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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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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Picks and Comment – Wild Card Weekend

Posted on 03 January 2014 by Luke Jones

Here are this weekend’s picks as The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction will pick every NFL game and local college games this season.

Luke Jones finished Week 17 with a 13-3 record while Drew Forrester was 12-4 on his picks. Concluding the regular season, Jones is 157-98 while Forrester is 149-106. Official standings are based only on the NFL picks.

You can listen to Friday’s “Picks and Comment” segment HERE.

Towson vs. North Dakota State: Tigers 36-30 (Drew), Bison 31-27 (Luke)
Chiefs at Colts: Indianapolis 23-17 (Drew), Kansas City 24-20 (Luke)
Saints at Eagles: Philadelphia 24-10 (Drew), Philadelphia 34-24 (Luke)
Chargers at Bengals: Cincinnati 27-23 (Drew), Cincinnati 20-16 (Luke)
49ers at Packers: San Francisco 20-17 (Drew), San Francisco 23-20 (Luke)

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Examining the Ravens’ 2014 class of free agents

Posted on 02 January 2014 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens face a number of critical decisions in their efforts to bounce back from missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season.

As it is most seasons, salary cap space will be a concern as the Ravens entered the offseason with 37 players under contract for an estimated cap commitment of roughly $112 million, according to Spotrac.com. The 2014 salary cap has not been officially set, but most are projecting a limit of $126.3 million for the new season.

Of course, the Ravens could elect to terminate or renegotiate several veteran contracts when considering that a staggering $70.9 million in cap space is devoted to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, quarterback Joe Flacco, linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb, running back Ray Rice, and right guard Marshal Yanda. Of those six, Suggs would appear to be the only player in serious danger of being released — he is owed a $7.8 million base salary in the final year of his contract — as the termination of any of the other five contracts would bring large quantities of dead money on the cap and little to no net savings.

Other veterans such as fullback Vonta Leach, linebacker Jameel McClain, and punter Sam Koch don’t carry lucrative cap numbers but could be released to create moderate savings in 2014.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to re-sign any of the following 14 unrestricted free agents before they are free to sign with any other team beginning on March 11 at 4:00 p.m. Each player’s 2013 base salary is noted in parentheses and a brief thought is included:

TE Dallas Clark ($940,000) – The 34-year-old didn’t see one snap after Dennis Pitta’s return and is more likely to retire than to have any chance to return to the Ravens in 2014.

DT Terrence Cody ($630,000) – It’s clear the 2010 second-round pick never panned out as a starter and is unlikely to return next year.

TE Ed Dickson ($1.323 million) – Pitta’s hip injury was a big opportunity for Dickson to prove his worth as a starting-caliber NFL tight end and he was unable to do it, making it likely both sides will move on.

CB Corey Graham ($2.05 million) – Coach John Harbaugh expressed a strong desire to keep Graham earlier this week, but you wonder if other teams will come calling with an opportunity to start and more money.

DT Arthur Jones ($2.023 million) – Jones blossomed into arguably the Ravens’ most complete defensive lineman in 2013, but his strong play will likely make his price tag too high for the Ravens.

WR Jacoby Jones ($3 million plus $1 million roster bonus) – Jones showed improved ability as an intermediate receiver late in the season, but he may prove too costly with so many other needs on both sides of the ball.

S James Ihedigbo ($715,000) – With 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam better suited for strong safety, the Ravens need to allocate resources for a free safety with better coverage skills and Ihedigbo doesn’t really fit that mold.

S Jeromy Miles ($1.323 million) – Miles is a strong special-teams player and the Ravens would likely be interested in bringing him back at a cheaper rate.

OT Eugene Monroe ($3.8 million) – One of the Ravens’ top priorities this offseason, Monroe proved himself worthy of a long-term contract after being acquired from Jacksonville in early October, but how much money will he command?

OT Michael Oher ($3.785 million) – Coming off a disappointing season at right tackle, Oher is unlikely to be back with the Ravens, who will concentrate their efforts toward retaining Monroe and look for another option for the right side.

TE Dennis Pitta ($2.023 million) – It’s unlikely that Pitta is going anywhere as the Ravens will try to work out a long-term deal and could use the franchise tag ($6.8 million for tight ends in 2014) as a last resort.

