I mentioned this on my Twitter account, but I wanted to go into a little more detail here. Eight of the nine oldest Ravens – and the six oldest overall - from the team that won the Super Bowl two months ago are no longer under contract with the team. That group includes Ray Lewis (37, retired), Bobbie Williams (36, released), Matt Birk (36, retired), Brendon Ayanbadejo (36, will be released), Ed Reed (34, signed with Houston), Ma’ake Kemoeatu (34, free agent), Bryant McKinnie (33, free agent) and Anquan Boldin (32, traded to San Francisco). The only exception is cornerback Chris Johnson, the 33-year-old who re-signed with the Ravens last month. Johnson and fullback Vonta Leach (31) are currently the two oldest players on the team and the only players on the roster over the age of 30.
Speaking of Ayanbadejo, my colleague Aaron Wilson said it best about the reserve linebacker’s pending release when he tweeted, “Important number to know about Brendon Ayanbadejo wasn't his $1.073 million salary-cap figure, it was his age: Turns 37 on Sept. 6 this year. As skilled and well-conditioned as Brendon Ayanbadejo is, special teams is a young man’s game.” Ayanbadejo was a three-time Pro Bowl performer on special teams and the long-time leader of that group for the Ravens. But he has shown some signs of slowing down, making no tackles in four playoff games. The Ravens are going to have a ton of youth on their roster and many of their 12 draft picks, along with guys like Anthony Allen, Corey Graham, Chykie Brown and James Ihedigbo, will undoubtedly make up their coverage teams.
Ayanbadejo was very close with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, so his release has very little to do with what I’m about to say. But it does seem like every roster defection is now accompanied by questions about the exiting player’s relationship with Harbaugh. Sure, the Ravens have lost or have gotten rid of some of their most outspoken players. I’m not saying that’s a complete coincidence, but I don’t think that was the impetus behind many of the moves either. In just about all the cases, the biggest factors have been money, age and performance. That’s what it comes down to NFL-wide. It’s been popular for us to look back at that much-publicized team meeting following the loss to the Texans in Week 7. Obviously the meeting stirred up some hard feelings and several of the more vocal players during it, like Bernard Pollard, Reed and Cary Williams, are now gone. But to attribute their exits to what happened that day is a little much. After all, everybody seemed to coexist just fine during the Super Bowl run and Pollard and Reed were among numerous Ravens to heap praise on Harbaugh along the way.
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The four-game suspension of young safety Christian Thompson may not have a great effect on the 2013 Ravens because Thompson, a fourth-round pick last year, is still pretty raw and didn’t play much last year. However, it’s a huge blow to Thompson, who spoke confidently last month about moving into a bigger role this coming season. I caught up with Thompson at an autograph signing and he talked about how much he learned last year by just being around veteran teammates and going to meetings. He admitted that he had a much better grasp of the playbook than he did during his rookie season. He described his mindset as, “I’m playing next year, regardless of who is on the field with me.” Well, now he’s going to have to wait at least four weeks, all while answering questions about his maturity. Thompson was suspended for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. Such a suspension only occurs when a player runs afoul of the policy several times and defies several warnings. I can’t tell you why Thompson didn’t get the message after the first couple of warnings, but perhaps the suspension, and the loss of a significant chunk of his 2013 salary, will resonate a little more with him.
Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said yesterday that he sees “no way” that Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o will be available when the Ravens prepare to make their selection at No. 32 in the first round of the draft. Perhaps, that will end some of the speculation connecting Te’o to the Ravens, but I doubt it. My gut feeling all along was that the Ravens do like Te’o but not enough to trade a couple of picks to move up and take him. We shall see. The Ravens don’t exactly tip their hand at this time of year.
We’re still about three weeks away from this year’s draft, so it’s premature to already start talking about next year. However, it is probably worth pointing out that the Ravens, who have been awarded more compensatory picks than any other team since 1995 and have four later this month, are in line for another haul of picks next year. The compensatory picks are awarded to teams losing more or better free agents than it acquires in the previous offseason. Well, the Ravens have already lost Reed, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. Guys who are released and sign elsewhere don’t factor into the equation. So while Pollard, who joined the Tennessee Titans, doesn’t apply, nor do any of the four guys the Ravens have signed so far. Elvis Dumervil, Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Michael Huff were all waived by their former teams before joining the Ravens. There is a lot of offseason remaining and plenty of free agents still out there, but the Ravens are in line to accrue some more comp picks next year.
Early speculation is that the NFL will release its schedule April 16. It’s expected that they’ll announce the Ravens’ Sept. 5 regular-season opening opponent before then, but there has been nothing new on that front. The Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears are still probably the three matchups that make the most sense.