Tag Archive | "ryan"

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Breakfast with Jim Schwartz and the NFC coaches

Posted on 25 March 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

The NFL Owners Meetings are about to wrap up out here in Dana Point, Calif. later this afternoon and the final day brings the opportunity to dine and schmooze and interview the NFC coaches, which of course took me to the table of new Detroit Lions coach and longtime WNST.net contributor, Jim Schwartz. As an Arbutus native and Mt. St. Joe grad, I feel I owe it to Baltimore (as well as to Schwartz’s many friends and relatives) to get as much of the video up as possible.

I’m running to grab a plane but I have about an hour’s worth of great stuff — ranging from draft perspective to the 0-16 Lions to Schwartz’s view on Mark Teixeira and his new time management techniques. It might take me two days to get all of the videos up on the site but they’ll be coming soon and I’ll be releasing a few a day for the next week.

I’ve literally shot 2 1/2 hours worth of notable interviews, including more stuff with Rex Ryan, Marvin Lewis, Mike Tomlin, Mike Smith and tons more footage of yesterday’s sitdown with John Harbaugh, who had his brother Jim and dad Jack here for the last few days as well. It was my first chance to meet Jack Harbaugh, who might be one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Just wonderful family, the Harbaughs!

The main focus of the last few days from the NFL’s perspective has been the impending start to negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. I could sum it all up, but Don Banks of SI.com did a very nice job in yesterday’s column. In short, the word “Armageddon” has been thrown around here in regard to a potential work stoppage in 2011 with the uncapped year looming large in 2010.

It’s been three great days here in Southern California and, as always, I learned a lot, listened a lot and asked a lot of questions. I’ll be bringing it all back and onto the air at AM 1570 and here at WNST.net over the next few weeks as we prepare for the April 25 draft.

It’s really amazing at an event like to see the Ravens alumni of coaches fare so well in the NFL.

Even with Brian Billick and Mike Nolan no longer in the fraternity the list is extraordinary and makes me proud to be a Ravens fan.

From Ted Marchibroda’s staff: Jim Schwartz, Ken Whisenhunt, Marvin Lewis and Eric Mangini are head coaches.

From Billick’s staff: Lewis, Rex Ryan, Jack Del Rio, Mike Smith all had tables and held court the last two days.

And of course, there’s John Harbaugh who is always upbeat, positive and genial in dealing with folks.

It’s almost like a purple reunion, especially when you consider David Modell has been here with his usual comedy routine, insights and his awesome 3D company, 3eality. I’m a big fan of David and I miss his presence with the team. Of course the last place I ever thought I’d run into him was at an NFL event but he was here and in fine spirits.

I’ll be checking in over the next few days and it was nice to see the Terps ladies advance in the NCAA Tournament. Anything to keep my mind off of the Orioles pitching at this point!

Off to the airport…

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Exclusive John Harbaugh breakfast footage here at WNST!

Posted on 24 March 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

It was an early morning here in Dana Point, Calif., but very much worth the early wakeup call. Every year at the NFL Owners Meetings all 32 NFL coaches are made available during breakfast for “sitdown” interviews and a general rap session and B.S. conversation with the media. Due to the newspaper economy being on the rapid decline, the number of pure journalists is down making access almost unprecedented.

Today, it was the AFC so we’ve spent the morning with Marvin Lewis, Mike Tomlin, Rex Ryan and, of course, our own John Harbaugh. I’m working hard to platform and post the videos from the morning “rap” session and hope you enjoy all of the information, which is fresh and exclusive to WNST. There will be at least a dozen separate videos coming throughout the afternoon here in the wnsTV video vault.

They’re not tightly edited and some of the questions were a little hard for our microphones to pick up, but I think you’ll enjoy having “breakfast with John Harbaugh” in a very informal, cool setting here in Southern California.

I’ll be writing more in a little while…lots going on here including a fun visit with David Modell, who is pimping his amazing 3D video company with footage from the NFL and the U2 movie from two years ago.

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Live from Southern California…

Posted on 23 March 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s been a chilly trip all the way around. It’s cold in California this week. It was freezing at Dodger Stadium last night and Laguna Beach is no better.

I’m spending the next three days here in Dana Point at the NFL Owners Meetings, chatting with coaches, executives and owners from around the league. Most of the media has commented that it’s “quiet” here this week, with no major rules changes or negotiations to be held. The only potential “landmark” concept is the notion of making the regular season a 17 or 18-game affair, with the elimination of those dreadful preseason games. It appears that changes to overtime possession aren’t coming right now. There’s too much support to keep the current (yet flawed) system.