RB Bernard Scott ($715,000) – With Rice’s future as a feature back in question and Bernard Pierce’s durability an issue, the Ravens are more likely to draft a running back in the middle-to-late rounds than to keep Scott.

LB Daryl Smith ($840,000 and $285,000 signing bonus) – The 31-year-old was a great value signing, but the status of McClain as well as the development of 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown are important factors to consider here.

WR Brandon Stokley ($940,000) – The 37-year-old has already announced his plans to retire after a 15-year NFL career that began with the Ravens in 1999.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens must 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 that can be made: a first-round tender (estimated $3.02 million) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.12 million) would award the competing team’s second-round selection, and a low tender ($1.389 million) 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 a competing figure.

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

WR Tandon Doss (fourth) Doss would either receive no more than the low tender or be re-signed at a lower rate and displayed some added value as a punt returner earlier in the season after Jacoby Jones injured his knee in Week 1.

LB Albert McClellan (undrafted) McClellan fell out of the mix defensively in 2013 but continues to be a strong special-teams player, making his return at the low tender rate or at a lower salary a reasonable possibility.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and must 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 more than an invitation to training camp provided to each.

LB Josh Bynes
LB Adrian Hamilton
LB D.J. Bryant
S Anthony Levine
S Omar Brown
S Brynden Trawick

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Tucker, three other Ravens selected to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 27 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Even if the Ravens’ playoff fate won’t be decided until Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati, they will be represented by four players at this year’s Pro Bowl.

Kicker Justin Tucker, linebacker Terrell Suggs, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and right guard Marshal Yanda were all chosen for this year’s game with Tucker being the only first-time selection of the group. Suggs becomes a six-time selection while his defensive teammate Ngata receives a Pro Bowl honor for the fifth straight season. Yanda earns his third straight Pro Bowl nod to help cement his status as one of the better right guards in the NFL over the last few seasons.

Fullback Vonta Leach was deemed a first alternate while return specialist Jacoby Jones was named a third alternate after both were selected as Pro Bowl players last season.

Tucker earns his first trip to the Pro Bowl after a phenomenal sophomore season in which he was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player by the local media. The University of Texas product has gone 35-for-38 on field goal attempts this season, which included a 6-for-6 effort and a franchise-record 61-yarder to beat the Detroit Lions in the final minute in Week 15.

His 35 field goals entering Week 17 have tied Ravens Ring of Honor member Matt Stover for the franchise’s single-season record. He was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November and has twice taken away AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors this season.

“What an incredible honor it is to be recognized like this by the players, coaches and fans of the NFL,” Tucker said in a team statement. “I am truly blessed to represent such a world-class organization, the Baltimore Ravens, and all of our fans who make up ‘Ravens Nation.’ I will forever be thankful to the Ravens for giving me a chance to come in and compete for a job after going undrafted last year.”

Suggs, Ngata, and Yanda haven’t had banner 2013 seasons compared to their high standard set over the years, but reputation is often a major factor with the voting comprised of coaches, players, and fans from around the league.

Collecting nine sacks in the first eight games of the 2013 season, Suggs looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at the midway point, but a six-game sack drought slowed his pace considerably. His 10 sacks this season gave him double digits in that category for the fifth time in his 11-year career while he has continued to play strong against the run.

“This is awesome, and I have to thank God for blessing me again,” Suggs said. “I also have to thank the most amazing fans in the world for voting. I can’t thank them enough. I also want thank coach Harbaugh and my teammates for the constant push, and I must give a special credit to [linebackers coach Ted] Monachino for the outstanding coaching. But most of all, I have to thank my brother, Haloti Ngata, for being a great teammate and an even better friend.”

After being shifted to nose tackle this season, Ngata has collected 45 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks while anchoring the middle of a Baltimore defensive line that ranks ninth in the NFL against the run.

Ngata hasn’t shown the same dominance in recent years that he did earlier in his career, but he’s remained healthier this season than he had in the past two years when he still received Pro Bowl honors.

“I’ve been blessed with so much, and I’m very thankful to be recognized as one of the NFL’s top players,” Ngata said. “I’m also thankful for my teammates and coaches who have helped me get there.”

