Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ray Lewis can't be a happy man

Ray Lewis must be furious. His blood must be boiling over after soaking in the first day of NFL Free Agency 2009.

Two teams other than the Ravens had been rumored to be interested in the services of the best linebacker ever to wear a NFL uniform, namely the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets. Yet neither came calling on Friday nor did anyone else for that matter.

The only deal on the table for Lewis to consider is the 3 year, $25 million deal that includes $17 million from the Ravens. That’s it.

Meanwhile Bart Scott lands $22 million in guaranteed cash; DeAngelo Hall gets $22.5 million; and Albert Haynesworth scores the mother load with $41 million sure to come his way even if he only practices one day with the Washington Redskins.

Many would argue that the Ravens offer is more than fair for Lewis – count me among them. Check that, count me among those who think that $17 million is actually a tad on the high side of fair for a player who is really no more than a two down linebacker. One Ravens source when describing Lewis’ play on passing downs said recently, “Ray couldn’t cover a dead man with a blanket.”


Yet Lewis thinks that he’s the player he was back in 2000 and pride prevents him from getting off the field on third down. He has convinced himself that he has the ability to do what no other soon to be 34 year old NFL player before has done – give Father Time the slip. He believes that he is still among the game’s elite players and should be paid accordingly and he fired agents Roosevelt Barnes and Eugene Parker and hired David Dunn to make sure that he gets what in his mind is rightly his.

No one ever accused Ray Lewis of being a realist.

And sometimes reality bites.

Eventually Lewis will get up, brush off the anguish of a severely bruised ego and take out his vengeance on some unsuspecting running back while wearing the same colors he’s worn throughout his NFL career. He’ll set out to prove his naysayers wrong and that determination could benefit the Ravens.

By the way, what exactly has David Dunn done for Ray Lewis to earn his fee?

That said, Lewis has only himself to blame for this lesson in What Not to do In Public Relations 101.

Jets' GM Tannenbaum duped by Scott's agent

Bart Scott wears his heart on his sleeve and it was clear as the dawn of free agency approached that all things being equal, he would love to finish his career in Baltimore. But as we now know, that won’t happen.

Last year while hosting The Hot Sauce with Bart Scott on Baltimore’s ESPN Radio, I often discussed free agency with him while trying to gain some insight into the mental and emotional part of the process. As fans and observers of the team, we are guilty at times of reducing these players to pawns in a chess match and overlook the human element of the decision making equation.

I know that Bart harbored a dream of ending his career as a Raven. He said proudly many times how unique it would be for an undrafted free agent – a “slacky” as he often described himself, starting and finishing a lengthy career with one team.
The dream is over.

Bart is now a New York Jet.

On the surface, those who paid attention to the events leading up to Bart eventual signing with Rex Ryan’s merry band of green and white characters must have concluded that Scott struggled mightily to leave Baltimore and held tight to that dream, or that he was using the two teams against each other to entice both to ante up.

Now I must admit that while watching this drama unfold, I was a bit ticked off at Bart. When I noticed that he had agreed to terms with the Jets but did not sign the deal, I assumed that he was coming back to give the Ravens one last shot to match the offer – the right of refusal if you will.

Then it was reported that the Ravens had trumped the Jets deal of 5 years and $40 million with a $42 million figure which was then trumped by the deal that was finally accepted, the 6 year, $48 million deal, $22 million of which is guaranteed.
This was not the behavior of a player I thought I knew. How could he use the team that took a chance on a Southern Illinois Saluki labeled by some as a troublemaker? Why would he kick to the curb the club that helped to elevate him from depths beneath that of Mr. Irrelevant 2002 to Pro Bowler?

Say it ain’t so Bart!

As it turns out, “it ain’t so.”

When Bart and his agent Harold Lewis ended discussions with the Ravens front office on Thursday, the sides were close to a deal but not close enough in the mind of Harold Lewis. With free agency mere hours away, Bart decided to test the market. And from what I’ve been told since, the team knew then that they had seen the last of Bart Scott in a Ravens uniform.

The alleged poker match between the Jets and the Ravens never happened. The Ravens never countered the Jets offer. All of the NFL Network talk and all of the radio talk and all of the breaking news updates were nothing more than masterful strokes by Harold Lewis. Lewis used the speed of information via the internet and handheld devices to carefully plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of Rex Ryan and 37-year-old Jets’ General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and took the later to school. Tannenbaum blinked and he got a little twitchy and at the end of the day and he essentially bid against himself as Bart and Lewis spread their arms and collected a few more million chips from the bargaining table.

The signing reverberates here in Baltimore and raises some probing questions:

Is Bart worth that much money and had he agreed to a similar deal in Baltimore, would you actually be happy about it? After all this is a player who is solid yet hardly a playmaker (1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 0 interceptions).

What does it say about Ray Lewis’ market value when arguably his biggest supporter (Rex Ryan) chose to pay Bart $5 million more in guaranteed money than the Ravens have offered Lewis ($17 million)?

If Bart is worth a guaranteed $22 million and DeAngelo Hall $22.5 million, what is Terrell Suggs worth? Suddenly that Dwight Freeney contract that is the measuring stick for Suggs ($30 million guaranteed) is shaping up as a relative bargain.

Clearly there are challenges ahead for Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens’ front office. Anxious fans will prematurely conclude that the team is asleep at the controls and that the roster is already much weaker given the losses of Bart and Jason Brown. But an offseason can’t really be measured until the 53 man roster is set in September.

Until then fans should be happy that guys like Ozzie and Eric DeCosta are at the controls and that the Ravens have an owner who knows a bit about negotiating, particularly for job openings. They should find comfort knowing that these men won’t be duped by agents such as Harold Lewis unlike the wet-behind-the-ears front office of the New York Jets.

Excuse me Mr. Tannenbaum, Jim Leonhard’s agent Mr. Valentyn is holding on Line 1…

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

As midnight Thursday approaches, the Ray Lewis drama heightens

Make no mistake about it, free agency lures Ray Lewis because it feeds his ego. Lewis wants to be wanted. He’s a Cheap Trick song and come 12:01 am on Friday, Lewis’ ipod may as well be playing I Want You to Want Me.

Lewis knows what he has in Baltimore. He’s the team leader and he has the adoration of the Ravens’ fan base. He also has what is believed to be $12 million in guarantees sitting on a conference room table somewhere within the walls of the castle that sits at One Winning Drive.

But I guess that isn’t enough – at least not for now.

Back at the end of November, Lewis was asked about his pending status as a free agent.

"If the season ends and I'm a totally free agent, for the first time in my life I will be totally free," he said. "You know what that feels like for a man? It's one thing to deal with a contract. It's one thing to deal with life without a contract. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel to make my own decision."

Gee the shackles of a recently expired $50 million contract sure can strap a man’s freedom now can’t they?

Well we will all soon learn exactly what rewards freedom will afford Lewis. But as the dawn of free agency creeps up on us, it begs a few interesting questions that those emotionally detached from the situation have to define as compelling.

What will the market offer Lewis particularly when most agree that his value is the greatest in Baltimore? If the deep pockets of Jerry Jones fall out of the mix for Lewis as reported how might that impact market value?

If Baltimore’s offer is in fact $12 million guaranteed and they know Lewis best, why would another team offer more knowing that they won’t get the Ray Lewis that wears a Ravens’ uniform?

What if while Lewis is being wined and dined in a way that I’m sure he’ll covet given his gargantuan ego, the Ravens sign Bart Scott? What then? Wouldn’t that put a dent in the negotiating leverage of Lewis’ agent David Dunn now that the fallback option, the ace in the hole, namely the Baltimore Ravens is no longer the ace in the hole. Would the $12 million still be on the table and without those bargaining chips might prospective new employers suddenly offer less for Dunn’s client?

