PLACE IS JUMPING
Our Owings Mills training facility, known to many as "The Castle," is a jumping place, bursting with energy, as the players have returned to the building.
First, Ray Lewis and Anquan Boldin embraced in the hallway outside of the locker room, and then Ray Rice shouted to all who could hear: "It's good to be back!"
There was second-round pick Torrey Smith, the wide receiving standout from Maryland, who was one of the first to arrive on Tuesday, politely asking: "Where should I go?" When told, "Start in the Training Room.," he said "And, where is that?"
Having not seen most of these players since February, it was clear many of them, especially younger players, had been working hard. TE Ed Dickson weighed only a few pounds more, but he is obviously more sculpted than he was as a rookie a year ago. Same can be said of DT Arthur Jones, who did some training with his brother Jon, a championship UFC fighter. DT Terrence Cody appears fit and ready. This year's third-round selection, T Jah Reid, certainly passes the "eyeball" test. As the scouts like to say, "he'll at least look good coming off the bus and in warm-ups."
Jimmy Smith is a big corner, and Haloti Ngata, while still massive, looks in great shape. I could go on and on. We're a big team with a lot of guys who look like they've been working hard during the lockout.
The day before we won Super Bowl XXXV in late January of 2001, I sat in a team meeting and heard Brian Billick tell those champions: "Look around this room. Tomorrow is the last day we will be together as a team. Appreciate each other. Know what you've accomplished. Thank the guy next to you. We'll be a different team next season," Billick said.
Brian then added a message that the journey for that team wasn't done, and he gave a motivational message about what this group of men had to do the next day to win the title.
I remember telling Brian after the meeting that I thought that was a "cold" message to deliver to the team. He explained that the "players know better than we do that their time on any team is only temporary."
Brian was right. How many players get to retire from the team that originally signed them? Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest player in NFL history, was waived by the 49ers. LaDainian Tomlinson is now a Jet after his fantastic career with the Chargers. Kurt Warner was waived by the Rams after leading them to the NFL title and later played for the Giants before helping the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl.
Heck, we got a 31-year-old Derrick Mason after the Titans released him following the 2004 season. Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson, both Hall of Famers, helped us win a title after being waived by Denver and Pittsburgh, respectively. We then released Shannon and Rod, who continued to play for the next few seasons.
It ain't what it used to be in the NFL. With a hard salary cap, we constantly juggle our rosters, trying to keep the right blend of trusted and proven veterans with young players about to become difference makers. No team can keep them all. Look at what's happening around the NFL right now.
It's cold. It's ugly. It's distasteful and so hurtful to the veterans who get waived.
Despite the thrill of having the players back and the anticipation of what we believe will be an exciting season that ends with the Ravens in the playoffs competing for the championship, waiving important players is painful. I could see the hurt in Ozzie's eyes when he told me. Coach Harbaugh's heart is heavy.
Todd Heap, as good of a person as any team can have, is not a Raven today. Nor is the reliable and inspiring Derrick Mason – remember when he was playing with just one good arm in 2008 (the TD catch in Dallas). Kelly Gregg, the odd-shaped defensive tackle, who helped define outstanding Ravens defenses with the way he prepared and played… They are not in Owings Mills today.
Sure, we prepared for these moves. We've drafted three tight ends in the last three years, along with three receivers and three D-linemen in the last two drafts.
I consider Todd, Derrick and Kelly friends. No doubt, they are angry with all of us at the Ravens today. Their families are likely more bitter. Hopefully, we will be friends in the future. We thank them for what they did for the Ravens and our community. They will always be a part of the Ravens' family. But, I wouldn't blame them for not feeling that way right now.
It doesn't feel good for any of us right now. The cold, cold side of this business – the releasing of players – can make all sides, players and management, shiver.