By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
8:06 AM EST, February 18, 2014
By now, I'd expect that Ray Rice has spoken to either general manager Ozzie Newsome or head coach John Harbaugh and given his side of the story or at least apologized for the negative attention his recent arrest caused the organization.
Still, Newsome's admission yesterday that he had yet to speak with Rice was extremely surprising, if not telling. I’m not trying to pile on Rice, who was arrested along with his fiancée over the weekend at a casino after the two were involved in a physical altercation, according to Atlantic City police. I’m also not assessing blame. It’s entirely possible that Rice had tried to contact Newsome and/or Harbaugh and the parties were playing phone tag although Newsome didn’t indicate that was the case.
Approximately 60 hours had passed between Rice’s arrest and Newsome’s comments to the media, which would seemingly be enough time for them to connect. Rice has always had a very good relationship with both Harbaugh and Newsome. You would think that high-ranking Ravens officials would have wanted an immediate explanation from Rice. You would also think that Newsome would have been one of Rice’s first calls after the arrest. That they hadn’t spoken as of yesterday spurs even more questions.
That being said, I firmly believe Newsome when he says that Rice, as things stood yesterday, remains a big part of the Ravens’ plans for the 2014 season. Of course, the key words in that sentence were “as things stood.” Newsome isn’t going to paint the organization into a corner. It’s still very early in the legal process and things have to play out. If the situation was little more than a minor understanding – which Rice’s attorney suggested – there’s little reason to believe that Rice’s status with the Ravens will change.
Releasing the sixth-year running back just to send a message also doesn’t seem likely, given the Ravens’ history of standing by their players, Rice’s previous positive track record and the significant salary cap ramifications that such a move would have. However, if further evidence surfaces that reflects even worse on Rice and his actions, the Ravens’ hands could be forced.
** I was asked by several people about the timing of the Ravens’ news conference to announce the extension for rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, and whether it could have been an attempt to lessen some of the negative fallout from Rice’s arrest. Perhaps it accelerated things a little bit, but I’m not really buying it. My colleague, Mike Preston, reported late last week that the Ravens and Suggs were getting closer to a deal, so it was just a matter of time. It was something that the Ravens needed to take care of to set up some of their other offseason moves. It was imminent whether Rice had gotten in trouble or not.
As for Suggs’ new deal, I don’t see any significant drawbacks from either side. Sure, both Suggs and the Ravens had to compromise a little bit and credit them for doing so. But some of these negotiations with veteran players, who have meant a lot to their particular organizations, can get ugly and these never got close to that point. In fact, Newsome said that the talks really only got serious in the past seven to 10 days, so this came together rather quickly. The Ravens wanted and needed Suggs, who didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Suggs may have not been completely comfortable in replacing Ray Lewis as the defense’s undisputed vocal leader last year. However, the way he handled the contract negotiations, which were probably a necessity for him to remain with the team, was the best form of leadership that he could exhibit. Suggs understood that the Ravens have needs that have to be addressed for the team to get back in the playoffs, and they weren’t going to be able to address them with him taking up $12.4 million of salary cap space. Instead of complaining, he compromised. Don’t get me wrong, he made out pretty darn good with the new deal but it was also made with the team’s needs in mind.
Suggs’ new deal leaves the Ravens with roughly $16.5 million of salary cap space but keep in mind, that number doesn’t take into account the pending deals for the team’s eight exclusive rights or restricted free agents. Newsome reiterated yesterday that the team isn’t planning to restructure contracts to create more salary cap flexibility, which would allow the Ravens to be more active in free agency. But there are other ways for the Ravens to create cap room.
Extending the contract of nose tackle Haloti Ngata ($16 million cap hit in 2014) could be one way though my colleague, Aaron Wilson, reported that the Ravens tried that and the talks went nowhere. As far as potential cap casualties, the three names that jump out are fullback Vonta Leach ($2.3 million against the cap), weak-side linebacker Jameel McClain ($4.4 million) and punter Sam Koch ($2.8 million). The Ravens would like to keep all three but that’s going to be extremely difficult at their current costs.
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