PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Baltimore Ravens' offensive line was far from a detriment last season as quarterback Joe Flacco wasn't regularly bashed into the ground and running back Ray Rice piled up yards.
Given the defection of Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs, not being able to land Philadelphia Eagles free agent offensive guard Evan Mathis as his replacement, struggles in short-yardage situations and having two older starters in center Matt Birk and left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens aren't done addressing the position.
"We have to upgrade the offensive line," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday morning at The Breakers hotel during the annual NFL owners meetings. "I don't even know if we have a full complement to be on our 53-man roster right now. We don't have our five starters set. We have guys where you say, "Can they play a position or not?'
Four of five starters are slated to return, including Birk, 35, and McKinnie, 32, after the team picked up his $500,000 roster bonus as well as right tackle Michael Oher and right guard Marshal Yanda.
The Ravens' current plan at left guard is to install 6-foot-7, 330-pound former third-round offensive tackle Jah Reid as their starter.
It's a fluid situation, though, given his lack of experience and the lack of depth on the line.
"We're talking about Jah., ‘Can he play left guard?" Harbaugh said. "So, we have to get better there just for the fact that we don't really have the numbers there right now.
"The thing I've learned over the years in Philadelphia and everywhere else, it starts with the offensive line on offense. The quarterback is obviously critically important but if you don't have an offensive line, you can forget about it. We have to be able to build an offensive line."
The Ravens have yet to make a move on several free agent guards, including Jake Scott, Kyle Kosier, Chris Kemoeatu, Eric Steinbach and Bobbie Williams. Scott recently visited the Miami Dolphins.
They haven't ruled out eventually pursuing a free agent and/or using the draft to land an interior lineman like Wisconsin center Pete Konz, Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler or University of Georgia tackle-guard Cordy Glenn.
"We can go after a veteran free agent," said Harbaugh, who doesn't consider the draft a deep one for offensive linemen. "We can go after a couple of draft picks, or the guy that may be cut at some point in time. We'll be turning over every stone."
The Ravens were $4.664 million under the salary cap limit prior to signing four players Friday: inside linebacker Jameel McClain as well as less expensive deals for special-teams aces Brendon Ayanbadejo and Corey Graham as well as reserve safety Sean Considine.
"We still have a little bit of room," Harbaugh said. "Off the top of my head, my math says we've got a few dollars left so we can do something. If we need to do some things, we can be creative."
McKinnie is heading into a contract year and the Ravens brought him in to for a meeting at team headquarters recently to evaluate his conditioning and outlook prior to picking up his bonus.
McKinnie didn't grade out highly for his run blocking last season, but the 6-7, 360-pounder had to drop weight in a hurry after ballooning up to 387 pounds during the NFL lockout and being cut by the Minnesota Vikings.
"He had done a good job, he'd been working in the offseason, he's training," Harbaugh said. "He's in the same shape he was in when he left. We want to improve that from now until the start of next season. It's going to be really important what he does between now and when the offseason program starts on through June that he gets in the kind of shape he needs to be in. It's not like he's a big, fat guy. He's a big guy. We still want him to be able to move a little better and get a little quicker."
Meanwhile, Harbaugh reiterated that the team plans to bring in competition for former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff.
Cundiff missed a potential game-tying field goal in the final seconds of the Ravens' crushing AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots.
Shayne Graham filled in late in the season for Cundiff when he was sidelined with a calf injury and remains available as a free agent.
"If we can get a kicker that is capable of competing with Billy, we'll do it," Harbaugh said. "Do you have to draft a guy? Is there a free agent? Is there a guy that will be on the street. That's kind of hard to determine.
"I'm not ruling anything out, but Billy is our kicker. And I would anticipate Billy will be our kicker for the opening game of the season. I think he'll have a great preseason. I think he'll have a great season next year, but everybody gets competition and he's no exception. You have to prove it every year in this league."
Plus, Harbaugh is hopeful that Rice won't exercise his right as the franchise player to not report.
Rice has been assigned a one-year, $7.742 million tender, but has yet to sign it. The Ravens have until July 15 to negotiate a long-term deal with Rice. Otherwise, he'll have to play the entire season under the tag.
No deal is close at this time.
"I don't know what their strategy will be, if they feel like they even need a strategy," Harbaugh said. "That kind of goes back to the agent more than the player, but Ray Rice is a man. He loves football. He wants to be in there with his teammates.
"I'm hoping he'll be there from Day One. I would expect him to be there from Day One. But if he's not, I'm not going to hold it against him as a coach. We just need the best Ray Rice that's possible for the first game."
Harbaugh said he gets "positive vibes" about the state of talks between vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty and the representatives for Rice and Flacco.
"I think it's going well," said Harbaugh, adding that he resists the urge to constantly check in on talks with Moriarty and general manager Ozzie Newsome. "That doesn't mean that anything is imminent because it takes a long time. I think you've got to be careful about how much pressure you place on your guys.
"Pat Moriarty is our negotiator, he does a great job. Ozzie knows what he's doing. They all want a deal. Ray's agent wants a deal. I pray. I cross my fingers and my toes."
Now that Ricky Williams abruptly retiredafter the season, the Ravens need a backup running back.
They are evaluating Anthony Allen, their seventh-round draft pick from last year, and former practice squad running back Damien Berry. Both are unproven at the NFL level.
If Rice is absent from the offseason, training camp or any regular-season games, then Allen would be in the mix for playing time.
"[Allen's] potentially a No. 1 if something happens," Harbaugh said. "Every backup player is an injury away, a play away from being the guy. We think a lot of him, we think they're going to have very good seasons. But we've got to look at some insurance, too. We've got to have more than two running backs on the roster, so we'll add some guys."
Harbaugh said he hasn't spoken to Williams since shortly after his retirement.
Harbaugh was noncommittal on former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, only saying he's "definitely on the list."
Other free agent running back options include Ryan Grant, Cedric Benson, Joseph Addai, Cadillac Williams, Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown.
The Ravens are high on former second-round pick Paul Kruger as the potential replacement for strongside outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who signed a four-year, $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.
"I think Paul is probably the leading candidate for the Sam linebacker job," Harbaugh said. "I could very definitely see him doing that. When we lost Jarret, I went back and watched all of Paul's tape. I watched every one of his plays from last year, just to try and get a feel just for whether or not we'd be comfortable with him in there.
"He did a nice job in coverage, he set the edge well. Obviously, he's a very good pass rusher. I believe Paul can do it. I think he will do it."
Kruger recorded 5 ½ sacks in a reserve role last season, primarily rushing the passer on third downs.
However, Johnson was an aggressive run-stopper whose tenacity will be difficult to replicate.
Kruger has demonstrated a greater commitment to football over the past year.
"He's committed to doing it," Harbaugh said. "It means everything to him. He wants to be that guy and he wants to do it as well or better than how it's been done for the Ravens. That's what you want out of one of your players.
"What he told me was, he just kind of decided that it was time to become a player. He figured out what it meant to be a pro, how hard he had to study, how hard he had to work. It's a process for guys and maybe he took a couple of steps in the maturity process and just got better as a player."
Harbaugh acknowledged that he hasn't gotten over the Ravens' loss to the Patriots, saying: "It will be there forever."
NOTES: Harbaugh said the Ravens are still interested in reserve linebacker and special-teams contributor Isaiah Ekejuiba, who visited last week. Ekejuiba is recovering from shoulder surgery, which precluded the Ravens from signing him last week. ... The Ravens are encouraged about the progress of wide receiver Torrey Smith (sports hernia) and cornerback Cary Williams (hip) following offseason surgeries. ... Although the Ravens signed Considine, Harbaugh said the Ravens still want to add another safety for depth. They have Emanuel Cook under contract. ... Harbaugh still wants more from the offense. "I'd like to get more first downs," he said. "I'd like to take a little pressure off the defense. I want us to score more points." ... The Ravens tried to acquire return specialist Ted Ginn, but he opted to return to the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year deal. So, kick returner remains a priority with David Reed recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. "We definitely think we could add a returner," Harbaugh said. "We want to put some competition in there. We tried to do it in the offseason and it hasn't worked out so far." The draft is the most likely option for the Ravens to bolster the return game with Ginn no longer available. "There's not a lot of guys out there that have that kick-return ability right now," Harbaugh said. "It went well with Ted. He's got an injury situation. He's coming off a knee surgery. Obviously for him, the one-year deal that he got made that valuable to him. We liked him a lot. We would have loved to have had him." ... The Ravens met with defensive end Mark Anderson one day before he signed a $27.5 million contract with the Buffalo Bills. Pass rushers tend to be expensive and there are no longer many quality ones available. "Your point is that pass rushing is a very valuable position and they're gone," Harbaugh said. "Probably more of our attention is toward developing our guys and toward the draft."
