Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gaither missing his love connection in the NFL


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

There has been a ton of speculation regarding Jared Gaither and the apparent lack of interest in the former Terp. Nationally prominent insiders like NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora have hinted that the Ravens might accept the Redskins’ second round pick (No. 36 overall) in exchange for Gaither. But is that enough for the Ravens?

Gaither just turned 24 and he has three seasons under his belt. He is battled tested (28 career starts) and has held his own against some fairly formidable opponents at the left tackle position.

So why hasn’t the first round tendered restricted free agent attracted more attention from other clubs?

Gaither’s work ethic has been questioned as well as his consistency on the field. There are times when he’s dominant and yet there are other times when he appears a bit disinterested. But could there be more to the story than that?

One source close to 24x7 speaking on condition of anonymity, has mentioned that Gaither might be in “the program.” In other words he may have a strike or two against him in the league’s substance abuse program and another could earn a four game suspension. If true this clearly would explain why Gaither is not being courted by left tackle needy teams around the league.

Take it for what it’s worth but I will say if there’s even a hint of truth to this allegation and our source is aware of it, it is likely old news to the league’s inner circle and that news helps explain the obvious erosion in Gaither’s market value.

If the club wants to take a chance on Gaither, now might be the time. They just might get him for a club friendly price.

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McGahee wants to start


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Some might say that Willis McGahee is an expensive luxury as a backup. In 2010 McGahee is set to earn $3.6 million and if 2009 is any indication, McGahee will earn roughly $36,000 per carry – not bad work if you can get it. Ray Rice on the other hand will earn a little less than $400,000.

The big picture however suggests that the Ravens will get great value from the position on whole and that’s exactly how the club is viewing it. While McGahee’s price tag is hardly a bargain the returns that Rice provides makes that $3.6 million bitter pill a bit easier to swallow.

Last week we had an exclusive interview with Willis McGahee that caught the attention of ESPN Insider. Here’s what they had to say:

Over the weekend, a captivating -- if quite loose -- rumor made the rounds, the crux of which is that a former Pro Bowl RB could be on the move. Initial speculation was that it could be Marion Barber, but we also thought that Marshawn Lynch, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee made sense, given that they were involved in trade rumors earlier this offseason.

McGahee had an interview with Tony Lombardi of Pro Football 24x7 recently, and said that "I know that inside I am still a starter-quality back without question. I just want to play and help my team get to a Super Bowl in whatever capacity I can." The second sentence seems to indicate that he's OK with playing second fiddle to Ray Rice in Baltimore, but the first sentence seems to indicate that perhaps he'd like a chance to be top dog again, possibly somewhere else.

Going strictly on need -- and not taking into account McGahee's contract or the personality concerns in adding a new RB to an NFL locker room -- we could see the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and San Diego Chargers showing a bit of interest in Willis.


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Kruger bulks up


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Previously we reported that one 24x7 source had indicated that Paul Kruger seemed like an unwilling participant in the Ravens’ “voluntary” offseason conditioning program. Rumor had it that Kruger was late to arrive and early to leave during the workout sessions.

Well maybe Kruger has something figured out that the others don’t.

Word is that the former Ute has added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame and is now pushing the scales a bit beyond 270. One team representative said that he would not be surprised to see the second year DE/OLB get close to 280 by the start of training camp.

Pretty good results for someone previously reported to be a workout slacky.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Meet the REAL Willis McGahee


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

When Willis McGahee arrived on the scene in Baltimore, many fans were excited about the versatility that he might bring to the offensive backfield, something that was missing during the days of Jamal Lewis.

McGahee’s first season with the team in 2007 was a bitterly disappointing one that included a nine game losing streak, an embarrassing loss to what would eventually be a (1-15) Dolphins team and an equally embarrassing (5-11) final record.

McGahee was one of the few bright spots during a very forgettable swan song season for former head coach Brian Billick.

In 2008 the Ravens ushered in the John Harbaugh era and with it the promise of an energized squad less concerned with individual star power and more concerned about sacrificing for the good of the team.

New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron expressed his excitement over coaching McGahee and putting his talents to work in a way that might remind observers of how Cameron once used Ladainian Tomlinson in San Diego.

Unfortunately for McGahee and the Ravens, that never happened.

The talented former Miami Hurricane wasn’t an enthusiastic participant in the team’s offseason conditioning program in ’08 and his level of attendance during organized team activities could hardly be described as stellar. When he reported to training camp he was by his own admission not in the best of shape. Making matters worse, a knee injury prevented him from working his way back into shape.

The player that Cam Cameron wanted to feature was soon the featured attraction in Harbaugh’s doghouse.

Fans labeled him a malcontent and many demanded that he be traded or released.

I never really viewed McGahee as a malcontent in the mold of Chris McAlister. I saw him as misunderstood and I based that opinion on the things he said, the things he didn’t say, the manner in which he carried himself and what I believed to be somewhat of a shy demeanor – hardly your stereotypical persona from the “U.”

In 2009 my opinion of McGahee was validated. He reported to camp in great shape and became a champion of the concept of “team.” He absolutely played like a Raven and walked and talked the company line. He seemed fully rejuvenated and willingly mentored the young player who stole his job – Ray Rice.

Fans who clamored for his exodus only one year earlier now vehemently defend the club’s decision to keep McGahee around despite an uncapped season that would allow the team to sever ties with him without any real measurable financial consequence. His productivity in a supporting role coupled with what fans believed to be a new attitude influenced the 180 degree shift in the fan’s court of public opinion.

So what really inspired the turnaround for McGahee?

Did he really change or did the perception of McGahee change?

