Don't Underestimate Ozzie Newsome; He Always Has A Plan
In a span of 26 hours, the Ravens said goodbye to three key Super Bowl cogs in Anquan Boldin, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger.
"Have we ever seen a defending Super Bowl champ's roster get whittled down the way #Ravens' has?" asked New York Times and Football Outsiders analyst Andy Benoit.
"The Ravens were hammered at the start of free agency, picked apart like a large pizza left in a college dorm," added CBS Sports' Mike Freeman.
The losses have sent the city of Baltimore into panic mode with many wondering how the Ravens will fill three major voids, especially at linebacker with Ray Lewis retired, Ellerbe headed to Miami, Kruger headed to Cleveland and Jameel McClain still recovering from a spinal cord contusion.
As dire as the situation may be, there is one thing Ravens fans should never forget:
"Don't underestimate Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome," tweeted ESPN's Chris Mortensen. "He always has a plan."
With Newsome's history of replacing productive veterans with young, developing talent, Charm City could save itself some angst by simply allowing Ozzie to carry out that plan.
You know the Ravens must have one of the best in the business when another unnamed NFL general manager tells CBS Sports that even he uses the popular Baltimore mantra: "In Ozzie, I trust."
"Newsome rarely gets credit for being a flat-out genius, and he is exactly that," wrote Freeman. "There's a lot of brain power there, and the one thing about Newsome is that he always has a plan.
"So the question is: What the hell is the plan now?"
Newsome wouldn't be a "flat-out genius" if he were to reveal those details (even though some reports below may shed some light). That said, the voice of the Ravens, Gerry Sandusky, explained in a string of tweets yesterday the principles of Newsome's plan, which have successfully worked for the past decade and a half.
Sandusky called it the "sane approach."
Set a salary threshold for each free agent, stick to it, don't overspend, pick up lower-priced talent after the first day of big spending and build through the draft.
"[S]ticking to a sane approach always leads to other options," Sandusky tweeted. "Don't blame not overpaying LB's [Ellerbe, Kruger] on [Joe] Flacco's deal. He has a sane cap number for the next three years. He'll likely redo the deal after that.
"Reminder of some of the sanely priced FA pickups for Ravens of late: Corey Graham, Cary Williams, Bryant McKinnie, Jacoby Jones, James Ihedigbo."
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora liked where Sandusky's head was at, and chimed in.
"Don't forget Pollard and Leach, too," La Canfora tweeted.
"Amen," Sandusky replied.
Kruger, Ellerbe Overpaid
First off, let's not take anything away from Kruger and Ellerbe, who signed reported $40 million and $35 million deals yesterday, respectively.
Both got their start in Baltimore for a reason and each played a big part in the Ravens' Super Bowl run. They deserve to be congratulated, and Ravens fans are no doubt happy for them and their families.
But in context of the "sane approach," many believe the Ravens were wise not to overextend themselves to bring back either linebacker, even Ellerbe, who was reported to be the team's top free-agency priority.
"No way Ozzie was paying Dannell Ellerbe 35 mil," tweeted WBAL's Keith Mills. "Lot of good players out there. He didn't cave on Ben Grubbs and won the Super Bowl w/KO."
Prior to Tuesday's signing, some speculated that Ellerbe would get $20, $25 or even $30 million. He surpassed that speculated ceiling by $5 million.
Kruger, who no doubt will be a pain to Flacco for years as a member of the AFC North rival Browns, was also believed to be overpaid.
ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley called the Browns' signing of Kruger "questionable." Not because he isn't a good player, but because he's a part-time player, who got paid as a full-timer.
"Here's what you have to question: The Browns paid an average of $8 million per season for a player who has six career starts," wrote Hensley. "Kruger is a part-time player, not an every-down one. He doesn't have the size to hold up against the run, which is why the Ravens used a second-round pick on Courtney Upshaw last year."
Raven 'Highly Interested' In WR Amendola
I mentioned yesterday that a potential free agent reportedly on the Ravens' radar is St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola.
Apparently, the Ravens are honing in on the 27-year-old veteran as The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson reported the team is "highly interested."
But Amendola could be out of the Ravens' price range, especially if they get into a bidding war. In addition to the Ravens, the Titans and Vikings are also reportedly in pursuit.
Last night, ProFootballTalk wrote that Amendola is down to two teams and will take visits with both, but the website didn't have word as to which teams they were. I'm sure we'll find out later today …
WR Austin Scheduled To Work Out With Ravens, Flacco
West Virginia wide receiver prospect Tavon Austin is scheduled to work out for the Ravens in early April, and Flacco is expected to take part, according to Wilson.
Austin went to Dunbar High School in Baltimore and is projected to be selected in the first round of the draft. He is undersized at 5-foot-8, 174 pounds, but ran a 4.34-second, 40-yard dash at the combine last month, and is known for his impressive acceleration and route running.
He had a very productive college career, hauling in 288 passes for 3,413 yards and 29 touchdowns in four seasons. He added 1,033 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.