Harbaugh defended Flacco, who has a stoic personality outwardly that masks his intensity. "He's a fiery, hard-nosed competitive guy, but I don't think he's one of those guys where it plays out on camera," Harbaugh said. "I don't even worry about that. Joe's a competitive guy. The way he played in that last game obviously made a big statement. He's still going to hit his stride. He's ascending as a player. In my mind, I think Joe Flacco will be a premier quarterback in the National Football League. I think he will win championships. That's how I look at Joe. There's really no doubt in my mind that's going to happen, but we will see."
Harbaugh said he agrees with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's punishment of the New Orleans Saints for their illegal bounty program, which has led to the suspension for the entire season of coach Sean Payton. "I support the league," Harbaugh said. "Sean's a great friend. We worked together in Philly. I think he's a great coach and he'll be back winning a bunch of football games, but I respect what the league did, I respect what Roger did. I think it sends a message. It sends a strong message, it's smart, it's courageous and it's the right thing to do. I know one thing, me like everyone else will fight like crazy to make sure that that's not an issue in the future. It's an important statement to make and player safety is the No. 1 issue. Integrity of the game is important."
Ravens: Q&A with team president Dick Cass
PALM BEACH, Fla. – Heading into his ninth season as the Baltimore Ravens' team president, Dick Cass remains an influential figure in the NFL and instrumental in every aspect of the defending AFC North champions.
Cass is involved in all parts of the Ravens' business, including players, staff, coaches, corporate initiatives and communications.
A former counsel to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the Washington Redskins and the NFL league office, Cass was the first hire that owner Steve Bisciotti made after the Yale Law graduate represented Bisciotti in his purchase of the Ravens from former majority owner Art Modell.
Cass conducted the following interview at The Breakers hotel during the annual NFL owners meetings:
How difficult is it to manage the salary cap and maintain a balancing act as you try to not overburden future years with dead money and also maintain enough cap space to negotiate long-term deals for core players like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Lardarius Webb?
Cass: "Over the last three years in cash, we spent a lot of money. As a result, we don't have much cap room. We knew we weren't going to have a lot of cap room heading into this offseason. We also knew we had players we know we were going to want to sign if we can. We need to be disciplined and make sure have enough money both this year and next year to sign those players. We've had to be disciplined.
"The other thing we don't like to do is restructure contracts because when you restructure contracts to create cap room you're just kicking the problem down the road into the out years. Then, you can get into a real serious problem if some of those restructured contracts are for players who are let go. Then, you accelerate a lot of cap room when they're let go. We try to avoid that as well. It's a difficult balancing test. We talk about that every year. We made a plan in February as to what we were going to do and we're sticking with that plan. I think John Harbaugh has said this, but patience is the word we always use. We're going to be patient. We still have some cap room to find some very good players at good values. We will use that money when the time comes."
What's your take on being able to retain core players over the years?
Cass: "One of our goals is to retain our star players, our star players who are also our leaders. That's what we try to do. We do have a track record: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata are part of that policy and part of our thinking."
What are the current business initiatives for the organization?
Cass: "We continue to upgrade our stadium. To attract the fans and keep our stadium sold out, we have to keep making upgrades at the stadium. Verizon Wireless has built a 4G network at the stadium. It's a very expensive network. We're looking forward to having it operating on opening day. It's going to enhance the stadium experience in terms of cell-phone usage and also our fans will be able to download the Baltimore Ravens' mobile app and watch the Red Zone channel and some other improvements we're trying to make. We're not even sure what's going to be on the mobile app, but Red Zone will be on there and hopefully different angles of replay and what you see on the big boards at the stadium."
How difficult is it to compete with fans who enjoy the comforts of home while they watch NFL games to get them to buy tickets and come to the stadium?