What if at the end of the day Lewis comes crawling back to the Ravens, wanting that $12 million and it isn’t there or it isn’t much more than the guaranteed money given to Scott? Could Lewis suck it up, check his ego at the door and continue to lead and play the way he did in 2008?

After all, it’s just business, right?

Might these lingering questions force Dunn to panick, save face and get a Lewis deal done before Friday morning? Perhaps his agenda isn't consistent with Lewis'.

Add it all up and it is a very compelling saga that could have a happy ending for Ravens fans or it could become a red letter day for Baltimore comparable to the day Johnny Unitas left the horseshoe behind for a lightning bolt.

Clearly one thing is certain – it will be dramatic as most things are with Ray Lewis when he’s busy off the field.

Ravens fans this is your captain for Plight No. 52 speaking.

We are expected some turbulence ahead so please fasten your seatbelt.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Chris McAlister: Winner on, not off the field

Chris McAlister is quite an enigma. He is blessed with physical skills that leave scouts in search of a shut down corner salivating. He supports the run and tackles as effectively as any player who plays outside the hash marks. He’s also an articulate and intelligent man.

The trouble with McAlister though is he lacks common sense and loves to play the victim.

Earlier this week we heard McAlister on 105.7 The Fan with Anita Marks and he expressed shock and disappointment about the handling of his release. He claimed that after leaving a nice chat with John Harbaugh he skipped down the hall to check in on Ozzie Newsome and that chat turned out to be not so pleasant for the 10 year veteran. It was then that he learned that he was the team’s most recent former Raven.

Supposedly still in “shock”, McAlister I assume reached out to Marks and they recorded the interview heard by those of us tuning in to The Fan.

The tear-jerking drama fully enabled by Marks was in full bloom and McAlister’s performance was worthy of Hollywood’s attention.

Well boo hoo!

Is anyone buying this really?

Look this release was no surprise to McAlister. How could it be?

Let’s break it down…

He apparently missed some meetings around the time of the embarrassing loss to the Colts. Then he embarrassed the team while on the road in South Florida so off to a seat on the bench he went – a seat from which he would never return.

John Harbaugh said McAlister’s knee wasn’t right. McAlister said it was fine.

The team reiterated its position on the knee. McAlister said, “My knee is excellent.”

Less than four weeks after this proclamation, McAlister has knee surgery and is placed on IR.

The team carries on and they advance to the AFC Championship Game without McAlister.

So, here we are at the end of February and the Ravens need to focus on their offseason reconfiguration of the team’s roster. Staring them in the face, practically jumping off the page at them is a $10.8 million cap figure for a 32 year old corner who appears to have lost a step and is the team’s biggest malcontent.

Forget about McAlister’s history of broken curfews and skipped team meetings. Forget about violated team rules and DUI charges. Forget about the charges of marijuana possession and rumors of late night social activities impacting his performance on the field. Forget it all if you can.

The fact that the Ravens advanced as far as they did without McAlister while he’s tied to such a huge cap number screams “release me.” To keep McAlister would have been far more surprising. Meanwhile back at 1 Winning Drive, McAlister expresses shock and disbelief over his sudden departure.

Please spare us the drama!

Look, McAlister is much smarter than that and I’m sure his agent had to know that his client’s cap figure stuck out like the anatomy of a scantily clad vixen parading around a team hotel lobby in Miami.

Get over yourself Chris!

Now in no way do I wish to discredit McAlister on the field when he really wanted to play. Yet for all of his accomplishments the three Pro Bowl appearances and his All Pro nomination, I can’t help but think that McAlister was an underachiever. Brian Billick during an appearance on WNST’s Comcast Morning Show pretty much said the same thing when discussing McAlister’s career as a Raven with host Drew Forrester.

The discussion made me pause and think about significant plays made by McAlister over the years; the 97 yard interception return against the Jets on Christmas Eve 2000; his interception in Super Bowl XXXV; the 107 return of a missed Jason Elam field goal; a game changing interception against the Browns in 2006.

But then those plays were clouded in my mind by the countless number of boneheaded penalties and the unfulfilled expectations given his vast talents. If only he had applied himself a little more and didn’t take those talents for granted he could have been destined for Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now if I had any say in the matter, he wouldn’t even be in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.

I’m sure there are those who will disagree and support McAlister’s inclusion by pointing to the ridiculous induction of Earnest Byner as the Ring’s benchmark. Two wrongs never made a right and to place McAlister in a Ring of Honor is wrong.

Definitions of the word honor describe high esteem; a keen sense of right and wrong; adherence to principles considered right. The word “respect” is often used to define honor.

Chris McAlister was a very good player but he didn’t respect the game and his actions suggest that he didn’t respect his team or his teammates. One could argue that he didn’t even respect himself. Respect and honor are words I have a difficult time associating with Chris McAlister.

McAlister received many awards for his athletic achievements – there were millions and millions of them and he deserved those. The Ring of Honor should never be among his awards. Children should one day look at that Ring and know that the men that comprise it were winners on and off the field.

McAlister only got that equation half right.

He’ll now move on, continue to play the victim and fail to face a foe greater than any he’s faced before – himself.

And until he does, the drama will never be over for Chris McAlister.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Friday, February 20, 2009

Get ready to say goodbye to Jason Brown

Brace yourself Baltimore. If you are a fan of Jason Brown’s chances are he will be wearing a different color jersey next season. From what I’m hearing he wants to be paid like a guard and Alan Faneca’s contract with the Jets signed last season is said to be agent Harold Lewis’ measuring stick. That deal had over $20 million in guarantees.

The Ravens like Brown but not at that number. Ozzie Newsome has long been a proponent of paying the big dollars to players who touch the ball or the quarterback. Brown at this point looks like the right player, wrong price. The most interested teams at this point appear to be the Dolphins and the Jaguars.

Not to beat a dead horse, but this is yet another example of the Ravens not extending a key player a year before they reach the open market. Time has stripped away the team’s leverage. They did it with Terrell Suggs and now Jason Brown. On deck is Haloti Ngata whose deal expires after the 2010 season.

Back to Suggs for a moment, agent Gary Wichard wants to deliver Dwight Freeney money to Suggs and believes that he’ll get it. The Ravens are already going to pay Suggs $10.2 million this year as their franchise player and franchising him suggests that they value him and want him back. Last year’s tag cost $8.8 million so over two seasons they will have spent $19 million on Suggs provided of course they do not reach a long-term agreement with him. The Ravens let Adalius Thomas go because they wanted to sign Suggs and couldn’t afford both.

It’s time to get this thing done! Admit your mistake Ozzie and pay the man.
Waiting will just cost you much more.

Tick-tock, tick…doo, doo, doo-doo

Jets to court Ravens linebackers?

Did the Jets just create a little more space for Ray Lewis or Bart Scott? You could certainly make that argument because one thing is very clear – the Jets need help at inside linebacker.

Yesterday Rex Ryan’s new team released LB’s David Bowens and Brad Kassell freeing up an additional $3 Million in cap space. According to the departing Bowens, "They must be targeting a linebacker, probably from Baltimore."

Turn on the news and we are “treated” with a steady diet of depressing economic developments. Apparently the NFL has posted a detour sign for the bad economy because dollars are being thrown around like it’s monopoly money. Here’s a quick rundown:

In Carolina…Jordan Gross lands a record six-year contract worth just under $60 million that will pay out $30.5 million in the first three years of the deal. The $30.5 million over the deal’s first three years is highest ever for an offensive lineman…Julius Peppers is tagged and will get $16.683 million for a job he doesn’t want. Gee life sucks JP.