Yanda missed spring organized team activities and most of training camp while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but the 2007 third-round pick still received Pro Bowl recognition. His play hasn’t been as consistent as it was in the 2011 and 2012 seasons when he established himself as one of the best right guards in the league, but Yanda was one of the only dependable members of an offensive line that’s struggled with the running game averaging a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Few players on the 8-7 Ravens deserved serious Pro Bowl consideration, but inside linebacker Daryl Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith were two names often mentioned as deserving of recognition. However, neither was named as much as an alternate.

This marks the eighth consecutive year that four Ravens players have been selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will follow a new format this year in which the teams will not be divided by conference. Players will be entered into a pool and teams will be chosen by captains and Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice during the first Pro Bowl draft held on Jan. 22.

In fact, the change may have helped Tucker receive his Pro Bowl selection as Denver’s Matt Prater was also chosen, meaning the game will have two AFC kickers. Prater is 23-for-24 on field goal tries and made an NFL-record 64-yard field goal this year.

The 2014 Pro Bowl will be played in Honolulu on Jan. 26.

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Ravens list Art Jones, four others as questionable for Sunday’s game

Posted on 27 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Making final preparations for a critical Week 17 meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens remain unsure if starting defensive tackle Arthur Jones will be available.

After missing practice all week while going through the NFL’s concussion protocol, Jones is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati. He sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to New England, but the fourth-year lineman has been present in the locker room this week while waiting for his symptoms to subside.

“He’s going through the protocol, and we’ll know more [Friday] afternoon,” coach John Harbaugh said prior to the final injury report being released. “He’s got another round of [tests] this afternoon.”

Jones missed two games in the 2011 season after suffering a concussion, which might explain his slower recovery from this latest occurrence. Should he not be able to play, second-year lineman DeAngelo Tyson would likely receive the bulk of Jones’ work at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot that lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard in the Ravens’ 3-4 base alignment.

Cornerback Asa Jackson (hamstring) was the only other player absent from Friday’s practice as the second-year defensive back is expected to miss his second straight game. He is listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Running back Ray Rice (hip), wide receiver Torrey Smith (thigh), linebacker Elvis Dumervil (ankle), and center Gino Gradkowski (knee) were all listed as questionable after each participated in Friday’s practice on a limited basis. However, none are expected to be in any real danger of missing Sunday’s game.

Cincinnati has already ruled out starting cornerback Terence Newman (knee) and reserve defensive lineman Devon Still (back) while listing rookie tight end Tyler Eifert (neck) as doubtful for Sunday’s game. In addition to Eifert, veteran Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) was designated as questionable, leaving the Bengals in a precarious position should neither be able to play.

Starting inside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (consussion) was listed as questionable, but the second-year defensive player practiced fully on Friday, a good indication that he will be cleared to play in Sunday’s game.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Scott Green, who officiated the Ravens’ Nov. 3 loss at Cleveland earlier this year.

Sunday’s forecast in Cincinnati calls for temperatures in the mid-40s with a 50-percent chance of rain showers. Winds will average around 12 miles per hour at Paul Brown Stadium.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), C Gradkowski (knee), DT Arthur Jones (concussion), RB Ray Rice (thigh), WR Torrey Smith (thigh)
PROBABLE: LB Albert McClellan (neck)

CINCINNATI
OUT: CB Terence Newman (knee), DT Devon Still (back)
DOUBTFUL: TE Tyler Eifert (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion), TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring)
PROBABLE: DE Carlos Dunlap (illness), LB James Harrison (concussion), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (ankle), LB Vincent Rey (ankle), TE Alex Smith (concussion), OT Andrew Smith (ankle)

 

 

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D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction Picks and Comment – Week 17

Posted on 27 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Here are this weekend’s picks as The D&L Window Tinting Morning Reaction will pick every NFL game and local college games this season.

Luke Jones finished Week 16 with a 9-7 record while Drew Forrester was 8-8 on his picks. Entering Week 17, Jones is 144-95 on the season while Forrester is 137-102. Official standings are based only on the NFL picks.

You can listen to Friday’s “Picks and Comment” segment HERE.

