigan over the last two years and their performance in Ngata’s absence will ultimately push the veteran out the door this offseason — and save $8.5 million in cap space in the process.

Ngata will not only be returning to try to help the Ravens make another postseason run, but he’ll be auditioning for his future — in Baltimore or elsewhere. There’s no way the Ravens can justify a $16 million cap figure for Ngata next season, but the 340-pound defensive tackle has the opportunity to remind everyone of how much havoc he can create for an opposing offensive line.

But first, all eyes will be on his conditioning on Saturday after a four-game layoff.

“He’s been training — that’s what he told me,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He looks good, and I’m sure he is. I’m sure he’s busting out of his skin. I’m sure he’s ready to go.”

The Ravens hope he’s ready to help them beat Pittsburgh for the first time ever in the postseason, and Ngata has plenty to prove in bouncing back from the lowest point of his NFL career. A standout showing in the postseason would make the Ravens feel better about pursuing a short-term extension with Ngata like they did with Suggs a year ago, but a quiet performance could reinforce the sentiment that it might be best to move on from the still-talented defensive tackle who is now on the wrong side of 30.

Ultimately, Newsome may decide it’s better to part ways with Ngata a year too early than to throw too much money at a player who isn’t getting any younger. His future may come down to just how much loyalty and regret he feels after putting his team in a bad spot over the final quarter of the regular season and how that could factor into negotiations.

If Ngata is looking for another significant payday, he may need to find it elsewhere. But if he’s willing to play ball with the Ravens in lowering his cap figure in exchange for a couple more seasons at a reasonable rate in Baltimore, he’ll have a chance to finish his career where it started.

“I just feel like I owe these guys,” said Ngata of his teammates. “I’m just going to do whatever I can to help the team, and I’m definitely just ready to get back out there again.”

The Ravens are certainly welcoming him back for what they hope is a meaningful postseason run, but how long will he remain after that?

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Ngata suspended four games for violating NFL’s PED policy

Posted on 04 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ playoff hopes took a major blow Thursday with the announcement of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

The news comes as Baltimore prepares for a critical Week 14 road matchup with the Miami Dolphins. Ngata will not be eligible to play for the rest of the regular season after he claims he tested positive for Adderall, which is considered an amphetamine.

The 340-pound defensive lineman would be eligible for the postseason should the Ravens qualify.

“I made a mistake, and I own this,” Ngata said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I took Adderall and take full responsibility for doing this. I am deeply sorry and broken up over this. I let down my family, my teammates, Ravens fans and myself. My hope is that the Ravens make the playoffs, and I believe they can do this. And, then I can come back and help us win.”

Unlike the past when players had all control over commenting about the specifics of a suspension, the NFL’s new drug policy allows the league to publicly dispute a player’s claim of what he tested positive for.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection was in the midst of his best season in a few years as he’s collected 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions to lead the league’s fourth-ranked run defense.

The 7-5 Ravens will likely turn to rookie Timmy Jernigan as well as veterans Terrence Cody and DeAngelo Tyson to pick up the slack at Ngata’s 3-technique defensive tackle spot. Baltimore already lost top cornerback Jimmy Smith earlier this year due to a Lisfranc injury, so Ngata’s suspension strips the Ravens of another top player on the defensive side of the ball.

“This is disappointing news for the Ravens,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. “We are disappointed with Haloti, but no more than he is with himself.”

With the suspension, Ngata will forfeit $2 million from his $8.5 million salary in 2014 with the Ravens recovering $2 million against the salary cap. The 30-year-old has one year remaining on a five-year, $61 million contract signed in 2011, but he is scheduled to carry a $16 million cap figure in 2015, which has led many to speculate about his future as the Ravens will attempt to sign him to an extension or face the possibility of cutting him.

Ngata’s suspension is the latest chapter in a difficult year for the Ravens as they’ve dealt with the fallout from the Ray Rice saga as well as season-ending injuries to Smith and starting tight end Dennis Pitta.