In Tennessee…Rob Bironas inked a deal that will pay him $12 million over four years, along with $5 million in guarantees. The deal makes Bironas one of the richest kickers in the league…Meanwhile, it looks like the franchise tag was burning a hole in Jeff Fisher’s pocket so he plunked it down on the great TE Bo Scaife who gets $4.46 million for his troubles. He should send a thank you note to the Ravens…On a side note, while channel surfing last night after 10:30, I stumbled upon Comcast Sportsnet’s program Redskins Nation hosted by Larry Michael. He ridiculed the Titans for franchising Scaife and not Albert Haynesworth. Hey Larry, get a clue! Even casual fans know that Haynesworth’s recently expired deal with the Titans prevented them from franchising the All-Pro defensive tackle. Michael should be thankful that Comcast Sportsnet doesn’t have a salary cap.

In Oakland...where senility has its privileges (for agents), Nnamdi Asomugha signed a complex three year deal. The first two years, worth $28.5 million, are fully guaranteed. In the third year of the contract, if Oakland wants to keep Asomugha, it must pay him the average of the top five highest-paid quarterbacks or $16.875 million, whichever is higher. If the Raiders fail to pick up Asomugha’s option, the stellar Pro Bowl corner will become a free agent with Oakland not having the ability to tag him again. He will be 30 years old after the 2010 season and 31 when the contract expires, positioning him nicely for a final lucrative contract. Asomugha’s size suggests that he could follow Ronnie Lott’s and Rod Woodson’s career path from corner to safety…Following the credo/cliché, “strike while the iron is out”, agent Tom Condon nailed another record breaking deal for a second Raider client while taking advantage of the diminished mental capacities of Raiders owner Al Davis. Punter Shane Lechler, a four-time Pro Bowler agreed to a four year deal worth $16 million. That is the richest contract ever for a punter.

Did anyone remind Mr. Davis that the league still operates under the salary cap?

In Indianapolis...the Colts agreed to shell out $43 million over 5 years including $22.5 million to CB Kelvin Hayden. Hayden, a four year vet, is best known for his pick six against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Hayden has 6 career interceptions, 3 in 2008 – 1 more than Haloti Ngata.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Brett Favre's Coin Toss...heads or tails or tails or heads?

This morning I received the following email :

"This limited Brett Favre “All Time GREAT” coin is officially licensed and features a meticulously detailed portrait of Brett Favre complete with his certified reproduced autograph and the statue of liberty beautifully embossed on the reverse.

Brett Favre is honored in full-color on a brilliant, uncirculated, genuine U.S. Mint golden dollar, layered in genuine 24 karat gold. This coin is valued at $29.95, but is yours today for only $9.95 and just $4.95 shipping and handling."

Don’t you think that given Favre’s history of indecisiveness that an autographed Magic 8 Ball would be more appropriate?

Incompetency has its rewards...just ask Bud Selig

Ok so let me get this straight…the commissioner of a sport that the youth of this country labels as “boring”; a sport whose games are way too long and arguably the season as well; a sport that is so unbalanced and is severely contaminated by steroid allegations and abuse – that guy, that commissioner, Bud Selig gets a raise to$18.3 million annually?

On the heels of that raise, Mr. Selig makes asinine statements about suspending a player for what he did years ago (Alex Rodriquez) meanwhile, there are over 100 other players who also reportedly tested positive for steroids yet their names won’t be released. Oh and for good measure Selig has threatened to restore Hank Aaron’s home run record – the same Hank Aaron who is chummy with The Commish from their mutual Milwaukee ties.

I guess incompetency has its rewards…

Now in the NFL, they are a little smarter. You see Roger Goodell, exhibiting some sensitivity to the economic woes of our nation has decided to freeze his salary for 2009 and to take cuts in eligible bonuses that could add up to over $2 million according to most reports.

Comparatively speaking, Goodell ranks second in compensation among the commissioners of the major professional sports. Obviously Selig ranks first (a salary on steroids if you ask me). According to SportsBusiness Journal, Goodell is followed by the NBA’s David Stern (an estimated $10 million), the NHL’s Gary Bettman ($5.59 million) and the PGA Tour’s Tim Finchem ($4.8 million).

Nice PR move there Roger, relatively speaking but I really want to know is how you can possibly live now on that frozen $11 million salary for 2009?

And these owners have the stones to increase ticket prices…

Hey Kyle your heels together and repeat, "There's no place like home."

Kyle Boller’s name has been linked to the New York Jets as a possible solution for their job opening at quarterback. Sorry but I just don’t see it. Haven’t Rex Ryan and Jets new quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh seen enough of Boller already? And could you see the New York media with Boller? Not exactly a match made in heaven.

Many will say that Boller has all the tools to be successful and what he really needs is a change of scenery. That might be half right – a change of scenery could do Boller some good if the fit is right but let’s not be overly gratuitous with Boller’s skills. On the good side, he’s a great teammate who exhibits toughness and he has a decent amount of game experience. On the downside, he’s erratic, can’t throw deep passes accurately while not on his knees, has very little huddle presence and he reacts to pressure the way a vampire responds to sunlight.

Boller could have a long career in the NFL if he willingly embraces the role of a back up. And why not do that in Baltimore, a place he’s familiar with and a team that has fundamentally sound coaches in Cam Cameron and Hue Jackson? The fit seems about right for Boller but clearly he’ll have to take a haircut on that $3 million salary if he wants to stay.

Photo by Sabina Moran

Where might Mike Vick fit?

It looks like Mike Vick will be available during the ’09 season to some team that wants to check their moral consciousness at the door in exchange for some fleeting hope that a gifted athlete can positively impact their team’s fortunes. Talk about selling your soul!

But really, what team will take the risk and the accompanying public relations nightmare with Vick? The knee jerk response by most when asked that question is the Oakland Raiders.

And that begs the question (at least in my mind), “Why?”

Vick wants to be a quarterback (although admittedly he has little say in the matter if he wants back in) and say what you want about his athletic prowess but as an NFL signal caller, he is at best average. Plus there are 30 million reasons why Al Davis shouldn’t bother with Vick – the money invested in JaMarcus Russell.

So if the Raiders pass, who else is out there that might take a flyer on Vick?

Two teams that could consider the former Falcon, both with ties to the Ravens, are the New York Jets and the San Francisco 49ers.

Of those two, the Jets would appear to be the least likely candidate but I must admit the hell raising, rebel-like bloodlines of Rex Ryan may evoke flashbacks of his pop Buddy and Randall Cunningham. But that would likely be just a fleeting thought for the Jets new head coach despite his need for a quarterback.

And that brings me to Mike Singletary and the 49ers.

Singletary is that strong motivational leader who just might be attracted to the prospects of Vick. He has sort of an evangelical approach to coaching and he could spin the acquisition in a way that might be acceptable to the 49ers’ fan base. It’s a dangerous move with exaggerated swings of potential upside and downside but of all the coaches in the NFL, Singletary could be Vick’s best bet.

But first, he should be forced to do community service at your local area PetSmart…

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When Ray Lewis becomes a free agent, BUYER BEWARE!

If Ray Lewis leaves the Ravens it will be the result of some team overpaying for his services. And if that willing big spender is Jerry Jones it will surprise no one. But he better be careful.

If Jones is willing to overspend in part because he thinks that somehow Lewis is going to arrive in Dallas aboard the peace train and wave some magic wand or start a kumbaya sing-a-long to bring harmony to the Cowboys’ locker room, he better think again.

Some want to believe that Lewis’ leadership skills may inspire Terrell Owens to chant the company line. Those people haven’t been paying attention.