Cass: "It's a tremendous challenge to convince our fans that our stadium experience is better than the home viewing experience. I think so far we've been able to do that. Demand for our tickets continues to be extremely high. It's a never-ending battle. We always have to keep our stadium experience improving. We have to improve the game day experience and we work hard at that. We devote a lot of time during the season to discussing the game day experience, to parking, to security lines, to the player introductions, to the entertainment, to what we're going to put on the big board, to how we're going to handle replays, the music. We probably spend more time fighting about what music we're going to play than anything else."
What kind of music do you prefer to play at M&T Bank Stadium?
Cass: "I like country western and I like oldies, but goodies. I'm a distinct minority, but I keep arguing that there's more fans that like that than anyone thinks. I don't always win that battle, I assure you."
To senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne: What do you like as far as music?
Byrne: "I'm one for taking the top songs from every year for the last 25 years and play them and that will hit all your demographics and everyone will recognize the song. You want communal songs to get the most people jacked up. Dick and I will be familiar with songs from our age group, but we also recognize songs from our kids' age group. So, that's the great connection."
What's it like now to be at these meetings one year after the lockout and having achieved labor peace?
Cass: "The last 12 months have been a great 12 months for the league and for the union. From a league perspective, labor peace is obviously critically important. Television ratings set new records this year. By the way, the television ratings in the Baltimore television market set a new record for the Ravens. Our average household rating this year was 37.3, which is the highest it's ever been. Our ratings for our AFC championship game against the Patriots were higher than the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl ratings. So, it's been a good year for the league. It's been a good year for the Ravens."
How hungry is this organization to take the next step to get back to the Super Bowl and win a championship?
Cass: "We're always super hungry to get the championship. That's our goal every year. To achieve that goal you have to be in the playoffs. Our principal goal last year was to win the division and our secondary goal was to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and our third goal is to win the Super Bowl. So, I let the head coach set the team goals. And I think that's totally appropriate. I believe that our goal again will be to win the division. If you win your division, you're in the playoffs and you get at least one home playoff game. And we're very difficult to beat at home. That would be our goal again."
How involved do you get in an advisory capacity to vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty when it comes to the major contracts he negotiates?
Cass: "Each year, we set a budget of how much we're going to spend. Each year, we discuss which players are going to be kept and which players we're going to try to sign. Once we've set those parameters it's up to [general manager] Ozzie [Newsome] and Pat to execute it. They will tell us what they're doing, keep us advised. Things change. Obviously, someone you may have targeted may sign with another team. Someone you really hoped you could re-sign from your team may actually go to another team. You have to adjust on the fly, so we have discussions about that on the fly."
Times: After not being able to retain Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs as he signed a $36 million contract with the New Orleans Saints and losing out on Evan Mathis to the Philadelphia Eagles, you were able to sign four players (Jameel McClain, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Corey Graham and Sean Considine) last week for a lot less money than it would have cost for one guard and you also kept Matt Birk. What's your take on what transpired?
Cass: "I always tell our fans to think back to where we were in July of 2011. We lost seven starters. We were also down Willis McGahee, who wasn't a starter. We also really lost an eighth starter because Domonique Foxworth was going to be starting at cornerback and he couldn't. We were down eight starters plus Willis McGahee and we were able to find able replacements. Some on our team, some we brought in through free agency.
"You're going to lose players if you're disciplined about the cap and your decision-making, you're going to lose players every year, really good players who've been significant contributors to the Ravens over the years. People like a Jarret Johnson and Ben Grubbs and Cory Redding. All of them contributed in really important ways to the team. Sometimes, you just can't afford to keep all those guys. You have to really trust your coaches to get other players, younger players to get ready to play. And that's really what we've done for the last several years, and that's worked for us. We're hoping and expecting it will work again this year."
What are your thoughts on former Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth being elected president of the NFL Players Association?
Cass: "We're very proud of him. We'll always claim him as a Raven. He's a remarkable young man, outstanding leader, very smart. And I'm sure he's going to do a good job as president of the union."
How tough is it to win the AFC North division?
Cass: "You have to be a good team to win our division, there's no doubt about that. It's going to be very tough competition this year. Cincinnati and Cleveland have made great strides. Pittsburgh has lost a couple of players, but we all know they're going to be incredibly good and strong again. It's going to be a very tough division, maybe the toughest in football."