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Ravens pass defense on pace to be worst in franchise history

Posted on 30 November 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens entering the final quarter of the regular season following Sunday’s disappointing 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the pass defense will need to raise its level of play substantially to avoid a dubious distinction.

Giving up 376 yards in the air as San Diego’s Philip Rivers picked them apart, the 7-5 Ravens are now on pace to surrender 4,383 yards through the air in 2014, which would shatter the franchise-worst mark of 3,969 set in the inaugural 1996 season. That year, Baltimore finished 4-12 with a pass defense that finished last in the NFL.

The Ravens woke up Monday morning ranked 31st in the league in pass defense with only the Atlanta Falcons surrendering more yards through the air.

Where are Isaac Booth, Donny Brady, and Antonio Langham when you need them?

Of course, we’re in the midst of a pass-happy era in which offense reigns supreme — making the numbers difficult to compare to those of 18 years ago — but the Ravens haven’t had any answers in a secondary that was already facing questions long before significant injuries suffered by starting cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Smith is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury, and Webb continues to look like a shell of his former self after a back injury that took away his entire training camp and forced him out of three of the first four games of the regular season.

The Ravens have been unfortunate, but they were also poorly prepared to handle any injuries on the back end of the defense.

After former No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham departed via free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome did not add any quality depth behind his starters in the offseason, instead counting on Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown to pick up the slack. Instead Jackson suffered a serious turf toe injury in Week 5 — he could return as soon as next Sunday’s game in Miami — and Brown struggled so mightily that Baltimore waived him in early November.

As a result, defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been forced to turn to journeyman Danny Gorrer and former safety Anthony Levine to go along with a struggling Webb. Many are inclined to blame coaching whenever a unit struggles, but you can only be so creative with schemes — the Ravens tried just about everything on Sunday — to overcome such personnel deficiencies.

The safety position has been just as problematic with 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam being a major disappointment in his second season. Pees has used a carousel of names — Darian Stewart, Jeromy Miles, Brynden Trawick, and rookie Terrence Brooks at various times — with only Will Hill looking to be a solid option at this stage of the season.

As for the record books, the Ravens will receive a respite from playing Pro Bowl quarterbacks as they’re slated to face Miami’s Ryan Tannehill, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, and either Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel — maybe both? — in the season finale against Cleveland. That said, Tannehill is in the midst of a good third season with the Dolphins and Fitzpatrick is coming off a six-touchdown performance in Week 13, so it won’t be a total cakewalk of opposing quarterbacks.

You can only hope Sunday was rock bottom for the pass defense as the Ravens will need an excellent final month to catch the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North or at least advance to the playoffs after last year’s absence.

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Trade deadline passes without any Ravens activity

Posted on 28 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The NFL trade deadline came and went Tuesday without the Ravens making any moves as they prepare for a key Week 9 game in Pittsburgh.

The news is hardly surprising with activity at the NFL’s deadline paling in comparison to the other major sports historically. In fact, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the only team to sell off players Tuesday by trading safety Mark Barron to the St. Louis Rams and linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots in exchange for draft picks.

The Ravens completed their first in-season trade in franchise history last season when they dealt fourth- and fifth-round picks in the 2014 draft to Jacksonville for current left tackle Eugene Monroe on Oct. 1, 2013. Baltimore followed that with another trade later that month by sending benched tackle Bryant McKinnie to Miami for a seventh-round pick.

This year, general manager Ozzie Newsome explored possibilities at the cornerback position in the wake of the mid-foot sprain suffered by Jimmy Smith in Sunday’s loss at Cincinnati, but the reality is that all teams value quality cornerback play and aren’t willing to part with it cheaply. With Smith expected to be sidelined at least until after the Week 11 bye, the Ravens only have three healthy cornerbacks on their 53-man roster — Lardarius Webb, Dominique Franks, and Chykie Brown.

Baltimore could turn to the open market for another option, but such a move would be no more than adding a warm body and the Ravens have a number of safeties who can play the nickel position including Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks, and Anthony Levine. Quality defensive backs just don’t grow on trees in this pass-happy, offense-driven era of professional football.

