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

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

Posted on 24 January 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Five questions about the Ravens’ offensive coordinator search

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Five questions about the Ravens’ offensive coordinator search

Posted on 15 January 2014 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harbaugh says Ravens “have a profile in mind” for next Offensive Coordinator

Posted on 15 January 2014 by WNST Staff

COACH HARBAUGH ON NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR; QUOTES ON JIM CALDWELL

John Harbaugh on hiring a new offensive coordinator: “We will be interviewing coaches inside and outside of the building. We’re confident that whether we select someone currently on our staff or from another team, we will have a coach that best fits what we want to be, where we want to go and understands what Ravens football is all about. I have a profile in mind, and we are excited about the coaches who have shown interest in the job. One of the positives with the change is that we’re reminded that this franchise – and team – is attractive to many in the profession. We will have a coaching staff that will get the most out of our players.”

John Harbaugh on Jim Caldwell: “We are all so happy for Jim. He deserves this opportunity, and I congratulate the Lions for selecting him. We’re disappointed that we’ve lost Jim. We were looking forward to making progress on offense with Jim leading the charge as coordinator. Jim is a teacher, he is honorable, he is a respected leader, and every person with the Ravens will miss him. Players and assistants respond to him. You understand why he was named Detroit’s head coach and why all the other teams had him among the finalists.”

Ozzie Newsome on Jim Caldwell: ”I believe it would be difficult to find anyone with the Ravens who is more respected than Jim Caldwell. That includes players, coaches and other staff members. He earned that because of the person he is and his extensive knowledge about football, including the keys to winning and his ability to teach all of that. Personally, it is a privilege to know him, and it was an honor to work with him. We put Jim in a difficult position a year ago when we named him offensive coordinator late in the season. All he did was help us turn our offense around, and we won the Super Bowl. He has many strengths, but one that is sometimes overlooked is his ability to bring a coaching staff together. He has already succeeded as a head coach, and he will again in Detroit.”

Joe Flacco on Jim Caldwell: “I enjoyed my time with Jim greatly. He is a man that I will always respect as a football coach, leader and a friend. Through his calming influence and extensive knowledge of the game, he was an integral part of our success over the past few years. He will be missed by me and the Ravens. I wish him the best of luck in Detroit.”

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DeCosta reportedly contacted by Dolphins for general manager opening

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DeCosta reportedly contacted by Dolphins for general manager opening

Posted on 10 January 2014 by Luke Jones

It appears to be that time of year again when NFL teams come calling for Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta about their general manager openings.

According to the Miami Herald, the Miami Dolphins have contacted DeCosta in regards to their opening following the dismissal of general manager Jeff Ireland. However, head coach Joe Philbin remains in place, which would certainly be a sticking point for any high-profile candidate having interest in the Dolphins job.

Multiple outlets were immediately shooting down the possibility of DeCosta having any interest Friday morning.

DeCosta has already been publicly named the heir apparent to Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome by owner Steve Bisciotti and is compensated as well as many general managers around the league, factors that have resulted in him declining interview requests in the past. The 42-year-old expressed his loyalty to the Ravens as recently as last offseason, and it’s difficult to imagine the Miami job being very attractive with the fallout of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga continuing to hang over the head of the organization and Philbin still remaining as head coach.

“I love being a part of the Ravens and plan to stay here and help them win championships,” DeCosta said in a statement issued by the Ravens at the end of the 2012 regular season.  “I have no intentions of leaving this team.”

Of course, one should never say never in terms of his future, but DeCosta has been with the Ravens since 1996 and is considered a critical part of the organization’s present and future. It’s difficult to view Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ inquiry as anything more than a pipe dream considering DeCosta has turned down far more attractive job inquiries before.

The 57-year-old Newsome reiterated last January that DeCosta was the man who will eventually take his place but wasn’t thinking about retirement anytime soon.

“I know he’s going to be [the successor],” Newsome said during the week of Super Bowl XLVII. “Steve has said that. I know the Ravens will be in good hands when that time comes. That’s a long time away though.”

 

 

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Building offense around Flacco only offseason priority that matters

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Building offense around Flacco only offseason priority that matters

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Luke Jones

The uncertain future of linebacker Terrell Suggs and the decision to retain assistant Juan Castillo were topics that understandably garnered the most attention at the Ravens’ season-ending press conference on Wednesday.

