Free agency leaves Ravens with more questions than answers

Free agency in the NFL got off to a busy start when it began on March 10. As a result, the Baltimore Ravens have lost several popular players who’ve been keys to their success over the last several seasons, providing several players from last year’s draft class with an opportunity to play a bigger role in 2015.

Just before free agency began, the Ravens released receiver/kickreturner Jacoby Jones. Jones had been a game- changer with his ability to make big plays in the kick return game. He was also on the receiving end of“The Mile-High Miracle,” catching Joe Flacco’s 70-yard touchdown pass to tie the game in the 2013 AFC Divisional Round at Denver, which the Ravens won in double overtime. However, Jones struggled with catching the ball in the passing game, and as a returner muffed several kicks. Jones signed a two-year contract with San Diego.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith, a 2011 graduate from the University of Maryland, has also left the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent. He signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, where he’ll join another former Raven in Anquan Boldin. Last year with the Ravens, Smith caught 49 passes for 767 yards, and was 10th in the NFL with 11 touchdown catches. However, he’s been knocked for his perceived inability to run more complex routes. Baltimore is also down a tight end after Owen Daniels joined former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak by signing with Denver. Free safety Darian Stewart also signed with the Broncos.

DefensivetackleHalotiNgatawas scheduled to make $16 million this season, and was going to count for $8.5 million against the salary cap. On March 11, the Ravens traded Ngata to Detroit for the Lions’ fourth and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft. Ngata thanked the Ravens and their fans with a full-page ad in the March 15 edition of The Baltimore Sun. He ended the letter with the Samoan phrase “Ofa Lahi Atu,” which means “Love you.” The Ravens also released defensive tackle Terrence “Mount Cody,” who’s been charged with animal cruelty in Baltimore County. Meanwhile, linebacker Terrell Suggs did agree to restructure his contract to give the team some space under the salary cap, and cornerback Lardarius Webb took a pay cut to re-sign with the Ravens. Cornerback Anthony Levine has also re-signed with Baltimore, and defensive end Chris Canty has signed a new two-year, $4.65 million contract with the team after being released in late February.

In the backfield, running back Justin Forsett agreed to terms on a three-year, $9 million contract to stay in Baltimore. Baltimore will be looking for a new backup quarterback after Tyrod Taylor signed with the Buffalo Bills.

The Ravens are once again dealing with players who’ve had run-ins with the law. Running back Bernard Pierce was pulled over by Baltimore County Police for speeding after allegedly being clocked going 55 mph in a 30 mph zone near the Beltway on St. Patrick’s Day. He reportedly failed a field sobriety test. Pierce has been charged with DUI and exceeding maximum speed, among other charges, and has since been released by the team. He’s the second Raven to be released after being arrested for DUI this offseason, joining cornerback Victor Hampton.

Ngata Suspended For Rest of Regular Season

Another Baltimore player has been suspended for using Adderall.

Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for four games by the NFL after testing positive for the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug, which is considered a performance-enhancing drug, and is banned under the league’s PED policy. The suspension was announced on Dec. 4, and comes at the start of a critical final month of the regular season, with half a dozen teams, including Baltimore and two of its upcoming opponents in December – Miami and Cleveland – sitting at 7-5. Ngata will be able to play again if the Ravens make the playoffs.

Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler, is the second player on one of Baltimore’s pro teams to be suspended for using Adderall. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was suspended in September after testing positive for the drug, and will have to sit out Opening Day 2015 for the final game of his 25-game suspension. Ngata also isn’t the first Raven to be suspended for Adderall. Cornerback Asa Jackson was suspended for the final four games of his rookie season in 2012 after testing positive, and again for the first half of the 2013 season after a second positive test.

Ravens cut Rice after video shows what happened in the elevator incident

After surveillance video was obtained by TMZ Sports in February showing Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging the unconscious body of his then-fiancee Janay Palmer out of an elevator inside the now-closed Revel Casino during Valentine’s Day weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey, many people were wondering what really happened inside the elevator that resulted in Palmer becoming unconscious. Now, video from inside the elevator has been obtained by TMZ Sports showing what happened inside the elevator that night. Rice’s football future is now very uncertain.

After the video was picked up by media outlets early on Sept. 8, the NFL and the Ravens acted swiftly. The Ravens terminated Rice’s contract that afternoon, and the NFL followed suit by suspending Rice indefinitely. League spokesman Greg Aiello says league investigators had asked investigators in Atlantic City for all available video evidence, but the league hadn’t seen the video until it was released by TMZ, Local sportscasters are questioning how the NFL can say it had all the video when it made the controversial decision to suspend Rice for just two games.

The video shows Rice and Palmer appear to exchange words, and then Rice hit Palmer first. Palmer retaliated by slapping Rice, who responded with a punch that caught Palmer in the head, knocking her off her feet. Her head then hit the hand rail inside the elevator, knocking her unconscious. The surveillance camera inside the elevator then shows Rice dragging Palmer’s body out into the hallway.

The decision by the Ravens brings Rice’s time with the team, which started when the one-time Heisman Trophy candidate was drafted out of Rutgers in 2008.

NFL institutes new domestic violence policy

Ray Rice has begun serving his two-game suspension for his fight with his then-fiancee, but the fallout from that fight continues to have a wide-reaching impact throughout the NFL.

