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Eisenberg: We Really Supposed To Believe Conspiracies?

Posted Apr 6, 2013

Please. If the Ravens cut players for reasons other than football, they’d harm themselves.


By my count, the Brendon Ayanbadejo conspiracy controversy lasted approximately 26 minutes. That’s about how long it took the Ravens’ former special teams ace to distance himself from a newspaper story in which he said the Ravens released him at least partly because of his view on gay rights.

It wasn’t true, he knew it wasn’t true, and when the story went viral, Ayanbadejo immediately corrected himself on Twitter and elsewhere. Case closed. 

As a veteran, Ayanbadejo certainly understands that the Ravens, like most teams, base personnel decisions almost entirely on a blend of performance, age and salary, retaining the players with the right mix while parting ways with those they feel they can replace with someone younger, cheaper and possibly better.

I’m not going to say other factors aren’t occasionally considered, such as when a player’s off-field behavior becomes problematic. It happens. Some players are deemed not worthy of the problems they create.

But this is pro football, not a cotillion or debate class. In the vast majority of cases, the only thing that matters is whether your team believes you can help it win.

If you’re viewed as part of the solution, your team will put up with a lot, sometimes a whole lot. And either way, your actions on the field speak a lot louder than your words off the field.

Nonetheless, in the wake of their Super Bowl triumph, the Ravens have dealt with several conspiracy controversies similar to Ayanbadejo’s, intimating that they have allowed other factors to creep into their decision-making. When Bernard Pollard was cut and Ed Reed was allowed to walk way, it was widely suggested on radio talk shows and Internet boards that their outspokenness and reportedly prickly relationships with Head Coach John Harbaugh possibly came into play, along with their roles in the much-discussed October “mutiny.”

I’m buying all that about as much as I’m buying the idea that Ayanbadejo’s release was due to his stance on gay rights.

The Ravens let Reed walk because they set a price they were willing to pay him based on what they thought he would bring to table at age 35, and the Houston Texans exceeded that price … by a lot.

Yes, Reed did exasperate team officials at times with his willful independence and unpredictable opinions, but who cares? The Ravens kept him for years in spite of all that because he was an All-Pro with countless positive attributes and could help them win. They let him go when they decided they could replicate his contributions with someone younger and cheaper. That’s all that mattered.

As for Pollard, yes, he was another strong personality, but it is way overstating the case to say he was such a distraction that he had to go. Huh? He walked around with a smile on his face, earned a media Good Guy award in 2011, and belonged to an inner circle of players who counseled quite peaceably with Harbaugh on various issues.

The Ravens know they’re going to miss Pollard’s hard hitting, but after giving up a ton of big pass plays in 2012, they decided they wanted a secondary that is younger, cheaper and faster. That alone cost Pollard his spot.

Yes, Reed and Pollard supposedly led the “mutiny,” which consisted of the players challenging Harbaugh about a bye-week workout in pads, and Harbaugh working with them rather than forcing his plan down their throats. The incident has received a lot of credit for the Ravens’ success, but I think its relevance on numerous fronts is completely overstated.

Are we really supposed to believe it turned the season around when the Ravens went on to lose three straight games in December and limp into the playoffs before getting hot? And we are really supposed to believe the team made crucial, even painful personnel decisions based on what it knows was an overrated incident that occurred before Halloween?

Please. That’s an interesting narrative, but it has little to do with reality. And the same holds true for any suggestion that the Ravens are making personnel decisions based on factors other than performance, age and salary. That’s the holy trinity. If the Ravens are considering anything else, they’re only doing themselves harm, selling themselves short. And they know that.

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