Let’s make no mistake about it, Owens is a diva. He has shown in the past that he doesn’t respect his teammates, coaches or opponents one of which is Ray Lewis. Remember his TD celebration in Philly, mocking Lewis’ entrance dance?

The first time Owens gets 2 catches for 16 yards without a touchdown, do you think Ray Lewis’ presence on the sidelines will give him pause and stave off another meltdown?

Fat chance!

And why should Lewis have babysitting responsibilities? He’s never really been a babysitter in Baltimore and never wanted to be one!

Chris McAlister is the most recent former Raven. Here’s a three-time Pro Bowler who plays a position that is a need position for the team yet he’s leaving. And why is that? Answer: McAlister in part is a malcontent and he won’t chant the company line.

If Ray Lewis couldn’t get McAlister to buy into the program here in Baltimore as the face of the franchise, unequivocal leader of the team and the greatest Raven of all time, what makes anyone think that he can turn around arguably the league’s biggest drama queen in Dallas?

Did Lewis do anything to reboot fellow Miami alum Willis McGahee’s attitude?

How about Jamal Lewis?

The drama that those three players combined to produce over the course of their careers as a Raven doesn’t equate to one season of drama with Owens.

Plus if the truth be told about Lewis, he seems to hide a bit when the atmosphere is turbulent. Before the Ravens 2005 season was finished and despite the need for veteran leadership down the stretch, where was Lewis? He was in Miami unbeknownst to the team having surgery on his hamstring and then later found along the sidelines during a college bowl game while he was suppose to be healing.

During that offseason Lewis was all over ESPN throwing teammates under the proverbial bus and requesting a trade if the team wasn’t going to get him a behemoth defensive tackle to eat up blockers.

After any tough loss, where is Lewis?

Usually he gives the media the slip…unavailable for comment.

Where Lewis shines is on the field as a leader. His countless hours of preparation before each game studying film and learning opponents’ tendencies enable him to be a coach on the field. He recognizes plays pre-snap and then aware of his teammates’ strengths and core competencies, he can direct them, sometimes verbally, sometimes with a hand signal or even eye contact.

But remove him from Baltimore and can anyone else expect the same leadership from Lewis? Other players around the league clearly respect Lewis but do they know and respect him like his mates for so many years? And without the respect, camaraderie and the little idiosyncrasies that teammates develop after playing together for years can Lewis even be as productive on the field?

The logical answer to all of the above questions is no and that is why Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome were very wise to state their price and have the courage to let Lewis explore his value on the open market if he and his agent objected to the number.

And apparently they have.

Any team interested in Lewis has to understand that they will not get the Ray Lewis from Baltimore just like the Washington Wizards never got the Michael Jordan from Chicago. What they will get is an aging superstar who was a Hall of Famer in his original locale but just a good to very good player with a very limited shelf life elsewhere.

The bet here is that Lewis will remain a Raven. It would be naïve for another team to think that Lewis could be as productive for their team and then pay more for the diminished productivity. Before any team is willing to pay the freight for Lewis, they better ask themselves why the Ravens aren’t willing to match the offer for someone with his history and value to the organization.

More so than Jerry Rice or Ronnie Lott or Emmitt Smith or Junior Seau – even Joe Montana and Brett Favre, Ray Lewis’ departure from his original team for a few million dollars should send a clear and present danger signal to the club ready to stroke that big check for No. 52.

Caveat emptor!

Buyer beware!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In the NFL one year can make a HUGE difference...the Ravens are no exception

As we’ve all learned in our lives, one year can make a big difference and that statement clearly is so true of the NFL. Last year at this time I blogged about certain changes – suggestions if you will for the Baltimore Ravens. Now such suggestions can make you look pretty silly, even downright incompetent and begs the question, “What were you thinking?”

So with that in mind, I thought I’d revisit today my 10 suggestions with commentary that I made for the Ravens one year ago and see just how ridiculous I look (and by the way that’s nothing new)…

1. Extend Jason Brown’s contract now! Not after the ’08 season when he becomes a free agent – now! And while you’re at it, put him at center. Chris Chester may have dazzled some coaches and scouts with his athleticism and his ability to get to the second level but there are serious doubts as to whether he can hold firm at the point of attack against some of the behemoth nose guards and defensive tackles the Ravens encounter in the AFC North. It’s beginning to look like he is yet another second round mistake by the Ravens.

One year later: Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then although admittedly Chester played much better than expected.

2. Restructure Chris McAlister's contract. The Ravens will need the $4+ million in cap space that a C-Mac restructure can provide the Ravens and given his size, McAlister could mirror the career path established by other physical corners like Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott who have migrated from corner to safety. Some might say, “Well what about Dawan Landry?” To them I say, “What about Dawan Landry?” Isn’t Ed Reed as a deep centerfielder statement enough that Landry is a liability in coverage?

One year later: C-Ya, C-Mac

3. Speaking of Reed, isn’t it time to reel him in? No more of this wagging (aka Wild Ass Guessing). He needs to stick to his assignments and stop leaving corners vulnerable to big plays. Reed’s best season was in 2004 when Mike Nolan seemed to have a better handle than Rex Ryan on how to utilize his unique playmaking skills. Ryan allows Reed to roam as he pleases without consequence. It’s time to put a hook in that!

One year later: Reed had as good a second half of the season as any safety since…well, maybe Ed Reed in 2004. He did real in the wagging somewhat and that could in part be the result of him not being 100%. Very seldom did he leave his corners out to dry as he did in ‘07.

4. Fix the quarterback position! This doesn’t mean a one year fix. The Ravens need stability and consistency at the position, something they’ve yet to enjoy in their 12year history. Clearly this is easier said and done but don’t anoint Steve McNair the starter and just say McNo to McNabb. Even the Ravens at this point don’t know what the answer is at QB for ’08 but it makes no sense to implement short-term fixes at the expense of long-term stability. If Cam Cameron thinks that free agent QB Billy Volek can work short-term (he coached him in San Diego), then get Volek on a two year deal at about $3 mil per and draft a quarterback to compete with Troy Smith. Take the haircut on McNair if Volek comes and see what Boller could bring in a trade.

One year later: We are whacko for Flacco!

5. Lose the band once and for all. Instead of increasing ticket prices as expected again in ’09, why not boot the band from the end zone seats, sell PSL’s and season tickets and soften the blow to the remaining PSL owners. Aren't we all tired of subsidizing such unnecessary nostalgia?

One year later: Yo Bisciotti…feel free to steal the idea and take the credit. Had you listened you may have helped all those who are now struggling to justify the expense of football on Sundays in the fall. A price increase in this economy? Are you kidding me? Can’t wait to pay $9 for a Bud Light.

6. Get a playmaker receiver! Some may argue that Demetrius Williams is a playmaker if given the chance and it would be short-sighted to say that he couldn’t fit that role. The problem with your friendly neighborhood Spiderman is that he is very lanky and needs to fill out that frame. He's vulnerable to injuries. The Ravens need someone to stretch the field and someone that has good ball skills – a receiver that can get the ball up high. Of course having a quarterback who can get it there is a prerequisite but you get the picture, don’t you?

One year later: Ditto…except now we have the QB.7. Admit that signing Mike Anderson was a mistake. After two seasons and 53 carries (at roughly $90,000 per carry) Anderson has contributed next to nothing and he’s a drag on the roster because he makes little to no impact on special teams. Ozzie, with this former Marine maybe you’ve taken semper fi to extremes.

7. Admit that signing Mike Anderson was a mistake. After two seasons and 53 carries (at roughly $90,000 per carry) Anderson has contributed next to nothing and he’s a drag on the roster because he makes little to no impact on special teams. Ozzie, with this former Marine maybe you’ve taken semper fi to extremes.

