On Tuesday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed that the Ravens were releasing four veteran leaders who had contributed more than 1,000 catches, 100 touchdowns and 500 tackles combined to the franchise.
But just because certain players sit atop several categories in the team’s record books and rank highly in the hearts of Baltimore fans doesn’t necessarily mean they should still be sitting atop their respective positions on the team’s depth chart. In the NFL, the saying “What have you done for me lately?” doesn’t always apply. Sometimes, “Who can do what you have done for me lately, but for less money?” is more fitting.
Up against the cap after the NFL lockout ended Monday, the Ravens had to shed salary so they can sign some of their key free agents and fill out their roster. In the case of defensive tackle Kelly Gregg and running back Willis McGahee, cheaper and more talented alternatives were already on the roster. As for Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, the team’s two all-time leading receivers, the projected production didn’t match the price.
The Ravens might try to bring back Heap and Mason for less money, but those two former Pro Bowlers will have other suitors, especially Heap, the one player they might not be able to replace this offseason.
No offense to Mason, who can still play thanks to his savvy and skillful route-running, but the Ravens would be wise to go in another direction. They already have a top possession receiver in Anquan Boldin, and he didn’t get as many touches as he should have in 2010. He never said anything publicly, but he didn’t need to. Everybody saw that his production didn’t match his big contract.
Heap, though, was more valuable than many realize. The tight end’s struggles with injuries during a decade in Baltimore are well-documented, and he isn’t the deep threat that he once was and Ed Dickson may soon become. But Heap still has soft hands and worked to become a reliable blocker under Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. If the Ravens experience turnover on the offensive line, Heap’s big body will be missed.
Make no mistake, though, these moves were born from necessity. There is speculation that the Ravens may be gearing up to make a splash in free agency, and maybe they do have their eyes on a difference-maker like cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha or wideout Santonio Holmes. But they had very little wiggle room to re-sign players such as offensive lineman Marshal Yanda and cornerback Chris Carr before their Black Monday maneuverings.
Roster cuts aren’t easy, a sentiment that everyone expressed Tuesday. But the NFL is a business, and finding cheaper alternatives for aging players is a part of the business the Ravens have been pretty good at.