To find out whom the man behind the Darth Vader-like helmet really is I reached out to the Ravens talented back to satisfy my own curiosities about McGahee and those of fans here in Baltimore.

Here's the entire INTERVIEW


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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yanda surprisingly drawing no interest as RFA


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Marshal Yanda’s impact in the running game last year was huge and for my money he’s one of the most promising young offensive guards in the NFL. It would surprise no one who has watched the development of this Kirk Ferentz protégé if he one day ends up in the Pro Bowl. That said it is puzzling that no team has made a move to offer Yanda a restricted free agent tender and sacrifice a second round pick. You won’t find this kind of player in Round 2, particularly contending teams that won’t draft until later in the round.


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Ipod stuck on replay?


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

People around Ravens headquarters will tell you that if you see a large group of players gathered around listening to someone, there’s a good chance that someone is Troy Smith.

Smith has confidence and swagger. He’s articulate and possesses leadership qualities that teammates gravitate towards.

If only he had the game to match.

Smith thinks highly of himself and that’s ok when you are a quarterback in the NFL.

The problem for Smith is that not too many other teams view him as he views himself.

Seneca Wallace goes to Cleveland.

Jake Delhomme follows him there.

David Carr goes to San Francisco while Charlie Whitehurst heads to the Pacific Northwest in exchange for a third round draft pick!

Meanwhile Smith doesn’t even get a sniff from another club despite his bargain basement price tag of a fifth round pick.

Maybe there’s more to the story…

Word is that once back in 2008 Smith had his ipod blasting in the Ravens locker room as he ducked in for a shower. When he emerged from the shower his ipod’s volume was turned way down. In a very profane way, Smith demanded to know who dialed down the decibels.

A man standing behind Smith said, “I did.”

The former Buckeye turned around and standing before him was none other than John Harbaugh.


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Birds of a different feather



The last time a couple of osprey flew east from Seattle, fishing for a new contract and landed in B’more to don a new shade of feathers, they turned into champions and Pro Bowlers as Ravens.

Of course I’m speaking of Michael McCrary and Sam Adams.

Could Cory Redding be the third former Seahawk to earn the NFL’s biggest prize in The Land of Pleasant Living?

You have to think that a modest two year deal for $6 million for the 29 year old Redding is a definite bargain when compared to the four year, $18 million deal signed by the recently departed Dwan Edwards in Buffalo.

Two players motivated by different things – one a ring, the other cha-ching!

Redding has already landed one big pay day in Detroit when he received a $16 million signing bonus in 2007. Now his motivation has changed slightly particularly after being miscast in Seattle.

You have to love a player who has something to prove.

After the next two seasons in Baltimore playing for a traditionally stout defense, Redding will be 31 years old with some shelf life left as a D-lineman. Then he could cash in again.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a defender has contributed in Baltimore, given his resume a jolt and took off for greener pastures.

That’s a win-win in my book.

Here’s a look at Redding and Edwards statistically:

Cory Redding: Age (29) Solo Tackles (182); Asst. Tackles (41); Total (223); Sacks (18); Forced Fumbles (6)

Dwan Edwards: Age (28) Solo Tackles (91); Asst. Tackles (29); Total (120); Sacks (2); Forced Fumbles (1)

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Will Mark Clayton be a Raven in 2010?


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Most observers would concur with the notion that the Ravens receiving corps has markedly improved this offseason through the acquisitions of Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth matched up with the re-signing of Derrick Mason. Suddenly the matchups improve as Mason will see less bracketing and face off with less accomplished defensive backs.

Many also believe that Mark Clayton will enjoy that same benefit and will now become an effective slot receiver, something that many would argue should have been his calling for quite some time.

Clayton should be more productive in such a role…

If he makes the team!

Now granted the Ravens part with No. 1 picks about as readily as Sheila Dixon parts with gift cards but keep in mind there’s the possibility that Clayton could be the No. 4 receiver in the rotation and teams aren’t generally excited about paying such a player $2.3 million per year to catch 30 balls, particularly one who adds next to nothing to special teams.

Something has to give.

There’s a reason the Ravens didn’t ante up the extra $222K and extend Clayton a first round tender offer. They knew no one in their right minds would sacrifice a No. 1 for the former Sooner and secondly, they would probably do back flips down I-795 if someone even offered a second round pick.

Kelley Washington might take that $2.3 million number over 2 seasons and give you special teams play. Oh and by the way, last time I checked both had 34 catches in ’09 and 2 TD’s. Clayton averaged a bit more per catch (14.1 v. 12.7 yards) but Washington converted more first downs (27 v. 24).

The Ravens lose nothing by bringing Clayton to camp because not a cent of the restricted free agent tender is guaranteed.

But don’t be surprised if Mark Clayton is no longer in purple come September.

And that’s bad news for a good guy…

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Ravens and UDFA's


"Mr. Irrelevant" makes his presence felt


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

With such a talent laden draft, the quality of undrafted free agents is likely to rise as well. In past years the Ravens have earmarked about $15,000 to bring in undrafted players. The Ravens leverage their stellar track record of developing undrafted free agents who go on to earn very healthy paychecks in the NFL to lure UDFA's. Priest Holmes, Will Demps, Bart Scott and Maake Kemoeatu are a few of the names that the Ravens remind UDFA agents of during the hectic courting period.

That $15,000 budget has normally been spread among roughly 10 UDFA’s but don’t be surprised if the Ravens bring in far fewer of such players this season. Think quality over quantity during the chaotic period that ensues after the selection of Mr. Irrelevant. The faxes, emails and phone calls are flying as part of an effort to capture the most appealing talent that goes undrafted.

