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Eisenberg: 7 Ravens Veterans With Something To Prove


The classic portrait of a pro football player with something to prove is a young guy trying to establish he belongs. But many veterans also have something to prove – not that they belong, but that they're still their team's best option at their position.

It's a familiar challenge for anyone who has been around awhile – in any job, actually. Things tend to get precarious as they get older, their salaries go up and potential replacements filter in below them.

The veterans populating the Under Armour Performance Center for the Ravens' mandatory minicamp this week certainly know General Manager Ozzie Newsome is always weighing those variables. The veterans are established and decorated, but in a world where the complex calculus of the salary cap rules all, the Ravens have a shown a willingness to cut ties with players even when they know it's going to hurt.

Which of the Ravens' veterans have the most to prove as we draw ever closer to the 2014 season?

Chris Canty – The 31-year-old defensive lineman provided a steadying locker room presence in his first season in Baltimore in 2013, but he was relatively quiet on the field despite getting a lot of snaps. Meanwhile, the Ravens have added a slew of young defensive linemen in the past two drafts, including Timmy Jernigan, Brent Urban, Brandon Williams and Kapron Lewis-Moore. If they all show they're ready to contribute, the Ravens might think about making a move with Canty. He's still solid, but his 2014 salary cap figure is over $3 million.

Ray Rice – The running back had his worst season on the field in 2013, and his offseason has been calamitous.* *His roster spot is secure for 2014, but after a lot of great years, he's starting over in a sense, both on and off the field. The fact that he has dropped a lot of weight would seem to indicate a sense of purpose. Bottom line, someone is going to get a lot of carries and yards in Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's blueprint, and Rice is the best option, but I get the feeling the Ravens are open minded, in "may the best man win" mode.

Haloti Ngata – The four-time Pro Bowler is 30, with two years left on a mega-deal, and while he has played hard against a lot of double-team blocking in recent years, he hasn't been as healthy or dominant, and the Ravens haven't been quite as stout in the interior. Like Rice, he earns too much for the team to consider making a move in 2014, but if cheaper alternatives arise, the team might consider swallowing the last year of his deal in 2015. On the other hand, if he has a strong 2014, he becomes a candidate for a contract extension.

Daryl Smith – All the 32-year-old inside linebacker has done since he got here a year ago is step in for Ray Lewis, hold the defense together and sign a nice, new contract. His starting spot is secure for now. But the Ravens have selected inside linebackers (C.J. Mosley and Arthur Brown) with high picks in the past two drafts, and talk glowingly about them. When the next generation at your position is on hand and cheaper, you need to play well. Ask Todd Heap.

Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil – I'm putting them together because they're both big-name, high-salaried, pass-rush specialists. Suggs is 31 and just signed a contract extension even though he struggled to make impact plays down the stretch in 2013. Dumervil is 30 and also fell off down the stretch, although Pro Football Focus graded him highly for 2013. Their jobs are secure, but the Ravens want to see plenty of bang for their bucks.

Steve Smith Sr. – The feisty, prideful 35-year-old wide receiver has put the rest of the world on notice after the Carolina Panthers released him in the offseason. He wants to show up the Panthers and let everyone know he still has gas in his tank. If his recent practice-field performances are any measure, he is going to be fun to watch in 2014.

(Note – To those who think quarterback Joe Flacco belongs on this list, I didn't include him because he is permanently under intense scrutiny, and since he signed his big contract, some segments of the public won't be satisfied no matter how he plays. So measuring what he has to "prove" is kind of moot.)

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