Brandon Carr knows how rumors that he was contemplating retirement fanned out after the Dallas Cowboys' stomach-punch loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional-round playoffs. He simply disputes the legitimacy of those reports.
"I just basically said, nine years [of playing in the NFL], and my question to [the media] was: How long is a career?" the cornerback recalled. "And they run with it whichever way they want to run with it, but it probably lasted about 17 seconds, and then you get it out of your system. It was a tough loss." The top-seeded Cowboys lost on a last-second field goal after a miraculous drive by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"It's a game of inches, and on that particular play [Mason Crosby's 51-yard field goal], that just took a lot out of me. I went hard this past offseason. We had a great feeling about things in the air and what was going to happen with our team last year, and this hurt. It hurt a lot, and it still hurts. But at the same time, I feel like I have a lot of football to play. Last year, I felt like I was finally getting back to my form from the previous year. I was in a very good place, and I just want to build on that this year."
The immediate beneficiaries of that decision to continue playing are the Ravens, who introduced Carr during a news conference Monday afternoon after he signed a four-year, $24 million contract. Only the first year is guaranteed, for $6 million, with the Ravens having a team option for the next three.
Seated between coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, Carr, who turns 31 in May, said he hopes to strengthen a secondary that already has strong safety Eric Weddle and cornerback Jimmy Smith and added free safety Tony Jefferson via free agency. Second-year player Tavon Young also is returning at slot cornerback.
"I think we have a special group here," the 6-foot, 210-pound Carr said. "The secondary and the moves they made before me committing was really another deciding factor in me coming. Just seeing the thought process and just seeing what was coming to fruition with the guys they were bringing on the back end and the emphasis they put on skilled play on the back end. I just hope I can come in and still be consistent, durable, make a lot of plays, and we can have incredible chemistry and do some great things this year."
The signing of Carr, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft from Grand Valley State who spent his first four years with the Kansas City Chiefs and his past five with the Cowboys, might not deter the franchise from selecting a cornerback in April's draft. Although Kyle Arrington, Maurice Canady, Sheldon Price, and Robertson Daniel also are set to return, the Ravens have released cornerback Shareece Wright and safeties Lardarius Webb and Kendrick Lewis this offseason, and the draft's secondary class is regarded as one of the deepest in recent memory.
"We were looking to bolster our secondary, and even though we've done that with Tony Jefferson and now Brandon Carr, we're not done doing that. We'll keep working on that," Harbaugh said. "But we feel like we can line up a secondary right now with very good football players with two excellent corners on the edges, with an excellent young corner at nickel and with two veteran safeties that know how to play the game. That's great news for the Ravens."
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Although he has just 15 career interceptions, and one in the past three seasons, Carr is regarded as a cornerback who does not shy away from contact. Last season, he registered 61 tackles and broke up nine passes.
Despite his physical style, Carr has not missed a game in his nine seasons, making 144 consecutive starts, the longest such streak among NFL cornerbacks and sixth among active players. Considering Smith's history of injuries, and that the defense has had to start four different cornerbacks in each of the past three seasons, that reliability caught Pees' attention.
"In this game, that's really important," he said. "We met this morning, and he knows there's a lot of things we do and there's a lot of things in the secondary that we do, and he's up for the challenge. One of the things is that he fits with what we do very, very well. We felt like at times last year, we were a very, very good defense, but we just lacked something a little bit here and there to finish the job, and we think we've got a guy now that can finish the job."
Carr, who said he did not sleep well Sunday night because he was too excited about joining the Ravens, was enthusiastic about developing cohesion with his new teammates, especially Weddle, whom Carr observed when they played together in the AFC West.
"He's a cerebral guy, he's a guy you see back there making checks as the quarterback of the defense, and as a corner, I feel comfortable when I look at my safety and he's giving me a check and not vice versa," Carr said. "He's a guy that's been in a lot of situations and great defenses and has played a lot of great football. Just his knowledge alone, it's going to be plus for us on the back end. Jefferson is a guy who's a workhorse and is very tenacious as well. You've got a young slot corner that's going to be scrappy for us and do some great things alongside of keeping Jimmy healthy and allowing him to do his thing as a physical, big defender."