But it was something owner Steve Bisciotti said that laid out the top priority of the offseason as Baltimore tries to bounce back from missing the postseason for the first time in the John Harbaugh era. In fact, it’s the only objective that really matters if the Ravens hope to climb to the heights they reached 11 months ago anytime soon.

Bisciotti has always acknowledged his opinions on football-related matters shouldn’t — and usually don’t — hold as much weight as those of general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh, but that hasn’t stopped the 53-year-old owner from publicly calling for more accountability from his employees in the past as former head coach Brian Billick and former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron learned years ago. That’s what made his answer over how concerned he was about the underwhelming play of quarterback Joe Flacco so telling as it spelled out what the Ravens must do this winter.

There was no over-the-top comment about needing more of a return on the $120.6 million contract he forked over to the 28-year-old quarterback last winter, even though the Ravens will certainly expect a much better Flacco in 2014. Yes, Flacco must improve, but so must Newsome, Harbaugh, Castillo, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell (if he does indeed return), Ray Rice, the offensive line, and everyone else with a stake in the Baltimore offense next season and beyond.

“When you look at these guys who have been coaching in the league and have had success in the past and you look at our players that have had success in the past, if we could have fixed it, we would have,” Bisciotti said. “I certainly expected more in the second half of the season. As interrelated as the running game is to the play-action pass and the execution of the offensive line, trying to divide up the blame is something I’m really not much more qualified than you guys are to do. But, when you have a short window of failure that comes out of the blue, the key is not to make wholesale changes.

“I know that Ray Rice was limited this year, and Bernard Pierce was limited. And, if they had been better, then maybe the offensive line would have performed better. Obviously, if the offensive line were blowing open holes, then maybe [Rice and Pierce] could have achieved more with their physical limitations. And, if that had worked a little better, then I think Joe would have performed a little better. All the things, the numbers that are so striking to me to find yourself in the bottom five in offense in almost every category is again something that — had we not had a [good] history in the last five years – then I would probably demand wholesale changes. But I think you have to be careful to not to look in a vacuum and decide you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and [you] let people get healthy, let these guys work together for another year, add some people to the team in the draft and free agency.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to look at the offense with the same fine-tooth comb that we looked at the defense last year. I think you’re going to see a lot of changes in personnel and how we approach that. I’m pretty proud of the defense for being able to retool on the fly, and I’ve got the same amount of confidence with these guys in building the offense.”

The final few sentences of his drawn-out answer said everything you need to know. Yes, the Ravens must address Suggs’ $12.4 million cap number, find a free safety, and tinker with various parts of their defense and special teams, but building a better supporting cast around Flacco is paramount. Last offseason saw Newsome focus solely on revamping a below-average defense while allowing the offense to suffer as a result, a perplexing strategy considering the Ravens had just won a Super Bowl with their offense doing the heavy lifting.

Fixing the offense won’t be easy as the dynamic pass-catcher the Ravens covet doesn’t just grow on trees and the organization doesn’t exactly have a stellar history of developing — or even finding — many quality wide receivers in their 18-year history. Adding bulk on the interior line is a necessity, but potentially finding three quality starters — if the Ravens are unable to re-sign Eugene Monroe to remain with incumbents Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele — will be a daunting task. Flacco’s $14.8 million cap figure in 2014 will indeed be an obstacle — just like the large numbers currently held by Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb, Rice, and Yanda — as Newsome tries to use limited resources to infuse the offensive side of the ball with more talent.

But the Ravens must build a better supporting cast around their quarterback, whether you think Flacco is a potential Rolls-Royce or only a Mustang in the hierarchy of current NFL quarterbacks. He’s proven he has the ability to take the franchise all the way to the top, but he can’t do it alone as last season so painfully showed. A record-setting contract understandably brought high expectations, but it didn’t suddenly change his ability or who he is as a quarterback.

Making some difficult decisions such as parting ways with Suggs and sacrificing some ability defensively may be necessary to create sufficient cap space in order to add more dynamic offensive pieces. The Ravens have no choice but to take giant leaps forward offensively in the increasingly offensive-minded NFL.

Flacco did not have a good year in 2013, and he must own his share of the blame just like anyone else involved. But the Ravens didn’t set him up to have a strong season following an offseason trade of Anquan Boldin and the retirement of veteran center Matt Birk without adequate replacements behind them. That coupled with unforeseen injuries to the likes of Dennis Pitta, Rice, and Osemele left too much to overcome.

