Less than eight months after re-signing guard Jeff Blackshear to a five-year, $18.7 million contract, the Ravens released the seven-year veteran yesterday, along with safety Stevon Moore and tight end Aaron Pierce.
The releases of Moore and Pierce were expected, but the team's decision to waive Blackshear is surprising considering he received a $2.5 million signing bonus in June. Ravens coach Brian Billick said Blackshear was cut for salary cap reasons, but his performance fell off from the 1998 season when he was in consideration for several All-Pro teams.
Blackshear, 30, whose consecutive-games streak of 57 was the longest on the team, also was better at blocking for the run than the pass, but his mobility limited him on other plays such as traps, sweeps and screens. Former Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda brought Blackshear to Baltimore exclusively for his run-blocking ability.
The Ravens may have acted prematurely in awarding him the new contract in June, nearly five months after Billick was hired.
"It's an unfortunate consequence, but one everyone has to deal with," Billick said of Blackshear's situation. "I talked to Jeff, made sure he understood I appreciated what he did for us last season. Jeff wants to come back, and this doesn't rule that out. It's simply a cap decision for us, and it also gives him the opportunity to see if there is an additional market out there for him."
Blackshear was expected to have a base salary of $1.6 million in 2000. According to the Ravens, releasing him now will drop his salary cap figure from $2.91 million this season to $2.083 million. There could have been other financial factors affecting the decision on Blackshear as well.
The Ravens recently re-signed defensive end Rob Burnett and quarterback Tony Banks to lucrative deals, and signed free-agent tight end Shannon Sharpe away from the Denver Broncos. The Ravens have two first-round picks in the April draft and must have money to sign both players. Also, Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden has requested a contract extension before the 2000 season starts, or he will become a free agent when the season is over.
"I would love to have Jeff back here if the right conditions present themselves," Billick said. "He took over 1,000 snaps and did a fine job. But the higher the cost, the higher the performance the player is going to have to have. The level of performance, though, can be outstanding, but sometimes you have to move your money around into key positions that can affect the outcome of the game more, especially guys who touch the ball."
Billick would not specifically evaluate Blackshear's performance from last season, but did say his forte was running blocking. With Blackshear's departure, the Ravens' offensive line has become suspect. They have lost their starting right guard as well as top reserve lineman in Everett Lindsay. Lindsay, who could play every position on the line, recently signed with the Cleveland Browns, who are expected to strongly pursue Blackshear and team him again with former Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown.
The Ravens are strong at center with Jeff Mitchell and left tackle with Ogden, but right tackle Harry Swayne, 35, missed eight games with a fractured bone in his ankle last year. Starting left guard Edwin Mulitalo is in his second year.
If the Ravens had to play today, third-year man Mike Flynn would start at right guard with newly signed Kipp Vickers competing for playing time. Flynn, 6 feet 3 and 295 pounds, played on special teams in 12 games last season and entered two games as a reserve. He signed as a free agent in 1997 out of the University of Maine.
Billick said the draft and free agency are options.
"We have a comfort zone with Mike," Billick said. "We feel as though he is ready to take that next step. He played well in the times we asked him to play last year. I would be very surprised if the draft didn't yield something. It might not be in the first or second round, but it could yield something.
"We're also going to see a couple people get pushed out by next week via free agency. There are two dates to keep in mind, March 1 and June 1. The first date is when a lot of roster and option bonuses are to be paid out and some decent players might become available.
"We feel pretty good about the offensive line. But you are never deep enough. I'll feel better, in fact, via the draft or free agency, when we get another individual in there. I'm confident we're going to have somebody in there, but until that happens, you always feel a little uncomfortable."
Moore, 33, has not played much in the past two seasons because of knee injuries, and Pierce retired nearly a month ago. Moore, a 10-year veteran, might want to play elsewhere next season, but Billick believes he has a future as a coach.
"Stevon had a great career and he realizes that and he can feel good about it," Billick said. "He may very well recognize that this might be it for him. I think he would make an outstanding coach, but that has to be a commitment between him and his family. I think he would like to [be a coach], but to put your family through something like that remains to be seen."