Entering last season, the Ravens had a lot of questions about right offensive tackle Tony Pashos and fullback Ovie Mughelli. After yesterday, those two had only one question: Where do I sign?
The NFL brags about parity, and the Ravens were pared down in the first day of free agency as they lost their starting right tackle to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and fullback to the Atlanta Falcons. Early into this offseason, the Ravens have also cut starting running back Jamal Lewis for financial relief on their salary cap, and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Adalius Thomas reportedly signed with the New England Patriots last night.
Ravens fans will be disturbed, and rightfully so, especially because an already struggling running game became more depleted. But you can't blame the Ravens. Pashos agreed to a five-year, $24 million contract that reportedly will include a signing bonus of about $10 million. Mughelli will become the highest-paid fullback in league history, signing a six-year deal worth $18 million.
Both of those players deserve big paydays, but not from the Ravens, a team that is only about $11 million under the salary cap. It wasn't worth cutting any of the veterans or restructuring the contracts of prominent players to keep either Mughelli or Pashos.
It does show, however, that the NFL is starting to get out of control with its escalating salaries and that the league might be heading for trouble.
Believe it or not, Pashos became the first announced signing in free agency, completing his transformation from long shot to multimillionaire. Pashos is an amazing story. As a fifth-round draft pick in 2003, he was a big, chubby stiff who weighed about 360 pounds. But during the offseason after his rookie year, he worked out twice, sometimes three times a day, shedding about 45 pounds.
In each of his four seasons with the Ravens, he was always the last offensive lineman off the field, choosing to work overtime on his stance, his pass set or his quickness.
Pashos played reasonably well last season after a less-than-average 2005 campaign. He has started only two seasons. Mughelli was a fourth-round pick in 2003. He had trouble recognizing defenses, and finally blossomed in the second half of last season.
But is he worth $18 million? Nope. And ditto for the $24 million dished out to Pashos.
Ravens Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden shouldn't be contemplating retirement, but a new contract. With Pashos gone, that leaves the Ravens with only third-year tackle Adam Terry as the starting right tackle. Terry has all the tools, but doesn't have that nasty attitude like an Orlando Brown or the Philadelphia Eagles' Jon Runyan. If Ogden left the Ravens now, they would be in trouble. Big trouble. I bet Ray Lewis, Steve McNair, Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap made a few calls to the Ogden estate in Las Vegas yesterday.
As for Terry, don't pencil him in yet at right tackle just because he played reasonably well in a couple of games filling in for Ogden last year. Terry is used to playing left tackle. It's a major transition moving to the right side, and most of it has to do with footwork because you're used to stepping one way all the time.
It doesn't sound like a big deal, but one step in the NFL could be the difference between a big play and a sack, or a championship.
The agent for Jamal Lewis denied that the Denver Broncos have expressed interest in Lewis. The Ravens and Lewis are still negotiating Lewis' possible return.
"Denver had a lot of interest in Jamal last year, and there might be some interest after this weekend," said Mitch Frankel, Lewis' representative. "But nothing appears to be imminent. Jamal has intimated to me that he wants to return to Baltimore, and those are my instructions. The Ravens and I have exchanged proposals, and I'm sure we'll be talking over the weekend."
Details of the negotiations were not available, but there will probably be a lot of incentives compared with guaranteed money. Lewis has struggled the past two seasons with ankle injuries, but he might be completely healthy when training camp opens.
Word around the NFL is that the Ravens are looking for only a one-year, stop-gap running back, and they might take a look at Corey Dillon, who was released by New England yesterday.
There could be fallout from the signings of Pashos and Mughelli. When the Ravens had chemistry problems in two of the previous three seasons, some of the players thought the Ravens took care of only their top draft picks when it came to re-signing players.
The lower-round picks always felt slighted because they saw guys like Gary Baxter and Ed Hartwell leave. The Ravens lost defensive linemen Maake Kemoeatu and Tony Weaver last year in free agency. It's understandable why the Ravens allowed some of them to leave, but Ravens coach Brian Billick has to control the situation before it becomes a problem again in the locker room.
The Pittsburgh Steelers recently cut outside linebacker Joey Porter, and he has privately, through several Ravens players, let it be known that he has interest in the Ravens.
Porter, Ravens public enemy No. 1, said before the start of the 2006 season that he had patched things up with Ray Lewis and Heap. He said he harbored no ill feelings toward the Ravens.
The Ravens have an opening, especially with Thomas gone. The Steelers have stated that they cut Porter for salary cap reasons, but it was apparent that his performance dropped off last season. There is a replay of Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow slamming Porter to the ground after a one-on-one attempt on the sideline last season.
That pretty much sums up Porter's season.
Also, if he played for the Ravens, there would have to be a contest to see which player talked the most smack, Porter or Ravens outside linebacker Bart Scott. My money is on Scott.
Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.