Tag Archive | "Steve Bisciotti"

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Newsome expecting Suggs back for 2016 season

Posted on 08 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Uncertainty has surrounded Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs since he suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in the 2015 opener, but Ozzie Newsome brought clarity on Thursday.

The general manager said he’s had numerous conversations with the six-time Pro Bowl selection and expects him to return for his 14th season. Suggs will be attempting to come back from his second Achilles injury — one to each heel — in less than four years.

“In my last conversation with him, his answer to me was, ‘I don’t want to leave the game the way I left it out in Denver,'” Newsome said. “I think he is using that as motivation. He’s had that injury before, so he knows what it takes to get back. I’m just looking forward to him getting back in here when he does, being involved in the [organized team activities], going through training camp, and just seeing where he is.”

While coaches, teammates, and fans tried to respond to his loss with the “next man up” mantra at the time of the injury, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said he found new appreciation for Suggs over the course of the 2015 season. In his absence, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had to step into an every-down role after defensive coordinator Dean Pees was previously able to maximize his pass-rush ability as a platoon player with Courtney Upshaw. The injury also increased the workload of rookie Za’Darius Smith, who was drafted in the fourth round to replace situational rusher Pernell McPhee.

The trickle-down effect of the Suggs injury extended beyond the pass rush, according to the Baltimore owner.

“You start to create pressure, you start blitzing linebackers and then you get exposed in the underneath routes and they take advantage of that and it makes our linebackers look bad,” Bisciotti said. “Then, the corners and the safeties have to hold on a second longer, and they get exposed. It was the biggest domino effect of losing one guy.

“If anybody in this league said, ‘If we lost Joe Flacco in Week 1, where would we be?’ We’d say, ‘Not good.’ If you had said, ‘What one guy can’t you afford to lose on defense?’ I think most of you would have said Suggs.”

The loss of Suggs had a sizable impact on the defense, but it’s also concerning that the unit was so dependent on a 13th-year linebacker who turned 33 in October. The Ravens cannot afford to lean so heavily on the veteran again as he will be another year older and coming off a major injury.

For that reason, adding a high-impact pass rusher could be Baltimore’s biggest priority this offseason. After collecting 49 sacks in 2014, the Ravens managed just 37 this season with Dumervil’s total dropping from a franchise-record 17 to only six.

“Pass rush is really important,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You lose Terrell Suggs, you lose Pernell McPhee, [and] you try to replace them, move guys into those spots, and you work with them. Elvis Dumervil, I’ll tell you what, he was bringing it week in and week out. But he was getting a lot of attention, too. That made it a little bit tougher for him.”

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Ravens better hope losing doesn’t stick with continuity

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Owner Steve Bisciotti’s description of his reaction to the 2015 season best summarizes the reaction to Thursday’s “State of the Ravens” press conference.

“Disappointed, yes. Mad, no.”

Any Ravens fan demanding a pound of flesh was probably going to be unhappy. Successful organizations don’t panic, and it would have been wrong for Bisciotti to do anything drastic in response to eighth-year coach John Harbaugh’s first losing season and the organization’s first since 2007.

But that doesn’t mean the Ravens are only a couple minor tweaks away from being back in the playoffs a year from now, either, and that’s where the tone of the decision-makers fell a little flat after a nightmare season that began with lofty expectations.

“I don’t really think that a lot has to be done,” Bisciotti said. “One thing that I’m proud of is that we all view continuity as a strength. Continuity doesn’t stem from laziness. It comes from confidence, and I believe in these guys. I have a lot of faith that we’ll get it straightened out. I hope we don’t have as many injuries, and I hope we have a whole lot more turnovers. I think those kind of differences would get us back to where we want to be.”

Going 8-8 is one thing, but seasons of double-digit losses don’t just happen without some issues stretching beyond injuries and that shortage of takeaways that has been a trend for several seasons now. The Ravens lacked play-makers at key positions long before an absurd run of injuries midway through the season cost them quarterback Joe Flacco, wide receiver Steve Smith, running back Justin Forsett, and others. Baltimore was 1-6 at a time when the only missing players of great significance were linebacker Terrell Suggs and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

Those injuries certainly hurt, but they shouldn’t bring a free fall in the standings for a balanced and talented football team.