From the Suggs financial decision to improving the offensive line and running game, nearly all offseason moves will be tied to the theme of doing what’s best for Flacco so the Ravens can get the most out of their steep investment.

It’s fair to expect much more from the quarterback, but only if the front office, coaching staff, and supporting cast hold up their end of the bargain as well.

Even after handing Flacco the richest deal in franchise history last year, Bisciotti could recognize that simple truth on Wednesday.

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Suggs’ future, free safety among Ravens’ top defensive priorities this offseason

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Suggs’ future, free safety among Ravens’ top defensive priorities this offseason

Posted on 08 January 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Expected to focus most of his offseason attention on revamping the league’s 29th-ranked offense, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will still be faced with a couple important decisions on the defensive side of the ball.

One of them involves one of the greatest players in franchise history in Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, who enters the final season of a six-year contract and is scheduled to count for $12.4 million against the Ravens’ 2014 salary cap. If Suggs is to return, it appears he won’t be playing under the original terms of his deal.

Should the 12th-year linebacker not be back, it would mark the second straight year in which the Ravens would let a notable player depart for cap purposes after wide receiver Anquan Boldin refused to take a pay cut and was traded to the San Franchise 49ers for a sixth-round pick last March.

“That’s a decision that we’ll talk about when we get down to Jupiter [at owner Steve Bisciotti's estate],” Newsome said at the Ravens’ season-ending press conference on Wednesday. “Terrell is a really good football player. He not only shows up in the pass game, but he shows up in the run game. That being said, we let a good football player go last year, so we’re not afraid. I’m not a virgin when it comes to letting guys walk out the door. What we’ll do is we’ll look at every aspect of it and see what’s best for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Ravens and then make that decision once we get to it.”

The Ravens are expected to approach Suggs and his agent Joel Segal about a short-term contract extension that would roll some of his scheduled $7.8 million base salary into a signing bonus that would lower his cap number for the 2014 season and likely afford him the opportunity to play a couple more years and retire as a Raven. How open Suggs would be to a reasonable short-term extension remains to be seen after he was named to his sixth Pro Bowl this past season.

On pace for a career season after collecting nine sacks in the first eight games of 2013, Suggs fell off dramatically in the second half, recording just one sack in the final eight contests. The 2003 first-round pick will be 32 in October, which will give the Ravens plenty to think about in terms of not wanting to pay for past accomplishments over future production and compromise their salary cap beyond the 2014 season.

If the Ravens are unable to work out an extension with Suggs, they could cut the veteran linebacker to save $7.8 million in cap space for 2014.

Baltimore entered the offseason with just 37 players under contract and roughly $14 million in cap space, so the possibility of making a few veteran cuts to save space is likely. Newsome reiterated Wednesday what’s become an organizational philosophy of not reworking deals that have more than one year remaining on them.

“I think we’ll continue with our theme of not restructuring contracts,” Newsome said. “But, there’s a difference between restructuring and offering guys extensions. We have guys that are in the last year of their contract [or] going into the last year of their contract, and we’ve had a history of being able to get good deals done with guys heading into that last year. I don’t think we will embark on doing any more restructuring, but we will probably look at doing some extensions.”

Newsome also expressed his desire for “a more athletic safety” to complement 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam, who is expected to shift to the strong safety position in his second year. Veteran James Ihedigbo will be an unrestricted free agent and played well in his first year as a starter, but the Ravens are looking for a free safety who can force more turnovers, according to Newsome.

Known more for his physicality than his pass coverage as a standout safety with the University of Florida, Elam’s smaller frame is problematic when trying to match up against bigger tight ends and wide receivers. Coach John Harbaugh credited Elam’s “solid” play as a rookie last week, but he acknowledged that the 5-foot-10 safety is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

Elam recorded just one interception and three pass breakups to go with his 76 tackles while primarily playing the free safety position.

“Matt Elam should be a really, really good safety in this league,” Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “He’s fast, he’s physical, and he’s going to understand the expectations a little more. He’s going to anticipate checks a little better. He’s going to understand what it means to stay deep when you’re supposed to stay deep — not to stop your feet when you’ve got a vertical receiver running up on you and you’re a deep-third or deep-half player. Those are things that sometimes you learn from experience the hard way. He didn’t make too many mistakes for a guy who played that many repetitions as a safety, so it’s a good start for him.”