“We don’t have to [add someone]. If we can find the right guy, we would do that,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “They’re scarce. If you’ve got a name for me, I’m willing to hear it.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to be creative in not only dialing up consistent pressure up front to aid the secondary but in finding the right formula for coverage in the back end. Webb is improving but hasn’t looked like the force he was prior to his ACL injury in 2012 while it’s difficult to label Franks and Brown as anything but liabilities based on what we’ve seen so far in 2014.

The solution — or some semblance of one — will likely fall in how effectively Pees uses his safeties with Will Hill as the biggest wild card at this point. Baltimore has employed Elam as a nickel back for much of the season, but the 2013 first-round pick has struggled in coverage, making you wonder if Hill or or even the rookie Brooks might be a better fit for that role. Using a safety in the nickel spot can certainly provide an edge playing against the run, but enough range and ability in pass coverage are obvious requirements for it to work.

The Ravens need to find answers quickly as the Steelers’ fourth-ranked passing game awaits Sunday, but they didn’t find any help with the deadline passing on Tuesday afternoon.

 

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Report: Ravens immediately learned graphic details of Rice incident

Posted on 19 September 2014 by Luke Jones

On the same day in which a Ray Rice jersey exchange was held and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showed remorse without divulging any specifics in an afternoon press conference, a report attempted to shed light on the Ravens’ mishandling and potential coverup of the running back’s domestic violence incident.

According to an ESPN report, Ravens director of security Darren Sanders spoke to an Atlantic City police officer who’d watched the now-infamous video hours after the February incident and learned the explicit details of what transpired between Rice and then-fiancée Janay Palmer. Sanders then relayed that information to team officials, but it remains unclear whom he spoke with directly.

Upon the TMZ release of the first video just four days after the incident, head coach John Harbaugh and senior personnel assistant George Kokinis reportedly recommended that the organization release Rice, but team owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and team president Dick Cass rejected the suggestion, instead choosing to stand by the troubled running back. After offensive lineman Jah Reid became the third Ravens player arrested in the offseason, Harbaugh again approached team officials about releasing Rice, Reid, and wide receiver Deonte Thompson — the other player arrested in the offseason at that point — but was rejected again, according to ESPN.

The Ravens denied these allegations in a statement included in the ESPN piece saying, “John Harbaugh did not want to release Ray Rice until he saw the second video on September 8 for the first time. The video changed everything for all of us.”

Harbaugh was the only member of the Ravens’ brass to meet with reporters on the day Rice’s contract was terminated.

The report does not indicate that the Ravens ever had a copy of the video showing what happened inside the elevator, but Cass spoke to Rice’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, in early April after the defense team had acquired a copy of the elevator security video from the Revel Casino via subpoena. ESPN reports that Rice’s lawyer told Cass that what was on the video was “f—ing horrible” and it was apparent that “Ray knocked her the f— out.”

Cass reportedly never asked Diamondstein for a copy of the video — the NFL didn’t either — and instead continued to urge Rice’s defense team to gain acceptance for their client into a pretrial intervention program that would not only eliminate the possibility of prison time but prevent the elevator video from ever being made public.

ESPN cited four sources indicating that Ravens officials — including Bisciotti, Cass, and Newsome — continued to push for only a two-game suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in disciplining their star running back. The report also indicated that the organization believed Goodell had viewed the video, imploring Rice to tell the entire truth when he met with the commissioner in June.

Upon releasing Rice when the second video was released by TMZ on Sept. 8, Bisciotti sent Rice a text message stating the following:

Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.

When you’re done with football, I’d like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.

In an interview with The Sun last week, Newsome maintained that Rice had told the truth about what was on the graphic video throughout the process while Cass and Bisciotti have indicated in interviews that his story didn’t necessarily align with what they saw on the video for the first time on the morning of Sept. 8.

In a press conference held earlier in the day in New York, Goodell reiterated that he mishandled the Rice case with the initial two-game suspension handed down on July 25.

“I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter, and I’m sorry for that,” Goodell said. “The same mistakes can never be repeated.”

 

 

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