Ravens at Bengals: Cincinnati 26-16 (Drew), Cincinnati 27-19 (Luke)
Jets at Dolphins: Miami 30-13 (Drew), Miami 26-17 (Luke)
Browns at Steelers: Pittsburgh 20-10 (Drew), Pittsburgh 23-14 (Luke)
Panthers at Falcons: Carolina 23-20 (Drew), Carolina 27-23 (Luke)
Texans at Titans: Tennessee 31-10 (Drew), Houston 20-17 (Luke)
Redskins at Giants: New York 24-17 (Drew), New York 23-20 (Luke)
Jaguars at Colts: Jacksonville 20-17 OT (Drew), Indianapolis 24-14 (Luke)
Lions at Vikings: Minnesota 24-20 (Drew), Detroit 31-17 (Luke)
Chiefs at Chargers: San Diego 28-10 (Drew), San Diego 26-17 (Luke)
Packers at Bears: Chicago 33-23 (Drew), Green Bay 30-23 (Luke)
Bills at Patriots: New England 27-10 (Drew), New England 30-13 (Luke)
Buccaneers at Saints: New Orleans 27-20 (Drew), New Orleans 27-14 (Luke)
Broncos at Raiders: Denver 48-28 (Drew), Denver 41-16 (Luke)
49ers at Cardinals: Arizona 24-20 (Drew), San Francisco 23-21 (Luke)
Rams at Seahawks: Seattle 23-9 (Drew), Seattle 26-10 (Luke)
Eagles at Cowboys: Philadelphia 36-24 (Drew), Philadelphia 34-23 (Luke)
Maryland vs. Marshall: Thundering Herd 44-20 (Drew), Thundering Herd 34-27 (Luke)
Navy vs. Middle Tennessee: Midshipmen 30-20 (Drew), Midshipmen 23-17 (Luke)

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Ravens release estimated injury report for Christmas Day

Posted on 25 December 2013 by Luke Jones

After rearranging their practice schedule to give players the day off on Christmas, the Ravens released an estimated injury report for Wednesday with a Week 17 meeting against the Cincinnati Bengals looming.

Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion), center Gino Gradkowski (knee), and cornerback Asa Jackson (hamstring) were listed as non-participants. Jones wasn’t present for the viewing portion of Tuesday’s practice as he must go through the NFL’s concussion protocol after leaving Sunday’s loss to New England in the fourth quarter.

Running back Ray Rice (thigh), wide receiver Torrey Smith (hamstring), and linebackers Elvis Dumervil (ankle) and Albert McClellan (neck) were estimated to be limited on Wednesday. Neither Rice nor Smith practiced on Tuesday, and McClellan missed his first game of the season this past Sunday due to a neck injury sustained against Detroit in Week 15.

Though it could have been a simple oversight, the Ravens did not list quarterback Joe Flacco on Wednesday’s report. He confirmed Tuesday that he would once again wear a brace to protect his left knee after he suffered a mild sprain of his medial collateral ligament on Dec. 16.

Meanwhile, the Bengals listed linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion), tight end Tyler Eifert (neck), cornerback Terence Newman (knee), and defensive tackle Devon Still (back) as non-participants on Wednesday.

The Ravens will return to work on Thursday with their three coordinators scheduled to talk at the podium with reporters.

Here is Wednesday’s estimated injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Gino Gradkowski (knee), CB Asa Jackson (thigh), DT Arthur Jones (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle), LB Albert McClellan (neck), RB Ray Rice (thigh), WR Torrey Smith (thigh)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion), TE Tyler Eifert (neck), CB Terence Newman (knee), TE Alex Smith (concussion), DT Devon Still (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (ankle), LB Vincent Rey (ankle), OT Andre Smith (ankle)

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Tucker selected as 2013 Ravens’ team MVP

Posted on 23 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In a season in which the Ravens have stumbled offensively far too often, they’ve leaned on Justin Tucker to provide points and to even win games on several occasions.

The second-year kicker was recognized by the local media as the team’s 2013 Most Valuable Player, becoming the first special-teams performer to win the award since it was introduced in 2003. The highlight for Tucker’s 2013 campaign came in Week 15 in Detroit when he booted six field goals and a franchise-record 61-yarder in the final minute to give the Ravens an 18-16 victory.

For the season, Tucker is 35-for-38 and can eclipse Matt Stover’s team record for field goals in a season with one in Cincinnati on Sunday. His remarkable streak of 33 consecutive field goals without a miss came to an end on Sunday when he misfired from 37 yards, leaving him three field goals shy of Stover’s franchise record.

Tucker has already become one of the NFL’s best kickers in just his second year after being signed as a free agent from the University of Texas in the spring of 2012 and beating out incumbent Billy Cundiff for the job. As a rookie, he went 30-for-33 and made the game-winning 47-yard field goal in double overtime in the Ravens’ divisional round win over Denver.