Harbaugh said Thursday that he does not plan to make any changes to his coaching staff beyond the departure of linebackers coach Ted Monachino to Indianapolis. Of course, some tweaks could always be made in the coming weeks, but it was fair to wonder whether some different voices needed to be injected after a disappointing 5-11 season.

Instead, the status quo will prevail.

Asked about his secondary, general manager Ozzie Newsome spoke about the impact the move of Lardarius Webb to safety could have without mentioning his $9.5 million salary cap figure next year, which would make him one of the most expensive — and unproven — safeties in the game. The lack of  play-making safeties has been one of the organization’s biggest weaknesses since the departure of Ed Reed three years ago, and pointing to Webb as the answer seems shaky at best.

Bisciotti discussed the dramatic impact of Suggs’ absence on the defense, but the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year will be 34 in October and is coming off his second Achilles injury in less than four years. The collapse of the unit without him is a compliment to his talents over the years, but the Ravens banking on him to be the Suggs of old would be unwise, if not reckless.

Left tackle, cornerback, pass rusher, and wide receiver were all mentioned as positions to address, but the Ravens’ cap situation will hinge on the potential reworking of Flacco’s contract and there are only so many high draft picks to go around.

Those four positions are arguably the most critical ones on the field after the quarterback in today’s NFL, and the Ravens are either lacking options or have substantial question marks at all of them.

That sounds like a lot that needs to be done.

“We need to augment our team, but John and his staff do a very good job of developing players, and we depend on that,” Newsome said. “You need to have some players that when the game is on the line, they have the ability to make a play. We will be trying to add some of that to our team, but a lot of that can be done through development.”

Harbaugh’s decision to keep his coaching staff intact reflects that confidence, but it will be up to Newsome to find high-impact talent starting with the sixth overall choice of the draft, Baltimore’s earliest pick since 2000. The Ravens will see special play-makers like Antonio Brown and A.J. Green on display when AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati face off in the postseason while they watch the playoffs from home for the second time in three years.

The Bengals in particular have been a problem as they’ve won five straight over the Ravens.

“If we get all of our players back, I think we’ll close that gap,” Bisciotti said. “If we have a good draft, if we do well in free agency, we can compete with them. But that’s a stain — Cincinnati beating us as frequently as they have recently.”

Plenty of ifs.

No, Bisciotti, Newsome, and Harbaugh didn’t flinch or show panic on Thursday, but you hope that there’s more urgency beneath the surface than they expressed publicly after a 5-11 campaign.

There’s a fine line between confidence and complacency in what you do.

Their actions in the coming months and the results in 2016 will determine which one it was for the Ravens brass on Thursday.

After all, success on the field is far more important than winning a press conference.

Even if the message wasn’t all that inspiring on Thursday.

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Tough part now begins trying to improve undermanned Ravens

Posted on 03 January 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2015 season is finally over for the Ravens.

Fourteen of their 16 games were decided by a single possession.

Twenty-one players finished the season on injured reserve or on the physically unable to perform list. That list included eight starters as well as 2015 first-round receiver Breshad Perriman.

Head coach John Harbaugh still called it one of his most rewarding seasons with the way his players and coaches continued to fight and show heart every week, but all of this only clouds the truth about one of the most disappointing years in the history of the franchise.

Despite plenty of preseason love, the Ravens lacked the dynamic playmakers to be a serious contender this year.

That reality was apparent before the laundry list of injuries decimated the Ravens to the point that you needed a roster sheet handy just to follow the final weeks of action. Remember that other than outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and Perriman, an unproven rookie who was the only plan for replacing speedy receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens were still a relatively-healthy football team when they entered Week 8 with a 1-6 record and their season all but shot.

And this is where general manager Ozzie Newsome could face more scrutiny this offseason than at any point during his 20 mostly-brilliant years in Baltimore.

It will be interesting to see where owner Steve Bisciotti directs his disappointment when the Ravens brass meets with the media to discuss the 2015 season and what lies ahead. While coaches and players have faced the music on a weekly basis and must shoulder their part of the blame, it’s difficult to win consistently without dynamic, game-changing players on either side of the football.

The Ravens simply lacked the speed and big-play talent at crucial positions such as wide receiver, edge rusher, and in the secondary to win in the modern NFL.

Ultimately, Newsome is responsible for putting together the roster. Many factors brought the Ravens to this point with some of those out of the general manager’s control but others falling directly on his shoulders.

To be clear, the Ravens don’t need to overhaul their entire roster as they have some good players on both sides of the ball, but they lack the special ones for which the opposition game-plans on a weekly basis in the way Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert showed on Sunday. With injured franchise quarterback Joe Flacco expected to be ready for training camp and Harbaugh showing commendable leadership in keeping the locker room together during an 11-loss season, the Ravens are in a much better position than many non-playoff teams, but they will need a strong offseason to return to the playoffs next season.

Baltimore has multiple needs including finding a ball-hawking defensive back, bolstering the pass rush, adding more speed to the wide receiver position, and potentially making their latest change at left tackle.

Choosing sixth overall in the 2016 draft should certainly help, but Newsome and the rest of the front office need to take a long look at the way they’ve done things in recent years as there were many falling dominoes that led to such a disappointing season. Recent draft history, bad contracts, and too much reliance on unproven players were all factors contributing to a 5-11 season before it ever began.

There’s been too little emphasis on speed at multiple positions, and Newsome hasn’t put enough talent around a quarterback who’s in his prime and has already proven he can win a championship with a good — not necessarily great — supporting cast around him.

Harbaugh has answered questions all year, but Newsome hasn’t addressed the media since the final day of the draft, which will make his first public comments about the 2015 season highly anticipated. Changes to the coaching staff could be coming, but improving personnel will be far more important to the Ravens’ fate in 2016 and beyond.

Injuries, questionable officiating, and tough breaks in close games may have contributed to a 5-11 record, but this was a flawed team from the start and not the Super Bowl contender that the Ravens — or outsiders — thought it was. You just hope the decision-makers acknowledge as much instead of using injuries as the primary excuse or trying to shift too much blame to Harbaugh, his coaches, and current players.

It may not have been easy watching the Ravens play out the string, but now the tough part begins.

Fixing a football team with a plethora of needs.

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Avoiding finger-pointing may become Ravens’ biggest challenge

Posted on 27 October 2015 by Luke Jones

You could find excuses anywhere you looked after the Ravens fell to 1-6 on Monday night.

Substandard officiating and malfunctioning headsets are real issues the NFL needs to address, but dwelling on such factors serves no purpose when you’re in the midst of the worst start in franchise history.

An ever-growing list of injuries has stunted the ceiling of the 2015 Ravens, no matter if expectations were too high for such a playmaker-deprived roster to begin with.

Still a few days shy from Halloween, the Ravens face a cruel reality that no one could have anticipated.

The season is over — at least in the scope that football seasons have been viewed in Baltimore over the last 15 years. Even if you’re crazy enough to believe the Ravens are capable of winning eight or nine of their final nine contests in 2015, that still might not be enough as it was only last year that they needed a hand from Kansas City in Week 17 just to sneak into the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

Six losses by one score each might make the Ravens the best 1-6 team in NFL history, but that still only fetches the first overall pick in the 2016 draft if the season were to end today.

If Super Bowl XLVII was John Harbaugh’s finest hour in Baltimore, the eighth-year head coach is now entering his most critical one. With nine games to go in the season from hell, Harbaugh must steer the Ravens clear of the finger-pointing game the rest of the way.

Harbaugh has said this isn’t the first time one of his teams has faced adversity and has maintained that it will make the Ravens better in the long run, but it’s easier to hold the ship together in the midst of a losing streak when you’re still in the heart of the playoff race. Even when the Ravens stood at 0-3 or 1-4 earlier this season, there were historical examples from which to draw inspiration that they could climb back in the hunt.

But at 1-6, the Ravens have entered the territory when everyone — players, coaches, and members of the front office — begins looking over his shoulder. Even the bulletproof Ozzie Newsome has to be feeling at least the slightest bit of anxiety these days when he sees Steve Bisciotti’s name light up on his phone. They wouldn’t be the competitors that they are if that uneasiness didn’t exist right now.

That doesn’t mean Bisciotti will or should clean house, but everyone’s seat — some more than others — should feel at least a little warm over such a poor start.

The truth is that the Ravens aren’t fixing all of their problems this year, meaning not everyone is going to be around to see these dark times through. That goes for players, coaches, and the rest of the organization as change is an annual part of the NFL even when life is good. How much change remains to be seen, but that uncertainty for everyone is what Harbaugh must weather as the face of the organization over the rest of the season.