But it’s truly the calm before the potential financial storm as the NFL Players Association has named its new leader in DeMaurice Smith last week.

Commisioner Roger Goodell is addressing the entire contingent this morning with a “State of The NFL” speech, which no doubt will be addressing the sagging economy and the paramount issue of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, which could be a dog fight over the next 18 months as both sides are preparing for a tremendous battle that could go either way.

Lockouts, strikes, posturing – it’s all on the table as both sides look to divvy up the riches and spoils of a league that has basically had 25 years of labor peace and prosperity. Right now, the players get 59.5% of the total revenue pool. The owners want to make it less; the players, of course, want more. We’ll be following this story for the next two years but this is the beginning of a long race that will decide the fate of the league for the next decade.

I spent the evening last night up in Los Angeles (about an hour north of here) at Dodger Stadium at the World Baseball Classic semifinal between Team USA and Japan. Obviously, it wasn’t the greatest night for Brian Roberts in field but he did begin the game with a grand home run off of Dice K. I caught up with Brian Roberts, Davey Johnson and Jeremy Guthrie prior to the game and saw more celebrities than I can name. The videos are just to the right of here in the wnsTV video vault.

Because of the “Angelos ban” I never had the chance to meet of chat with Guthrie. He was a super good guy and was truly excited about wearing a USA jersey. My five minutes with him made it very easy to pull for him when he takes the ball at Camden Yards in two weeks.

(And for the record, I had no idea Kelsey Grammar was such a nice guy. I did, however, fully confirm that Alyssa Milano is smoking hot!)

Dodger Stadium is still a religious experience for any baseball fan and it’s nights like last night that really make me love my job and my career in sports. As I’ve been posting my baseball book about my Pop and his love of the game, it’s nights like last night that remind me about why I chose to do this for a living 25 years ago.

I also ran into some very old and dear friends from the “early days” with the Orioles. Dr. Charles Steinberg and Evelyn Ehlers – both “lifer” Orioles fans and Baltimoreans are working in the Dodgers’ front office. Former Ravens V.P. Dennis Mannion is now the president of the Dodgers. And Baltimorean Jamie McCourt (nee Luskin, as in Jack Luskin, the “cheapest guy in the town”) is the C.E.O. of the team, owner by her and husband Frank McCourt.

It’s almost like the Dodgers are Baltimore’s West Coast connection.

I’ll be shooting videos here on WNST.net, blogging and potentially grabbing some guests for Drew Forrester, Bob Haynie and Ray Bachman, who will be filling in for me all week from 2 til 6 p.m.

I’ve already chatted with virtually every NFL coach that has a Baltimore connection and John Harbaugh told me that his brother – former Ravens QB and current Stanford head coach Jim – and his dad will be here this afternoon. We’ll be doing a little wnsTV of that in the next 24 hours.

It’s also the first NFL Owners Meetings for longtime WNST supporters, Rex Ryan and Jim Schwartz, who will both make some time for Baltimore.

Stay tuned…I’ll be working hard here in California.

Did I mention the weather kinda sucks?

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O’s Today: Reimold, Montanez and Turner making life tough for MacPhail

Posted on 17 March 2009 by Drew Forrester

Most bad teams, I assume, don’t have player personnel issues to deal with in spring training.

The Orioles, however, are much different. 

They’ve worked themselves into a quandry of sorts, although it’s not a surprise to any of us who carefully follow the daily happenings of the local nine.

A handful of young players are tearing the cover off the ball in Ft. Lauderdale — Matt Wieters, Lou Montanez, Nolan Reimold and Justin Turner are all grapefruit-league hot-shots begging for a chance to make the trip north to Baltimore in April.

The problem?  There’s no room for them.  Not with the big league club, anyway.

But…isn’t spring training used to try and identify the best 25 players who are going north for the start of the season?

Occasionally, when the club paints themselves in a corner by adding “out-of-option” guys, the decision to take a player to the big city is made for them.  The O’s have players like that right now, including Rich Hill, Hayden Penn and David Pauley.  They either head up I-95 in April, or they go elsewhere.  In general, though, isn’t the club’s main goal in February and March to put together the best 25-man roster for the start of the season?