“He’s a year older, he’s a year better, [and] he’s a year ahead in terms of technique and perfecting his craft and all those kinds of things,” coach John Harbaugh said earlier in December. “But there are still a lot of things he needs to work on. He’d be the first to tell you that. There are a lot of kicks he doesn’t have in his tool bag yet. But the main kick he’s got in his tool bag is kicking it straight when it’s a field goal — in all kinds of conditions — and that’s a pretty important one.”

The selection of a specialist as the team MVP is a reflection of the lack of a great candidate this season as the Ravens have gone 8-7, but Tucker’s 15 field goals over the recent four-game winning streak — the Ravens scored only five touchdowns during the stretch — and four games in which he kicked four or more field goals are too difficult to overlook in assessing his value. Of Baltimore’s eight wins this year, four have come by a field goal or less and Tucker connected on a field goal from at least 46 yards in each of those victories.

He also has made six field goals from 50 yards or more this season.

Tucker was the winner over four other finalists: quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Jimmy Smith, linebacker Daryl Smith, and wide receiver Torrey Smith. Those four have played well for stretches of the season, but it would be difficult to argue that any showed the same level of consistency as Tucker, who missed two field goal tries in Week 2 and didn’t miss again until Sunday’s attempt sailed wide left in the 41-7 loss to New England.

In addition to awarding Tucker the team MVP, the local media tabbed Flacco as the annual Good Guy Award winner, which is given to the player considered to be most cooperative with reporters during the season. Flacco’s blunt honesty, which hasn’t always been received well by outsiders and those within the organization, has been refreshing for reporters throughout the season.

Considering he is one of the biggest stars on the team, the quarterback has remained approachable in the locker room in addition to his weekly podium session and is usually willing to answer a quick question or to simply chat casually with reporters.

Torrey Smith, tight end Ed Dickson, defensive end Chris Canty, and safety James Ihedigbo were the other candidates nominated for the Media Good Guy award.

Harbaugh admits fourth-quarter mistake

In what was just one of several questionable coaching decisions over the course of a miserable 41-7 defeat to New England on Sunday, Harbaugh sent Tucker into the game early in the fourth quarter for a 37-yard field goal try with the Ravens trailing 20-0.

Tucker missed the attempt, but the Ravens didn’t stand to benefit much from the conversion as they still would have trailed by three possessions with 14:19 remaining. Asked about it following the game, Harbaugh erroneously suggested that the kick would have created a two-score deficit and then admitted he wanted to revisit the game situation.

Asked again when he met with the media for his Monday press conference, Harbaugh wished he had a mulligan for the fourth-quarter situation.

“If I had to do that one again, I would have gone for that,” Harbaugh said. “I’d have gone for all four of [fourth-down situations], looking back on it. We had just gone for the one previous to that that was on the 4-yard line with a foot to go [late in the third quarter]. Obviously, this is fourth-and-five on the 20-yard line. It’s a little bit different and, during the flow of the game, I think I felt differently about it at the time. Looking back on it, I would agree with anybody that feels like we should have gone for it.”

The Ravens were 0-for-3 on fourth-down attempts in the second half.

Injury updates

It was apparent to observers that Flacco’s left knee injury impacted his play in some way during a two-interception performance against New England.

Harbaugh acknowledged that reality by connecting it to the big picture of few players being fully healthy after the first 15 games of the regular season. Flacco wore a bulky brace on his left knee and struggled to move comfortably in the pocket, especially in the first half, after he was diagnosed with a mild medial collateral ligament last week.

“I can’t think of one player who is 100 percent who has played,” Harbaugh said. “Joe has played every single play the whole season. He’s definitely not 100 percent on that knee. But to say how much or to what degree is just impossible to say. I think he fought through it, he gutted it out, he battled, and that’s what you do this time of year. And that’s what makes Joe who he is. He’s a tough, hard-nosed competitor. We appreciate that about him.”

The head coach did not address any other injuries specifically, only stating that no player has been ruled out for Sunday’s regular-season finale in which the Ravens need a win and a loss by either Miami or San Diego to secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

Defensive tackle Arthur Jones sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss, but the Ravens did not officially report any other injuries following the game. Linebacker Daryl Smith (heel) and wide receiver Marlon Brown (hip) both missed time with injuries but returned to the game.

