The Ravens took a lot of criticism in 1996 for signing Jonathan Ogden to a seven-year, $15.5 million contract that included voidable clauses, but yesterday the second-year offensive tackle became a standard around the NFL when he was named to the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
Ogden, the team's first pick in Baltimore and No. 4 overall in the 1996 draft out of UCLA, was the only Raven selected to the squad, a fact that upset a number of his teammates who said second-year middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the NFL's leader in tackles, should have been on the first team.
Lewis and defensive end Michael McCrary were picked as first alternates, meaning that they will go to the Pro Bowl if one player in front of them cannot participate.
Rookie outside linebacker Peter Boulware, the team's first-round draft pick this year, was selected as a second alternate along with kick and punt returner Jermaine Lewis, kicker Matt Stover and special teams standout Bennie Thompson.
The votes are compiled from fans, coaches and players, with each total getting equal weight.
"It's nice to get voted in, especially when it comes from your peers," said the 6-foot-9, 330-pound Ogden, who will start in the Feb. 1 game in Honolulu because he was the second-leading vote-getter at the position. "This is my first Pro Bowl and I guess the first one is always special. I thought I was going to make it, but you never know how the voting goes.
"I guess it helps when you're a high-round draft pick," he added. "We've still got two games left, so I'm not going to think about it until then. I'm not going out there [to Honolulu] to try and run over somebody. I'm going out there to have some fun."
Ogden was joined on the team by tackles Tony Boselli of Jacksonville and Bruce Armstrong of New England. The selection of Ogden is even more impressive because he made the switch from left guard last season to left tackle.
Ogden had a transition period in the preseason, then allowed his only sack against the Jaguars' Clyde Simmons in the season opener. Since then, Ogden has pitched shutouts against such defensive standouts as Washington's Ken Harvey, Jacksonville's Tony Brackens and the New York Jets' Hugh Douglas.
"I think anyone who is around pro football has to be impressed with a second-year player who is elected to the Pro Bowl at the most demanding position on the offensive line," said Ravens executive vice president David Modell, who negotiated the Ogden deal that included a $6.8 million signing bonus. "Our judgment from the beginning was that he would be a special player and our agreement covers at least half of his career with us."
Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said, simply, "Jonathan never has a bad day on Sunday."
Ogden was supposed to take the rest of the offensive line out for dinner last night to celebrate, but there was no cheering in the Ravens' locker room when it was announced that Ray Lewis was not on the first team.
Lewis, the 26th player chosen in the first round of the 1996 draft, has 185 tackles this year. But he was beaten out for the inside linebacker spots by Pittsburgh's Levon Kirkland, who leads the Steelers with 118 tackles, and San Diego's Junior Seau, who has only 90.
"I thought if you went out and put up the numbers, then you made the Pro Bowl," Lewis said. "I'm disappointed, but the best thing is not to set yourself up like that. I thought this was about what you did this year, not what you have done in past years. It's just one of those situations where you do the best you can, and whatever happens, just happens."
Some of his teammates were not as diplomatic.
"They need to redo the way they do this voting," Thompson said. "Junior Seau has not done a thing in the NFL this year. Levon Kirkland has not done a thing in the NFL this year. I'll take Ray over those two guys any time.
"They need to change the system where players vote for their friends or what players have done in the past."
Ogden said, "That's so disappointing. It's so political, which is why I didn't know if I was going to make the team. It's the good old boy network, based on reputation."
McCrary said, "What more could [Lewis] have done? This guy leads the NFL in tackles and nobody is even close to him. There is no question who should have been on the first team.
"The only consolation is that people in the league, people who really watch football, know who the top linebackers are."
Lewis was also hurt by the Ravens' subpar record and lack of national television exposure.
McCrary, signed by the team during the offseason, said he was slighted, too. McCrary is third on the team in tackles with 73 and second in sacks with nine.
Buffalo's Bruce Smith, Denver's Neil Smith and Seattle Michael Sinclair were chosen ahead of McCrary.
"They disrespected me last year and disrespected me again this season, but this was something I wasn't expecting," said McCrary, who tied for the AFC lead in sacks last year (13.5) while playing for Seattle. "Actually, this is only the second year I have played the position, so I'm making progress."
Stover had a shot at making the first team but missed two field-goal attempts in Sunday's victory over the Seahawks.
Jermaine Lewis, in his second year out of the University of Maryland, leads the NFL in punt return average at 18.6 yards but was slowed for seven games because of ankle injuries.
Boulware has 10.5 sacks and is close to triggering a future incentive clause because he has gone over 8.5 sacks and has played in more than 80 percent of the team's defensive plays.
Thompson leads the Ravens in special teams tackles with 17.
"Ray Lewis could have had 400 tackles and he wouldn't have made the first team based on this [voting] system," Boulware said. "But he's only 22. Look around. There are a lot of young players on this team just gaining recognition. We're young, but we're going to be a great team in the NFL."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun