Change on its way to Baltimore

OWINGS MILLS – Stuffing belongings into bags Monday morning and saying goodbyes, the Baltimore Ravens walked out of the locker room two days removed from a devastating playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. For several players, cleaning out their locker marks the last time they'll be part of the team

The Ravens have 17 unrestricted free agents, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, fullback Le'Ron McClain, offensive tackle Marshal Yanda and offensive guard Chris Chester, wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth, cornerbacks Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington, kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch.

As far as McClain is concerned, his time in Baltimore is over. The two-time Pro Bowl selection predicted he wouldn't be back with his contract expiring. "It's up to the Ravens organization, whatever they decide, but I doubt it, though," McClain said. I doubt it." Why won't he be back? McClain griped about a reduced role in the offense after rushing for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns two seasons ago. Plus, the Ravens have rarely spent big money on a fullback, not attempting to retain Ovie Mughelli when he departed via free agency to the Atlanta Falcons. "I mean, I feel like if I was, I feel like I probably would've been used a little bit more than what I was this season, these past two years, but it is what it is," McClain said. "I'm over that now. Four great years in Baltimore and now I'm just looking forward to the future, whatever the future holds. That's all I can control."

McClain rushed for 85 yards and no touchdowns this past season and 180 yards and two touchdowns two years ago. "I just want to be part of it," McClain said. "Real talk. It's just been frustrating for me. I haven't showed it in my play these past few years, but it's been frustrating. For me, I just want to be part of it. I just wish I could've did more. I never let it get to my game, I still went out there and played 100 percent every play, play in and play out for my teammates, because that's who I'm out there for. Hopefully, that can change. "They put me back in a box the last few years that I thought I was out of my second year. It is what it is. I don't regret none of it because I still came out here and played my rump off every play, every Sunday. Whatever the future holds for me, I hope it's back here, but if it's not, let the games begin." The Ravens' top priority in free agency is Ngata, a dominant force who's widely regarded as the top defensive tackle in the game. Keeping Ngata is going to be an extremely expensive proposition, but the Ravens are committed to rewarding him and doing what it takes to keep him. "It's really important," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "As we talked about last year at the owners' meeting, I believe Haloti Ngata will be a Raven for life. That's the goal. I know that Haloti wants that. He's told me that he wants to be here.

"I don't want to speak for him, again, but I think he wants to be here, and I believe the organization wants him here. He's a little trickier because of the restricted nature of his free agency right now and the lockout thing. It's priority No. 1 to have Haloti Ngata here." Carr emerged as a reliable cornerback who was rarely beaten for a touchdown. Carr recorded 67 tackles, two interception, eight pass deflections and three forced fumbles. Quarterbacks tended to avoid throwing in his direction. "I would love to be back here," Carr said. "This is where I want to be. It's a business, but I feel good about what I put out on the field and I want to be a part of this team. Hopefully, we can work something out."

The Ravens have already launched contract talks with Cundiff, who made it to the Pro Bowl this season as he led the NFL in touchbacks and connected on 26 of 29 field goals. "I think it'll come together," Harbaugh said. "I think Billy really wants to be here. I know we're in negotiations with him right now, along with other guys. I'll be very surprised if something doesn't get done with Billy Cundiff, and I'll be disappointed, but I think it's going to happen." Cundiff said money won't be the only thing he considers, but he wants market value. And he wants Koch to be retained. " There's a lot of issues at play," Cundiff said. "Money isn't always the ultimate factor. What we're trying to establish is where do I fit in the kicker stack and we'd like to be compensated that way, nothing more nothing less. "I don't think what my agent will be asking for is unreasonable. We have everybody's best interest in mind. If I come back, I want to make sure Sam is coming back as well. Sam and I have great rapport." Koch averaged 43.6 yards per punt and placed 39 punt inside the 20-yard line. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Koch was in contract talks with the Ravens following the 2008 season, but discussions stalled as the two sides couldn't agree on a deal. "We ended up trying to do some negotiations," Koch said. "We never came up to a conclusion. It was one of those things that wasn't meant to be. Now it's two years later, which is crazy. We're in a different position and we're not restricted any more.

"Absolutely I thought I went out there and helped the team as much as I possibly can. That's the ultimate goal. I thought I did that well I hope to continue to do that here." A former Pro Bowl selection, Houshmandzadeh only caught 30 passes while operating as the third receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Mason. He's considered unlikely to return.

"I want to come back because I had fun here and I enjoyed myself," Houshmandzadeh said. "I do want to be a starter. I do because that's what I've been. It's hard to adjust." Backup quarterback Marc Bulger is expected to have opportunities around the league to compete for a starting job, but said he wouldn't rule out possibly returning to Baltimore. Last year, Bulger missed out on free agency and potentially good positions with the Arizona Cardinals because the St. Louis Rams kept him on the team until April.