Last year’s Mr. Irrelevant was Chiefs’ kicker Ryan Succop who was targeted by the Ravens as a UDFA. They had an offer ready to fire off through the fax machine just prior to the Chiefs’ call for Succop. The rookie hit 25 of 29 field goals last season and converted all 29 PAT’s. Three of his four misses were from beyond 50 yards. His longest converted kick was a 53 yarder. Succop was hardly irrelevant.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ravens' draft board is deeper in 2010

Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

The Ravens will not sit still on draft day. There’s a strong chance that unless a player the team heavily covets falls into their lap at No. 25, they will trade back to acquire more picks.

In years past the Ravens draft board generally consists of about 135-140 players. Word is that this year’s board is stacked with 180 players because of the depth of talent in the 2010 draft pool. Many underclassmen have entered the draft fearful that there soon could be a rookie salary cap.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ravens score bargain with Boldin


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

The Ravens clearly scored one with the Anquan Boldin contract. The newest Raven will get $10 million in guaranteed money as part of his four year, $28 million deal.

These contractual parameters match those extended to Antonio Bryant by the Bengals. However Bryant’s deal can eclipse Boldin’s with incentives. Nate Burleson’s 5 year, $25 million deal includes $11 million in guarantees.

For the record, here’s how the 3 receivers' careers compare statistically:

Boldin: Age 29; 586 receptions; 7,520 yards; 12.8 ypc; 44 TD's
Bryant: Age 29; 372 receptions; 5,685 yards; 15.3 ypc; 30 TD's
Burleson: Age 28; 263 receptions; 3,547 yards; 13.5 ypc; 27 TD's

Besides the money, the cost to acquire Boldin included a third round and a fourth round pick in 2010. The 2010 fifth round pick the Ravens received in return from the Cardinals was the final negotiating point in the deal. Given the depth in this year’s draft, the Ravens front office believes that there is little drop off in the talent pool from the fourth to fifth round and as a result they view the real cost for Boldin as a third round pick – one they were very comfortable forgoing for the talented former Cardinal.

Opposite Boldin this season will be Derrick Mason. Mason’s two year deal includes $3.5 million in guarantees, essentially making it a one year commitment from the team. Mason fans (and I consider myself one) should not get too used to the idea of No. 85 being in B’more beyond the 2010 season.


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Ravens to remain quiet on free agent front


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Don’t expect much activity from the club in the area of unrestricted free agents. Look for Ozzie Newsome to be very pragmatic and seek out bargains along the lines of Matt Birk and Chris Carr, signings from 2009. One of those bargains could be a defensive tackle to replace the departed Justin Bannan.

The Ravens had interest in bringing Maake Kemoeatu back into the nest prior to the Redskins signing him. Mike Shanahan apparently was willing to pay Kemoeatu more than the Ravens and that’s really no surprise given Washington’s desire to move Albert Haynesworth to DE in their new 3-4 alignment.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

We may have seen the last of Ed Reed




Most fans and media members expect Ed Reed to return for the Ravens’ 2010 season. Even his coach expects the former Defensive Player of the Year to be back patrolling the middle of the Ravens’ defense.

“Ed Reed is playing, as far as I know,” John Harbaugh said during the NFL scouting combines. “I think Ed is one of the greatest competitors in football. I’ve said I think Ed’s going to play because I think Ed’s going to do everything he can to play. If he’s physically able to play, he will play.”

In other words, Harbaugh really doesn’t know.

Here’s more proof…

“Right now, my assumption is he’s going to be able to [play]. If that changes or Ed changes his mind, that’s obviously his prerogative. He hasn’t told the team that he’s not going to play and medically we don’t have any reason to think that he won’t right now.”

From what I’ve been told, one of the reasons Harbaugh doesn’t know if his All World free safety is returning is because Reed himself can’t answer the question, “Should I stay or should I go now?”

Reed is a somewhat quirky guy and like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, sometimes with No. 20, you just never know what you’re going to get.

Sometimes he’s in a good mood.

Sometimes he broods.

One day he is thinking about a contract extension.

The next day he’s contemplating retirement.

Now I don’t mean to make light of Reed’s situation. Here’s a player who is really not a very big guy yet has played with reckless abandon his entire life. Players he’s responsible for, those he’s asked to deliver shots to when they cross the middle of the field – players like Alge Crumpler and Antonio Gates, outweigh him by 70+ pounds. Think about that!

Then think about a neck and shoulder nerve impingement that can send shooting pains through the body after an average impact. Now take that unpleasant thought and mix it with the centrifugal force that is the byproduct of two supremely conditioned athletes running at top end speed towards each other.

Trust me. I’ve knelt 5 yards away from the sideline as these players dash past me during practice. You can feel the breeze as these big men who run extremely fast pass you by.

The collisions that ensue are on par with sprinting right into an SUV that you didn’t see.

The pain can be indescribable.

Yet the player gets up, dusts himself off, goes back to the huddle and prepares to do it again.

There’s more than just money that motivates an athlete to tackle such challenges. The competitive fire that burns within provides strength and inspires them to buckle the chin strap one more time.

Pride does its part as well although now Reed is wondering if such feelings of self-respect and personal worth are enough anymore to put himself in harm’s way and downgrade the status of his injury from intermittent to permanent.

Some would say that he’s mastered the art of playing through the lingering injury over the past two seasons. But that’s easy for any of us to say. We don’t have to experience and live with the pain.

Reed’s teammate and close friend Samari Rolle experienced a similar injury and after one surgery, Rolle expects at least another to help remove the pain that lingers and reminds him daily of the price an athlete pays sometimes in perpetuity for the privilege of playing in the National Football League.

From what I hear, Rolle is leaning on Reed to retire, to look at the big picture and consider the thought, “enough is enough.” He doesn’t want his friend’s injury to become a permanent scar.

