Category Archives: Baltimore Ravens

Injury holding Beanie Wells back again

An NFL comeback for former Ohio State running back Beanie Wells is on hold. Injury, again, is holding Wells back.

According to an ESPN.com report, Wells suffered a torn Achilles while working out for the Baltimore Ravens last week. The report states that the injury is bad enough to keep Wells away from further workouts and out of the NFL for the rest of 201.

A first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, Wells had one very good season and three others with mixed success and injury issues. He ran for 1,047 yards in 2011 but was limited to eight games by a turf toe injury last season. His contract expired, and though several teams — including the Bengals and Steelers — took a look at Wells last offseason, he had a knee injury that kept him unsigned and out of training camp and the early part of this season.

Wells tweeted earlier this month that his knee was better and he was ready to return to action.

An Akron native, Wells averaged 5.8 yards per carry and ran for 23 touchdowns in his final two Ohio State seasons.

AFC North getting richer in NFL Draft

Two days in, I think all four AFC North teams have to be pleased with what they’ve accomplished in the NFL Draft.

You’re supposed to love your own draft, I know. But these teams have added pieces and filled needs without huge reaches, desperate trades or interesting, um, logic.

The Browns haven’t had a spectacular two-pick draft. But they’ve had a solid one, adding pieces at key position and resisting the urge to chase a quarterback who isn’t ready or mortgage future selections. The Browns are building assets, slowly, with an eye on 2014 and beyond.

The Bengals are ready to compete for the division title. They might have scored a big-time runner in Gio Bernard on Friday, a night after adding Tyler Eifert to the pass-catching mix and the pick before they got a tantalizing project of a pass rusher in Margus Hunt. Safety Shawn Williams should come game ready; he’ll need to.

There are pieces in place for a big season (or few seasons) in Cincinnati. It’s still about beating the Ravens, first, and playing like the Bengals belong, not like they’re always trying to prove that they do.

The Ravens traded up in the second round to get Arthur Brown, who must have had medical concerns to drop that far. He plays linebacker, by the way, and the Ravens just lost one of those, right? The Ravens track record says it was a gamble worth taking. They’ve added three defensive players in looking to reload, not rebuild, a defense that finally took a back seat to the offense last season — and the Ravens won a Super Bowl.

The Steelers are still the Steelers. They still need to protect Ben Roethlisberger and they still have age and money issues, but they filled needs Friday with Columbus native Le’Veon Bell at running back and an absolute flyer at receiver in Markus Wheaton, who isn’t Mike Wallace – who is? – but can be an instant impact guy.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the Steelers got Wallace in the third round, too.

The Browns are playing for the future and drafting to eventually keep pace with the quarterbacks their division rivals have; eventually, too, they’ll get one of their own. The Steelers are trying to maximize the years their quarterback has left. The Bengals need their quarterback to be ready for the big games and big expectations ahead.

I really, really like what the Bengals have done in this draft. They — the Browns, too — need to do it every year since the Ravens and Steelers pretty much have for a long time, with few exceptions (and fewer in Baltimore).

The Ravens finally found a quarterback, and they’re the team everybody is chasing. Come fall, we’ll see if the Bengals are ready to be division royalty and if the Steelers can show that last year was simply that one year they have every now and then.

On free agency: The Browns, the Ravens and the money

This and that on NFL free agency …

–I know nothing certain on this, but there are many in the league who expect the next Cleveland Browns shoe to drop to be a trade of a defensive lineman, either Ahtyba Rubin or Phil Taylor. Desmond Bryant gives the team a lot of depth on the defensive front, which is always a good thing, but for some reason it feels like his addition might have a ripple effect.

–This is pure speculation, but is it possible said trade could be with New England for a certain quarterback? Guy by the name of Mallett, perhaps? Bill Belichick can use a defensive lineman, and Lombardi has been rumored to be interested in Ryan Mallett for some time. It has logic, but again there’s nothing certain about it.

–These Mallett rumors simply are just too similar to all the offseason rumors about Mike Lombardi. Everybody talked around them, hemmed and hawed and pretended they weren’t true. Lo and behold … look who’s the GM of the Browns. The Mallett talk seems too similar to be a charade.

–All this is dependent, of course, on the Patriots bringing Matt Cassell back to be Tom Brady’s backup.