"Yeah, I think everything gets moved up a lot this offseason just because last year I was under contract and it did get extended for a while to April," Bulger said. "I think it will be for the better. I can make a decision quicker. I was happy here and I wouldn't mind coming back here." Chester started for most of the past two seasons. He's looking to return. "I hope to be back," Chester said. "The relationships I built here with the guys in the locker room and the coaches and stuff are special. There's a whole business aspect to this. In a perfect world, I'll be back here. Haven't had real formal talks, but I've had some interactions with the team, positive interactions." Replaced by Wilson as the starter, Washington doesn't expect to be back. "I want to play wherever I'm going to be," Washington said. "I don't play this game for a check. I play because I love the game. Josh played great this year after they benched me. I didn't expect to necessarily get my job back at that point."

ED REED EXPECTED BACK: Star free safety Ed Reed will return for a 10th season, Harbaugh predicted. Reed missed six games last season after undergoing offseason hip surgery. He still led the league with eight interceptions. "I'm very impressed with and proud of Ed Reed, always have been, but even moreso this year," Harbaugh said. "I've seen him say publicly where he plans on playing for as long as he can, and he's told me, I don't think he'd mind me saying this, he wants to play football. Ed's got a chance this offseason to be healthier than he's ever been going into a season because I don't think he has anything major, that I'm aware of right now, any major injuries. "He's got some things he's got to work through, but I think he's going to have a full year of offseason conditioning. He's really excited about that. I don't want to speak for him, he'll have to tell you all that, but I think Ed's going to have a great year next year."

RETIREMENT?: Wide receiver Derrick Mason, 37, said that he'll consider his options before making a decision on whether to retire. The two-time Pro Bowl selection said he has one goal in mind if he decides to return "My one and only goal is to go to a Super Bowl and leave with a Super Bowl," Mason said. "It has eluded me for the last 14 years. Do I come back another year and try it again? I'm not coming back for anything else if that's the case." Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk said he won't need to undergo knee surgery. Retirement doesn't seem to be in his plans, either.

" I don't think so," he said. "It's tough. It's always tough at this point of the season, always stunned at the sudden stop. Obviously you have to consider a lot of things, but I feel pretty good physically. Obviously, I love being a part of this team and the organization. I need to get away for a while and regroup." Harbaugh said that he hopes both players will return, expressing confidence that the two veterans have more football left in them. "You talked about Matt Birk and Derrick Mason retiring, I'm sure when they get to this stage, guys always have to think about that every year," Harbaugh said. "I'll keep my fingers crossed that they don't. I think we're a better team with both those two guys, and my guess is they have a couple years left. "It'll be a family decision for them probably, but those are staples of our team right now. We're all replaceable, and we would obviously move on if anybody decided not to play anymore, but I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for those two guys." KINDLE TO RETURN: The Ravens intend to hold onto outside linebacker Sergio Kindle even though there are no guarantees that he'll be able to play football again due to him fracturing his skull in late July during a fall down two flights of stairs. "First of all, I think it's healing probably, the neurologist reports and those kinds of things making sure that it is safe for him to play," Harbaugh said. "From what I hear, there's a possibility of that. He's doing very, very well, probably making progress faster than anticipated. "Then, it's just going to be a football growth thing, and obviously a maturity type of thing. But we're going to give him every opportunity to do that and go through the spring here and see how he progresses. I can't say it's high hopes because he's coming back from such a tough spot, but I think he's got a chance." Kindle is also facing a driving under the influence charge following his arrest last month in Howard County. Drafted in the second round last spring out of the University of Texas, Kindle hasn't given up hope on moving on from a lost rookie season and being back next year.

"The guys never lost trust in me," Kindle told reporters. "It's just me and my decision-making. That's what it's mainly about. I have to make better decisions, grow up and be a man. That's what it takes in the NFL. "You have to be a man. It's not only football. It's about what you do outside the field. You got to be able to handle the spotlight as much as you want it." Signed to a one-year, $320,000 contract with no signing bonus and placed on the reserve/non-football injury list, Kindle can be retained with a minimum exclusive-rights tender. Despite the legal problems, the Ravens are sticking with Kindle. "At some point in time, there's a balance to all these things," Harbaugh said. "There's nothing for us to gain by not giving him an opportunity to become a player. We've got a lot invested in him right now. I think he understands what he needs to do.

"We will see based on what he does, but he's a good person. He's got a good heart. He wants to do the right thing, and he's got a chance to be a very good player, so we'll do everything we can to see if we can make that happen." Kindle said he hasn't heard anything negative about his prospects. "Nothing bad has come out of their mouth ,but they haven't talked about contracts," Kindle said. "I don't see nothing negative coming out of it."

Kindle, who has been wearing a helmet while doing individual drills since he's not medically cleared to practice, plans to take classes back in his hometown of Dallas during the offseason while continuing his neurological therapy. "I want to come back in tip-top shape," Kindle said. "Definitely, you take things for granted that you love until it's take away from you. I have a greater appreciation for having an opportunity to still play after my incident. I'm grateful."