I thought so.

In the O’s case, though, it looks like they’re not thinking like that.

Reimold and Montanez are both minor league free swingers who have power. Like most bombers, they strike out a lot.  They don’t walk much.  And they have holes in their offensive game that have kept them in the minor leagues. Montanez nearly had 100 Baltimore-based at-bats last September…he hit .280 and had a few shining moments but didn’t come close to being the wrecking-machine he was in Bowie (AA).  Still, he’s an offensive weapon and he’s enjoyed a tremendous spring training in ’09.

Reimold is a former #1 pick who has been hampered by injuries in his professional career and has yet to eat a post-game meal in a major league locker room.  For whatever reason, the club hadn’t ever even offered him a spring training invite or September call-up…until this spring when he’s showed his worth in Ft. Lauderdale with three home runs and a .385 batting average. 

Neither Reimold or Montanez are going to be confused with Gold Glove candidates.  They’re not known for their defense…never will be, most likely.

But, they can both drive the ball.  They have power.  The O’s need more of that.  

You can’t expect them to tell Felix Pie to take a seat and join the left-field platoon system.  Andy MacPhail took a chance on Pie in the off-season with the deal involving Garrett Olson — and even though it wasn’t a large gamble parting company with Olson…they still can’t give Pie a 3-day-a-week part-time-job with 350-400 at bats at season’s end.  If Pie doesn’t pan out, it shouldn’t be because he never got a fair, full look.  

That said, is Felix Pie starting in left field the best option for the O’s as they get ready to break camp from Ft. Lauderdale?

Maybe not.  Montanez and Reimold have statistical data that would say otherwise.

Justin Turner is a shortstop who was a thrown-in from Cincinnati in the Ramon Hernandez deal.  He’s been perhaps the biggest surprise of spring training to date.  Look, it’s spring training — we all get that — but it should count for SOMETHING, right?  Can Turner field the position well enough to warrant a spot at the major league level as a younger version of Chris Gomez?  That’s a thought.  The only problem?  Who loses their job if Turner makes the trip to Baltimore?  

Speaking of having a job with the big league club, Wieters, apparently, is beyond discussion at this point.  I’ll still contend it’s wrong to leave him back in Florida when he’s without a doubt, one of the best 25 players on the roster.  I know, I know…it’s all about money.  It always is with the Orioles.

That goes back to the initial question I posed above.  Isn’t the goal of spring training to eventually compile and bring forward the best 25 players on the roster? 

Isn’t winning the goal? 

Evidently, in Baltimore, at least — it’s not.

The Orioles have convinced their apologist flock-of-faithful of this:  ”We’re not going to win this year anyway…”

And, with that in mind, leaving Pie in left field with no competition except a steaming Luke Scott, who clearly doesn’t understand how he LOST his job after being productive in ’08, and keeping Wieters off the opening day roster because of a stupid “6-year fear” revolving around service-time, are both puzzling moves given the various results of spring training thus far.

If Lou Montanez is the most productive left-fielder — or, if that’s Nolan Reimold, even — let HIM play.  What’s the obsession with Pie, anyway?  The club has far more equity invested in Reimold and Montanez. 

The apologists will say this:  ”You can’t have Montanez or Reimold in Baltimore, rotting away on the bench.  They need their minor league at bats.”  Until when? As Morrissey crooned with The Smith’s, “How soon is now?”

Here’s a concept:  Don’t let them rot away on the bench.  Find time for them. Split the duties with Pie and Scott.  Trade Scott, if you have to – since he showed last year he’s a full-time player that’s been shoved to the side because of our team’s new love affair with Windy City cast-offs.  If Ryan Freel doesn’t like it, he, too, can take a hike.  They don’t have an investment in him, anyway.  

I guess it’s OK to have Luke Scott “rot away” while Pie gets his slice of everyday action…but Montanez and/or Reimold don’t deserve their crack at the big league roster?

I realize the O’s have convinced their fan base that “we’re not going to win anyway…” – so, why bring guys up who aren’t ready?  Why sign free agent pitchers in the off-season when we get away with something inferior under the umbrella of “we’re not going to win anyway…”?  

Well, if the team’s not trying to win (anyway), why, then, should we buy tickets to games this year (anyway)?

That’s a question for the O’s to answer.