–The one need left on the Browns defense after this glut of signings remains at cornerback. The good news is nobody has been taken off the market in the initial wave, so the guys who sign might come at a relative bargain. Pittsburgh’s Keenan Lewis is the obvious first choice. But if the Browns really want to improve and really want to add a player who would be a dynamic tandem with Joe Haden, why not Aqib Talib? Yes, there are issues with him, but that didn’t stop the Browns from adding Bryant. Talib can play. Probably won’t happen.

–The national buzz on the team’s signing of Paul Kruger was not near as positive as the local buzz in Cleveland. This is not surprising. Local folks always are more excited to add a guy. But Kruger’s signing does have questions. Among the comments is this from SI.com’s Don Banks: “I don’t think he’s that kind of lead-dog player, and the expectations shouldn’t be that he’ll necessarily match the nine sacks he got in the 2012 regular season, or the 4.5 he generated in the four-game playoff run.” And this from ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley, a Baltimore resident who sees the Ravens a lot: “Kruger, 27, is a solid player. He isn’t a special one. You just have to temper your expectations for him or you’ll come away disappointed. It’s hard to do that when a team makes this type of financial commitment to a player.” And this from CBSports.com’s Clark Judge: “(The Browns) paid a lot of money for someone with one year of productivity. ‘He’s a very good player and very good in the locker room,’ one scout said, ‘but that’s too rich for me.’”

–The Ravens lost a ton of defensive production and talent — both safeties could be gone if Ed Reed signs elsewhere — but can we please hold off on burying Baltimore? They start with the quarterback, then they have Ozzie Newsome picking the players. Clearly Newsome has made the decision that a retooling on defense would coincide with the retirement of Ray Lewis. Baltimore will be younger on defense, and perhaps not as effective. But Baltimore has lost guys in the past and kept on keeping on. They remain the best team in the division.

–Pittsburgh, on the other hand, seems to be in some serious transition. While the Bengals keep the core of a good, young team, the Steelers are aging and against the salary cap. Cincinnati seems poised to pass them — three playoff appearances in four years — as the division’s second-best team.

–Green Bay was said to be bringing Peyton Hillis in for a visit. Evidently a guy just can’t wear out his welcome at enough teams before the league decides he’s not worth the trouble.

–Thirty million dollars in guaranteed money for Mike Wallace? Really?

–Ex-Ravens Kruger and Danell Ellerbe have started 20 games between them. They earned contracts worth $76 million on Tuesday. Timing really is everything when it comes to free agency.

–This kind of spending always reminds me of what Carmen Policy once said about free agent signings: Teams pay guys as if they are the best at their position rather than the best available at their position. Happens every year. And it will keep happening.

–The national buzz on Bryant was a lot different than the buzz on Kruger. Folks actually thought Bryant’s addition was a good one. Wrote Hensley: “At 27 years old, Bryant is one of those under-the-radar players who has the chance to be a game-changer on the Browns’ new 3-4 defense. He spent four seasons on an underachieving Oakland Raiders defense, but he always showed great tenacity and a high motor.” Any motor reference is always comforting.

–A wise coach once told me “stats are for losers,” so keep that in mind: ESPN’s stats group reports that Browns linebackers had 19.5 tackles for loss or sacks last season, last in the league.

 

The fallout from Baltimore’s trade of Anquan Boldin

There are trades and then there are trades and then there are trades that are really something.

When the Baltimore Ravens gave up wide receiver Anquan Boldin for a sixth-round draft pick, that was a trade that ranked in the “really something” category.

The notion that Boldin would leave the Ravens was shocking in itself. There is no stronger or more physical presence at the position in the league. The guy plays, he leads and he contributes. His playoff performances as the Ravens won the Super Bowl were outstanding. In four games, he had 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns. He also came down with a huge third-down catch in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that set up a field goal that made Baltimore’s lead five points.

Boldin isn’t the fastest, the biggest or the most polished of receivers.

But he can block, he’s as strong as anyone and most important he shows up on Sunday.

Add him to a 49ers team that already includes Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis and Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick and … well … that’s Super Bowl caliber again.

Even if Boldin doesn’t work out, all San Francisco gave up was a sixth-round pick. Which is well worth the risk.

Meanwhile, the fallout in the AFC North is not insignificant.

The Browns won’t have to watch Boldin beat them up twice a year, nor will the Bengals. Boldin had 32 catches for 488 yards and three TDs against the Browns, and 22 for 264 yards and four TDs against the Bengals.

That mismatch has moved on.

The other fallout could affect the Browns free agent plans. Rumors and logic have the Browns interested in Ravens linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.