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How are the Ravens and Orioles different?  You’ll see today at 10:00 am

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How are the Ravens and Orioles different? You’ll see today at 10:00 am

Posted on 08 January 2014 by Drew Forrester

Of all the days that separate the two professional sports teams in Baltimore, today is the one that stands out the most.

No games get played.

No one wins.  No one loses.

No players signed.  No money spent.

Today is the day that tells you everything you need to know about the Ravens — and at the same time, reminds you of what you already knew about the Orioles.

Some might also consider that today shows why one of the teams is a perennial winner and the other isn’t.

This morning at 10:00 am, the football team will hold its annual “State of the Ravens” press conference at their facility in Owings Mills.  They don’t do this occasionally.  They don’t do it only after a successful season.  Since Steve Bisciotti assumed full control of the team, they’ve hosted this event every year a week or two after the season concludes.

It’s called, in a word, “accountability”.

The Ravens ooze it.

The Orioles need a transfusion of it.

The only person who faces the media regularly for the Orioles is Buck Showalter, and that’s typically only in pre-game or post-game form.  Buck hasn’t had any sort of pre-season en-masse sitdown with the Baltimore media since he took the job and, likewise, hasn’t had a post-season presser for the media in town to pepper him with questions about the season.  That said, I bet you anything you want that Showalter would gladly sit down with the media if presented the option of doing so without the natural interference provided by the stuffed suits at OPACY.

Dan Duquette hasn’t had a press conference – other than when he was hired – in…well…ummm…forever.

Hilarious, right?

Repeat this to yourself at least once to completely absorb the amazing lack of responsibility on behalf of Orioles management: Dan Duquette is entering his third season with the Orioles and he’s never, once, faced the Baltimore press corps for a “bring it on” press conference where we’re all allowed to ask questions about the way the baseball franchise is run.

Go ahead, read that again.  Unreal.  Right?

This, of course, is in direct contrast to the Ravens, who will welcome any and all media members into their house today and allow questions to be thrown at Bisciotti, Team President Dick Cass, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh.

None of the questions will be dodged, unless some goof in the room says something like, “Yeah, this is for Ozzie.  Are you guys interested in trading for Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars?  He’s really good you know.”  Ozzie, of course, can’t answer any question about a player currently under contract with another team.  But he’ll answer any other REAL questions thrown his way today.

There’s no list of “off-limits-topics” distributed beforehand.  And, unlike the Orioles, who specialize in not allowing their critics to question them, the Ravens don’t “hand-pick” who is allowed in the room and who asks questions and who doesn’t.

The Orioles are so afraid of their critics they take away their press credentials and display a picture of the suspect at the main entrance behind home plate the same way the FBI posts pictures of their Most Wanted List in post offices.

The Ravens say, “Come on in, everyone, and ask whatever you want.”

The Orioles say, “You — you, right there.  You can come in.  You, though, you can’t come in.”

Accountability.  It’s what fuels today’s “State of the Ravens” gathering.

As long time Ravens P.R. Vice President Kevin Byrne said to me once, “We like this sort of review.  We appreciate the questions and the challenges.  We constantly evaluate ourselves.  We’re not worried about having people ask us why we do what we do.”

After the press conference, all four of the men will routinely hang around for some “off-the-record” discussions in the event you wanted to press an issue that was touched upon during the “open” portion of the event.

Yes, it’s true.  Steve Bisciotti simply stands in the corner and you ask him whatever you want.  One year, I asked him, simply, “How much money did the team make this past season?”  And, he stood right there and answered it.

Can you imagine asking Peter Angelos that question?

Wait — can you imagine Peter making himself AVAILABLE, first of all?  Then, what if that question got posed to him?  You can only imagine the result.

(Please see next page)

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2014 salary cap cuts

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Examining the Ravens’ possible 2014 salary cap cuts

Posted on 06 January 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t enter the winter in quite as dire straights with their salary cap as they did a year ago, but that won’t protect them from facing difficult decisions in trying to rebound from their first non-playoff season since 2007.

Entering the offseason with 37 players under contract and roughly $14 million in cap space — they’ve since signed nine players to reserve-future deals — the Ravens must take a long look at a number of potential veteran cuts that would bring needed room to not only re-sign some of their own free agents but allow them to explore outside possibilities to improve a roster that finished 8-8 in 2013.