"Could the Ravens use an all-purpose standout like Austin? Definitely, because he's a matchup nightmare, but so could a lot of NFL teams," Wilson wrote.
Austin is also scheduled to meet with the Bengals and Dolphins, and workout for the Panthers and Patriots, per Wilson.
With the Ravens' many needs, would they consider using their 32nd pick on a receiver in April's draft after trading Anquan Boldin? Former Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and NFL Network's Charles Davis and Brian Baldiner debate that question in this video.
Reedy: Ravens Interested In MLB Maualuga
Baltimore has a major void at middle linebacker, especially after Ellerbe signed with Miami.
Minutes after news of the signing broke, Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported he's heard rumors that the Ravens may look at middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Reedy wonders if that interest will spike with Ellerbe gone.
The 26-year-old free agent* *notched a career-best 122 tackles for the Bengals last season, but hasn't been very popular in Cincinnati lately.
"Maualuga has been the target of quite a lot of ridicule over the past two seasons," wrote Jason Garrison of CincyJungle.com. "He was a second-round draft pick four years ago and after two years as the team's starting SAM linebacker he was moved to MIKE. Since he was moved to MIKE, though, he has struggled and has been extremely inconsistent.
"Linebacker is a major need and since they don't have a ton of money to spend, Maualuga makes sense."
Canty Signing Gets B Grade
Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke gave the Ravens a B for their signing of veteran defensive end Chris Canty, who spent the last four years with the Giants.
Baltimore got Canty at a good price, a reported $8 million over three years, even with other teams interested. Canty picked the Ravens over several other clubs, says Burke, including the Chiefs and Titans.
"This is a smart, low-risk signing befitting of a team reputed to run a smart, efficient front office," Burke wrote. "Canty will help along the defensive line — and shoring up that unit might offset some of Baltimore's losses at linebacker, too.
"One tidbit definitely worth noting: According to the NFL Network's Albert Breer, the Packers also showed interest in Canty but their doctors would not clear him. Canty had knee surgery in February of 2012, then suffered an MCL sprain in December. But Baltimore surely had its doctors put Canty through the ringer before the franchise signed him. The Ravens must have been satisfied with what they saw."
Reed To 49ers A Smokescreen
Turns out, the reports about Ed Reed heading to San Francisco* *were never a serious possibility.
Mike Florio debunked his own report, explaining that Reed's recently-hired agent, David Dunn, pushed out rumors that the 49ers were interested in his client in order to create a bigger market for the All-Pro safety.
"So far, it hasn't worked," wrote Florio. "Which means that, in the end, Reed could be back in Baltimore."
Meanwhile, the Ravens purchased insurance in case Reed doesn't return.
"It won't go down as a major free-agent signing, but the Baltimore Ravens added a safety net (bad pun, I apologize) when they re-signed James Ihedigbo to a one-year deal," wrote Hensley. "He's more of a special teams player but he can start if Baltimore needs him to do so.
"This is a classic Ravens move. The Ravens can re-sign Reed and still have experienced depth with Ihedigbo. Or, if Reed goes elsewhere, the Ravens don't feel forced into selecting a safety early in the NFL draft because they have Ihedigbo. And, even if they draft a safety, the Ravens don't have to feel committed to starting him right away because they have Ihedigbo as a fallback option."
- You have to love Boldin and his approach to a trade he admits "shocked" him. He seems to be dealing with the news better than some Ravens fans, who understandably hated to see the receiver go. Boldin told ESPN that after thinking more about it, the move will be good for him even
though he enjoyed his time in Baltimore. And then there is this awesome tweet, indicating that Boldin knows there is more to life than football … @AnquanBoldin: Going to have to put my physical with the @49ers on a hold for a few days, we're busy in Senegal with @OxfamAmerica. [Twitter] * The agent for former Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison has spoken with the Ravens about his client potentially coming to Baltimore. "I've talked to Ozzie, sure have, had a good talk about James," agent Bill Parise told Wilson. "It's early and we're not in negotiations, but we're having some good conversations. Baltimore would be an outstanding place for James to play because he knows the division and has that familiarity and they're a class organization. We'll see where it goes." [The Baltimore Sun] * ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. will be inductedinto Calvert Hall's Alumni Hall of Fame on March 23. [The Baltimore Sun] * @TorreySmithWR: Congrats to my bros @ellerbe59 and @pkruger99 ...hard work pays off....see y'all this season [Twitter]@JameelMcClain: @pkruger99 all you been through bro you deserve it all. Respect the grind. Congrats Kruger family. Next one up! #utahwater lol [Twitter] * @mzenitz: Wouldn't be surprised at all at this point for the #Ravens to consider moving Courtney Upshaw inside to middle linebacker [Twitter] * @CoachBillick: Just like Pitta & Dickson made Boldin expendable for #Ravens...Boldin made Delanie Walker an acceptable loss for the #49ers. [Twitter] * @RavensInsider: Indianapolis was a potential destination at one point for Cary Williams, but Chuck Pagano goes in a different direction. [Twitter]