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A trip to the mall and Bart Scott was sold on the Jets

Posted on 28 February 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

There will be no statues built for Bart Scott or streets named after him in Baltimore. But he was a really cool, good Raven during the time he spent here. Scott was underappreciated on draft day, worked his way through development, special teams and finally onto the roster for good and now has gotten a bigger contract than his Hall of Fame counterpart Ray Lewis, who was left at the alter by Rex Ryan yesterday when the big contracts were being handed out.

Apparently, Rex Ryan, Mike Pettine and Bart Scott all went out for a trip to the local mall near the Jets facility while the agents and financial folks were working out the terms. As a fan, it might not sound like a big deal. But those are three, special dudes there who will no longer be working every day to make the Ravens better in Owings Mills.

It’s hard to replace good people…

Scott was a kid from Detroit who always had to work a little harder and a little smarter to make his way. He was polite, sharp, loquacious and charming. He was frequently spotted at the team facility in the offseason pushing his kids through the halls in a stroller. He was great on the radio. He was great with people. He was a stalwart in the community here and has a long track record of helping people. He’ll have a good time in New York and will be hard for the Ravens to replace.

And, privately, most scouts would tell you he’s absolutely a better player than Ray Lewis circa Sept. 2009. Well, Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine basically told the whole world that yesterday. That’s gotta sting Ray Lewis even more than waiting by the phone or the “insulting” offer the Ravens have put on the table.

Here’s a solid piece from the Jets official website on the pursuit of Bart Scott.

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Strange daze for Ray Lewis and the Ravens

Posted on 28 February 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ve had the rare good fortune that most of you haven’t had over the past six weeks. Sometimes it kinda gets lost on me that as a media member for 25 years here in Baltimore, I get to do what every PSL owner and fan would love to do: actually sit with Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis and ask them questions.

In one eight day span last month, I got to sit with Bisciotti in Owings Mills (on video here) and with Ray Lewis in Tampa (one of four videos here) and ask them the exact same question: “Do you think this contract thing could get awkward for you?”

Both of them sort of skirted the question. You can see their exact answers for yourself with a click so there’s no need for me to transcribe here. The bottom line is this: I think six weeks later it’s a pretty fair question and I give myself bonus journalism points for asking the question of both men. I really don’t know if anyone had mentally taken the “free agency” train into the reality of yesterday’s situation and lo and behold, yesterday, the day of reckoning arrived and it wasn’t pretty and still stands to potentially get uglier.

It is the strangest of strange days for the organization, for Ray Lewis and most certainly for the fans who just want to know what’s going on. From WNST.net to AM 1570 to all of our Facebook accounts, Baltimore was abuzz with “Raymania” all day Friday.

Is he staying? Is he going? Will it be the Cowboys? Or the Broncos? Or the Jets? Or some darkhorse team we didn’t know was in the mix? Plenty of other players were on private lear jets and commercial flights and the NFL free agency media web mania began in earnest just after midnight. Hell, I got a text message from Peter King about Bart Scott at 2:15 AM! (No, I’m not kidding!) For the record, Peter King gave me the Namath guarantee at 8:15 a.m. this morning that Bart Scott would be a New York Jet by the end of the day. (I have no idea when the man sleeps but I love him!)

But as Jason Brown was running off to sign a $37.5 million deal with the lowly St. Louis Rams (so long JB…we’ll miss ya, man!) and Bart Scott was trying on a green cap and bringing Hot Sauce to the Big Apple, Ray Lewis was sitting at home in Florida trying to do damage control. And as we all know, public relations isn’t No. 52′s strong suit.

Let’s count the stories, tales and tacky details of this messy – and yes ‘AWKWARD’ – negotiation.

It started right after the Steelers beat the Ravens in Pittsburgh. Ray Lewis ducked the media and all questions about his future. Fair enough. Ten days later he sat on our set at Radio Row in Tampa for 15 minutes (his first interview with me since 1999) and talked a LOT about God deciding his fate. He told Anita Marks even less than that and she asked softballs as usual so nothing came from that “public appearance.”

About five days later in preparation for the Pro Bowl, he was canoodling with Jamie Dukes in a “shoot” interview on the sands of Hawaii. He openly and happily broached the possibilities of becoming a New York Jet and/or a Dallas Cowboy. Fans here in Baltimore bristled more than a little. Word is strong that Steve Bisciotti bristled as well (I have no confirmation on that one, just the same rumors you’ve heard!) He decided to pass on an in-game field interview with Andrea Kramer of NBC during the Pro Bowl, eliminating the possibility of putting his foot in his mouth.

