Friday, February 24, 2012

Tag, you're it Ray Rice!



This idea will not be wildly popular. In fact, most of you are likely to consider this to be blasphemy for a Ravens fan.

Do not sign Ray Rice to a long-term contract!

There, I said it.

Now let me explain it.

It’s rather common knowledge that the average career life expectancy of a running back in the NFL is the shortest of all positions. Research suggests that average is 2.57 years. Now I do believe this average is artificially low because running backs that occupy a spot on a 53 man roster even for a season or less bring that average down.

League studies support such a notion.

The NFLPA is quick to tell everyone that the overall average career life expectancy of an NFL player is 3.5 seasons. That may be true but did you know that the average career length for a player who makes a club’s opening-day roster (active/inactive roster or injured reserve) in his rookie season is 6 seasons?

That certainly swings the pendulum a bit.

Those numbers climb even more if the player was a first round pick (9.3 seasons) and still greater if he’s a Pro Bowl player (11.7 seasons).

And as we know Ray Rice is a Pro Bowl player.

So if the average career length of a running back is 2.57 years and that of the average player is 3.5 (22.86% less) it goes to reason that the average Pro Bowl running back has a 9 year career. To date Ray Rice has 4 accrued seasons in the NFL.

The question then becomes one of how much longer will Ray Rice be among the NFL’s best running backs in order to determine his value going forward in dollars and cents.

Rice and his agent have decided to set the bar at Adrian Peterson’s 7 years, $100 million deal that included guaranteed money of $36 million. Hopefully the Rice camp is simply throwing numbers against the wall to see what sticks. Somewhere in Owings Mills Ozzie Newsome is still doubled over in laughter.

And when he rubs those laughing tears from his eyes and compares Rice to Peterson these are the career stats he’ll be looking at:

A. Peterson: Att. – 1406; Yds. – 6752; Avg. - 4.8; TD – 64; Rec. – 137; Yds. – 1309; Avg. - 9.6; TD - 3

R. Rice: Att. – 959; Yds. – 4377; Avg. - 4.6; TD – 24; Rec. – 250; Yds. – 2235; Avg. - 8.9; TD - 5

Even if the two players were equals (they’re not) why should the Ravens use a ridiculously one-sided Peterson contract as the bench mark?

The answer is, “They won’t!”

The mounting evidence just screams at organizations not to pay running backs big long-term dollars. The productivity that inspired the big contract like Peterson’s is just not sustainable. We’ve seen this Groundhog Day movie time and time with running backs. Even Pro Bowlers who remain in the league (albeit with reduced workloads), at some point will fail to produce the numbers they once did given the typical wear and tear of a backfield workhorse. It is so much more economical and more importantly – cap friendly, to find young running backs with more tread on the tires to carry the load.

And the interesting thing is that you don’t even have to invest a top pick in many cases to find that economical guy!

Consider these telling facts regarding NFL running backs:

* Not one of the league’s Top 6 backs from 2011 is a first round pick.

* Three of the 6 are second round picks (Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew), one is a third round pick (Frank Gore), one a fifth (Michael Turner) and the last an undrafted free agent (Arian Foster).

* Of the 30 top 10 finishes over the past 3 seasons for running backs, the average position in the draft was the 70th pick, i.e. an early third rounder.

* The average age of a Top 5 performer over the last three seasons is 25.7. Ray Rice is now 25.

* Four of 2011’s top 5 performers made $900,000 or less.

* Over the last 3 seasons the top 5 performers have averaged $2.056M per season and nine of those top 5 finishes were $900,000 or less.

* Only 4 of the 10 highest paid running backs in 2011 finished in the top 10. The 6 not finishing in the top 10 averaged $8.93M in salary.

The facts overwhelmingly support NOT giving Ray Rice a long-term deal – particularly one in the Adrian Peterson or even Chris Johnson range. The Vikings and the Titans probably won’t admit it but inside their respective team headquarters you just know they’d like to have a redo on those gaudy contracts.