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Ravens lose control of playoff path entering Week 17

Posted on 23 December 2013 by Luke Jones

As a result of their lopsided 41-7 defeat to the New England Patriots on Sunday, the Ravens enter Week 17 no longer in control of their path to a playoff spot.

A win over Minnesota on Sunday gave the Bengals the AFC North championship, ending Baltimore’s two-year reign at the top of the division and leaving the final wild-card berth as the only possibility for the Ravens going into the final week of the regular season. Cincinnati is unlikely to rest its starters in Week 17 as Marvin Lewis’ team still eyes the possibility of the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a win and a New England loss to Buffalo.

Here are the ways the Ravens can clinch the No. 6 seed:

A win over Cincinnati AND a loss by Miami or San Diego
Skinny: The Ravens own individual tiebreakers against both the Dolphins (head-to-head win) and the Chargers (conference record), but Miami would win the tiebreaker if all three teams were to finish 9-7 due to a superior conference record. The Dolphins host the New York Jets while the Chargers play Kansas City in San Diego next Sunday.

Losses by Miami, San Diego, and Pittsburgh
Skinny: Baltimore can lose Sunday and still back into the postseason if the Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers all lose. Under that scenario, there would be a four-way tie that included the Jets, who would eliminate Miami because of a better division record and allow the Ravens to win a three-way tiebreaker with a better conference record than both New York and San Diego. If Baltimore, Miami, and San Diego were all to lose and Pittsburgh would defeat Cleveland, the Steelers would steal the No. 6 wild-card spot after eliminating the Ravens because of a superior division record.

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Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens are no strangers to big games with the New England Patriots as the teams meet Sunday for the first time since last January’s AFC Championship with high postseason stakes once again involved.

New England entered Sunday needing only a win or a Miami loss to clinch its fifth straight AFC East division title while the Ravens can punch their ticket to the postseason for the sixth consecutive year with a win and losses by both Miami and San Diego. Of course, the Ravens still have visions for an AFC North championship but need a win or a Cincinnati loss in Week 16 to set up next week’s showdown with the Bengals as a division title game.

Watchful eyes will be on quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice as both are active but were limited in practices this week. During pre-game warmups, Flacco was moving around fairly well while sporting a brace on his left knee and throwing to tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Jacoby Jones.

Rice is dealing with a mild quadriceps injury that forced him out of Wednesday’s practice, but the sixth-year running back downplayed the significance of the ailment earlier in the week. The Patriots are 31st in the NFL in rush defense, so this matchup sets up nicely for Rice and backup Bernard Pierce to have productive days.

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil is active and will play despite being a late addition to the injury report on Friday. Like Flacco and Rice, he was listed as questionable, but the rush specialist will play against the Patriots after being limited in Friday’s practice with a lingering ankle injury.

Tight end Dallas Clark is inactive for the second time in three weeks despite being listed as probable on the final injury report with an illness. He was active against Detroit in Week 15, but the veteran did not play a snap.

The Patriots will be without left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) today after he was downgraded to out Saturday night. As a result, New England is expected to shift veteran left guard Logan Mankins to left tackle as they did last week when Solder suffered his second concussion in as many weeks.

New England wideout Aaron Dobson is active and will provide a 6-foot-3 target in the red zone for a Patriots offense that struggled in that capacity last week in Miami.

Including the playoffs, Sunday marks the seventh time these teams have met in the John Harbaugh era with the Ravens and Patriots splitting the series. Despite Baltimore’s postseason success against quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, New England is 6-1 all-time in the regular season against the Ravens.

Unseasonably warm temperatures reaching the low 70s and a 60-percent chance of rain — with the possibility of a thunderstorm — are in the forecast with winds up to 11 miles per hour for the 4:25 p.m. kickoff.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Ron Winter.

The Ravens will wear purple jerseys with black pants while New England sports white jerseys with dark blue pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Asa Jackson
S Omar Brown
LB Albert McClellan
C Ryan Jensen
WR Deonte Thompson
TE Dallas Clark
DT Brandon Williams

NEW ENGLAND
LT Nate Solder
TE D.J. Williams
LB Dane Fletcher
WR Josh Boyce
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
DT Isaac Sopoaga
DE Jake Bequette

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for updates and analysis as Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, and I bring live coverage from M&T Bank Stadium.

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