What have you seen from Steve Bisciotti in terms of his growth as an owner?
Cass: "I think he's expressing himself more at the team level and the league level. At the team level, he's very much involved in the discussions and our plans every year with respect to our own players. At the league level, he's very much involved. He's one of the owners I think people look to for leadership and will continue to do that in the future."
What's your reaction to the message that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has delivered with the punishment of the New Orleans Saints for their bounty program?
Cass: "I think it is a message. Player safety is critically important. To me the biggest threat to our game long-term is player safety. When mothers and fathers won't let their young kids play football any longer, that's a threat to us. We are addressing the problem directly. We have a lot more work to do, but I think we've made great strides. And part of that is Roger's leadership with the emphasis on player safety. At the same time, integrity of the game is incredibly important. If the fans begin to question the integrity of the game, our game is going to go down very quickly. Integrity is very important. Roger has sent a very important message to all the teams that certain types of actions will not be tolerated."
What's the thinking as a franchise about eventually having to replace Ray Lewis and Ed Reed?
"I honestly don't think about that that often because Ray's going to play this year, Ed's going to play this year and then we'll see how they feel and what develops during the course of the year. We know we're going to have this year. They're tremendous leaders. They both have to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. I can't imagine they're not going to be Hall of Famers five years after they retire. So, what a treat for Baltimore to have had these two great players. Ray has been there. This is Ray's 17th year. That's unbelievable, 17 years at that position. He's not a kicker. He's a middle linebacker. It's amazing. Ed Reed also is an unbelievably great player and leader as well. We're fortunate."
What's your typical day like?
Cass: "It depends on the time of year. This time of year we're busy completing all of our sales, working on free agency, draft meetings, trying to get other events for the stadium, which we're trying to work on. We're also getting ready for summer camp, dealing with the league on a lot of issues. I spent not every day, but I spend quite a bit of time as one of the trustees for the player benefit plans. There's three NFL trustees for the plan, and I'm one of them, and there's three union trustees. I don't work on that every day, but I spend quite a bit of time on that.
"There's always league issues that I get involved in, television issues. There's a lot of different issues. It just depends on the day. Every day, it's always something. You go in and something unexpected will happen. Not every day, but at least once a week something you didn't think you would be spending any time on you may spend two or three days on."
Ravens to conduct two youth football clinics at McDaniel
Plans continue for three off-site practices open to fans
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Baltimore Ravens plan to conduct a pair of youth football clinics at McDaniel College in June, according to team president Dick Cass.
One clinic will be focused entirely on high school players and the other one will be tailored to younger players. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his assistant coaches will run one of the clinics, and players will attend the other one.
Meanwhile, the Ravens continue to work on their plans to hold three public practices. An announcement could happen within the next week.
The Ravens plan to hold a practice at M&T Bank Stadium, the Naval Academy and at a third site.
The Ravens decided to shift training camp to team headquarters in Owings Mills going forward after holding training camp in Westminster since their inaugural season in 1996 except for last summer following the NFL lockout.
The Ravens won the AFC North division title last season and and advanced to the AFC championship game where they narrowly lost to the New England Patriots.
"I think nothing we're going to do is going to replicate what we had at McDaniel College, which was an outstanding experience for our fans, but we had to balance engagement with the fans against getting ready for the season," Cass said. "We looked at the situation and compared the facilities and we talked about it a lot and studied it a lot. Our fans want us to win.
"Winning is what they really want us to do. Everything we do, we try to put ourselves in position to win. We thought we put ourselves in the best position to win if we put the training camp at our facility."
Harbaugh reiterated that connecting with the fans remains a high priority for the defending AFC North champions.
"The most important part of training camp is becoming the best football team you can become," Harbaugh said. "The best part of training camp is going over and hanging out with kids. That's the best part of training camp. You get down on one knee, they look you in the eye, they tell you their name, what their favorite subject in school is, what their favorite sport is.
"We're going to have two coaching clinics for youth players, high school and junior high and elementary school players, where we're actually going to coach them up. We're doing everything we can do to mitigate the fact that we don't have training camp in Westminster. It's important."
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