And so for nearly a month, we’ve fielded call after call, read words upon words about what the outcome of “Ray-Gate” would be in 2009. Would No. 52 be a “Raven for life” or would he take the autumn of his Hall of Fame career elsewhere for a larger payday?

Many observations exist:

Ray has closed his Canton BBQ restaurant and is ready to move on…

Ray is perturbed that the Ravens have only offered him $12 million in guaranteed money…

Ray told Demarcus Ware he wants to be a Dallas Cowboy…

Ray (heart) Rex Ryan…

Blah, blah, blah. It was all “talk is cheap” kinda stuff in anticipation of Black Friday, the day Ray Lewis would head for greener pastures (and maybe not even the Jets?)

And when yesterday finally came, when the time came for the owners to open their pocketbooks via their GM’s and personnel folks and everyone from Albert Haynesworth to Bart Scott to Jason Brown to Ryan Fitzpatrick was jetting off somewhere to have a press conference and some free appetizers, future Hall of Famer and Baltimore legend Ray Lewis was sitting at home in Florida waiting for the phone call from the second wife that never came. Like Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn in the greenroom in New York on the third Saturday of April, he paced the cage waiting for someone other than Ozzie Newsome to show up with a Brink’s truck.

And, worst of all, NFL.com’s very respected Adam Schefter reported a source close to Ray Lewis (clearly believed to be Rod Woodson or Deion Sanders, since they are co-workers of Schefter and co-friends on No. 52’s speed dial) as saying Ray was “done” with the Ravens and offended beyond repair. That report surfaced around 9 a.m. By 4 p.m. and with seven solid hours of silence and a major disturbance from the fan base here in Baltimore, apparently Lewis had heard enough and called Woodson in Los Angeles to retract, run away from or disassociate himself with anything regarding purple potty talk and Jerry Jones. Of course, we’d love to know who or what entity is giving Ray Lewis this “advice” on public relations and skilled negotiation since his real agent David Dunn is in the NFL’s pokey for being a lousy agent.

Which brings us to today, Day Two of free agency: what does this mean for Ray Lewis and Ravens?

Well, if Ozzie Newsome were being honest – really honest – he’d probably tell you that he would’ve predicted this all along. That Ray Lewis would be sitting by the phone and it wouldn’t be ringing because his offer was always going to be the best offer. He’d probably come completely clean and say in his Southern drawl, “I had it all sized up from the beginning. I gave him what he’s worth, maybe even more than he’s worth to any other team. He’ll be a Raven because we want him the most and we’ll pay him the most. But he might have to sit at home by the phone and find that out on his own.”

I had several league insiders tell me that Ray Lewis was going to get his feelings hurt yesterday and they were right.

Of course, Newsome will never say that. But I will. Newsome has said publicly that it would only take one team, one major offer to Ray Lewis to change the game and the course. It was never even intimated that Newsome would move off of his “number” for Ray Lewis. You know the Newsome credo: right player, right price. And everyone from Steve Bisciotti down said that the owner would stay out of this negotiation.

The Ravens are reportedly offering Ray Lewis – a 34-year old aging superstar on a team that was four minutes away from the Super Bowl – about $17 million in guaranteed fresh money for the autumn of his career and some sort of “implied” final contract to make him a “Raven for life.” He’ll be lauded and feted into perpetuity here in Baltimore as a legend. Bob Haynie, Drew Forrester and I had the debate last week at Sullivan’s Steakhouse about whether No. 52 is on the Baltimore “Mount Rushmore.”

Now, the question remains: Will he take the Ravens deal?

Or are his feelings really hurt? Did he really want the Cowboys to call? Was all of this about getting leverage to push the negotiation with the Ravens, who’ve never wavered from the fact that they want Ray Lewis forever? Or was his “mystery” NFL Network friend telling the truth, that Ray Lewis is less than thrilled about continuing his career in Baltimore?

Who knows if we’ll ever know?

But you have to believe that we’re now past the point where his phone will be ringing with a higher offer later in the weekend from Jerry Jones or Pat Bowlen. If a team was serious about Ray Lewis, wouldn’t they have called already? And wouldn’t he be gone already?

We know one thing: Daniel Snyder didn’t want him to be a Redskin!

Strange daze indeed.