Right or wrong, it’s human nature for coaches to want to point to the front office and to players, for players to blame coaches and each other, for the front office to point to coaches for not getting the job done with the roster assembled in the offseason, and for all parties to blame injuries, officiating, and any other variable creeping into the equation in a given week. How effectively the Ravens avoid those traps over the next two months will go a long way in determining how long everyone sticks around under Bisciotti, who once fired a Super Bowl-winning coach only a year after he’d led the Ravens to the best regular-season mark in franchise history.

It was less than two years ago that the highly-competitive owner vowed to get more involved if the Ravens repeated the mistakes of a 2013 season that ended in an 8-8 record. Two years later, those problems pale in comparison to what they face now.

“I have to be patient to let people fail, but I don’t have to be patient enough to let people repeat failure,” Bisciotti said in January 2014. “I’ll be more apt to get my way next year if their solutions don’t change the problems. That’s fair, that’s where I am as owner.”

To the credit of Harbaugh, his staff, and his players, there have been few signs of the effort coming into question despite the results not being there. It would be too difficult to continue losing games by one possession if you weren’t giving it your all — or at least close to it — on a weekly basis in the NFL. So far, the Ravens have been quick not to use injuries, bad luck, or talent deficiencies in key areas as excuses and have taken accountability for all shortcomings under their control.

But will growing emphasis on the future prompt individuals to start thinking more about themselves instead of the greater good? It’s that type of thinking that becomes dangerous to a team and an organization.

Even with factors currently out of their control, everyone needs to be better.

Harbaugh and his staff need to accentuate the Ravens’ strengths — as few as there might be — and find ways to mask their weakness — as many as there are — as much as possible.

In a unique position as the franchise quarterback and highest-paid player on the team, Joe Flacco needs to find a way to make it work — at least a little better — with Marc Trestman and an underwhelming group of talent behind Steve Smith. Flacco’s comments about the final drive on Monday night seemed to allude to more than just headset issues and wouldn’t be the first time his words could be interpreted as some disenchantment with his new offensive coordinator. Likewise, a veteran coach like Trestman needs to better organize a group that’s been prone to getting completely out of sync for large portions of games like the offense was in the second half of Monday’s loss.

A poor defense that performed better against Arizona — relative to recent performances at least — has to find a way to build on that showing, starting with a Week 8 challenge against San Diego’s top-ranked passing game. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees lacks the horses to fairly compare this unit to the many great Baltimore defenses of the past, but he’s coaching for his job at this point with the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense.

Every player on the 53-man roster down to the last member on the practice squad needs to dig deep as many will be playing for their futures — in Baltimore or somewhere else — the rest of the way in 2015.

It will be Harbaugh’s responsibility to hold so many moving parts together without the familiar carrot of postseason play ahead and with everyone now looking over his shoulder and facing the temptation to point the finger elsewhere.

And even though much of their work won’t come until the offseason, Newsome and the front office need to do much better than the roster assembled for the 2015 season. An infusion of play-making, impact talent on both sides of the ball needs to occur as quickly as possible, which won’t be easy.

Excuses are all over the place if you’re willing to give in, and playing out the string won’t be pleasant.

But each member of the organization needs to remember that every time you point a finger somewhere else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

It’s an easy lesson to remember when times are good as they have been for a long time in Baltimore, but the Ravens have never found themselves in a position quite like this before.

In the NFL’s basement and with all hope lost for the 2015 season — at least in the way they envisioned it not too long ago.

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Billick’s speech to Ravens should be step toward Ring of Honor

Posted on 05 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A familiar face addressed the Ravens after Wednesday’s practice in Owings Mills.

Of course, Brian Billick may not be as easily recognized by current Ravens players — Terrell Suggs, Sam Koch, and Marshal Yanda are the last holdovers from his nine-year tenure — but it was still a feel-good scene when the former head coach and Super Bowl XXXV champion spoke to the Ravens at the request of John Harbaugh. It’s been more than seven years since Billick was fired at the end of the 2007 season, but Harbaugh asking his predecessor to address the current team just felt right.