You see contracts like that make it difficult for teams to effectively manage their cap, particularly when players don’t perform to the level of their pay. In the case of a running back that likelihood is greater than all other positions. And when you mix in the relative bargains that can be found, whether those bargains are in dollars, a modest draft pick or some combination thereof, bank breaking deals for backs end up being organizational back breakers instead.

Yes Ray Rice is arguably the Ravens’ best player (for now). Yes he’s an exemplary teammate, leader, role model and he engages the community and of course we’d like to see him in purple and black for the remainder of his career.

That said, the Ravens should use the franchise tag on Ray Rice this season ($7.7M) and the next (estimated $9.24M).

Afterwards, who knows? That’s just the way it is for running backs in the NFL.
Push emotion to the sidelines. This isn’t personal.

It’s just business.




Resources used: NFLPlayers.com, NYJetscap.com and NFLCommunications.com

Thursday, February 23, 2012

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Saying goodbye to a dream weaver




I’m sure every one of you reading this has had death in some way, shape or form knock on your door. A friend, a relative, an acquaintance – perhaps a co-worker, gone seemingly in a moment. And you are reminded of the fragility of life.

This morning I learned of the passing of a man, a friend who once embodied strength, energy, vitality, confidence and moxie. Craig Willinger, soccer aficionado extraordinaire, 42, a man stricken by a high-risk cancer just a few years ago is gone.

News like this has a numbing affect.

Things like this only happen to other people.

Maybe you see yourself as bulletproof – maybe you deny your own mortality. Count me among you.

When death hits close to home it temporarily knocks you off track. The once important daily tasks are suddenly far less important. But then we dust off, get back on track and get back in the game. And when you do you hope that the experience of your loss can influence you in a positive way. And you pray that your lesson resonates.

But then life gets in the way. While you are busy again with all those other plans there’s a disconnect and the lesson fades – maybe it even gets lost. I hope not.

When Craig Willinger learned of his illness he did what I suspect most of us might do. He created a bucket list and at the top of that list for Craig was to see his favorite team, Bayern Munich play at home in Germany.

During his return to Baltimore after realizing a dream Craig turned his attention towards making dreams come true for others. In 2009 the Craig Willinger Fund was set up to help children fighting cancer, live a dream. Since then Craig’s vision coupled with a child’s dream has become a reality for a few children. Craig’s family and friends are determined to keep the CWF alive.

Craig will undoubtedly be missed and his legacy of chasing and realizing dreams will echo in eternity. And the hope here is that it inspires others to do the same.

As we say goodbye to this vibrant man, I can’t help but be reminded of a card I read many years ago that has always stuck with me. It went something like this:

“Many years from now it won’t matter how much was in your bank account, the house you lived in or the car you drove. What WILL matter is that the world may be better because you made a difference in the life of a child.”

If that is the definition of a successful life, and I think it is, Craig Willinger, you were a smash hit!

Thank you for the lesson, the laughs but mostly for being a difference maker.

You will never be forgotten.



If you care to make a donation to the Craig Willinger Fund click here and thanks for your consideration.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

We say goodbye to Ravens24x7.com



It is with great dismay that I am forced to announce that we have to change the name of our site.

We can no longer operate as Ravens24x7.com.

The name is near and dear to my heart. The words alone inspired me to launch this site.

During the summer of 2002 I was in Ocean City just before the Ravens were set to start training camp. I picked up a copy of The Sun and quickly leafed through to the sports section. There dominating the front page was a story about the White Marlin Open. Nowhere was a word about the Ravens to be found.

I couldn’t believe that Baltimore’s best team wasn’t at least deserving of some space on the front page. After all, the Orioles were in the midst of a 67-95 season under Mike Hargrove.

Digging into the section further provided no relief. I could not find a single word –not one, written about the Ravens. Keep in mind this was the first training camp following the post 2001 roster blow up. There were so many unanswered questions and The Sun provided not a single answer or clue or syllable about the Ravens.

My knee-jerk response: “I want to read about the Ravens 24x7!”

Queue up the light bulb!

An idea was born.