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An alternative look at Ray to the Jets

Posted on 06 February 2009 by Chris Bonetti

Ray Lewis to the Jets?  On the surface it seems to make the sufficient amount of sense to think could it actually happen.  Undoubtedly, we all know Rex Ryan, the new coach, is his boy.  One would think, the bright spotlight in New York City might appeal very much to Ray.  And most of all, the reason it would seem to make sense two weeks before he even becomes a free agent is because… he said it could.

If we go by what Ray said, figure the Ravens, the Cowboys, and the Jets are his preferred teams.  But, let me tell you, scratch the surface just a little bit and you’ll discover there is no way #52 will be donning Jets’ Green next season.

This Ray Lewis to the Jets thing, is a non-story.  Simply put the Jets do not have the cash to spend on bringing Ray Lewis to The Meadowlands, or The Meadowlands II, or whatever company spends money to have naming rights to the new Jets/Giants mega-stadium in 2010.

Jets owner Robert Woods Johnson, the guy whose family sells lots of band-aids and baby powder, loves a big splash free agent signing more than anyone.  That said last off-season the Jets and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum ran up a  $142 million, $74 million guaranteed tab on new contracts for FA’s Alan Faneca, Calvin Pace, and Damien Woody, and Kris Jenkins, whom they acquired via trade with Carolina.  So clearly money is a little tied up.  Oh yeah, then they traded for and signed BRETT FAVRE.  Boom there’s another $12M for last year, and $13M for this season if he comes back.

Hmmm, that raises an interesting question; the answer would surely effect Ray’s decision.  Will Brett Favre come back?  Either way keeps Lewis away from coming to New York.  If Favre chooses to come back for another ‘last go around’ the cap hit would leave no room for Ray.  If he retires to hunting and tractor riding in Mississippi or gets released or traded, why would Ray want to come to a team with a Kellen Clemens/Brett Ratliff quarterback ‘battle.’  I’m not sure he’s going down that road again; I think he knows it all too well.

I share in a common belief that Ray is going where the most money is.  I realize I’m not breaking news, I can clearly remember him telling Nestor and Drew on Radio Row that when all is said and done the decision will be made in 5 minutes.  Translation to me, Ray’s waiting to see who going to show him the money.

I make no promises that Ray is staying or going.

But if indeed Ray has played his last down in purple, I’m telling you, his next will not be in the ‘Swamps of Jersey’ with the Jets.

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Wigginton’s signing is a good one for the O’s

Posted on 03 February 2009 by Drew Forrester

It might have jammed up the team’s “utility-man-infrastracture” but today’s signing of Ty Wigginton is a good addition by the Orioles. 

He’s better than Kevin Millar.  He’s better than Chris Gomez. And, he’s better than Ryan Freel.

Personally, I think, he’ll be the O’s everyday third baseman in lieu of Melvin Mora by July 4th.

Look, he’s not A-Rod.  Ty Wigginton is a journeyman.  But he’s a good journeyman.  

That’s been my debate about their pitching additions this off-season.  They passed on GOOD pitchers like Jon Garland, A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and, likely, Ben Sheets, who is still out there for the taking but evidently not better than, say, Rich Hill, Mark Hendrickson or a Japanese pitcher who has the same major league ERA as I do.

However, as unnecessary as the Hendrickson signing was, the Wigginton signing is beneficial.

He’s a GOOD journeyman.  You need one or two of those along the way to patch up the holes and give you some consistency in the dog days of August when, in the O’s case, you’re 25 games out of first place and the games don’t matter anymore.  ”Someone” has to play in those games.  

The Wigginton addition also potentially paves the way for a spring training trade of either Brian Roberts, Luke Scott, or both.  They’ve tried to sign Roberts over the winter but he’s heard “the story” one too many times from the O’s – “we’re gettin’ better, hang in there with us” – and is begging for a transfer, as Private Santiago did in “A Few Good Men”.  Scott is a decent-enough-hitter but not a gold glove candidate…and with Pie’s arrival from Chicago – and Freel and Wigginton both able to play left field – the O’s could also part company with Luuuukkkke if they could pull off a reasonable deal.

On the whole, It’s been an off-season filled with low-budget, “take a chance on me” type of player signings and acquisitions and Wigginton probably fits that criteria…but he’s a career .270 hitter and a capable defensive player and he’s only 31.  He can still play.  His history shows that.  He’s not a gamble, unlike a Rich Hill, Brad Hennessey or David Pauley.  Best of all, he’s actually coming to the O’s on the heels of a decent season in Houston, unlike some of their other off-season reaches like Hill, who, for example, pitched in 5 games a year ago before he was shut-down by the Cubs.  