Pride carries Reed forward.

For the man let’s hope it isn’t of the foolish variety and that he makes a thoroughly thoughtful choice.

Don’t be surprised if No. 20 walks away.






Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Q&A Eric DeCosta: Part II ~ With Boldin in nest, will Ravens' draft strategy change?


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Tony Lombardi: Does the trade for Boldin change the type of receiver that might attract you in the 2010 NFL Draft?

Eric DeCosta: Not really. It’s all about getting a good mix of abilities. You don’t want all small guys who can fly. You don’t want all big possession/jump ball-type guys either. In the end, it’s about finding playmakers. And they come in all different shapes, sizes, and speeds. You have to factor in special teams too.

TL: What is a red star player and have you drafted any over the past few seasons?

ED: A red-star player is a guy who is tough, durable, smart, productive and clean off the field from a character perspective. He’s got to play with a high motor and be relentless on tape. A few that we’ve drafted over the years include Haruki Nakamura, Marshal Yanda, Ed Reed, and Ray Rice. Oh, and Cedric Peerman was a red-star last year too. We lost him to Cleveland and then Detroit. Lardarius Webb could have been a red-star from an ability standpoint but some off-field concerns kept us from being able to designate him.

TL: Have you ever just missed on a red star player and did they pan out as you expected in the NFL?

ED: Bob Sanders. We had him targeted in the 2004 draft in the second-round (we did not have a first-round pick that year). Another guy we liked as a red-star was Logan Mankins who New England drafted in 2005. We thought we could get him in round 2 and the Patriots took him at the end of round 1.

TL: What characteristics or qualities do you use when analyzing collegiate talent and building your draft board?

ED: Speed, toughness, instincts, and character as a simple lens. There are other, more specific, positional traits that we evaluate too.

TL: Do you use similar qualities to build your board for available pro personnel?

ED: Pro personnel is a little different. We still place a premium on character and durability becomes more important too as you’ve got a body of NFL work. It’s easier to evaluate pro players since you project less. The future is now so to speak...Everyone is playing against each other in the NFL so there is A LOT less guesswork. Plus we can manipulate the viewing format (i.e. view only a receiver’s chances or a defensive end’s sacks ) rather than grind through all the tape like we have to do in college scouting.

TL: Character is an increasingly important element used to assess a player and his desirability. What sort of character red flags are the Ravens willing to work with and which do you shy away from?

ED: A big part of the process is having good area scouts who can dig for information. I think we have the best! There is no magic formula that you use. It’s case by case, having the information and facts, and making a decision. Repeat offenders are especially problematic as you tend to question decision-making and the ability to learn from mistakes. If you build a team with strong leaders, it’s easier to adopt a player who has made a mistake, knowing that he is immersed in a culture where he can succeed.

TL: You often hear about locker room chemistry and a player coming in and disrupting that chemistry – Terrell Owens comes to mind. Is that overdramatized or can a player really break down the fabric of a team?

ED: Certainly you can have a player who can distract the team. It’s best to remove the cancer quickly.

TL: With so many restricted free agents and without a salary cap, teams can hold on to players longer over the course of the offseason. Many good players could be released well after the draft, even late into training camp. Might this offseason reward the patient organization perhaps even more so than in past years?

ED: Any time you panic, you overpay. The mark of good teams like New England, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh is that they have a plan and stick to it. Successful scouting staffs will continue to thrive in the present system.

TL: This draft seems particularly deep with many declared underclassmen. Do you think that has anything to do with the potential of a rookie salary cap? Might it dilute the talent available in the 2011 NFL Draft?

ED: I almost hope the 2011 NFL Draft class is diluted. It gives us an opportunity next year. Anyone can fish in a stocked pond. The good front-offices will find players that other teams don’t recognize. That’s our challenge moving forward.

TL: Players can get better; coaches can get better; what can front office personnel do to improve and what have you learned in recent years that prepares you better for the upcoming draft?

ED: There is a good book called “The Wisdom of Crowds” that speaks to giving people an independent forum to form their own opinions, without creating bias or trying to influence. Group-think is dangerous in scouting and we’ve worked hard to empower our scouts and coaches. When you get to this point as a football organization, and everyone can work independently and objectively, you are truly able to consensus-build. It’s all about giving people a voice in an open forum and constantly encouraging (rather than suppressing) different opinions.

The other thing we’ve tried to do is really define what it is that we’re looking for. You’ve got to have a clear vision as to what you want your team to look like, player-wise. Once you see that vision, and know what you want, it’s a lot easier to find those types of players in college and pro personnel. That’s a challenge for teams that have a lot of turnover in front-offices face (think Cleveland and Detroit). Constant change is not good in this business.

TL: What would make the Ravens’ pass defense stronger, a stud corner or a stud pass rusher?

ED: A great pass-rusher makes a great corner. Anytime you can rush four defenders and hit the quarterback (think 2007 New York Giants), you’ve really got something special on your defense. That’s my vote. That being said, Bill Parcells thinks you lose football games in one of three areas: 1. QB play. 2. Tackle play. 3. Corner play. There’s a great article by Michael Lewis called “What Keeps Bill Parcells Awake at Night” that is available on-line. Check it out
[here].

Q&A: Eric Decosta,
Part I ~ Scouting philosophy, projecting players, the 3 day draft and more...

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Monday, March 08, 2010

T. Smith would crawl to Cleveland


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com


Yesterday it was brought to my attention that Troy Smith’s agent is campaigning for his client to be traded. And why shouldn’t he? What will Ralph Cindrich’s fee be for a QB who will forever be a backup in Baltimore?