The biggest and most intriguing name on the list will be Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is entering the final year of a six-year, $62.5 million contract and has spent 11 years with the organization that selected him in the first round of the 2003 draft. Deciding his status will be at the top of general manager Ozzie Newsome’s list of internal priorities before turning his efforts toward augmenting the roster for 2014.

A name that won’t be on the list of possible cap casualties is running back Ray Rice, who is coming off the worst season of his career and has often been mentioned by fans as someone the Ravens shouldn’t bring back. Though Rice’s 2014 cap figure of $8.75 million is way too high for a running back who averaged only 3.1 yards per carry and gained just 660 yards, his release prior to June 1 would cost $14.25 million in dead money toward the 2014 cap. In other words, cutting Rice would actually be more expensive to the Ravens’ 2014 cap than keeping him for another season.

The three-time Pro Bowl running back isn’t going anywhere in 2014.

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 is 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. FB Vonta Leach ($1.75 million)
Skinny: The fate of the three-time Pro Bowl fullback is the easiest to predict as this move is about football as much as it is finances. The Ravens abandoned the two-back system early in the season as their running game struggled and wouldn’t figure to be willing to pay Leach his $1.75 million base salary in 2014 after he rarely played more than a handful of offensive snaps per game in the final 2 1/2 months of 2013. Even if the Ravens elect to emphasize the fullback more often in their offensive approach for 2014, Kyle Juszczyk or another cheaper option will be preferred to Leach, who sees the writing on the wall in terms of his future in Baltimore.

2. LB Jameel McClain ($3.2 million)
Skinny: The Ravens cut McClain’s 2013 base salary in half while he worked his way back from a spinal cord contusion, so you wonder how willing he would be to accept another pay cut to remain in Baltimore. The free-agent status of veteran Daryl Smith makes this decision more compelling as the Ravens could use the money saved on McClain toward a new contract for Smith, who played well at Mike linebacker in Dean Pees’ system. With younger and cheaper options such as 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown and Josh Bynes on the roster, it only makes sense for the Ravens to look into lowering McClain’s salary if not deciding to cut him altogether as he enters the final season of a three-year contract.

3. P Sam Koch ($1.6 million)
Skinny: Serving as Baltimore’s punter since 2006, Koch is one of the longest-tenured players on the team, but his $2.8 million cap figure for 2014 is the 10th-highest among players currently under contract for 2014. He did rebound down the stretch after a subpar start to the season, but the Ravens have to think they can go younger and cheaper than the league’s 22nd-ranked net punter in 2013. Of course, cutting Koch wouldn’t make it impossible to bring him back at a reduced rate if he was agreeable to doing so, but finding an effective punter in the latter stages of the draft or in rookie free agency shouldn’t be too impossible of a task.

4. LB Terrell Suggs ($7.8 million)
Skinny: The only reason that Suggs isn’t higher on the list is the likelihood of the Ravens exploring a short-term extension to lower his projected $12.4 million cap figure for 2014. Suggs’ poor second half in 2013 raises concerns about giving more money to a player who will be 32 in October, and the Ravens need to think carefully about making commitments to players for past accomplishments instead of future production. It’s difficult to say whether Suggs’ disappointing second half — only one sack in the final eight games — was the result of an injury or simply wearing down, but the Ravens might be wise to part with him a year early instead of possibly a season too late. It would be hard to walk away from a franchise player and a pass rusher with 94 1/2 career sacks if you think he has plenty left, but $7.8 million in extra space can help accomplish much in an offseason. Whether they ultimately work out an extension, cut him, or somehow manage to get Suggs to agree to a straight pay cut, the Ravens aren’t expected to allow his huge cap number to go untouched.

5. DE Chris Canty ($1.83 million)
Skinny: Considering Canty is their best 5-technique defensive end and fellow defensive lineman Arthur Jones could depart via free agency, the Ravens are likely to keep the 31-year-old veteran after a solid but unspectacular first year in Baltimore. He only counts for $3.16 million on the 2014 cap and the Ravens will already be depending on younger players such as Brandon Williams and DeAngelo Tyson to fill bigger defensive roles, so Canty represents a solid option to plug into the starting lineup for at least one more season. Canty is owed a $500,000 roster bonus on the fourth day of the new league year that begins in March, so a decision on his fate would have to come before then if the Ravens are contemplating cutting him.