It does create a possible logjam in the part-time player category, as Freel, Gomez and Wigginton are nearly identical images of each other.  Freel plays more outfield than the other two.  Gomez is the only one who can play shortstop – or has in the past – and Wigginton’s best position is probably third base.  But, in general, all three are fill-in types and that might be one more part-timer than the O’s really need.  Make no mistake about it, though, if you’re ranking the three, Wigginton is the best of the trio.

I like this signing.

It feels good to say (write) that.  

I must be getting soft.

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Ravens will sport a new look in ’09

Posted on 20 January 2009 by Drew Forrester

Where will we be this time NEXT year?  

The Ravens’ playoff run for the 2008 season hasn’t been over for 48 hours and they are already forging ahead at Owings Mills in preparation for 2009.

A suggested theme:  ”Let’s play one more game”.

After all, in 2008, the MAXIMUM amount of games a team could have played — 20.  The Ravens played 19.

If only they could have played one more game.

Maybe next year.

But, there will be a lot of action, a lot of news and a lot of changes next year in Baltimore.  Those changes are both obvious and subtle, but equally important.  Some might be changes for the better.  Some might not.  

We won’t know until this time next year.

The most glaring of the changes will be the departure of Baltimore’s long-time defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.  Rex was not only a fixture here, but he takes with him to New York the one intangible that every coach in any sport craves to own — his players enjoyed playing for him.

Forget about the money.  Forget the “contract year” stuff.  Dismiss styles, schemes, etc.  

Almost to a man in Owings Mills, the players played for Rex Ryan first and foremost.

He will be missed.  The players knew his departure was inevitable.  But that won’t make it any easier when training camp rolls around next July.  Will the new defensive coordinator command the same respect as Rex?  Only time will tell.

When a coach leaves, other’s follow.  Players look around the room and say, “that was MY guy…maybe the next coach won’t appreciate me the way Rex did.”  Some might head out of Baltimore with that thought in mind.  A few players have openly talked about Rex in New York and wondered aloud if perhaps their career trail might lead them to the Jets and a stint in the Big Apple.  

While the Rex decision didn’t fall at the feet of the Ravens, the Ray Lewis decision most certainly will be one they make on their clock.

It will go down as the hot-button topic of the off-season, without a doubt.

It appears as if Ozzie’s summer of ’08 gamble to let Ray play out his contract is going to come back to haunt Steve Bisciotti where it hurts the most – at the bank.  Ray kept his mouth shut all year and played football.  At a high-level.  And when Baltimore trotted out of the locker room on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, they took to the field in large part because of #52′s fearless competitive streak and his Hall-of-Fame performance in 2008.  

Ray deserves to get paid.  

Someone in the league WILL pay him.

It would be grossly unfair if it weren’t the Ravens.

But that’s THEIR decision now.  They have a variety of options.  They can re-sign Ray and give him some sort of staggering signing bonus in the vicinity of $20 million for a 4 or 5 year deal.  They can slap the franchise tag on him and extend him one more season – but Lewis will most likely bristle at that option since he’ll say he played 2008 “in good faith” and the franchise tag is looked upon by most players as a method the club uses to duck out of their obligation to reward a player.  They can also apply the little-used transition tag on Ray and allow him the chance to go out on the open market and secure his best deal – and then the Ravens can match it, and keep him, or let him wander off to (insert team here).

As Ray goes, so will the rest of the off-season.

Baltimore has a number of key players getting to roam around sniffing for a new deal.  If Ray signs, where does that leave Terrell Suggs?  What about Bart Scott?  Jim Leonhard?  Jason Brown?

Who is going to catch the football for Baltimore in 2008?  Isn’t it time for the franchise to make a dedicated commitment – like they did with the QB position last April – to the passing game by adding a couple of quality, reliable, wide receievers who can endure the tough AFC North?  It would appear that the triple threat of Mason-Clayton-DWilliams isn’t going to get the job done.  That’s not to say that one or two of those players can’t fill a role on next year’s team, but Baltimore needs an upgrade at the receiver position. No hard feelings.  