During the following offseason and leading into the Boller years, we began to build Ravens24x7. The site was officially launched on July 3, 2003.

And as Paul Harvey might say, “And now you know the rest of the story!”

I really didn’t know where Ravens24x7 would go, if it would catch on or if anyone would even read it. It started as hobby and an outlet for my thoughts and opinions on the Ravens. And then one day I received an email from a prospective customer who expressed his interest in advertising with us.

I really never even gave that a thought when the site was launched.

But suddenly the game changed.

Two years later running 24x7 became my full-time gig and I haven’t “worked” a day since.

I have a lot of people to thank for getting us to where we are and certainly that includes all of you. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your support and I will promise you with every fiber of my being we will do all that we can to continue earning your support. We have some exciting things we’re working on and I can’t wait to present them to you.

But until that time, I have the unpleasant burden of saying goodbye to a dear friend – the name Ravens24x7.com. It jazzes me so much when I hear someone randomly referring to our site in a friendly kind of way as, “24/7”. It humbles me and it gives a jolt of pride because I know that our hard work has earned that warm nickname.

So where do we go from here?

Honestly I’m not sure. We want to continue to embrace the 24x7 moniker. The challenge is to do so in a memorable way that still tells a story of who we are while not encroaching upon the team’s trademarked properties – as in the name “Ravens.”

We are racking our collective brain trying to find the right fit. It isn’t easy. There is a long list of potential names but for me, none approaches Ravens24x7.com. Maybe it is as my partners say, “my baby.”

Yet it’s time to move on and move on we will. There’s no choice really and after all each of us is defined not by how we handle success but rather how we handle adversity.

The good news is that we can still maintain and employ all of the domain names we have so your bookmarks are still good and will redirect to the newly named site, whatever that may be.

Until that time if you have an idea for a site name by all means send it in (TL@profootball24x7.com). We will submit it to our focus group which as of this very writing is busy filtering through the suggestions already presented. Soon the focus group will select 5 finalists for our new name and we’ll then ask you to help us decide what our new name should be.

It won’t be easy. Challenges by definition never really are.

In life and in business you can’t direct the proverbial wind, but you can adjust your sails.

Sail on!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Extending Flacco & Rice won't be easy




The new contracts of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice won’t and shouldn’t come easy – easy would suggest that the Ravens overpaid.

This past November when Steve Bisciotti joined us on the Ravens Rap we asked the Ravens owner if it would take $40M guaranteed to sign Joe Flacco to an extension. Bisciotti said confidently that it won’t take that much.

During the State of the Ravens season ending presser, when questioned about Joe Flacco, Ozzie Newsome said that his measuring stick for Joe is wins. “Joe is a winner.” Surely Flacco’s agent Joe Linta was smiling when he heard that. Clearly his win-loss record will be Flacco’s lever in the negotiations.

Something to keep in mind…back in 2009 Eli Manning signed a new deal that included $35 million in guarantees. At the time Manning had one Super Bowl ring. We’ll see if inflation and those wins gets Flacco to that level. My guess is $35M is Flacco’s market rate.

As for Ray Rice, that deal might be a bit trickier. It’s difficult to give a back a big contract. Their career longevity just isn’t there and they are susceptible to career threatening/shortening injuries more so than others given their workload/touches. Plus a look around the league suggests that with the right offense and the right offensive line, value can be found at the position.

Not one of the league’s Top 6 backs is a first round pick nor do any of them have the whopping contracts of Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson. Three of the 6 are second round picks (Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew), one is a third round pick (Frank Gore), one a fifth (Michael Turner) and the last an undrafted free agent (Arian Foster).

Rice’s representatives will point to the former Rutgers’ star’s productivity and vitality in the Ravens offense while the team’s negotiators will reference the above and then some. At the end of the day the Ravens will likely get it done and in this writer’s opinion they will overpay. Three years from now when the wear and tear grinds down on Rice’s body they’ll have learned their lesson despite one being right under their collective nose – Willis McGahee’s old contract.