Trading Boldin clears $6 million in cap space for the Ravens. Whether that’s enough to keep Ellerbe or Kruger remains to be seen, but it’s a step.

Finally, Baltimore is not as good without Boldin as it was with him. But it’s hard to think that Ozzie Newsome doesn’t have a plan ready and waiting to replace him. The Ravens are consistent winners for a reason.

Flacco worth every penny to Ravens

Joe Flacco will have a Super Bowl ring soon. He already did the Disney commercial and rode in the parade.

Flacco’s big, fat, new contract was finalized Monday, guaranteeing Flacco an exorbitant amount of money and ensuring that Flacco will be playing in Baltimore as long as the Ravens will have him.

It’s the richest contract a NFL player has ever signed, but that doesn’t mean Flacco is the most valuable or most talented player in his own locker room, let alone throughout the league. It means, above all else, that he plays the right position.

Quarterbacks. The best ones get paid. Even the pretty good ones get paid. The teams that don’t have a great or pretty good one wish they had one to pay — and spend countless resources and energy chasing guys who might be pretty good. Flacco came from Delaware (via Pitt), the 18th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft after making the decision to go to the Senior Bowl and show his talents rather than stay away based on some perceived draft standing.

You’d think more guys would learn from that.

Flacco landed with a great organization — one that happened to be a quarterback-starved organization — and immediately started winning. The Ravens are smart, have been smart and will be smart. Sure, one pass in Denver last January to Jacoby Jones made the Ravens seem a little smarter, made Flacco look a little better and ultimately loomed large in making him crazy-rich, but it falls in line.

When you get your guy at the NFL’s most important position, you pay to keep him. Any thought that Flacco was going to come within a mile of the free-agent market this offseason was simply a silly, short-sighted one.

Get the right quarterback, and the Jacoby Joneses of the world start making plays. Paying Flacco what he’s worth — plus some, just because he’s a quarterback — might end up costing you a Paul Kruger, Cary Williams or Dannell Ellerbe due to salary-cap concerns, and that’s not just the nature of the beast. It’s the price you pay for having the right quarterback. It’s the price any organization would gladly pay.

The Steelers have holes and age issues; they also have Ben Roethlisberger, so they keep mortgaging a long-term future with a bunch of contract restructuring to try to keep winning now. The Broncos paid Peyton Manning $18 million last year because he gave their talented roster a much better chance to win big prizes than the previous quarterbacks did. Arizona was in the Super Bowl five years ago and now, well, you, get the picture.

The 49ers are probably the closest thing the NFL currently has in terms of having top-shelf players at nearly every positional group. The 49ers changed quarterbacks at midseason last year. The 49ers watched Flacco raise the Super Bowl MVP trophy.

Getting the right quarterback, as difficult as it is, just makes everything easier.

The value of having your guy at that position is immeasurable. Not that Flacco needs the money, but he’d be a great fit if MasterCard is still doing those “priceless” commercials.

In the past four seasons (2009-12), Flacco and Aaron Rodgers are the only NFL quarterbacks to throw for at least 3,600 yards and 20 TDs while posting 12 or fewer interceptions. A year from now, Rodgers is going to get a contract that probably is worth more than Flacco’s. Assuming Rodgers continues to play at a high level into his 30s and keeps the Packers among the league’s best, it will be worth it and then some.

Flacco is 33-7 at home in the regular season, has 63 total wins and has won six games on the road in the playoffs. You can’t win the tournament if you don’t get there, and you rarely get there without your quarterback.

He might be overpaid in terms of raw numbers. In terms of what he’s meant to the Ravens and what he means going forward, Flacco is worth every penny.

VIDEO: Andre Knott and I break down the Browns quarterback situation

A tale of Art Modell two years before he announced his move

Pretty interesting Plain Dealer article today, detailing a story from former police chief Edward Kovacic, who told the PD’s Philip Morris a tale from 1993. (Anyone got another synonym for “story”?) This was more than two years before word broke of the Browns move to Baltimore, and certainly illustrates that Modell had this move in mind for far longer than he ever admitted.

In the story, Kovacic said Modell sidled over to him at the opening of a park in the summer of 1993 and asked if he could pass a message to Mayor Mike White.

Said Modell: “You tell him that if he doesn’t talk to me, if he doesn’t sit down and talk to me, he’s going to wake up one morning and find that the Cleveland Browns are the Baltimore Browns.”