“Here’s a coach that coached a lot of bad-ass Raven football teams around here,” Harbaugh said. “It was pretty fun to listen to him coach, and I think it meant something to him. It meant something to all of us. He did a great job, and we’re proud to have him back.”

Billick was in Owings Mills as part of the NFL Network’s training camp coverage, but one can only hope the invitation to speak was an important step toward a much-deserved honor for Billick. Some time needed to pass before the subject was finally broached, but now seems an appropriate time for the Ravens to add Billick to the Ring of Honor.

Whether you agreed or disagreed with the decision at the time, it’s difficult to argue with owner Steve Bisciotti’s dismissal of Billick when you see how successful the Ravens have been under Harbaugh, but that shouldn’t take away from the accomplishments of the former. In 1999, Billick took the reins of a team that only knew losing in its first three years before leading the city of Baltimore to its first NFL championship since Super Bowl V in his second season as head coach.

He wasn’t perfect as his inability to develop a franchise quarterback ultimately led to his downfall, but a Super Bowl championship, two AFC North titles, and four playoff appearances in nine years comprise a resume that’s worthy of a spot on the M&T Bank Stadium facade. And he will surely be joined by Harbaugh one day, just as the two stood side by side on Wednesday.

Seeing Billick speak to the Ravens was not only a fun trip down memory lane, but it was a reminder of what needs to happen sooner rather than later.

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Bisciotti denies influencing Goodell on “Deflategate” decision

Posted on 27 July 2015 by Luke Jones

As the NFL world awaits a ruling on Tom Brady’s appeal of his four-game suspension, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wanted to make it clear he isn’t trying to influence commissioner Roger Goodell in making a decision.

In a statement released by the Ravens on Sunday afternoon, Bisciotti denied the report from ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio that he was among a group of owners urging Goodell to uphold the New England Patriots quarterback’s ban for his involvement in the “Deflategate” scandal. Reports indicate Brady is likely to take the league to court if the suspension stands.

“I have not and will not put any pressure on the commissioner or anyone representing the NFL office to take action in what everyone is calling ‘Deflategate,'” Bisciotti said. “The story circulating that I have put pressure on Roger is 100 percent wrong. The reports are unfair to [New England owner] Robert Kraft, who is an honorable person, and to his franchise.”

Of course, the longer Goodell delays his decision, it welcomes the possibility of anyone with a vested interest in the outcome trying to gain his ear.

If the suspension stands, Brady would miss the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers and would not return until New England’s Week 5 encounter with Indianapolis, a delicious coincidence considering the transgressions came against the Colts in January’s AFC championship game.

“Let’s talk about football and the start of training camps,” Bisciotti added in his statement. “Fans and people like me want the issue resolved now.”

That sentiment can probably be agreed upon by most who’ve followed this saga for the last six months.

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Bisciotti thinks extension would be “win-win” for Flacco

Posted on 01 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens know they’ll return to the negotiating table with quarterback Joe Flacco next winter, but owner Steve Bisciotti is confident the sides will continue their relationship far beyond the 2015 season.

In signing the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player to a record-setting six-year, $120.6 million contract two years ago, the organization knew the deal was structured in a way that it would need to be adjusted after the 2015 campaign. Flacco’s salary cap figure is scheduled to rise from $14.55 million this season to a colossal $28.55 million in 2016.

Speaking with season-ticket holders in a phone forum, Bisciotti said the organization has mapped out a 2016 roster plan to account for Flacco’s gigantic number, but common sense suggests the contract must be adjusted if the Ravens are to remain competitive next season.

“I’m not real worried about it. I know he wants to stay,” Bisciotti said. “He’s obviously more appreciated in Baltimore, maybe, than he is league-wide, but I think that even the league is starting to come around. Look at a guy who has not missed a snap in seven years and has a wonderful record in fourth-quarter comebacks.”

The current deal will have paid the 30-year-old quarterback $62 million over the first three years, but its structure allowed the Ravens to keep more manageable cap figures of $6.8 million in 2013 and $14.8 million last season. But those cap numbers will skyrocket starting next year, which will prompt the sides to tack on additional years to the contract to even out the yearly cap figures to be more in line with the original annual average of $20.1 million.

Such maneuvering would allow Flacco to collect additional guaranteed money based off what he was already scheduled to make over the next few years while increasing the chances that he finishes his career in Baltimore.