Smith like any competitive athlete wants to be a starter really bad.

How bad?

Cindrich told the Canton Repository, "[Smith] would crawl from Baltimore right now to be able to play in Cleveland. That’s clearly where his heart is. That’s where his love is. He has a great relationship in Baltimore and with the fans as long as I don’t muck it up too much. He has a great relationship with [Ravens general manager] Ozzie Newsome.

“It’s just that this is where home is. In the offseason, he tells me, ‘Get me home.’”

The Ravens have extended the low restricted agent tender to Smith meaning they would get a pick equivalent to the round in which he was selected (5th round) in return should he sign with a new team.

It just so happens that the Browns have four 5th round picks.

Surely they could part with one, right?

Who knows?

Maybe the Browns don’t think much of Smith.

After all they are reportedly courting David Carr.


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Scot Kleinfeld contributed to this blog entry

Derrick Mason's options slip sliding away


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

If Derrick Mason or his agent ask to borrow some money to play a high stakes game of Texas Hold ‘Em, run!

With the Ravens limited talent at wide receiver even with Mason, the team’s second all-time leading receiver thought he had the club boxed in. He thought he had Ozzie by the family jewels.

NOT!

With one swiftly executed trade the Ravens receiving corps received a big shot in the arm. Anquan Boldin is a Raven and that acquisition coupled with the earlier roster addition of Donte Stallworth had to have left Mason and his agent with jaws wide open. Their negotiating leverage dissipated quickly – in a manner reminiscent of the other Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West.

So Mase, where you gonna run to now?

Miami?

Bill Parcells just backed up the Brinks Truck and unloaded $43 million into Karlos Dansby’s lap and today that same truck could be working overtime as Steelers’ hard hitting safety Ryan Clark pays a visit. Will there be any left for Mason in South Florida?

How about New England? Isn’t Bill Belichick supposedly interested?

He might be, but where on the depth charts would Mason land? Moss is the No. 1 target while Wes Welker recovers and until he does, Julian Edelman is a very adequate substitute. So if Mason is No. 3 or 4 on the depth chart, what do you think the Patriots will pay the 36 year old receiver who happens to want a two year deal with upfront money?

And let’s keep in mind that for whatever reason, Mason turned down the Patriots back in 2005, preferring to catch passes from Kyle Boller instead of Tom Brady. Maybe Mase just doesn’t care for the Red Sox?

Might he go back to Tennessee? After all that is home for Mason.

The Titans have Nate Washington (a ’09 free agent signing), Kenny Britt (’09 No. 1 pick) and Justin Gage among the pass catchers in Vince Young’s receiving corps. Sure Mason could provide some veteran leadership but how often would he see the field? He might run into the same issues in Tennessee that he’d likely encounter in New England.

Is there anyone else out there who wants to give up a two year deal to a 36 year old possession receiver and pay him like a No. 2?

Speaking of pay, perhaps some of you have forgotten that back in 2005 the Ravens signed the then 31-year-old Mason to a five year deal worth $20 million that included a $7 million in guaranteed cha-ching. Five years later the Ravens give up $28 million over four years with $10 million guaranteed to the 29-year-old Boldin.

Seems like a fair deal to me…

But back to Mason, here’s how I think this will shake out.

Mason will come back, tail between his legs and plead with Ozzie to put the original deal back on the table. Ozzie will take back a little bit of the initial offer, claiming that some of the cash earmarked for Mason was reallocated to Boldin. Mason will then:

1. Happily accept and put the proper positive spin on it; or
2. Let foolish pride cloud his vision and accept a comparable offer from a team nowhere near as Super Bowl ready as the Ravens.

And then he can read his agent the riot act behind closed doors.


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Does Mike Vick deserve an Ed Block Courage Award?


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Back on December 23, 2009 I wrote a column stating my objection to Michael Vick being named as the Philadelphia Eagles’ team recipient for the 2010 Ed Block Courage Award. Despite all of the public spin and emotional pleas for second chances my position hasn’t changed one iota. You can read that column again down below.

However on the eve of the award ceremonies, I have decided to not only represent my position but also to provide an opposing viewpoint by our newest contributor Lauren Hunter. We’ll label Lauren’s thoughts as “Point” and mine as “Counterpoint.”

Naturally we invite your commentary as well…

POINT

Michael Vick.

Just hearing the name in the days following the announcement that he will be the recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award tomorrow night has provoked much debate and passion on both sides of the fence. The outpouring of public opinion has been lopsided in favor of those enraged by the decision. Some have suggested boycotting the awards ceremony, or worse, making a spectacle of themselves by protesting at the ceremony itself.

But, let me ask you this: Does public opinion matter for the Ed Block Courage Award?

After all, Ed Block didn’t ask YOU.

There is a reason the Ed Block Board of Directors asks players to vote for a teammate. And I suspect there is a reason the Philadelphia Eagles players voted unanimously to put forth Mike for the award. They are the ones who know him, really know him. Not the public.

Do I condone what he did?

Hell no.

But I do think that humans make mistakes and bad decisions which have repercussions. And Mike paid the penalties for those bad decisions.

It wasn’t up to the public to decide when his dues were paid….that’s the reason we have a judicial system. They decide. That’s just the way it is.

Then after the system decided he served an appropriate sentence, The NFL commissioner decided, after losing everything…his money, his house, his job, his reputation, and much public respect…he had earned the right to go out there and try to reestablish some of this.

This decision rested squarely with Roger Goodell, not the public.

Before the public starts throwing stones, they may want to just double check that they aren’t living in a glass house. We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all have to face consequences for the bad decisions we make. Mike faced his.

Perhaps we should all be as critical of our own lives, as we are of others’.