Read the rest of the story. It will only confirm that Hall of Fame voters definitely got it right last weekend.

Oh, and by the way, that tale about Modell graciously giving up the team name? Not.

Of Ray Lewis and deer antler extract

Deer. Antler. Extract.

Those are words I never expected to type in this pitiful career.

Heck, just the words “deer” and “antler” coming off this keyboard are pretty unusual.

Which pretty much shows that I don’t run in the same circles as professional athletes, thank goodness for them.

Ray Lewis has again proven that athletes will do almost anything to get on the field — and stay on the field. Shady, unproven, back rooms, wacky science, liquid from an antler … they’ll go anywhere to get an edge.

Lewis was accused in a Sports Illustrated story of using deer antler extract to help heal a torn triceps muscle so he could play again this season.

Two things can be said at this point.

First, Lewis’ comeback to an injury most consider season-ending was pretty remarkable.

Second, deer have never gotten such national pub.

The story also illustrates why Lewis is so polarizing. He’s a great player, but he was there in Atlanta when two kids from Akron were murdered 13 years ago. He works out like mad, but his voice was taped asking for deer antler stuff from a place called S.W.A.T.S. — Sports With Alternatives to Steroids.

Lewis pointed out he had never tested positive in his NFL life, a fact the Ravens also put out. Except that IGF-1, the ingredient in deer antler extract, can only be detected by a blood test. and the NFL does not have blood testing. (IFG-1 is banned by the NFL because it is the product that Human Growth Hormone breaks down to in the body.)

So Lewis’ claim about no failed test could be looked on as a classic non-denial denial.

Though he did issue stronger denials later, and on Wednesday.

Let’s not make this deer stuff into proven science. It’s not. And SI does not claim it is.

But the circumstantial evidence is pretty overwhelming. The guy who runs the “lab” that gives it out claimed Jamal Lewis used 40 bottles of deer antler spray (it goes under the tongue) in 2007. That was the year Lewis, an aging back, gained 1,304 yards for the Browns.

Again, no proof, but some strong evidence.

Former Browns lineman Joe DeLamielleure even uses it now to ward off post-career concussion symptoms, according to SI.

Too, there are court documents from a lawsuit filed by former NFL linebacker David Vobora over the ingredients in the deer antler stuff, so there are court documents about it..

And there are taped conversations with several players, among them Lewis.

This entire thing clearly shows that players will go to any lengths to gain an edge. Any lengths.

Rafeael Palmiero will wag his finger at Congress and say he never took steroids, then test positive. Guys who tested positive blame the positive test on the most exotic stuff imaginable. One player I covered lost 40 pounds after knee surgery. This was back in the days when guys were on crutches for weeks after surgery; yet the guy lost 40 pounds when he was sedentary and couldn’t work out.

Why does this deer stuff matter?

Because if it’s true, then Lewis cheated.

If Lewis did it, he took something that was against the rules, and he cheated.

He’s no different from Mark McGwire, Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez — all those who cheated the greats of baseball and produced inflated numbers.

And too, why does a double murder form 13 years ago still matter? Because two young lives were lost. It might not be fair to continually bring it up to him, but Lewis was there when two young Akron lives were lost, and he told people to be quiet about what happened, and did something with his clothes from that night because they were never found. He was charged with murder, took a plea bargain and went on with his life.

Now he’s glorified for playing football, enabled all the way by the sycophants who make him into a hero because he can tackle a guy and make a spectacle of himself. Great player? No doubt. But when the four-letter network brings on two analysts and one calls a double murder a bonding element for the Ravens in the following Super Bowl, and when another calls SI’s well-reported and exhaustive story “antics” as if it’s something out to “distract” Lewis, something seems a little bit off.

Stories are reported, and when they’re ready, they’re printed, or ran online, or whatever. The story might have been timed for Super Bowl — big stories used to be held for the Sunday paper — but there was never a guarantee that Lewis would be in the Super Bowl. Given the reporting, it’s hard to imagine that story not taking some time to report and write. The story had detailed information about a lot of people other than Lewis, including the University of Alabama.Yet all the talking heads can discuss is how the story was nonsense timed to upset him, and what a great player Ray Lewis is.

Imagine if some of this season’s success might have been made possible by some liquid taken from deer antler harvested in New Zealand.

Moment(s) of truth for Bengals, plus a TV note

The Bengals would like a sold out crowd and local TV coverage for their Dec. 30 season finale vs. the Ravens, and the team put the word out Monday that it’s “optimistic we can have a full house.”