“When we get into the offseason, we’re going to be looking to redo that deal and probably do it back at a six-year deal and flatten it out a little bit more than it was this first go-round,” Bisciotti said. “We were kind of in shock — I think the whole league was in shock — when the market was showing that it was $20 million a year. Quite frankly, we weren’t prepared to do that. We back-loaded them, so [the cap numbers] were more like [$14 million] and [$15 million] in the first few years and then that [$20 million] average jumps back up to over [$28 million or $27 million].”

Flacco has never thrown for 4,000 yards in a season and has never made the Pro Bowl — he would have been taken as an alternate this past year if not for the birth of his third son — but he has the most road playoff wins in NFL history and the most wins (including the postseason) of any quarterback in the league since 2008.

Despite his confidence in extending his quarterback while easing the 2015 cap crunch, Bisciotti knows he’ll need to make the deal work for Flacco, who set career highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27) in 2014.

His current deal also calls for cap figures of $31.15 million in 2017 and $24.75 million in 2018, further illustrating the need to find a middle ground with Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta.

“I don’t want to say untenable. It’s something we will make [work], but we can make it a win-win for Joe,” Bisciotti said. “Even though it’s only cost us $14 million or 15 million [on the cap the last couple years], because of the guarantees, I do believe he’s gotten, by the end of this year, half of that contract, somewhere around $60 million.

“I think he’ll be very amenable to a new deal. Then, it would be our job since we’ve already gotten $28 million fitted under that thing to flatten out those hits on our cap, so that they’re more consistent. I’m very confident that we’ll get it done, and Joe and his agent both acknowledged when we did the deal [in 2013] that we would be back at the negotiating table three years later. We certainly are just as interested in Joe as we were three years ago.”

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Ravens have lost benefit of doubt in taking chances with character

Posted on 20 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than a month ago, Steve Bisciotti said the Ravens “took a crash” last season with the Ray Rice saga and four other offseason arrests.

His comments were made in the midst of director of security Darren Sanders’ legals problems and a few weeks after the release of defensive tackle Terrence Cody (felony animal cruelty). Since Bisciotti suggested these kinds of off-field problems “come in waves,” cornerback Victor Hampton and running back Bernard Pierce were each arrested on driving under the influence charges and promptly released.

Any sliver of a benefit of the doubt that might have remained following a nightmarish 2014 calendar year is now gone, regardless of the extensive list of high-character individuals who do exist in the organization.

“In order to take a hit to your reputation, you have to have a pretty good reputation to start with, and we did,” Bisciotti said on Feb. 24. “Now, it’s about proving that it was an aberration, and we believe that to be the case. Are we a little more aware? Yes, I think specifically if you go back to the Ray Rice thing, we certainly are more aware. We’ve been able to tap resources in the community that have furthered our knowledge, our sensitivity and our responsibility.”

There’s only so much that can be done to prevent current members of your organization from getting in trouble. You can look for gaps or needs in your player development program and try to monitor off-field behavior as much as you’d like, but they’re ultimately grown men who make their own choices.

The Ravens have followed through with Bisciotti’s mention of showing more responsibility by disposing of Cody, Hampton, and Pierce, even if they weren’t expected to be notable performers for the 2015 Ravens. It remains to be seen what would happen — and the Ravens hope they won’t be faced with the possibility — if a star performer were to be arrested.

But it would be even better if players — insignificant ones or not — weren’t finding trouble in the first place. Even after ridding themselves of the three players arrested this offseason, the stigma remains with the Ravens.

And that’s where the organization needs to be more proactive and vigilant with the player additions that they make, for reasons of both perception and reality. The Ravens have long taken pride in providing an environment for second chances, but they’re not in a position to do that right now.

“The one area we will definitely take a hard look – and it will be tough for us to bring a player to Baltimore – is someone who has domestic abuse in their background,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month. “Other than that, we’ll exhaust every character aspect of the player, but we believe in allowing the information to lead us to a decision when we deal with that. Our scouts do an unbelievable job of getting information when they are on the campuses.”

The standard needs to be higher with not only domestic violence concerns but in any matters that raise red flags away from the field. No breath can be wasted on draft prospects such as talent wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham or other outside additions with any inkling of past trouble.

It’s the current climate in which the organization is living in the wake of the last 13 months.