He could have made more money writing a book about his experience or selling movie rights, but with the blessing of the legal system and the commissioner himself, he chose to fight back to play the game he loves. What the media knows and is able to report is only about ten percent of the story.

None of us really know what he has had to endure on his way back to the sport. His teammates do. This is why they are the ones who have the privilege of voting him in, (again, unanimously!) not the public. Trust me, you don’t know, and will never know, the whole story.

The amount of energy that has been expended on criticizing and hating other people like Mike has been ridiculous. If we all took just half that energy and put it into something positive, we could move mountains.

Sad, as Mike is focusing on the positive, many of us are still focused on the negative.

Still enraged by the Ed Block decision?

Take that energy and go fight for something worthwhile…volunteer at an animal or homeless shelter or a domestic violence center or hospital. What exactly are you accomplishing by lashing out at a guy who has paid his dues? Many of us are saying that Mike shouldn’t have the right to be a productive member of society, but we aren’t exercising our right to go out and do something productive ourselves!

For the haters out there: Who are you to judge?

If it were not for second chances, we would all be in B-I-G trouble.

If those around him day in and day out see fit to vote him for this award, then that’s good enough for me. They know him, not us. Just like no professional athlete is better than any of us, we are not any better than any of them…even the ones that (gasp!) are human and make mistakes.

If you think that you are fit to judge, and that you are indeed more deserving of forgiveness and second chances than Mike, well, congratulations to you. If you think that you are any better than Mike then I’d love to meet you. If you could take a minute away from slamming him and help the blind see or the crippled to walk that would be great.

And oh, if you have a minute, I would really appreciate you coming over and turning my water into wine!

That would be really awesome.

COUNTERPOINT

Since I became aware of their mission and purpose, The Ed Block Courage Foundation has occupied a special place in my heart. Every March the foundation rewards a member of each NFL club who in their own unique way demonstrated uncommon determination and perseverance to successfully overcome oftentimes seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to positively affect his team.

Each of the 32 awards is voted upon by the recipients’ teammates making the honor that much more special. It’s those teammates who witness the struggle behind the scenes and away from the discerning eyes and ears of fans and the media. Honor, humility and selflessness are often rewarded and brought to the forefront much to the chagrin of many recipients. These are qualities once embodied in the award’s namesake.

Of course I’m referring to Ed Block.

The awarded athletes collectively are the star attraction for the awards ceremony but they for all intents and purposes second on the bill to the real stars – the children of the Ed Block Courage Houses. One only needs to refer to the core of the organization’s mission statement for proof.

"The Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of neglected children and ending the cycle of abuse. The purpose is to raise Awareness and Prevention of child abuse. That objective is coupled with the Foundation's commitment to celebrating players of inspiration in the NFL."

Unfortunately this mission took a hit recently when it was announced that Michael Vick had been voted in as the recipient for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Michael Vick, less than one year removed from prison for inflicting incredibly heinous acts upon defenseless animals will represent the Eagles at the Ed Block Courage Awards here in Baltimore. This is the same Vick who once assumed the alias of Ron Mexico to circumvent a sex scandal; the same Vick accused of trying to board a plane with a water bottle equipped with a hidden compartment allegedly laced with marijuana residue; the former Atlanta Falcons’ player who flipped the bird towards his hometown fans.

And let’s not forget all of the creditors he stiffed.

This is the best the Philadelphia Eagles could do?

Obviously he owes none of them any money.

Keep in mind that this is an award often bestowed upon players, coaches or trainers who have battled cancer; or uncommonly served their communities; or endured excruciating pain to rehabilitate a devastating injury in order to take the field again in a productive way to help and support their respective teams and families.

These are men of honor.

Mike Vick might be appreciative but a man of honor?

C’mon man!

Vick has already received award – a second chance and a new NFL contract. And that’s ok I suppose in this forgiving society but how is that honorable? Did he have any other choice than to suck it up and toe the line of acceptable behavior? Let’s not forget that he had multi-million financial reasons to toe that line and be a conformist.

Should he have been given a second chance?

I think so.

Has he respected this privilege?

So far, so good.

Should he be mentioned in the same breath as previous Ed Block Courage Award winners like Warrick Dunn, Kurt Warner, Priest Holmes, Warren Moon, Chad Pennington, Peter Boulware, and Eddie George and on and on?

Of course not!

If you thought Ernest Byner’s inclusion in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor cheapened that award’s luster, relatively speaking the coveted Ed Block Courage Award has just been dumped on by a truckload of dead dog and puppy carcasses with the news of Vick’s award.

His inclusion taints the award for past recipients and the bar just fell to the floor when considering future recipients. The knuckleheads in Philadelphia just paved the way to the Ed Block Banquet for NFL thugs like Pacman Jones, should the league ever reinstate him. All it will take is one season of toeing the company line, being cordial to teammates, feigning remorsefulness and cashing healthy paychecks on Fridays.

Ed Block must be rolling over in his grave.

Maybe the folks over at the old Courage House should show some courage of their own and rescind this award to Vick.

If not they may render the prestigious award meaningless. And that may prove to be no big deal to the athletes. After all there are plenty of awards to go around.

But it could affect the children of the Courage Houses.

Hasn't Vick done enough damage?

He should either decline the award or maybe the Eagles need to simply claim that they used a Florida balloting system and conduct a re-do.

However they get it done, Vick's award has to be taken from him.


Do it for the kids!

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Friday, March 05, 2010

NFL GM's need to put on their best poker face


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com


Clearly the uncapped season and the deluge of restricted free agents change the high stakes game of free agency. General Managers across the league better be on their toes. They better listen to their inner Lady Gaga and wear their best poker faces.

