Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens' Pro Bowl left offensive tackle, yesterday questioned his team's commitment to winning after allowing three starting offensive linemen to leave via free agency, and he also was uncertain about his future in Baltimore after the remaining two years expire on his contract.
Right tackle Orlando Brown signed a six-year, $27.3 million contract with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday that made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL, and center-guard Wally Williams signed a five-year, $18.5 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
Ogden also pointed out that the Ravens' Eric Green, one of the NFL's best blocking tight ends, signed with the New York Jets for four years and $7.5 million Tuesday.
The Ravens also lost part-time starting guard Ben Cavil in the expansion draft to the Browns.
Despite Brown, Williams and Green underachieving last season and the Ravens having the NFL's 26th-ranked offense, Ogden said some of those players should have been given a chance to play for new coach Brian Billick. Ogden spoke with James Harris, the Ravens' pro personnel director, Wednesday to air his feelings.
Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, confirmed that Ogden had spoken to Harris, and was confident that any problems with Ogden had been worked out. Newsome also said the team would be sure to try to re-sign Ogden long before his contract expired.
"I'm sitting here watching all these names flash up on the board about Wally signing with New Orleans, Zeus [Brown] going to Cleveland and Eric playing for the Jets, and I'm wondering what is going on back there," said Ogden by phone from California. "I understand this is a business and maybe one had to go because you don't want to tie up all of that money in the offensive line, but why both of them? From my viewpoint, it doesn't seem like we want to win.
"I understand Zeus because Cleveland offered him a lot of money, but Wally they could have done differently. This is going to hurt because we have lost a lot of talent. Then with Eric and Ben, we have lost four of our six best blockers."
When reminded that the Ravens had scored just 16.8 points a game last year, ranked last in the NFL in first downs and red-zone offense and were last in the AFC with an average of 281 yards a game, Ogden suggested the Ravens should have looked at other factors as well.
"You want to know if coaching played a part," said Ogden. "You should look at all sides, like how certain players were utilized, injuries and the game plan. Some of them should have at least been given a chance with the new coach. I told James Harris I was unhappy about the situation and he replied that Brian had a plan on what he wanted to do. I told him that's nice, but I sure hope it works. I'm tired of losing. I want to win. Three straight years of losing is getting to me."
Besides Ogden, the Ravens have only one other full-time starter returning on the offensive line, right guard Jeff Blackshear. Center Jeff Mitchell started 10 games last season. Right tackle James Atkins started six. Only Blackshear and Ogden drew consistent high marks and Atkins played well in the games he started.
The Ravens have been active in the free-agent market lately, pursuing players like San Diego guard-center Raleigh McKenzie and offensive tackle Harry Swayne.
"I've always been a man and if I'm wrong about us not trying to win, then I'll be the first to admit it," Ogden said.
Ogden was the Ravens' first draft pick ever in 1996, No. 4 overall. He has quickly established himself as one of the league's best offensive linemen. Ogden is expected to make $2.5 million in base salary this season and the franchise number in 2000. The 1999 franchise number for offensive linemen is $3.369 million.
After that, he can become an unrestricted free agent. According to Ogden, there are clauses in his contract that prohibit the team from designating him as either the franchise or transition player after his fifth year in the league. He said he wasn't overly concerned about the team's reputation of not re-signing its top offensive linemen.
"I will play as hard the next two years as I have the last three, that's just the way I am," said Ogden. "Sure, I would like to become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the game.
"The Ravens are aware of my contract and they know they can't tag me. But this isn't all about money because I know someone will pay me. This is about winning. I like playing in Baltimore. It's close to my family [in Washington] and this is a great town. I'm sure the Ravens will start working with me on a contract by the middle of this season or next, but I'm just as interested on where this team is heading. After this season, I'll know."