The secondary is in need of an overhaul and a move toward youth.  Perhaps no department on the team battled injuries like this year’s secondary and on the “heart meter”, it zooms past 10 and goes straight to the top.  But, as we saw Sunday night in Pittsburgh, you can have all the heart in the world but that doesn’t matter to Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes.  The Ravens need to add experience, speed and strength in the secondary.  Better ball hawks.  Better tacklers.  Better players.  That’s what they need back there if they want to beat the Steelers next year.  

George Kokinis will be heading off to Cleveland to take over as the Browns’ GM and the Ravens will lose a high-quality front office mind.  He’s a behind-the-scenes guy at Owings Mills that very few people know. I’ll sum up Kokinis for you in about 50 words.  Do you like Jim Leonhard as a player? Justin Bannan? Fabian Washington?  Those are three important parts of the ’08 team that were all signed off on by Kokinis and handed over to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh.  Kokinis will be missed.

There’s little doubt that chemistry and personal affection for one another – to a man – had as much to do with Baltimore’s success in ’08 as any element of on-field play with perhaps the exception of the new quarterback from Delaware.  

There’s an old saying:  ”you can’t catch lightning in a bottle…twice.”

How will this team come together next year?  New people.  New personal agendas.  New philosophies.

It might be better, of course.  

But, it might not be.

Joe Flacco will be better.  So will Jared Gaither.  Most of the young players who played a role this year have plenty of upside.  It’s the team experienced corps of veterans who are starting to show the inevitable wear and tear.  But those veterans also comprise the heart and soul of the locker room.  Dan Wilcox is a lion and a player that every man in that locker room looks up to — and he might be moving on if the Ravens elect to not sign him to a new contract.  What happens if Ray Lewis doesn’t get rewarded like he believes he should? Who steps in for him and becomes the team’s beating heart?  

That’s why losing on Sunday was so damaging.

This team – this exact gathering of men – will not be back for a second go-round next season.

These chances don’t come along very often.  

And that’s why Sunday’s loss hurts.

But, teams lose coaches and players every year and they all stay in business and they all do their best to rebound and move on to the next challenge.

For the Ravens, though, the next challenge will come with different people in place.

We trusted the folks in charge of the challenge this year.

It will be hard to replace those that have departed or will move on in the next month or so.

Let’s hope we don’t learn a hard lesson in 2009.

2008 was just too much fun.

And, after all, we’re only asking for the team to play one more game next year.

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Leonhard: “I’m open to moving on”

Posted on 19 January 2009 by Drew Forrester

I’m sure Jim Leonhard wasn’t trying to make a statement today at Owings Mills, but his words resonated loudly though an otherwise quiet Ravens’ locker room.  

The diminutive safety who drew widespread praise from teammates, fans and media spoke at length this afternoon about the ’08 campaign and his future both with the Ravens and, possibly, with Rex Ryan.

“This loss hurts so much because it could be the kind of opportunity we don’t get again in the future,” Leonhard remarked.  ”We knew it was a one-game winner take all kind of deal and we felt good about our chances.  But, when you have that chance, you have to capitalize and we didn’t.”

Leonhard was a terrific off-season signing for Baltimore but his one-year contract leaves him open and available to the highest bidder, a fact he noted works in his favor now.

“I think I proved to everyone that I can play in this league and I can contribute a great deal to the team,” he said.   “I’d like to think people in Baltimore and around the league see me as a starter.  That’s my goal, obviously, because everyone who plays in the league wants to start.  But I enjoyed my time here a lot and if they want me back and we can work something out, I’d definitely consider it.”

Leonhard’s defensive coordinator in Baltimore was Rex Ryan.  If he does return to Baltimore, Leonhard will have a new boss, because Ryan has accepted the Head Coach position with the New York Jets.  Leonhard talked openly about the possibility of moving on to New York with his erstwhile defensive chief.  ”Rex is a great coach and I’d love to play for him if that’s where this takes me.  I see him as a guy with a lot of potential and it’s really going to depend on who wants me and what my role is going to be with that team.”

An early-season injury to Dawan Landry catapulted Leonhard into the starting safety position and he not only became a strong force in the secondary, he helped solidify Baltimore’s special teams unit as the team’s main punt returner over the last half of the season.

“We had a heck of a run, but we came up short and now it’s time for everyone to sit back and decide where they go from here,” he said.  ”I’m open to moving on if I have to, but I like Baltimore and think this is a team that can win again real soon.”

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