GAITHER NOT FORGOTTEN: Despite missing the entire season due to a thoracic disc injury in his upper back, offensive tackle Jared Gaither hasn't been ruled out of the Ravens' future. The 6-foot-9, 330-pound former University of Maryland player's status is complicated by questions about his work ethic and his high financial expectations. "Jared was here at the meeting," Harbaugh said. "I'm not giving up on Jared Gaither. I've got high hopes for Jared Gaither. We'll just have to see because his contract issue is out there, too. Hopefully, he can fulfill all of the things he's trying to fulfill in his career, because he wants to be a great player." Gaither wanted to play left tackle, but that position was taken over by Michael Oher. Oher had an uneven season, though, committing eight false starts and being beaten by speed rushers in pass protection. Nonetheless, the Ravens are committed to him going forward.

"Well, I think his future is at left tackle, but I could always see a situation where we move anybody," Harbaugh said. "So ,whatever's best for the team, and the good thing about Michael is, he really doesn't care. "Michael just wants to get out there and play. He's one of the most aggressive, committed, dedicated guys you're ever going to see, but he's got all the talent to play left tackle. I think he's going to be a great one, wherever he plays."

NOT RULING OUT BURRESS: A disappointing receiving corps might prompt the Ravens to explore taking a risk.

Harbaugh said that he wouldn't rule out taking a look at incarcerated former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who's scheduled to be released from a New York prison in June. "Sure, yeah," Harbaugh said when asked if he would consider signing Burress. "I don't know Plaxico Burress at all. I've never met him, but we'd consider him. "We'd consider anybody. It would just depend on where he's at. I'd like to find out what kind of a person he is and see where he's really at in his life."

Burress is serving a two-year prison term for a conviction for carrying an unregistered handgun into a Manhattan nightclub, running afoul of the strict New York gun laws.

Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg and was charged with gun crimes. With the Giants, Burress caught 209 passes for 3,227 yards and 29 touchdowns.

The 33-year-old also hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass from Eli Manning in the Giants' Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. The former Michigan State standout has caught 505 career passes for 7,845 yards and 55 touchdowns. Burress would upgrade the Ravens' size at wide receiver. The 6-foot-5, 232-pounder has been an excellent red-zone target and deep threat. LENGTHY LIST: The Ravens' full free agent list includes Houshmandzadeh and Stallworth, Yanda and Jared Gaither, offensive guards Chris Chester and Tony Moll, McClain, Bulger, linebacker Prescott Burgess, Ngata, Carr, Wilson and Washington, strong safety Dawan Landry, long snapper Kevin Houser, Cundiff and Koch.

Plus, running back Willis McGahee is unlikely to be back unless he takes a drastic pay cut from his scheduled base salary of $6 million for next season under his seven-year, $40.12 million contract that has three remaining years with $19.7 million left on his contract. The Ravens also have nine restricted free agents. That includes inside linebacker Jameel McClain, safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, defensive tackles Lamar Divens and Kelly Talavou, linebacker Tavares Gooden, running back Jalen Parmele and wide receiver Marcus Smith.

D. REED TO HAVE SURGERY: Rookie wide receiver and kick returner David Reed is going to have surgery soon to have his torn wrist ligament repaired. "It's pretty bad," he said. "I was going to be in a cast in the a few days, but I got this little rash from wearing this. I'm going to wait for that to clear up and put it in the cast." Reed led the NFL in kickoff returns with a 29.3 average, including a franchise-record 103-yard return for a touchdown. He predicted he'd be healthy quickly. "I can't wait to be back," Reed said. "I wish next season could start tomorrow."

EIGHT SIGNED TO RESERVE/FUTURE DEALS: Bolstering their offseason roster, the Ravens have signed eight players to reserve/future deals. In addition to announcing that they've signed former Buffalo Bills second-round wide receiver James Hardy, the Ravens have also retained their practice squad players that ended the season with the team.

The Ravens signed offensive tackles Brady Bond and Andre Ramsey, wide receiver Justin Harper, quarterback Hunter Cantwell, cornerback Danny Gorrer and outside linebacker Albert McClellan.

QUICK HITS: Following their playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens' draft position has been determined. The Ravens own the 26th overall pick of the first round. Despite the collective bargaining agreement uncertainty, the draft is going to happen. It's set for April 28 through April 30

. … Mason said he'll undergo surgery on his finger and will need other procedures. "I've got to get my finger fixed," Mason said. "I've got some other things, minor things that need to get done. Once the procedures are done, I'll be fine and allow myself to rehab."

… Inside linebacker Tavares Gooden is expected to have surgery as soon as next week on a dislocated left shoulder and torn labrum, according to his agent.

… Former Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson was officially promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach of the Oakland Raiders. He's expected to hire Al Saunders as his offensive coordinator. Other Ravens assistants on Jackson's radar: running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, tight ends coach Wade Harman and secondary coach Chuck Pagano

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