A few years ago, the Ravens enjoyed the benefit of the doubt in drafting a player with character concerns coming out of college like cornerback Jimmy Smith, but they’re no longer living in that world. While no one would have predicted what happened with Rice, let’s not pretend that Hampton and Pierce — the two most recently arrested — had spotless backgrounds.

Does staying away from questionable character narrow the talent pool? Yes, but not to the point where the Ravens won’t be able to compete given their ability to find good football players.

An isolated incident here or there is unavoidable, but eight player arrests in 13 months can’t be viewed as an aberration if you really care about your image.

The organization has a problem and must do better in bringing in players they can trust on and off the field.

Or the positive reputation the Ravens once enjoyed will be lost for good.

 

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Ravens trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ngata to Detroit

Posted on 10 March 2015 by Luke Jones

A nine-year run that included five Pro Bowl selections and a Super Bowl championship wasn’t enough to continue a relationship between the Ravens and longtime defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

The organization announced the trade of Ngata to the Detroit Lions on Tuesday afternoon, a move that will net the Ravens fourth and fifth-round selections in this year’s draft. General manager Ozzie Newsome will also send his 2015 seventh-round selection to the Lions.

Ngata had one season remaining on a five-year, $61 million contract that was signed in 2011. The 31-year-old was scheduled to make $8.5 million in base salary and to carry a $16 million salary cap figure, realities that were problematic for the Ravens this offseason. The move clears $8.5 million in much-needed space while leaving $7.5 million in dead money on the 2015 cap.

With Detroit losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, Ngata will not only rejoin former Ravens assistants Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin in Detroit, but he will fill a major void on the Lions defensive line. The decision to trade Ngata also prevents him from joining an AFC rival, something that would have been possible had he been released. While two Day 3 draft selections aren’t a tremendous return for one of the best players in franchise history, the Ravens didn’t have great negotiating leverage considering most expected Ngata to be released if the sides didn’t work out a deal.

“Haloti has been an outstanding player for us for many years,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He consistently showed tremendous leadership in our locker room and on the field. At times, he was one of the NFL’s most dominant players.”

Since last year, Baltimore had explored a contract extension with Ngata to lessen his cap hit and afford him the opportunity to finish his career with the Ravens like future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and current teammate Terrell Suggs, who signed a four-year, $20.7 million extension that included $16 million guaranteed last offseason. Instead, Ngata follows in the footsteps of safety Ed Reed and will now finish his career elsewhere.

Head coach John Harbaugh expressed strong optimism last month that the organization would get a deal done with Ngata, but members of the organization offered a more tempered approach two weeks ago during the “State of the Ravens” press conference.

“You go back to Suggs, we were able to successfully do that, which doesn’t guarantee that he retires as a Raven, but it certainly guaranteed that we would play him well into his 30s,” owner Steve Bisciotti said last month. “We were successful with Ray; we were unsuccessful with Ed. I put Haloti in that group of iconic players that helped us to get where we are as a franchise.”

The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata undoubtedly goes down as one of the most decorated players in franchise history with only Lewis (13), Jonathan Ogden (11), Reed (nine), and Suggs (six) making it to more Pro Bowls in their time with the Ravens. But it is fair to question how much longer he will continue to play at a high level after nagging injuries hindered his performance in 2012 and 2013.

A strong 2014 campaign certainly improved Ngata’s value in the eyes of the Ravens, but a four-game suspension for Adderall allowed the organization to get an extended look at 2014 second-round pick Timmy Jernigan, who filled in admirably over the final month of the regular season before injuring his ankle in the regular-season finale. Jernigan and starting nose tackle Brandon Williams will now be expected to lead a defensive line that’s parted ways with Ngata and veteran Chris Canty this offseason.

The old adage of letting go of a player a year too early being preferable to a season or two too late applies in this case despite the void Ngata leaves behind in terms of both production on the field and leadership in the locker room. Even with Jernigan ready to step into a bigger role, the Ravens would benefit from adding another run-stuffing defensive tackle via the draft or free agency.

The 12th overall pick of the 2006 draft, Ngata was tied with punter Sam Koch for having the second-longest tenure with the Ravens behind Suggs. Going into the 2014 season, the University of Oregon product expressed hope that he would finish his career in Baltimore, but reports have indicated that Ngata and agent Mike McCartney weren’t willing to be as flexible as Suggs was in finding a compromise with the Ravens last winter.