6. DT Haloti Ngata ($1 million)
Skinny: The five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle’s name has come up often over the last two winters, but the $1 million in savings from a potential release is dwarfed by the $15 million in dead space the Ravens would need to absorb on the 2014 cap if he were to be cut prior to June 1. It’s virtually impossible to argue that his production no longer matches the $16 million cap figure he’ll carry for 2014, but Ngata is still an above-average player that would be difficult for the Ravens to adequately replace after taking such a big cap hit. The only reason the Ravens would really consider cutting Ngata would be to save the $8.5 million in base salary he’s owed next season, but that would be a decision of saving cash over clearing cap space and not one that would help the team on the field in the coming season. It wouldn’t be impossible, but the Ravens appear very unlikely to cut Ngata this offseason.

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Ravens now look to future after not being good enough in 2013

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Ravens now look to future after not being good enough in 2013

Posted on 29 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Head coach John Harbaugh said it all in the aftermath of a 34-17 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday that resulted in the Ravens missing the postseason for the first time since 2007.

Despite reaching the pinnacle of the NFL last February in winning their second Super Bowl title in franchise history, the Ravens simply weren’t good enough a year later.

“We’re not ever going to be content with not making the playoffs,” Harbaugh said. “That’s just not something that’s going to be OK with any of us.”

Harbaugh is right, and it’s the Ravens’ vast success over the last five years that’s cultivated such an appropriate mindset. It’s easy and fair to be disappointed, but the Ravens gave this city a terrific run that included five straight playoff appearances, three AFC Championship appearances, and a Super Bowl title. History has proven over and over that you can’t be great every year and no run of success will last forever.

General manager Ozzie Newsome, Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and others have built a great deal of equity for fans to remain confident that the Ravens will be back in 2014 and beyond, but this winter brings a critical offseason with many issues to address. A proven track record is invaluable, but the NFL is a results-driven endeavor and Baltimore didn’t meet its own high standards laid out in recent years.

Season-long issues once again reared their head Sunday as a poor offense doomed the Ravens in Cincinnati. An overwhelmed offensive line was unable to handle the Bengals’ pressure, the running game was a non-factor, wide receivers were unable to gain separation, and a hobbled Flacco made poor decisions and couldn’t connect on deep balls throughout the day.

Defensively, the Ravens were able to force four turnovers but also allowed nearly 400 yards of offense and 27 points — the Bengals’ final touchdown came on an interception returned for a touchdown. The Baltimore defense was an above-average unit this season but gave up big plays and long drives at critical junctures, failing to be the game-changing unit Newsome envisioned when he allocated most of his available cap space to upgrading that side of the ball this past offseason.

So, what do the Ravens need to change, improve, and address this winter?

The heavy lifting will be done by Newsome, who didn’t have a good offseason this past winter in trading away veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin and failing to improve the offense around Flacco. The injury to tight end Dennis Pitta couldn’t be predicted, but the failure to address the receiver position in the wake of Boldin’s departure was a mistake. Philosophically, the Ravens turned away from what won them a Super Bowl last February in sacrificing offense for defense and the former suffered dramatically because of it.

Newsome will also be dealing with a tight salary cap that includes a projected $70.9 million in space devoted to just six players: defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million), Flacco ($14.8 million), linebacker Terrell Suggs ($12.4 million), cornerback Lardarius Webb ($10.5 million), running back Ray Rice ($8.75 million), and right guard Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million). Barring any restructuring of the other contracts, only the release of Suggs would provide substantial cap relief as he’s scheduled to receive a $7.8 million base salary in the final year of his current deal.

That could spell the end of Suggs’ 11-year run in Baltimore unless Newsome and the Ravens try to work out a short-term extension that gives the veteran some upfront money and a lower cap figure for 2014. Suggs finished the year with 10 sacks but collected only one in his final eight games and made very little impact down the stretch.

The Ravens must address an offensive line that includes two free-agent tackles (Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher) and second-year center Gino Gradkowski, who struggled immensely in his first year as a starter. It’s unlikely that Oher will return, but Baltimore would surely like to retain Monroe after giving up two 2014 draft picks to acquire him from Jacksonville earlier in the season. They could then look to the draft to address the right tackle position or consider moving Kelechi Osemele back to the position where he played during most of his rookie year and look at guard prospects.

Improving the offensive line would go a long way in fixing a running game that was the worst in franchise history, though questions will remain about Rice’s future as a feature back.