One year later: Doesn’t it seem like 6 years later? Did Mike Anderson really play for the Ravens in ’07?

8. Beef up the pass rush…If we learned anything from the Ravens in ’07 and from the Giants in the Super Bowl, to win in the NFL you have to get to the quarterback. With that in mind the Ravens should bring back Terrell Suggs for at least another season and hope that a player like Vernon Gholston falls to them at No. 8 on draft day. Gholston, Suggs, Trevor Pryce and Antwan Barnes as a pass rushing unit could be ferocious.

One year later: Put the Michael Phelps bong down! Gholston could go kaboom soon and Barnes is slow to develop. That said if Ray Lewis walks, might the Ravens use that suddenly available ch-ching to invest in Julius Peppers and place him opposite Suggs?

9. Do not reach for a corner at No. 8. The draft seems deep in capable corners yet lacking in talent worthy of No. 8. Real quick, who were the Giants’ starting corners in the Super Bowl? See what I mean? It’s all about the push from the front four.

One year later: Real quick, who will be the starting corners in 2009 for the Ravens? It could be that one of them is picked at No. 26 in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Other odds and ends…Note to Cam Cameron: Please leave your best offensive player in the game on third down. If Willis McGahee needs a rest, take him off the field after you get the first down, not before…And while you are at it Cam do you think we can see a no huddle offense to help change the game’s tempo at some point in the game other than inside of two minutes? Be brave, have courage, if not go to Oz.It once worked for a cowardly lion.

One year later: Willis McGahee, the Tin Man is paging you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tampering in the NFL? C'mon, get outta here!

The NFL free agency season opens on February 27 and if this year is indicative of previous “hunting” seasons, the league’s general managers will have their shotguns loaded and ready to fire at 12:01 am two weeks from Friday.

It’s interesting that the league discourages tampering – that is communicating with would be free agents prior to the free agency period. Yet we all know that it goes on.

You may recall a few years back when the Carolina Panthers overpaid for an average defensive tackle who once wore purple, Maake Kemoeatu. Just after the clock struck midnight, the opening gun for NFL free agency 2006, Kemo signed a 5 year deal worth $27.5 million including $8 million in bonuses. Since then, Kemo has 116 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 6 passes defended.

You think a deal like this gets done in a matter of minutes? The pay day that a player yearns for, that once in a lifetime opportunity to cash in your chips, do you really jump at the very first offer in less time than it takes to listen to Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run”?

I don’t think so!

Kemo and his agents were more than likely talking through what we’ll assume were “legal” channels with not just the Panthers, but other teams as well prior to the start of hunting season. Similar clandestine discussions are going on at this very moment. That’s just how it goes…

The Ravens answered the loss of Kemo with the signing of Justin Bannan for 4 years and $8 million, $3 million in the form of a bonus. Bannan since his signing has produced 74 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 3 passes defended plus an interception. When forced into a starting role after Kelly Gregg’s season ending injury in ‘08, Bannan had 30 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 0 forced fumbles and 3 passes defended versus 31-0-0-1-2 from Kemo this season.

Who has proven to be the better value between Kemoeatu and Bannan?

No brainer, right?

The point here is that Ozzie Newsome and his merry band of talent evaluators sort of know what they are doing and as time goes on, the group has grown better with more experience. If Ray Lewis leaves, they have a plan. If he stays they have a plan. Same goes for Terrell Suggs, Jason Brown, Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard.

Now some might say that the loss of Ray Lewis would be devastating particularly on the heels of losing Rex Ryan. Just ask NFL Network’s answer to Cedric the Entertainer – Jamie Dukes. But that assumes the Ravens would do nothing with the money earmarked for Lewis. It assumes that players like Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs if re-signed can’t step up and lead. It assumes that the returning defensive coaches learned nothing from Rex Ryan.

Wrong, wrong and wrong!

If Lewis leaves, then the Ravens simply usher in the “After Ray” Era a little sooner. It’s going to happen someday and while most would prefer that it not happen in 2009 (myself included), it won’t be the end of the world or the Ravens if it does.

Back to Suggs for a moment, I wrote a piece several months ago that the Ravens should tag and trade No. 55 for No. 81 of the Cardinals, Anquan Boldin. I argued that while Suggs is a very good player, he wasn’t a difference maker in ’07 because his success seemed to be heavily predicated upon the presence of Trevor Pryce. If Suggs wants top end money I opined, he needs to be impactful with or without a player like Pryce.

I can tell you this; the Ravens don’t believe that a Suggs for Boldin trade is an even one. They would want more than just Boldin in return for Suggs. They will point to two things about Boldin: 1) He has the luxury of playing opposite Larry Fitzgerald and; 2) His speed is a relatively pedestrian 4.7 in the 40.

Supporters of Boldin will happily remind us of the former Florida State Seminole’s productivity BF – before Fitzgerald. During his rookie season without Fitzgerald in 2003, Boldin had 101 catches for 1,377 yards and 8 scores. But keep this in mind – the Cardinals had the worst point differential in the league that season and finished 4-12. In other words, the Cardinals were playing catch up quite often so Boldin’s stats that season might be a bit misleading.

That’s not to say Boldin wouldn’t help the Ravens – he would. But the price to acquire him might not bring value. Because he is under contract, Boldin will cost a player, a pick or some combination thereof plus he will want to be paid commensurately with his stats.

Other thoughts and observations…I know that I’ve picked on Bruce Cunningham quite a bit lately on the pages of 24x7. I just can’t help it and like I’ve said before, the guy just keeps feeding me more unintended amusement whenever I turn on 105.7 The Fan. Yesterday, he talked about the fumblerooski type play that Cam Cameron called during the Pro Bowl this past Sunday resulting in a TD run from Le’Ron McClain. Cunningham “fumbled” (again) and called the Ravens’ running back LeRon Profit (which I’m sure was Mark Zinno’s fault). I guess it could have been worse. He could have called him Ronnie Perdue…Matt Cavanaugh is the new quarterbacks coach for the Jets. Many believe that Cavanaugh was Brian Billick’s whipping boy and scapegoat while Cavanaugh was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator. Now Rex Ryan (a member of that same Billick coaching staff) hires Cavanaugh. Something tells me the hire suggests that Rex also thinks Cavanaugh was hung out to dry by Billick. Who said NFL means No Fun League?...Hey if you are a Facebook member, check us out in a Facebook Group creatively entitled Ravens247.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

If Ray leaves this might ease your pain...

Ray Lewis…now there’s a name you haven’t heard in a while right?

While I don’t think he’s going anywhere, what if he does? What will the Ravens do?

The reality of the situation is that some day, the Ravens will be playing without Ray Lewis. If that reality happens sooner than we all expect, there are ways in which the Ravens can improve in other areas while augmenting their corps of linebackers. There is a plan. To think anything else is to undermine the integrity and ability of Ozzie Newsome.

Some might believe that the Ravens can’t reach the AFC Championship Game without Ray Lewis. Well there are 3 other teams that did and so too can the Ravens with key additions should Lewis be a subtraction.

Here are a few names to keep in mind…

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, UFA, Oakland Raiders ~ The Raiders believe it or not are struggling with their cap and to tag Asomugha will cost them about $11.7 million. It is doubtful that he would want to stay in Oakland so a long-term deal to stay in the Bay Area is highly unlikely. Could you imagine a healthy Ed Reed and the game’s best shut down corner in the same defensive backfield? His ability to shut down an opponent’s best receiver single-handedly would open up the possibilities for new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The Ravens could free up room for Asomugha by cutting Chris McAlister.

