Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh weren't available to reporters Saturday after the team trimmed their roster from 75 to 53. Harbaugh will next speak Tuesday as the team continues its preparations for the Sept.11 regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
The flurry of roster moves has undoubtedly spurred numerous questions, some much easier to answer than others. Other moves Sunday – and there will probably be a few that impact the active roster and stock the practice squad – might reveal a bit more about the Ravens' thought process yesterday.
I'll do my best below to address a few questions Ravens' fans are asking. And one disclaimer: my attempt at an explanation shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of the moves.
What is the deal with the release of Justin Forsett?
This, unfortunately, is one I don't have a really good answer to, but I've said all along I think it's possible – if not probable – Forsett is back with the team and relatively soon. With Kenneth Dixon expected to miss a few games with a knee injury, the Ravens aren't likely to go into the season with only two healthy backs.
Forsett played sparingly in the preseason and he certainly lacked the explosiveness of Dixon and Terrance West during practices. But the Ravens gave off no indications at any point they were concerned with Forsett's form or his roster spot was in jeopardy. They treated him like a starter all summer, holding him out of the first and final preseason game and giving him veteran off days.
I don't know what they have up their sleeve and why they'd cut him and re-sign him a couple of days later. Is there a rules loophole they are trying to exploit? Is it a cost-cutting issue? Is there some unspoken agreement between Forsett and the team? All valid questions I don't feel informed enough yet to answer.
But I can read the tea leaves that point to Forsett's return. He's become one of the most popular and charitable players on the team. Yet, not a single team official commented about his release and wished him well, like they do when they've cut other impactful veterans in the past. When safety Terrence Brooks was cut earlier in the day, several teammates, including fullback Kyle Juszczyk, reached out to him on Twitter to wish him well. I didn't see a single teammate do the same for Forsett, one of the Ravens' veteran leaders. Nothing from Juszczyk, his fullback the past three years, nothing from anyone. His teammates believe he'll be back.
And Forsett only added to the intrigue, when he tweeted, "The plot thickens." If Forsett's days in Baltimore were truly numbered, I'd almost guarantee you'd read a post about what the community and organization have meant to him and his family. Maybe that's coming, but I'll remain skeptical he's headed elsewhere until an announcement is made that says so.
Why is James Hurst still on the roster?
After two years with the team and one unfortunate collision with the starting quarterback, it appeared Hurst's days with the Ravens were numbered this summer. However, his inclusion on the roster is likely a result of three things.
One, team officials and the coaching staff think Hurst is a better player than the fans do; Two, the injury to De'Ondre Wesley, a player team officials had high hopes for but he's now on IR. And three, the team is giving serious consideration to starting rookie Alex Lewis at left guard. If Lewis plays left guard, the team's top two reserve offensive linemen – John Urschel and Ryan Jensen – are both interior guys. That would leave the Ravens really thin at offensive tackle options on game days.
Sure, if Ronnie Stanley or Rick Wagner goes down, Marshal Yanda could shift over to right tackle, or Lewis could move to left tackle. But then you'd be affecting multiple positions instead of just one. Hurst was their best healthy and internal option available for a reserve tackle. Having said all that, I still think there's a good chance the Ravens pick up a tackle on waivers, possibly today.
Why is Matt Elam still on the roster?
Assuming the Ravens still feel like the safety will be sidelined for multiple weeks after having his knee scoped, Elam's stay on the roster might not last long. But for Elam to be eligible to be the one Raven to return to the active roster from injured reserve, he can't go on IR until after 4 p.m. today.
The Ravens, who are pretty thin at safety, might want to keep the door open for Elam's return. Putting Elam on IR late today could create a roster spot for Forsett or even return specialist Devin Hester. (Hester and the Ravens agreed to a deal Sunday morning. Read more.)
Otherwise, it wouldn't make much sense for them to occupy a prized 53-man spot with a reserve safety that hasn't played in an NFL game since the 2014 season and won't be ready to play for several weeks.
Why isn't Jeremy Butler on the roster?
Harbaugh said early in camp that the guys who make the most plays are going to be the ones kept on the team. However, it's obviously never that simple because Butler made more plays than any other wide receiver this summer.
However, Butler does not contribute on special teams and that ultimately led to his undoing. If you're going to be the fifth or sixth wide receiver on game day – and Butler is certainly behind Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken and Breshad Perriman on the depth chart – you have to contribute on special teams. The Ravens, after giving Butler a chance in that area early in the preseason, ultimately didn't feel confident in his ability to help in that aspect of the game.
Why Kendrick Lewis over Terrence Brooks as third safety?
As is the case with Hurst, the Ravens certainly think Lewis is a lot better than their fans do. It basically came down to the fact that team officials believe Lewis is a smarter player, more instinctive and more reliable. There's no question Brooks is faster, more athletic and hits harder. Brooks is a physical specimen.
However, the team didn't feel like the game slowed down enough for Brooks — both on defense and special teams — to trust him in a significant role. Brooks had some big hits in the preseason, but he also missed a few tackles that led to big plays and dropped what should have been an easy interception. His decision-making on the field has been flawed at times. Ultimately, the Ravens chose the known with Lewis over the unknown with Brooks.
What's on tap for today?
It may not be quite as busy as yesterday, but there will be a lot of action. By noon, teams will find out who they were awarded on waivers. The Ravens have the No. 6 waiver claim by virtue of their 5-11 record last season, so there's a good chance they'll be able to land a player(s) of their choice. Areas the Ravens could look to upgrade are the offensive line and secondary.
This afternoon, the Ravens can also start assembling their 10-man practice squad. Harbaugh has already said the team hopes to stock it with many of the players they cut yesterday. Potential returners include running back Stephen Houston, wide receivers Butler and Keenan Reynolds, tight end Daniel Brown, offensive linemen Matt Skura and Blaine Clausell, linebackers Victor Ochi, Patrick Onwuasor and Brennen Beyer, and defensive back Julian Wilson.