Tight end Dennis Pitta will be an unrestricted free agent and gauging his value in the open market will be difficult after he missed most of the season with a serious hip injury, making the franchise tag a possibility to keep him in Baltimore for another season. Jacoby Jones will also hit the open market, and the Ravens must decide whether the value of his big-play ability as a returner is worth a new contract despite his shortcomings as a wideout.

The Ravens need more offensive play-makers as Torrey Smith wasn’t as productive in the second half of the season and Rice battled through injuries and ineffectiveness in the worst campaign of his career. Flacco’s underwhelming 2013 performance suggests he isn’t the rare quarterback who can dramatically elevate the play of lesser talent around him.

On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Arthur Jones, linebacker Daryl Smith, strong safety James Ihedigbo, and cornerback Corey Graham are all scheduled to become free agents. Each is a capable player that makes a defense better, but younger and cheaper alternatives will be preferred in most cases with much work to do on the other side of the ball and little available cap space.

The Ravens will need to take a look at a pass rush that was ineffective down the stretch as well as the safety position where defensive coordinator Dean Pees was essentially forced to play two strong safeties — Ihedigbo and rookie Matt Elam — in the starting secondary. However, Newsome and the Ravens can’t make the same mistake they did this past year in focusing too much on the defense while allowing the offense to suffer.

As for coaching, Harbaugh has his flaws when it comes to time management and in-game decisions that must be assessed internally, but his track record speaks for itself after missing the playoffs for the first time in his six-year run with the Ravens. The addition of run-game coordinator Juan Castillo did not work with the Ravens finishing last in the NFL in yards per carry, so it will be interesting to see if the former Eagles offensive line coach quietly parts ways with the organization this winter.

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell deserves plenty of credit for his role in jump-starting the Ravens offense when he took over for Cam Cameron last December, but his calls this season too often lacked imagination in trying to overcome personnel deficiencies and the red-zone offense was another major deficiency. It’s worth noting that Caldwell had never been an offensive coordinator prior to his late-season promotion in 2012, so you wonder if the Ravens will — and should — at least take a look at the possibility of adding another strong offensive mind to the equation if not making a change at coordinator altogether.

It won’t be an easy offseason as Harbaugh, Flacco, and a number of others face the reality of not being good enough to play in January for the first time. It’s uncharted territory for the head coach and quarterback, and it will be interesting to see how the pair responds in overcoming that failure.

Sunday marked the official end of the Ravens’ reign as Super Bowl champions as well as a five-year run of success that may never be seen again in Baltimore. They battled all season, but the Ravens just weren’t good enough to overcome their many weaknesses and ran out of gas in their final two games against better opponents.

Nothing lasts forever, but a strong nucleus is in place to rebound in 2014 and beyond.

And Ravens fans can take satisfaction in that simple truth while coping with the unfamiliar disappointment of a quiet January and an uncertain offseason to follow.

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Newsome back to work after being given “clean bill of health”

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Newsome back to work after being given “clean bill of health”

Posted on 18 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Less than 24 hours after leaving Soldier Field in an ambulance, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome was back to work at the team’s Owings Mills facility on Monday afternoon.

Following the Ravens’ 23-20 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, Newsome became ill and was taken to a hospital for tests and observation after initially being checked out in the Baltimore locker room. WNST.net’s Nestor Aparicio reported that Newsome had even fainted after being seen sweating profusely on the way down from the press box following the loss.

However, the Ravens released an official statement Monday morning that Newsome was on his way back to Baltimore and was “feeling fine” after Sunday’s health scare.

“It’s good to see Ozzie’s here,” Harbaugh said at the start of his Monday press conference. “He’s been here all afternoon working, so he’s back and has a clean bill of health. I don’t think they know exactly what caused the situation yesterday, but it wasn’t anything serious. He’s doing fine.”

Harbaugh was not made aware of Newsome’s condition until after addressing the media in the post-game interview room but saw the general manager was not in any grave condition before the rest of the team took its chartered flight home on Sunday evening.

An initial examination ruled out any severe health problems, but the team’s medical personnel recommended that Newsome not fly home without being checked out more extensively.

“They had done all the tests, so they didn’t think it was anything serious,” Harbaugh said. “But they had to keep him overnight for observation just to make sure. I know they ran tests pretty much all night, Ozzie said, but it looked like he was OK at that point.”

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