Finally the Ravens have an exciting albeit challenging menu of opponents for the 2012 season. They will host both participants in Super Bowl XLVI along with media darling Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. You can check the entire list of 2012 opponents here.

Ngata not the same down the stretch



Ozzie Newsome found outstanding value in the free agent signings of Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach. Pollard who arrived with a reputation as a thumper with limited cover skills was actually and upgrade to the departed Dawan Landry in both areas at less than half the cost. Leach is the prototypical fullback who embraces the role and undoubtedly fits the profile of a Raven. His predecessor Le’Ron McClain, who always found the “me” in team, did not!

Word is Haloti Ngata has shared with one source close to 24x7 that he was NOT injured late in the season contrary to the court of popular opinion. That has to be somewhat concerning to the Ravens since his production fell markedly after the season’s ¾ pole. Ngata worked hard prior to the 2011 season and reported in outstanding shape – lighter and quicker than in past seasons. And those efforts were rewarded early on. But the team’s strength and conditioning coaches will need to take a long look at Ngata’s training regimen to determine if it contributed to the All Pro’s “fade route” late in the season.

Look for the Ravens to bring in serious competition for Billy Cundiff in training camp. While the team outwardly continues to express confidence in the 2011 Pro Bowler they will need to keep the kicker squarely in the crosshairs of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s microscope. Will that miss in the AFCC game haunt Cundiff? Did his injury genuinely affect performance in 2011 on accuracy and kickoff depth? Was his 2010 season a fluke? Having a quality alternative to turn to if a mental meltdown is in Cundiff’s future will be critical given the club’s lofty aspirations.

Some Ravens have played their final down in Baltimore




Like the spring every offseason spawns a new season and along with that newness comes change. NFL rosters generally churn and burn at the rate of 25% from one NFL calendar year to the next. Teams look to get younger and create value on their rosters in order to manage the cap effectively. As Steve Bisciotti once told us, “If I can get an Ed Dickson who performs at 80% of a Todd Heap but costs a fraction of what Heap does, I have to make that move.”

You can expect more of this heading into the 2012 season.

24x7’s cap expert Brian McFarland provides an excellent perspective on the Ravens current salary cap here and the picture he paints should provide clues to some roster augmentation. Here’s my take on some of the likely moves…

Offense

Unless Lee Evans takes a significant haircut on the pay scale, he’s as good as gone. His Super Bowl denying dropped pass in the AFC Championship Game aside, a No. 3 WR who Cam Cameron put on the field for all of 8 snaps in the Divisional Playoff Game against the Texans, cannot justify a mid 7 figure cap number. An intriguing possibility to replace Evans should the Ravens decide to keep another veteran presence in their corps of receivers is Reggie Wayne who like his battery mate Peyton Manning is expected to play somewhere other than Indianapolis in 2012. Wayne will be 33 when he takes the field next season but he may be willing to accept an incentive laden deal with the Ravens in exchange for the opportunity to play with his college roommate Ed Reed.

Word is Matt Birk’s Reisterstown home is on the market and the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year is leaning heavily towards retirement. Birk faded a bit late in the season and the Ravens could turn towards 5-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode for another season or two until they can groom a young, longer-term solution at center.

Staying with the offensive line, Ben Grubbs’ perceived value with the Ravens spiked this season. When he didn’t play the overall performance of the line dropped measurably and consequently he’s likely to price himself out of a job in Baltimore. Look for the Ravens to find a heady, tough Yanda-like player in the draft’s middle rounds.

Speaking of Yanda, it remains a bit of a head scratcher why he opted to play in the Pro Bowl given his injuries down the stretch. Maybe his wife bought a new grass skirt she was jonesing to sport at a Hawaiian luau. But then again, maybe Yanda realized that the physicality of the Pro Bowl these days is on par with that of pushing a shopping cart down aisle 6 at Mars Supermarkets.

Defense

There is little to no doubt in my mind that CB Domonique Foxworth is as good as gone unless of course he agrees to a HUGE cut in pay. Foxworth at the moment is probably the sixth best corner on the roster who will command a $5.6M salary in 2012 and a whopping $8.6M number against the cap. His signing may go down as one of the worst in club history.