“I would love to be a Raven for life,” Ngata said last June. “If we can get something done, that’d be great. We’ll just let my agent and Ozzie take care of that business off the field.”

In 2014, Ngata collected 31 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and seven pass breakups. His run of five consecutive Pro Bowl nods was snapped this past season after his suspension for Adderall, which the NFL considers a performance-enhancing drug.

The Ravens will be challenged in replacing Ngata’s ability against the run as they finished fifth or better in the NFL in run defense seven times and ranked eighth or better in yards per carry allowed in every one of Ngata’s nine seasons anchoring the defensive line. Baltimore also allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns and the second-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL during Ngata’s career.

He finishes with 445 tackles, 25 1/2 sacks, six forced fumbles, and five interceptions in his nine-year career with the Ravens.

 

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Seven takeaways from “State of the Ravens” press conference

Posted on 25 February 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ brass met with reporters Tuesday to review the 2014 season and look ahead at the offseason priorities for 2015.

Below are seven takeaways from what was discussed:

1. The Ravens made it clear they’re more than willing to walk away from wide receiver Torrey Smith.

You got the sense from general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti that the organization is not willing to break the bank for the 2011 second-round pick as the latter even mentioned how much the Miami Dolphins regretted paying speedy receiver Mike Wallace a couple years ago. You wonder if the Ravens were trying to show Smith some “tough love” negotiating tactics as he’s a couple weeks away from hitting the open market but has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay in Baltimore.

2. Running back Justin Forsett might be a higher priority than we thought.

Forsett will be 30 next season and many have wondered how much of his success was a product of an improved offensive line, but Newsome mentioning what kind of mentor the running back has been in his career was interesting with questions about how he’d be valued on the open market. The Ravens will look to add another young running back for the future, but it wouldn’t make sense for Newsome to offer such a compliment if he were trying to low-ball the veteran, who was such a great story in 2014.

3. We’re still waiting to hear about the future of defensive end Chris Canty.

Head coach John Harbaugh said he hasn’t spoken to the veteran defensive lineman since the end of the season when he told reporters he was contemplating retirement. You’d have to think the Ravens are trying to be respectful to the 32-year-old, who may be a salary-cap casualty if he decides to continue his career. Baltimore was in a similar position with veteran center Matt Birk a couple years ago and likely would have cut him had he not decided to retire in the offseason following Super Bowl XLVII.

4. If there were any lingering doubts, rush specialist Pernell McPhee won’t be returning to Baltimore.

Newsome couldn’t have been more clear unless he said, “We wish Pernell good luck in his future endeavors.” The 2011 fifth-round pick had a terrific season as a situation player this past season and is expected to cash in with a number of teams vying for his services. It will be interesting to see how McPhee handles a full-time role elsewhere as his cranky knees were an issue at a few different points during his run in Baltimore.

5. Safety Terrence Brooks is likely to start the 2015 season on the physically unable to perform list.

After suffering a serious knee injury in December, Brooks figured to be a question mark to begin the 2015 campaign and Newsome confirmed that on Tuesday. The 2014 third-round pick showed a few flashes while also making plenty of mistakes as a rookie, but it will be hard to count on him contributing more in his second year as he works his way back from injury. Much attention has been paid to the cornerback position, but it’s clear the Ravens need to add an impact safety this offseason.

6. Bisciotti experienced his worst year as the owner of the franchise.

It wasn’t surprising to hear the owner share the sentiment, but the conviction with which he spoke let you know just how bothered he was by the Ray Rice saga and four other player arrests. Bisciotti quipped that he was off “suicide watch” and would have considered selling the team to Steve Ballmer last year, but he didn’t come across well in disputing the notion that the NFL had an image problem before team president Dick Cass saved him by pointing to the league’s concerns with domestic violence.

7. Newsome’s discussion about the Ravens secondary was disappointing.

Newsome is an excellent executive, but his thoughts on the secondary lacked accountability as he leaned on the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith from injury. There’s no disputing that injuries played a role in last year’s woes, but many opined that the Ravens didn’t do enough last offseason to augment the unit after the free-agent loss of cornerback Corey Graham and long before the rash of injuries. Either way, actions will speak louder than words in how the Ravens address the defensive backfield.

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