What will be at stake in that game? That depends mostly on the Bengals.

At 9-5 with two games left, the Bengals trail the Ravens by a game in the AFC North Division and are one game up on the Steelers in the race for the AFC’s second wild card spot. The Bengals are at Pittsburgh this weekend in a game they need very badly.

There are still scenarios to sort through and important games to be played, none more important than the Bengals trying to win in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2009. If the Bengals lose to the Steelers and the Colts — who, at 10-4, currently hold the first wild card — win one of their last two, the Bengals would need to beat the Ravens and have the Browns win in Pittsburgh in the season finale to make the playoffs.

Baltimore at Cincinnati shapes up as a candidate to be flexed to Sunday Night Football given the potential of it being a division championship game, though it’s unlikely it would be chosen over a meaningful Cowboys-Redskins game. That’s just how things work in TV.

Week 17 games don’t have to be flexed until next Monday, the only exception to the NFL’s usual 12-day rule for such announcements and moves.

The Bengals have sold out five of seven home games this year. The team also announced Monday it’s sending invoices to season-ticket holders in advance of a possible home playoff game if the Bengals win out and the Ravens lose to the Giants next Sunday, the only scenario in which the Bengals can win the AFC North.

They can clinch a playoff spot if the Jets lose tonight in Tennessee, the Ravens lose to the Giants and the Bengals win in Pittsburgh.

The moments of truth are here, and the Bengals can play their way in by finally beating the divison rivals they’ve been chasing.

AFC North still the haves and have-nots

CINCINNATI – Poor, pathetic, overmatched and silenced.

The Bengals were all of the above Sunday night.

They limp into their bye week on a three-game losing streak, have a multitude of issues to sort through and have zero momentum as they point to back-to-back home games after the bye against teams with quarterbacks named Manning, teams that will have plenty to play for.

What’s most disappointing right now — besides that whole A.J. Green having just one catch thing — is that the young, talented and flawed Bengals came into this season needing to prove, above all else, that they belonged on the field with the Steelers and Ravens, the longtime class of the division and two teams who beat on the Bengals a year ago.

So far, no good.

The Ravens ripped the Bengals in Week One in Baltimore. The Steelers steadily took over Sunday night.

The Bengals are not ready for prime time.

What makes the whole division issue even more disappointing is that the Steelers are old, slow and very much trying to find themselves. The Bengals led 14-3 midway through the second quarter and were up 14-6 with the ball near midfield with 1:30 left in the half.

They got all of 70 yards in the second half. The stadium was full of “Heath” cheers for Steelers tight end Heath Miller and black and gold-clad fans waving their Terrible Towels. A terrible night all the way around, and a terrible time for a three-game losing streak.

The Ravens are as wobbly as a 5-2 team can be. They get the blessing of a bye week and following that with a trip to Cleveland. The Steelers are fighting for everything and are just 3-3 with the Redskins and Giants on tap. At 3-4, the Bengals are mathematically in it.

Realistically, their coaching staff is a strong candidate to coach the Senior Bowl.

Sunday night’s lack of continuity and momentum in the second half was, well, a mess. The Bengals are miles behind the teams they wanted to measure themselves against and at least close the gap on in 2012. It’s not a lost year yet, but the Bengals looked lost for much of Sunday night in a game that could have been a launching pad.

One more reason the Browns could have won: Baltimore’s defense

At one point Thursday afternoon I was thinking that the Baltimore Ravens could be had.

Why?

Because their defense is a mirage.

The Ravens are living off the past, because this season through four games they are anything but formidable — especially against the pass.

Through four games the Ravens have given up 193, 357, 319 and 313 yards passing.

Those numbers when total yards are considered: 322, 486, 396 and 357.

Which ranks the Ravens 25th in the league, two spots ahead of the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore is giving up 390.2 yards per game.

The last time the Ravens ranked as low as 25th in the league in total yardage was 1997.

The Ravens are winning through four games because they’ve opened up the offense and Joe Flacco is playing great. And they are winning because they have kept teams out of the end zone. Baltimore is giving up 20.8 points per game, 10th in the league.

But when teams move the ball on a defense it increases the likelihood they will score. At some point this weakness will be exposed. To say the Ravens are winning on defense is to believe in mirages. Because Baltimore’s defense is living off its reputation.

And that is why the Browns loss was so frustrating.

The game was there for the taking.