Asomugha was a college teammate of Kyle Boller’s at Cal and he will be 28 before opening day of ’09, so the Ravens will need to keep that in mind when spreading a big signing bonus over too many seasons. That said, Asomugha is 6’2” and could move to safety to extend his career should he lose a step or two in his early 30’s.

Leigh Bodden, CB, UFA, Detroit Lions ~ Samari Rolle had a surprisingly good season – when he played. But Rolle’s health has to be a concern and “dependable” is not an accurate description of the veteran corner. His release would trigger a $4.1 M cap savings. Bodden is younger, more durable and at this point a better corner than Rolle and he could be a relative bargain. Bodden has had some minor off the field issues which would need to be addressed.

Jonathan Vilma, LB, UFA, New Orleans Saints ~ Once described as a smaller version of Ray Lewis, Vilma is fast to the ball and is more than capable in pass coverage. He could be a more than adequate replacement for Lewis, a player that Vilma emulated. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year might embrace the discarded torch of Lewis with a chip on his shoulder and help rebuild his stature in the league as a key component of the Ravens defense.

Don’t know about you but I’ll be interested in this year’s Pro Bowl. While they tell us it is taboo for coaches to recruit at the Pro Bowl, you have to think that John Harbaugh and his staff are on display for some of the league’s best free agents. Bart Scott once told me that playing for Bill Belichick in the Pro Bowl back in January of 2007 changed his opinion of “Mr. Personality” completely and he would eagerly accept the opportunity to play in New England if it ever presented itself. Let’s hope Harbs leaves the same kind of impression on players like Asomugha.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Ray Lewis v. The Ravens: A high stakes game of poker

I have been receiving several phone calls, emails, text messages and instant messages with one thing in common – Ray Lewis. The hometown folk are getting a little nervous.


It’s all part of the process.

Ray Lewis isn’t stupid. He’s playing the role the right way and I’m sure he’s getting some coaching from agent David Dunn. He might even have some accomplices like the NFL Network’s Jamie Dukes. It’s all about creating leverage and the more interest Ray Lewis has, either real or conjured, the more chips he can take to the poker table.

Who among you watched that interview of Ray and Dukes and didn’t walk away thinking the entire thing was staged – right down to the neutral all-white Boston Red Sox cap. Not sure? Then have another look here.

Some may be panicking. Some of you may be clamoring for the Ravens to offer Ray the deal he wants right now BEFORE he hits the open market. But then the advantage goes to Ray because at this point the sides are so far apart that they need the sanity check and that is exactly what the open market will provide.

Let’s face it, Ray is somewhat of an enigma. He isn’t supposed to be this productive after 13 physical NFL seasons at middle linebacker. Yet he keeps on going but for how long? Do the Ravens pay him for what he’s done in the past or for what he will do in the future? Do they treat him differently because he’s the team leader and the face of the Ravens? Where does the bidding begin?

You see that is the real problem in the equation – what is the starting point. Ray believes that he has another five years to play and he wants another $20 million guaranteed. History says Ray is delirious and that 34 year old linebackers just aren’t that productive.

So why should the Ravens bid against themselves? Let Ray see what others are willing to offer him. If the Cowboys or Jets offer Ray the number he is seeking, don’t you think that David Dunn will bring that offer back to Ozzie Newsome before Ray signs on the dotted line? Of course he will he has everything to gain and nothing to lose. And then there’s a good chance that the number Dunn actually lands is somewhere between what the Ravens have already offered and what Dunn is asking today.

You just have to let this play out.

No blinking allowed!

Steve Bisciotti has built his fortune in part on his ability to negotiate. So let him negotiate. Let him play the high stakes poker game.

At the end of the proverbial day, Ray Lewis will be going nowhere and when he does return, all the talk about T.O. and Brett Favre will be quickly forgotten.

In the meantime, take a deep breath and enjoy the game of Baltimore Hold 'Em.

Ravens address offseason in recent press conference ;-)

Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh approach their chairs at the panel to address the media and their questions regarding the Ravens offseason plans.

Ozzie Newsome: I’d like to thank you all for your time and for joining us today. We know that there are a ton of rumors running rampant regarding our players who may soon become free agents and we thought we would take this opportunity to address those rumors without compromising the integrity of our plans or those of the players who have a right to do what it best for them and their families.

Bruce Cunningham (“BC”): Alright folks, it looks like the driver is out of the bag, the ball is on the tee and it’s time to get this party started! Mind if I go first Oz?

Ozzie: You are on the tee Bruce. Don’t shank it!

BC: (chuckling) Thanks Oz, this is an exciting press conference and it starts RIGHT NOW!

Ozzie: Thanks Bruce…so what’s your question?

BC: As you journey through the waters of what should be a tumultuous off season, what guidelines will you employ as your navigational buoys?

Ozzie: We want to improve upon the 2008 season and take that next step to the Super Bowl. However we can make that happen, we will do so with the means provided by Steve Bisciotti.

Anita Marks (“AM”): Ozzie, less than a year ago we learned that Steve McNair decided to retire. That is something that my homie from the U Willis McGahee wasn’t expecting when he signed on with the Ravens because McNair was a big part of why TWO-THREE wanted to come to Baltimore. Have you been in touch with Steve and if so, might he consider a comeback? I know that would make Willis happy and as you know a happy Willis is no DAWG...he be a BAL-LAH!

Ozzie: No

AM: Any plans to contact Steve? I mean can you dial McNair’s digits, leave a message and say, “Yo Air, can you hit me back?” It would mean a lot to Willis.

Ozzie: No

Jerry Coleman (“JC”): This question is directed to Eric DeCosta the all new Director of Player Personnel and is intended for all those listening to Fox 1370 Sports Radio and our FIFTY THOUSAND WATTS…Eric, you have been unable to find a prototypical No. 1 wide out in the draft and the free agent market is rather limited. Given your poor track record in the draft with receivers and the scarcity of available NFL wide outs, how do you plan on answering the pleas from the fans for a go to guy for Joe Flacco?

DeCosta: You know that’s a good question Jerry and one that we’ve spent a lot of time discussing amongst the scouts. What we’ve concluded is that the so-called draft busts at the wide receiver position are usually players who go to teams with unsettled quarterback situations. Now that we have what we believe to be our franchise quarterback of the future and with Cam Cameron and his offensive staff, we are more confident that we can develop the receiver that the fans and of course Joe Flacco deserve.

Damon Yaffe (“DY”): Eric, on that subject does it really matter to you if that coveted wide out is more comfortable at the X, Y or Z position on the field?

DeCosta: We just want players that are tough, smart, fast, good guys off the field and have a passion for the game.

DY: Yeah but that said Eric, it’s been my experience as a ball coach that certain players have that quick twitch, that explosive first step but not necessarily that long speed and are better suited for the X or Y role. Don’t you guys give that any consideration? That could be part of the problem here.

DeCosta: Damon Kadafi, apparently the problem is that we don’t have the coaching, scouting talent, or resources of Boys Latin, NDP, Maryvale or wherever it is you are coaching these days.

DY: (blushing like a school girl whose dress was just blown skyward for the whole world to see…)

Nestor Aparicio (“NA”): Ozzie, my wife and I were in bed the other day watching NFL Network and Rich Eisen comes on – a job that by the way I should have not that Dan Akroyd wannabe…and he said that the Ravens have perhaps the best organization in football and now that the team has what looks to be a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco who just happens to do an exclusive blog on my station WNST where we never stop talking Baltimore Sports and on which is what I devote most of my time to when I’m not hosting a show from 2-6PM Monday through Friday on AM 1570, that the Ravens could be a team that is a perennial threat to play in the post season. Agree or disagree?

