As the Orioles and Ravens try to work out a scheduling conflict that has put in jeopardy the NFL's hopes of opening up the regular season on Thursday, Sept. 5 at M&T Bank Stadium, the relationship between the two downtown neighbors has again come under scrutiny. That's a shame because over the past year or so, the synergy between the Orioles and Ravens never appeared better. Ravens players wore cartoon bird hats and frequently brought up the Orioles during their playoff run. When the Orioles played the New York Yankees at home in Game 2 of their playoff series, half the Ravens' roster was at Camden Yards.
Orioles players did the same during the Ravens' season and got rousing ovations when they were shown on the M&T Bank JumboTron. Orioles center fielder Adam Jones went to every game during the Ravens' Super Bowl run. Orioles manager Buck Showalter was an honorary captain for a Ravens game and then paid a visit to John Harbaugh at the team facility later in the season. When I asked Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on Monday about the relationship between the two teams, he agreed with the opinion that the two teams have "never gotten along better." His reasoning: "That has everything to do with the Orioles winning because when the Orioles are winning, the fans stop saying bad things about the Orioles because they are getting their cake and eating it, too," Bisciotti said. "When the Orioles were struggling, we were going to get the majority of the positive press. It's got to be very difficult for the Orioles to put up with that for an extended period of time. But as Baltimore sports fans, we love the Orioles being good and we hope they continue to be good. I think if you have two teams that have the same fans and both teams are winning, Baltimore is in a great spot. That's what we're all shooting for."
Ed Reed's deal with the Houston Texans will become official today. The safety arrived in the Lone Star State last night and found a group of reporters waiting for him at the airport. I'll let John McClain, who has covered the NFL for 33 years for the Houston Chronicle, finish the story. "We chased Reed all the way to parking lot after waiting 3 hrs and wouldn't give us courtesy of even stopping," McClain wrote on Twitter late last night. "For 34 years I've met All-Pros and Hall of Famers at airport and can't remember any of them refusing to comment." My guess is Reed will turn on the charm and charisma at today's news conference. I only covered him for two of Reed's 11 seasons in Baltimore, so I'm not going to act like I know him well, but he's easily one of the most fascinating athletes that I've ever been around.
With Reed and Bernard Pollard gone, the Ravens are left with five safeties who have made a grand total of 15 NFL starts in their career. All 15 of those starts were by James Ihedigbo. On the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII roster, they had 14 players aged 30 years or over. A little over six weeks later, nine of those guys are not under contract with the team. All told, seven of the nine oldest players on the title-winning squad are now gone. The two exceptions are reserve linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is 36, and reserve cornerback Chris Johnson, who is 33. Johnson was an unrestricted free agent but he was re-signed by the Ravens last week.
During my interview with him Monday, Bisciotti mentioned on two different occasions that the organization is looking hard at the second contracts for some of its younger players. The four names he brought up were tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, offensive tackle Michael Oher and defensive lineman Arthur Jones. Those players figure to be the team's four prominent free agents following the 2013 season. My guess is that the Ravens will want to see how Dickson bounces back from an injury plagued year and whether Jones can back up his breakout season before committing to an extension for either. However, I expect that they will have exploratory talks with the agents of Oher and Pitta to see if they can get something down with them. Bisciotti called the potential extension talks the "very next phase," so they may very well begin sooner rather than later.
Nothing new on the Bryant McKinnie front and that's not too surprising. Other than Jake Long agreeing to terms with the St. Louis Rams on Monday, there hasn't been much movement on the offensive tackle market. McKinnie is behind Andre Smith, Sebastian Vollmer and probably Eric Winston in the pecking order. Because of McKinnie's age, conditioning questions and some of the off-the-field problems that he's had, I still don't see a huge market developing for him. A McKinnie-Ravens pairing for one more year probably makes the most sense, but it shouldn't preclude the team from drafting a good tackle if one is available when they pick in the early rounds. Having paid quarterback Joe Flacco all that money, finding a long-term solution to block his blind side has to be a priority.
By now, most people know that it was New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick who recommended to Bisciotti that he take a look at Harbaugh to fill the Ravens' coaching vacancy after Brian Billick was let go. But it seems worth revisiting after Harbaugh led the Ravens to the Super Bowl and went through Belichick's Patriots in order to do it. This was Belichick on Harbaugh and the Ravens during Tuesday's coaching breakfast at the NFL Annual Meetings: "I've known John for a long time. When he was the special teams coach in Philadelphia, we always had a good relationship, and I've always had a lot of respect for the way he coaches teams. … I have a lot of respect for Steve Bisciotti, the organization he's put together, can't help but admire another Annapolitan doing well, love the fact that we're from the same town. Not a lot of us from Annapolis in the National Football League. And Ozzie [Newsome] obviously, his first coaching/scouting experience was with me in Cleveland after his finished his playing career in 1990, and I have all the respect in the world for Ozzie as a person, as a player, as a scout, as a coach, as an administrator. They've done a tremendous job. It doesn't surprise me."