Five thoughts on the cuts the Ravens made Saturday to pare their roster to the 53-man limit:
Ravens Aren't Playing Softball
I can't remember a more surprising final round of cuts. I guess it should be expected after last season, but the Ravens are obviously in no mood for sentimentality. They dropped an overachieving receiver who outperformed every player at his position in training camp and the preseason (Jeremy Butler). They dropped two underwhelming high draft picks (Terrence Brooks and Arthur Brown) rather than stick to their practice of giving their high picks extra time to develop. They dropped a rookie who was the feel-good story of their 2016 draft and could teach a class in attitude and desire (Keenan Reynolds). And in the biggest surprise, truly a stunner, they dropped Justin Forsett, their presumed starter at running back and a class act whose professionalism on and off the field made him popular throughout the organization. My instant reaction: Whew, they aren't playing softball this year.
Cutting Justin Forsett Is A Risk
I'm surprised about Forsett, who was on pace to register a second straight thousand-yard season for the Ravens in 2015 when he suffered a broken arm in November and was lost for the season. Admittedly, the idea that he might lose his job had at least been mentioned because the Ravens had stockpiled some talented young guys behind him, and those guys are considerably cheaper. Any veteran in those circumstances automatically becomes vulnerable. But it sounded as if Forsett still had a job when Head Coach John Harbaugh said during training camp that he looked like his old self, meaning the one that made the Pro Bowl in 2014. Going forward without him is a gamble, no question; the three backs still on the roster have 12 combined NFL starts, and one, rookie Kenneth Dixon, is injured. But the Ravens obviously believe they can get by. My guess is Forsett's salary probably predicated the move, but the Ravens are looking for a back to "pop," become a big gainer, and they like the chances of Dixon or Terrance West becoming that guy more than Forsett, who turns 31 in October. We'll see.
The Roster Is Anything But Final
On a day like this, it bears repeating that the 53-man roster is anything but "final." Every year, as soon as the Ravens beat the deadline to reach the league-mandated limit, they stop for about 47 seconds and then start making moves again. I'll be shocked if they don't make several changes between now and the season opener next Sunday. The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec has reported that they've tried out returner Devin Hester, which sounds interesting. There's already a rumor circulating about Forsett possibly coming back for less pay. (Seldom works out.) Meanwhile, a handful of Saturday's cuts will stay in the organization provided they clear waivers. Reynolds is surely on the list of players the Ravens want to keep, as are tight end Daniel Brown and linebacker Victor Ochi.
Looking Back On Incorrect Predictions
My 53-man prediction, posted after last Thursday night's preseason finale, included four guys who didn't make it in the end – Brooks, Butler, Forsett and Michael Campanaro, who was put on injured reserve Saturday. Who survived Saturday's cuts after being left off my 53-man projection? Four defensive players: cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Maurice Canady, safety Matt Elam and outside linebacker Chris Carter. See why I think more moves are coming? Elam is injured right now and it's not known when he'll play. The addition of Price and Canady boosts the stable of cornerbacks to seven, which seems like too many. The subtraction of Campanaro and Butler leaves just five wide receivers, two of whom (Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman) are coming off season-ending injuries. And with Dixon injured and Forsett gone, there are only two healthy running backs. Meanwhile, if they don't sign Hester or someone else who can return punts, that job could consist of Lardarius Webb making fair catches in week 1. In other words, stay tuned.
Safety Position Seems Thin, But There Are Options
Speaking of Webb, the Ravens must feel good not only about his switch to safety, but also the likelihood of him staying healthy and on the field. With Brooks gone and Elam injured, the only fulltime backup safety on the roster is Kendrick Lewis. Yes, Anthony Levine Sr. also can play the position but he's been taking some snaps at linebacker in the preseason and making a difference in that role. For now, it's Webb and Eric Weddle at safety, with Lewis backing them up. That seems thin, but in a pinch, I suppose, several of the reserve cornerbacks have the skill set for the job. And in the long run, there's Elam, whose inclusion on the 53-man roster is a validation of the improvement the Ravens saw in him before he was injured.