Without a cap teams will shed the contracts of underperforming players. But when will they pull the trigger on such moves? With no cap pressures they could wait until after the first wave of free agency and the draft. Some might even wait until training camp or later.

Consequently “street” free agents will surface in an unpredictable way and the patient GM just might be rewarded. Perhaps more so than ever before the re-shaping of NFL rosters is a work-in-progress that spans the entire offseason and right on through to the regular season.

More “restrictions”

The gamesmanship regarding restricted free agency is clearly a developing phenomenon. RFA tenders may signal a team’s genuine interest in a player or it might be used to lure would-be suitors.

The Ravens extended a first-round tender to Jared Gaither and that might be tempting to teams considering a tackle in the 2010 draft. If the Ravens were unconditionally committed to Gaither, wouldn’t they have extended the first and third round tender offer? The difference in real dollars for a player like Gaither is roughly $700,000. Maybe the Ravens want the pick for Gaither or maybe they simply want to see what the market is willing to pay Gaither.

Once Gaither and his agent see what the former Terp’s fair market value is, the Ravens then could draw up a reasonable long-term deal with the left tackle.

A few of the Ravens restricted free agent tender offers have left some scratching their head most notably those of Fabian Washington and Le’Ron McClain.

Washington was extended a second round tender. The club knows that no team would be willing to cough up a No. 2 pick for the oft-injured corner and if they did you just might see Ozzie Newsome doing an Ozzie Smith impersonation while back-flipping his way down Reisterstown Road. But with Lardarius Webb’s uncertain status to start the season, Washington represents a decent solution until the team travels the bridge to a healthy Webb.

As for Le’Ron McClain it could be argued that the Ravens could have gotten by with the second round tender and saved $700,000 but instead they rewarded the two-time Pro Bowler. With the unnecessary financial commitment extended by the team, McClain is a happier employee and it just might inspire him to be a more committed participant in the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program. He’s hardly been a poster child for such activities in the past.

No Guarantees

Most need to be reminded of one very important yet unfortunately often disregarded piece of information when it comes to these RFA tenders. Financially speaking, what teams do with the tender offers really doesn’t matter all that much. The money is not guaranteed and without a cap, there is no Rule of 51 that forces clubs to manage their top 51 salaries under the cap.

The Ravens are looking to create competition for jobs. It inspires commitment, dedication and excellence. The more competition the better. If during camp the additions to the team through free agency and/or the draft force some of the tendered RFA’s off the roster, there is no Monopoly money at stake (cap dollars) and there is no significant real money at risk for Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti.

Saying goodbye to a player such as Demetrius Williams (low tender) or Fabian Washington should they fail to compete effectively would cost the team absolutely nothing.

The Looming Lockout

Reports have surfaced that league owners may be reluctant to extend big contracts to players due to the very real possibility of a 2011 owner’s lockout. The thinking is, why sign a player to a lucrative deal when there could be a work stoppage?

If there is a work stoppage, a pay check stoppage will follow. Owners are not responsible for paying athletes even if they force the lockout.

However, the possibility of a lockout could influence player agents who will try to avoid split bonuses (something the Ravens employ frequently) at all costs. In the case of Terrell Suggs for example, he received $33.1 M in bonus money, $10.1 M paid in 2009 as a signing bonus and the balance to be paid as a roster bonus ($23M) in 2010.

If Suggs’ agent was negotiating the same deal today, the split roster bonus would be far less attractive due to the uncertainty of when it would actually be paid.

Clearly this new wrinkle will challenge the poker faces of agents and GM’s respectively.

Who folds remains to be seen.
Brian McFarland contributed to this blog.



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Ravens offseason rumors flying!

Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

A source who wishes to remain unnamed has informed 24x7 that the Ravens did pursue trade options for Willis McGahee. One included a third round pick in exchange for the former Pro Bowler and another had him swapping coasts with Chargers CB Antonio Cromartie (who has since been traded to the Jets for a conditional 2011 pick). The source now indicates that McGahee will remain a Raven, a move fully supported by the coaching staff including Cam Cameron who according to some isn’t exactly a Willis McGahee Facebook friend.

In the wild and wacky department, the same source has said that there have been discussions about bringing in former Eagles’ RB Brian Westbrook, an extremely well liked player and one that Coach John Harbaugh is very familiar with.

Where would Westbrook fit? Well the word is (are you sitting?) that Westbrook would back up Willis McGahee. Yes you read that correctly. In this rather dramatic scenario Ray Rice would be dealt for a first and a second round pick to an unnamed team that apparently highly covets the former Rutgers’ star.

Ravens interested in Walter, Manumaleuna?

Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com
Word is that the Ravens are interested in free agent TE Brandon Manumaleuna. According to multiple sources Manumaleuna's relationship with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is key to the team’s pursuit of the 30-year-old blocking tight end. Manumaleuna is a nine year veteran, drafted in the fourth round by the Rams in 2001 where he played for five seasons. Manumaleuna has played in 142 of a possible 144 regular season games during which he’s accumulated 110 catches for 965 yards and 12 TD’s.

Another player who is reportedly drawing the interest of Ozzie Newsome is Houston Texans wide receiver Kevin Walter. Unfortunately for Ozzie he isn’t alone. The Patriots, Browns, Jaguars and Bucs have all rumored to be in the mix. Walter was a 7th round pick by the Giants in 2003. He was eventually cut by New York and picked up by the Bengals where he served as a backup for three seasons. He moved on to Houston and has become a solid No. 2 receiver opposite Andre Johnson. Over the past three seasons Walter has averaged 59 catches for 770 yards and 5 scores.

