Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome broke his silence about middle linebacker Rolando McClain, commenting for the first time since the former Alabama star retired for the second time in the past year.
After struggling during a workout two weeks ago, McClain was activated from the reserve-retired list.
During the first day of voluntary workouts on April 21, the 2010 Oakland Raiders first-round draft pick changed his mind and announced his retirement. McClain has since been placed back on the reserve-retired list. The Ravens retain McClain's contractual rights, but a source close to the situation told The Baltimore Sun that his decision is permanent.
"Rolando retired," Newsome said Wednesday. "At the end of the day, a person has to make a decision whether he wants to play football or not play football. His decision was to retire.”
McClain has close ties to Newsome as a former consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner at Alabama. He retired a year ago shortly after he was signed by the Ravens and then arrested in his hometown of Decatur, Ala., and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest following an incident with police at a park.
The Ravens lost no money on McClain, who was signed a year ago to a one-year, $700,000 contract that included no guaranteed money.
When asked about the Ravens' evaluation of McClain, who has a history of legal problems and was once suspended for conduct detrimental to the team during his final season with the Raiders due to an argument with coach Dennis Allen. Newsome denied that the team had altered its usual approach.
"I think the process that we go through is a very similar process that we’ve done since 1996,” Newsome said. "We want all the input from as many people as we can get. That helps us to make decisions."
A former Alabama All-American tight end who played for the late Bear Bryant, Newsome laughed when asked if the McClain experience would give him pause when it comes to Alabama football players.
Newsome's son, Boys Latin graduate Michael Newsome, walked on at Alabama as a defensive lineman.
“My son’s still there,” Newsome said. “I think that takes care of that one.”
During a recent conference call, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said that teams should be careful about drafting Alabama players despite the Crimson Tide winning three national championships in the past five years under coach Nick Saban.
“Alabama defensive players in general have struggled in the NFL,” Kiper said during a recent conference call. “It’s not just one or two. It’s a pretty good list of names you can throw out there of guys that have not gotten it done on the defensive side of the ball.
Since 2010 when McClain was drafted eighth overall, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle is the lone former Alabama first-round pick to be named to the Pro Bowl. Other first-round picks that haven't panned out nearly as well include Houston Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Mark Barron and Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre' Kirkpatrick.
Kiper was also critical of 2010 Ravens second-round draft pick Terrence Cody, who has struggled with injuries and lost his starting job two years ago. The Ravens also drafted Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw in the second round in 2012 and he has been a solid player with 84 tackles and three sacks in two seasons with 22 starts.
“There is a concern about that, and it probably is because they’re coached up so well," Kiper said. "They’re in a great system, they all complement each other, they come into the league thinking they are as close as they can be. Basically they’ve hit their ceiling, they’re as good as they’re going to get. There’s not that upside that you see with some other guys.
The Ravens have brought in two Alabama players for official visits this spring who are projected as first-round draft picks: safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Will the poor recent track record of Alabama draft picks affect the draft stock of Clinton-Dix and Mosley?
“Maybe that’s a factor, but it is something you have to look at," Kiper said. "There is a host of players out of the Alabama defense that have come in as high draft choices and have frankly been major disappointments.
Ravens director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, an Auburn graduate, defended the Alabama players, saying: "I hate to hear the Alabama guys get so beat up because they play through pain and they're so tough."