Ahead of Foxworth on the depth chart is another veteran who is likely to feel the cutting blade of the salary cap – Chris Carr. Carr, traditionally a late starter, isn’t the playmaker that the developing young and inexpensive Danny Gorrer is. The No. 25 jersey will probably be emblazoned with a new name across the back in 2012 for the Ravens.

Brendon Ayanbadejo will be 36 on Opening Day 2012 and if he continues his career, it won’t be in Baltimore. If he does come back it will be a daunting statement on the quality of depth at inside linebacker. And the truth be told, he really wasn’t a very productive special teams player in 2011 – his forte.

Should the Ravens bring in a veteran to replace Ricky Williams?




If Ricky Williams is sincere in his decision to retire (and sincerity in my opinion is measured in mid-late August) the Ravens could have a bit of a problem.

Now this isn’t meant as a knock on Ray Rice and his durability or on the potential of Anthony Allen or even Damien Berry. I actually think both will make fine pros particularly if the later can keep his head on straight.

But neither has the pre-requisite experience to carry the load in the event of a catastrophic injury to Ray Rice. Some may argue that if such an injury were to occur the Ravens are done anyway. But that’s not how the Ravens are built and that quitter’s mentality is light years from the team’s collective mindset.

Regardless of who goes down if you’re a Raven, it’s “Next Man Up.”

If you look back to the 2001 season after the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV, they lost Jamal Lewis to a season ending ACL tear after parting ways with Priest Holmes. The alternatives were daunting so Ozzie ushered in Terry Allen and his 60 year old knobby knees. He didn’t last long nor did Jason Brookins and it’s unlikely that the Ravens will take such a risk again – not with a Super Bowl ready team.

Now they could try and coax Ricky Williams out of retirement. Perhaps this is simply Ricky’s retirement announcement is simply his way of avoiding training camp the offseason conditioning program, OTA’s and training camp.

But if he is sincere and will permanently hang up the cleats, the Ravens should consider a veteran.

Here’s a list of the veterans scheduled to be free agents.

Who from the list appeals to you?

Keep in mind the cap and the anticipated contractual demands of these backs.

Some might welcome a backup. Others like Michael Bush or Mike Tolbert probably see themselves as the next Michael Turner.

It’s a great discussion.

I mean what else is there to talk about, the No. 2 starter for the Orioles from the 60 arms they are inviting to camp?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Was the safety against Patriots the right call?



I can’t recall ever seeing a long pass down the middle of the field without a receiver in the area called intentional grounding. Generally that is viewed as a miscommunication between a receiver and a quarterback who is throwing to a spot on the field.

Yet in the Super Bowl, in the end zone and against one of the league’s favored sons (arguably its favorite), the game officials called grounding and awarded the Giants 2points.

Shocking really!

And those 2 points proved costly.

How much would the game have changed at the end if the Patriots were down 19-17 instead of 21-17?

Of course the Giants would not have gone for 2 after their final touchdown so the score more than likely would have been 20-17.

That safety was huge and for everyone who thinks the Patriots get “all” the calls, well as evidenced by that one, they don’t!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

One dropped pass that altered careers



The Baltimore Ravens tantalized and tortured their fans with an oh-so-close loss to the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday when asked what the team needed to get to the Super Bowl owner Steve Bisciotti said, “Hold on to the ball.”

Suppose he did. Suppose for a moment that Lee Evans did make that catch and the Ravens would be the Giants’ opponent on Sunday evening. What then?

· Maybe Chuck Pagano is the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2012 and not the next head coach for Peyton Manning.

· Perhaps Dean Pees isn’t on the Ravens staff anymore and is a coordinator for another club.

· Lee Evans future with the club would not be dangling in the balance.

· Joe Flacco might be viewed as a quarterback who can win the big game.

· Cam Cameron may no longer be the most vilified sports figure in town (until his first 3 and out in Indianapolis).

· And maybe, just maybe the Ravens just might find a partner in the trophy case for their only Lombardi.

Could the Ravens beat the Giants? Of course they could. But would they? Tough to say really!

My guess is that it would be a pick ‘em game. The Giants didn’t exactly tear up the 49ers defense and needed a couple of Kyle Williams miscues to get the “W.” But the Giants are on a roll and they have a better quarterback and you have to give the nod to Tom Coughlin’s staff over Harbaugh’s if for no other reason than they are Super Bowl battle tested.

Plus they have a beast of a pass rush and the Ravens offensive line hasn’t exactly been stout. It would have been an entertaining battle for sure, but when you expect a tightly fought battle, it’s tough not to side with Manning and Coughlin over Flacco and Harbaugh. I would have called it 24-23 Giants.

Might that have been better or worse than losing the AFC Championship?

Birdseed from Today...Tweet, Tweet @Ravens_247



Would it be fair if Andrew LUCK wore the HORSESHOE? Seems like a double dip to me.

BREAKING NEWS: Of those 72 balls rubbed down by the NFL none are believed to be #TomBrady's

Day by day, step by step...Gronkowski's iPod is stuck on replay

The NFL has rubbed down 72 balls for #SuperBowl XLVI. Are there foul balls in football that I'm unaware of?

It's Groundhog Day on ESPN everyday. All they ever talk about is #Tebow #Brady #LeBron & #Manning

Merrill Hoge believes P Manning will be playing Some place other than Indy which means he will be a Colt in 2012

Pat Kirwin on Sirius/XM made an interesting suggestion. Hold Gronkowski back until 2nd half so he doesn't tighten up after lengthy halftime

Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow which means for #Ravens fans, 6 more weeks of beating up on #CamCameron.

State of the Ravens Address




Some observations from the State of the Ravens press conference.

* It’s clear that the decision to bring back Cam Cameron was at least a majority decision and more than likely a unanimous one among the teams hierarchy. This comment from Steve Bisciotti is telling:

Ø "I'm looking at these [positive] trends, and a logical businessman would say that we're making progress. So, I don't know if I have a message for that 10 percent of the fans with that vitriol. I just don't have an answer for them. I just don't. I'm sorry."

Many wonder if Lee Evans will return to the club. He had only 4 regular season catches and never really seemed in synch with Cameron’s offense or on the same page as Joe Flacco. Evans is under contract for the 2012 season and is scheduled to make $3.375M in salary and is due a March 1 roster bonus of $1M.

Ozzie Newsome stated during the press conference that the Ravens will focus upon the offensive line, pass rushers and wide receiver during the offseason. For me that was code that unless Evans takes a pay cut, he’s already played his last down as a Raven.

Joe Flacco was discussed and this statement from Ozzie is telling about the club’s view on Joe Flacco:

Ø
“There’s no doubt that Joe improved,” Newsome said. “The thing that I like about Joe, when you’re in this business, you are judged on one thing: winning. Joe wins. If he continues to win, if one pass is caught, he’d be in a Super Bowl. And I think he’s going to win Super Bowl, a lot of them. And I hope to be a part of them. He has improved. The thing that you cannot knock about Joe is that he’s a winner.”

Somewhere Joe Linta, Flacco’s agent, is sporting a wide smile.






Photo by Dylan Slagle Carroll County Times

Ravens compensatory picks for 2012



The Ravens lost Dawan Landry, Chris Chester, Josh Wilson and Le’Ron McClain to free agency but signed Vonte Leach, Bernard Pollard and Ricky Williams. They did lose a few others: Donte Stallworth, Fabian Washington, Jared Gaither & Tony Moll but they all signed minimum deals and probably won't factor into the compensatory pick equation. So according to our capologist Brian McFarland, the Ravens will more than likely receive only 1 comp pick, probably a 4th or 5th rounder. That said one Ravens’ source has indicated that the team could receive 2 compensatory picks.

A team is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks if it is determined that they lost more or better players than they were able to acquire during the previous year's free agency period. The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents (maximum of four) and that net loss is determined by a complex and unpublished formula developed by the NFL Management Council.