By Peter Schmuck
The Baltimore Sun
December 27, 2007
Brian Billick and Ozzie Newsome are too polite to put Jonathan Ogden on the spot, so I will:
Things can only get better.
Ogden spent several months agonizing over his decision to return for the 2007 season, finally advising the Ravens before April's draft that he would put off retirement for at least one more season.
Now, he's basically in the same situation he was in a year ago, except he just made the Pro Bowl again and he has proved he can play at a high level in spite of that chronic turf toe. And, even though no one in the organization is going to come right out and say it, he is all but irreplaceable.
There is no one on this team who can take his place and perform close to his level, and there is no one the Ravens could either draft or acquire during the offseason who could adequately fill the void at left tackle if he decides not to return.
It's easy to understand how he might want to go home and do something else. He has made a ton of money in this business, and he has taken a beating doing it. No one could blame him for going back to Las Vegas and nestling into a La-Z-Boy with a good book and the NFL Ticket television package next season.
That's why the Ravens are being careful not to press him for an answer, which is smart, because just about every player feels like retiring at the end of a long season. (Heck, I would have stopped showing up after Week 10 if they didn't serve nachos in the press box.).
"We'll give him that time," Billick said again yesterday. "It's not something we've really addressed. We'll take it at the pace he decides."
Loose translation: The last thing we want to do is have him make his decision right after our 10th straight loss. Given time, he'll figure out you can only spend so many nights playing blackjack at the Bellagio and start yearning for the stifling August heat and exhilarating nightlife in Westminster.
Ogden isn't playing coy as Roger Clemens did the past couple of years. He really had to grapple with the decision to come back after missing the final two regular-season games of 2006 with that painful toe. He missed five of the first six games this season before returning to earn his 11th consecutive Pro Bowl invitation.
This isn't a matter of trying to hang on. Quite the contrary. There's no question he would still be an elite player next fall, but that probably won't be the most important consideration when he ponders his future over the next few months.
"The equation is pretty much the same [as last year]," Ogden said yesterday. "How healthy do I feel? Is the love and passion for the game still there? Where is the team headed? At most, it's one more year, so I'll kind of examine all those things."
Clearly, the health question is foremost heading into the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It's been a rough season," he said. " ... There hasn't been a day this year I haven't been in the training room. That's no fun. I have to get healthy."
It's fair to say everyone in the Ravens organization wants him back (except maybe the third-string tackles), because a decision to stay makes it easier for Newsome to go into the draft and fill the other gaping holes that have developed during this discouraging season. You don't have to be John Madden to know the Ravens will be a much better team next year if they can use their high draft position to fix the depleted secondary instead of the offensive line.
Teammate Derrick Mason has been around long enough to understand the thought process a veteran player goes through at the end of each grueling season.
"There comes a point in everyone's career when they question whether they still want to play the game," Mason said. "You come to a point when you say, 'Hey, can I do this another year?'
"He's been in the game 12 years, and, for the last 11 of them, he's been the best tackle in the game. He deserves that respect. If he says he needs time to think about it, you let him have the space to make that decision. Whatever that decision will be, it will be the best decision for him, his family and this team."
I suppose that makes perfect sense, but so does this:
Don't make us beg.
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