Ozzie: Agree

BC: One of my personal credos is “Live and let live.” I’m not even sure what the hell it means but I like the way it sounds. John, as a coach and a parent, what do you think of Michael Phelps’ recent transgressions and what sort of punishment is he deserving: a) from the mindset of a parent and b) from the mindset of a coach?

John Harbaugh: Well Ron that is something I haven’t really thought about but I can tell you that I was disappointed. Michael has spent some time with the team and seems to be a really good kid and obviously a huge Ravens’ fan.

BC: (chuckling) It’s Bruce…Bruce Cunningham John. I am the aforementioned Bruce Cunningham.

DY: Excuse me, aren’t we suppose to be talking football here and defining ways in which the Ravens can augment their “RAWster” in order to put an even more competitive product on the field? Get with the program Cunningham! I mean this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to glean some valuable information from these men and you knuckleheads are wasting their time over some toke from an athlete with the lung capacity of a blue whale hovering over some sticky icky. My God, how in the hell did LaBrozzi ever agree to bring you to 105.7 The Fan?

BC: I said yes to the first figure he threw out there…(singing) Go on take the money and run…WOO-WOO-WOOOOO

AM: John, when I was a professional quarterback there was an open competition each new season for the starting position and I think that helped to heighten performance and to promote the concept of team. Will there be an open competition for the starter’s job in Baltimore when summer camp opens next year? I mean Troy Smith – c’mon the guys in the locker room really have his back and his ipod just rocks. Plus he was a really, really, really, really, really unfortunate and innocent victim of a mysterious virus last season and I don’t think it’s fair to make him the artificial back-up quarterback.

Harbaugh: Well I can guarantee you Anita that Troy is real and not artificial. As for an open competition if we believe that is best for the team, we’ll do it. As it stands right now, Joe is our starter and if something like that is a deterrent and negatively affects the way our guys compete, we’ll just find other players who will always compete and strive to win football games regardless of the circumstances and the music on their ipods.

NA: When I hear fans talk about Ray Lewis and that the team should sign Ray no matter what it costs, I just feel like choking someone. Do you ever get that feeling? You know when someone just pushes you to the brink and you just can’t take it anymore. Man I just want to wedge my hands right around their jugular. With that in mind, what is the team’s current position with Ray and what is the likelihood that he remains a Raven for the rest of his career?

Ozzie: We want Ray to retire as a Raven. We have offered him what we believe is an attractive offer to make that happen. But I think for Ray to feel good about the offer, he needs to see what other teams are willing to give him. Not until then will he feel comfortable. Right now he doesn’t feel that way so I’d say the chances of Ray returning aren’t better than 50-50 but certainly more likely than you increasing the signal power at WNST.

JC: Speaking of signal power, we at the FIFTY THOUSAND watt all new Fox 1370 were wondering if there’s any truth to the rumor that there were other Ravens with Daren Stone in that Tampa strip club as seen on

NA: Coleman, my wife and I can vouch that there were no other Ravens there!

BC: (chuckling) That Nestor does get around now doesn’t he? Hey can we talk about the time we found all those (chuckle, chuckle, hee-haw) Hedonism pics on your computer?

AM: Nestor you’ve been to Hedonism? That place rocks but still not quite what the Playboy Mansion was in its heyday.

DY: If you guys don’t knock it off, I might go postal on your sorry asses.

BC: Hey Anita, do you have any pics you can share? I would love you madly if you could!

Ozzie: Are there no other football related questions?

JC: Do you expect to employ the often maligned franchise tag on a player this free agency season and if so who is the most likely to receive that designation that is embraced by some and dreaded by others?

Ozzie: We will do what we believe is in the best interest of the Baltimore Ravens.

DY: This is for Eric or Ozzie…Can you predict with some reasonably comfortable degree of certainty that you will get a player with your No. 1 pick that can not only produce in his first season but also be a difference maker – you know that clutch dude that you can go to when the game is on the line?

DeCosta: We are in the pick business Damon and while the No. 1 pick clearly gets all the press and the attention, we are looking to build our roster from the bottom up. That means building depth and increasing competition for roster spots. If a draft does that, it’s a successful one. As for the No. 1 guy, I think our track record suggests that we’ll be ok.

AM: John, Chris McAlister fell out of favor with you this season. I know that there’s more to the story than you have led on. I know it. You know it and you know that I know it because me and TWO ONE were kicking back down at Ruth’s Chris with my boy David Sadeghi. He told me so… So, can you finally tell us what went down during the season once and for all? Admiring minds want to know?

Harbaugh: Probably inquiring ones too Anita… Look we think Chris McAlister is a good player and a good guy and under the right conditions we want Chris to return. At this point that’s all we can say.

BC: If Ray does leave, do you think he’ll do that dance in his new hometown stadium? Who will dance for the Ravens during player introductions? C’mon Oz, it’s getting late and IT’S THIRD DOWN in this stare off with Ray.

Ozzie: (frustrated) Thanks for joining us today. We’ll see you all at the Pre-draft press conference in April.

BC: Ozzie wait, did you know that I am REALLY good friends with Tom Matte? I swear it wasn’t my fault that I called Ronnie Prude Ronnie Perdue all six times…

AM: Ozzie if you need a dentist or a good steak I can hook you up!

NA: Harbs, wait up bro…was wondering if you want to invest in a website…Billick might be moving on.

JC: Oz, tell Bisciotti if he wants a powerful signal that reaches Culpepper, Virginia and perhaps pull in a new market offering new sources of revenue, I’m the man he wants to talk to…just tell him FIFTY THOUSAND WATTS!

DY: Yo DeCosta, here’s my card…let me know if you need some help in that war room or if you need a bratwurst hook-up or a kicking new diet program. I’m your man bro!

EDITOR'S NOTE: This press conference is obviously a parody and never really took place. At least we don't think so...

Jim Six Toes was a consulting editor on this creation.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

And the next Ravens' GM is...

Odds & Ends…the realignment of the Ravens’ front office positions Eric DeCosta to be the team’s next GM once Ozzie steps down. DeCosta is now the Director of Player Personnel with direct reports of Vince Newsome (Pro Personnel) and Joe Hortiz (College Personnel). DeCosta will now become more involved with contracts, the cap, and other non-collegiate personnel decisions and for all intents and purposes, he is the Assistant GM. George Kokinis’ departure, an executive who was viewed by some as DeCosta’s equal within the organization, helped pave the way for the promotions…Greg Mattison takes over for Rex Ryan as the defensive coordinator. Players and coaches don’t expect any measurable drop off as a result of defensive scheming or lack thereof given the departure of “Mad Scientist” Ryan. There does seem to be a growing consensus though that the defense will be less exotic, more basic yet hardly less aggressive. If you recall, the Ravens record setting defense from 2000 employed very traditional scheming and concepts…Word is that Cam Cameron has shared with insiders that Ray Rice was underutilized in the post season, particularly against the Steelers.

Peppers & Suggs together in lieu of Lewis & Scott?

Suggs and Bart Scott have hinted that they would be willing to extend a hometown discount to stay together. Clearly that’s easier said than done. What exactly does a hometown discount equate to and even with such discounts can the Ravens absorb new contracts for Suggs, Scott and Lewis comfortably within the not so cozy confines of the projected $123 million salary cap?

Consider this – what if the Ravens pass on both Lewis and Scott, go with some younger players at linebacker and use the money to acquire someone like Julius Peppers or Nnamdi Asomugha if either hits the free agent market? How imposing would the Ravens pass rush be if Peppers wore purple? How tight would the secondary be with the league’s best shut down corner (Asomugha) paired with a healthy Ed Reed? Might either of these scenarios be better than keeping Ray or Bart?

These are tough questions that will need to be addressed and the guess here is that the answers will be heavily influenced by Bisciotti’s goal of keeping windows of opportunity open.

Nothing is etched in stone but from what I’m hearing, the team seems confident that Suggs is going nowhere and they may be preparing to overspend in order to lock up the 25 year old Pro Bowler for seven years or so. Confidence isn’t as high regarding Jason Brown. While the Ravens clearly want Brown back word is he wants to be paid like a premier center. The team doesn’t want to disrupt the continuity of the offensive line but at the same time there appears to be a sizeable gap between the value the Ravens place on Brown and that which Brown’s handlers believe is fair. Don’t be shocked if the Ravens’ franchise player in 2009 is Jason Brown.

Could Ray Lewis be Dunn with the Ravens?

If there is anyone who loves Ray Lewis more than Ray Lewis, it’s Ozzie Newsome and that love will be put to the test like never before this offseason. Ozzie’s affinity for Ray and his battle tested credo of “right player, right price” are on a direct collision course and something has got to give.

Lewis doesn’t sound like anyone who is willing to give a hometown discount to Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti despite their off the field friendship. But then again you can certainly understand it if Lewis feels compelled to take such a public posture. After all this is undoubtedly the last substantive contract that he will receive and he needs to create some negotiating leverage. Wearing his heart on his sleeve will do little for Ray at the proverbial poker table.

Perhaps fueling the fires to maintain such a non-partisan stance is Lewis’ agent David Dunn. Dunn replaces Lewis’ long time dynamic duo agents Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes. The hiring of Dunn is a bit puzzling. Dunn was suspended by the NFLPA back in 2003 for two years for trying to steal clients from his former partner, Leigh Steinberg. Yet Dunn continues to attract blue chip clients.

If an agent is a proven liar and a cheat, why would Ray or any other player agree to sign on? Well, maybe Dunn agreed to take a smaller fee. Maybe he made promises to Ray and Ray like what Dunn had to say more than Parker and Barnes.

Either way Dunn has to deliver.

What if all Dunn can do for Ray is exactly what Barnes and Parker realistically suggested before they got the boot? An agent with an NFLPA rap sheet fails to deliver on a promise. Not the sort of thing Dunn wants on his resume going forward, right? As a result it is unlikely that the discussions with Ray will reach a happy ending before he officially becomes a free agent unless either Dunn or Ozzie gets cold feet and caves.

The number I keep hearing is $20 million guaranteed and $30 million total over 3 years. Does Ray have 3 Pro Bowl years left? Does it matter given the intangibles that Ray brings?

Clearly it’s a very difficult task for Ozzie but like Ray, Ozzie can’t wear his heart on his sleeve while the cards are being dealt either. And this offseason, there are several sitting at that poker table vying for more chips.
Photo by Sabina Moran

Sunday, February 01, 2009

It's time for some "nasty" accountability

“Nasty” Nestor Aparicio is a pretty interesting guy and opinions of him range from a self-made entrepreneur to a self-serving little man with a Napoleonic Complex and a knack for keeping either his name or the letters of his radio station (WNST) in the news. This week in Tampa was no exception when he allegedly put a stranglehold on Gordon Keith (pictured to left) from Dallas’ 1310 The Ticket. More on that in a bit…

Clearly Aparicio is an inviting target with his obsolete hairdo, his “Testosteroni” tonal inflections to make himself sound bigger than he is and his “chic” but dated Miami Vice attire that screams Sonny Crockett wannabe. Cheap publicity stunts like Free the Birds (Parts I, II and a possible III), his run-ins with the Orioles, his attacks on his former employer (The Sun) and damning editorials on homelessness in Baltimore help make the bulls eye on his back even that much more tempting.

Recently he’s lost the on-air talents of Rob Long, Aaron Wilson and Bruce “I love ya madly” Cunningham and he is now forced to compete with new competition – the all sports formats of 50,000 watt stations Fox 1370 AM and 105.7 The Fan on the FM dial. Mix in a very difficult economy that has many companies slashing advertising budgets and suddenly Baltimore has more radio advertisers battling for far fewer advertising dollars.

To make matters worse Aparicio has to get it done with a signal that boosts 5,000 watts when the sun is up and 750 watts when the sun goes down. The station that once promoted itself as the one “with balls” suddenly has theirs between a vice (not Miami). To help save what appears to be a sinking ship, Aparicio has assumed the 2-6PM daily slot recently vacated by Long who is now on Fox 1370.

To be fair when he brings his “A” game, Aparicio is as good as any in the business while sitting in the chair of sports talking head. He is intelligent, articulate, informed, prepared and quick on his feet. I would even go so far to say that when he brings it, he’s the best on the B’more airwaves.

Unfortunately time and time again, he can’t get out of his own way. He can’t help but make the show about himself or to play the victim when he discusses the Orioles and when either happens his audience is lost particularly now with so many options on the radio dial. It’s as though Aparicio wakes up in the morning wondering who is out to get him on that particular day. His overly combative behavior suggests exactly that.

And it got him into a bit of trouble this week in Tampa.

Now to set the stage in Tampa, these clowns on 1310 The Ticket are a bit like Eddie Haskell. They want you to believe that their intentions to end a long standing feud with Aparicio are sincere but you get the feeling that their true objective was just to get under Aparicio’s skin.

Mission accomplished…

Before Super Bowl XLII, Gordon tried to make amends with Aparicio but that exchange allegedly ended with a gross anti-Semitic remark from Aparicio. This year Gordon again attempted to be the peacemaker yet peace was hardly the result. Aparicio allegedly choked Gordon and in the process embarrassed himself (we think), his station and its remaining employees. (Video of altercation here)

In a highly volatile economic climate that challenges all companies in the media business to preserve its customer base with prudent, practical, focused and conservative behavior Aparicio’s was anything but that. His juvenile actions will now force companies to rethink their spending with WNST and if that happens, it might force his on-air personnel to rethink their futures with the station.

Like Aparicio’s partner Brian Billick always preached while the skipper of the Baltimore Ravens, we all must have accountability. It will be interesting to see what Aparicio does once the dust of Super Bowl XLIII settles. Will he be accountable or will he again play the role of victim, put on the spin and redirect blame?

If Aparicio does hit the spin cycle, maybe partner Billick will start his own campaign – FREE WNST!

Baltimore Ravens: Top 10 Plays of 2008

Without a doubt the Ravens’ 2008 season exceeded everyone’s expectations. The players might tell you now that they believed in the team’s ability and its potential to knock on the Super Bowl door. Yet I’m sure if they were really pressed, each of those players inside the Ravens locker room would admit that on the heels of a rather bleak preseason they like the rest of us and no idea what was in store.

The season was filled with surprises. A previously uninspired Jared Gaither found inspiration and made us all forget about Jonathan Ogden; Le’Ron McClain had 8 carries for 18 yards in 2007 yet led the team in rushing in ’08 with 902 yards; Jim Leonhard seemed like a long shot to make the team during the summer but proved to be a playmaker in the fall and into the winter; Ed Reed’s career was in peril due to a neck and shoulder nerve impingement yet he performed at times like Superman; Joe Flacco grew before our very eyes. The list goes on.

The surprises brought excitement and exhilaration and those emotions also characterize the season’s top 10 Ravens’ plays. In our list we consider those emotions plus the relative importance the plays had on the game in which they occurred or even more importantly the impact that the plays had on the success of this amazing season – this scintillating ride.

With that in mind SNAP IT HERE for our list of the Top 10 Ravens' Plays (plus honorable mentions) accompanied by videos.