Ravens D-Line could take a hit

Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com
The Denver Broncos have set their sights on two Ravens’ unrestricted free agent defensive linemen: Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards. Bannan has some ties to the Rocky Mountain community having been a Colorado University Buffalo. Edwards hails from Oregon State.

It is difficult to envision a scenario in which both return to the Ravens and the bet here is that Edwards will be offered money that the Ravens simply won’t match. In the past the team has opted not to match top market offers to D-Linemen such as Lional Dalton, Marques Douglas and Aubrayo Franklin.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Ravens look to gather Gaither's market value


First round tender offer to RFA may attract teams needing O-line help


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com


Back in December I wrote, “Don’t be surprised if the Ravens hang a first round tender on [Jared] Gaither as opposed to the first and third round tender. Given his sketchy track record and his list of somewhat regular nagging injuries that keep him on the sidelines, the team would do back flips if another club comes along and snags Gaither for the price of a first round pick.”

Now that this prediction has materialized at least in part, I’ll take it a step further…

Since the Ravens have the right to match any offer extended to Gaither, maybe they didn’t extend the first and third round tender offer to try and lure teams to actually bid on Gaither. Think of it as free assessment of Gaither’s market value.

The guess here is if Gaither and his agent agree to another team’s offer and it is outside of the Ravens price range they will happily accept the first round pick, particularly in this year’s draft which has extensive depth. If it’s a reasonable offer the Ravens might match.

And don’t be surprised if the team that comes calling for Gaither is his childhood go-to team, the Washington Redskins. Mike Shanahan has this year’s fourth overall pick. That is a bit steep for Gaither but the Ravens might even accept Washington’s second round pick, the 36th overall for the White Plains, Maryland native. An early second round pick in this year’s draft is easily on par with a late first round pick from 2009.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Bring in the malcontents, Ray Lewis will shape them up!


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Why is it that whenever a report or rumor surfaces about the Ravens considering a known malcontent with off-the-field issues that supporters of such moves lean on Ray Lewis?

He won’t beat up his girlfriend again in Baltimore.

He’ll never drink and drive again if he becomes a Raven.

He won’t be such a locker room cancer at the palace in Owings Mills.

Because if he is any of the above, he’ll have to face the wrath of the Ravens’ answer to Vito Corleone – Ray Lewis.

I can see it now…some dark damp corner at Ravens headquarters…just outside of the boiler room. There’s an old wooden chair in the middle of the room with a single light beaming down brightly just above the chair.

There are leather straps and brass knuckles scattered on a table along with some archaic dental tools used back in the early 1900’s to extract wisdom teeth.

There are blindfolds and some old bloodstained white hoods used to usher malcontents in and out of the room.

And then there’s Ray Lewis.

C’mon people!

It’s not Ray’s job to be the principal, the enforcer, the goon or The Godfather.

Ray is a leader, a motivator and mentor to the younger players, a Pro Bowl ILB and a dedicated and determined athlete who seeks another ring. That’s all he needs to be and that’s all he’s going to be.

Why people think that Brandon Marshall will suddenly voluntary to accompany little old ladies to the grocery store if he became Ray Lewis’ teammate is laughable.

Look back to the days of Chris McAlister. CMac was a three time Pro Bowler but had the talent to be so much more. Yet he was his own worst enemy off the field and it affected his performance on the field. We don’t need to rehash the particulars.

Yet here was a player who grew up in the NFL with Ray Lewis from Day 1 and Ray couldn’t corral or influence McAlister. That wasn’t his job.

It never was and it never will be…


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Terrell Owens will NOT be a Baltimore Raven


Baltimore Ravens News & Blogs by Tony Lombardi of Ravens24x7.com

Terrell Owens is coming to Baltimore?

What a joke, one started by John Harbaugh who was barely able to hide his laughter this past Saturday at the NFL scouting combine. That’s when Harbaugh was asked about the possibility of Owens in purple.

“You got me, we’re interested in T.O.,” Harbaugh said with a smile on his face. “We’re interested in all the guys that can make our team better.”

Two things there that most should have picked up on which indicate to anyone without their wide receiver needy heads stuck in the snow that Harbaugh’s response was at least slightly tongue-in-cheek:

1. The typical coach-speak/Harbaugh-speak about making his team better; and
2. He said it with a smile on his face

Everyone except our own Aaron Wilson has overlooked that screaming piece of body language delivered by Harbaugh. Hey but maybe if most of the media hadn't conveniently overlooked this important bit of info there wouldn't be so many web hits, sold newspapers or calls into sports talk radio programs...

Look let’s just get this straight right now – Terrell Owens is not coming to Baltimore.

Of course Harbaugh doesn’t want to say that. As a Bill Belichick student he is attempting to master the art of the red herring. He’s well on his way.

Plus Owens may represent a last resort for the Ravens. The entire organization seems hell bent on improving the passing game. If all else fails – all attempts to sign RFA’s, UFA’s, street free agents, make trades or navigate their draft board to upgrade their aerial attack, THEN Owens might be an option.

Keep in mind that in his autobiography Owens took a shot at Ozzie Newsome, claiming that one of the reasons he did not want to come to Baltimore back in 2004 via a trade with the San Francisco 49ers was because Newsome allegedly said to Owens' agent, David Joseph, "Sometimes, a black man has to be slapped."

Ozzie has never dignified the remark with a response.

It reeks of racism.

Why bring in a 36 year old wide receiver in the twilight of his career who just so happens to have more baggage than Samsonite and then plays the race card?

It’s all about risk and reward; right player, right price; considering all options.
At best Owens is a weak option for the team at the present time.

Let’s hope he isn’t their only option.

Then Harbaugh won’t be smiling so brightly.

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