On August 28, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced in a letter to all 32 team owners that the league would be implementing a new policy for domestic violence offenses by its players as part of its personal conduct policy, according to ESPN.com. Under the domestic violence section of the policy, which was unanimously approved by the owners, a player will be suspended for six games for a first offense, and will be banned for life with a second offense. Offenses don’t necessarily have to mean that the accused are found guilty in court, but the league says each case would be judged individually. However, someone who receives a lifetime ban can apply for reinstatement to the league after one year. The policy applies to all league personnel, and appears to be in response to harsh criticism the NFL has received following the announcement that Rice would be suspended for only two games after knocking his then-fiance Janay Palmer unconscious with a punch when they got into a fight inside an elevator in the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey in February.

In a letter to owners, Goodell said of the decision for the two-game suspension for Rice: “We got it wrong.” He went on to write: “Our personal conduct policy has long made clear that domestic violence and sexual assault are unacceptable.” Goodell added that the league must do a better job of addressing domestic violence and sexual assault incidents, and will work to do so.

“Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and they have no place in the NFL under any circumstances,” Goodell wrote.

Under the policy, all players and other team and league personnel will start with a clean slate. However, it had barely gone into effect before a player already found himself under its microscope. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on August 31 on suspicion of domestic violence. Head coach Jim Harbaugh (brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh) says that McDonald will play in the 49ers’ season opener at Dallas. General Manager Trent Baalke says the team will handle disciplining McDonald.

Ravens Notebook: Rice Likely to Avoid Jail; Gets Support From Team

By Andrew R. Koch

The worst season of Ray Rice’s career has been followed by a tumultuous off-season. However, he’ll avoid jail time, and is still getting support from his head coach and general manager.

After averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per carry, thanks largely due to poor play by the Ravens offensive line, Rice and his then-fianceé (now wife) Janay Palmer were arrested on February 15 after getting into a fight in the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. TMZ and several other media outlets picked up on the video from a surveillance camera that showed Rice dragging Palmer’s unconscious body out of an elevator. They were both charged with simple assault. On March 27, a grand jury in Atlantic City dropped the charge against Palmer, and elevated the charge against Rice to third-degree aggravated assault. A day later, the couple got married. Spousal privileges allow Palmer to refuse testifying against Rice if the case goes to court. However, the case isn’t likely to see much, if any, time inside a courtroom.

At his arraignment in Cape May on May 1, Rice entered a plea of not guilty to the aggravated assault charge. He applied for entry into a pretrial intervention program that allows some defendants, especially first-time defendants, to avoid formal prosecution. If his application is denied, prosecutors in Atlantic County say they’ve offered Rice a plea bargain that would allow him to go on probation without having to go to jail. Under the deal, he’d also have to go through anger-management counseling. It’s uncertain at this time whether or not Rice will be suspended under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. If he is, he may likely only get a short suspension because of his reputation off the field.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says while he is disappointed in Rice, he’s continues to express his support for his starting running back. Harbaugh has repeatedly pointed out Rice’s work in the greater Baltimore community, and how he’s never had an off-field incident prior to February. General Manager Ozzie Newsome says the uncertainty surrounding Rice won’t affect the Ravens’ plans for this week’s NFL Draft. However, on April 4 the Ravens signed Justin Forsett to a one-year deal to add depth at the running back position. Forsett had six carries for 31 yards in nine games last year with Jacksonville;  and he has also accumulated 347 carries for 1,692 yards and eight touchdowns in his six-year career. In 2012, he played with Houston for then-head coach Gary Kubiak, who’s now the offensive coordinator for the Ravens.

Ravens 2014 Schedule

The NFL released its 2014 schedule on April 25. The Ravens’ season will begin with games against each of the team’s three AFC North rivals. The Ravens will play Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium on September 7, followed by Pittsburgh four days later on “Thursday Night Football.” The Ravens will travel to Cleveland on September 21, and will close out September at home against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Baltimore has two other nationally televised games on the schedule, in addition to the Thursday night game in Week 2. The Ravens will be at Pittsburgh for “Sunday Night Football” on November 2, and in New Orleans for “Monday Night Football” on November 24. This season, Baltimore will play every team in the AFC South (Indianapolis, Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee) and the NFC South (Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay). The other 13 games will all begin at 1 p.m. Eastern Time, subject to the NFL’s flex scheduling.

Roster Moves

The Ravens solidified the tight end position by agreeing with Owen Daniels on a one-year contract on April 3. Daniels was drafted by Houston out of the University of Wisconsin in 2006. Last year, Daniels played in only five games before a broken fibula ended his season. Injuries have limited him to 11 games or less in three of the last five seasons. However, Daniels played in 15 games in both 2011 and 2012. The signing reunites Daniels with Kubiak, and he’ll be instrumental in helping the Ravens offensive players learn Kubiak’s system. When healthy, Daniels has proven to be one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

The signing of Daniels helps cushion the blow at tight end that came less than a week later. Ed Dickson signed a one-year deal with Carolina. Published reports say that the Ravens had lost confidence in Dixon over the last couple of seasons, but at 26, he’s still young enough to turn his career around. Dickson is the Ravens’ fifth free agent to sign with another team, joining defensive tackle Arthur Jones (signed with the Colts), offensive tackle Michael Oher (signed with Tennessee), cornerback Corey Graham (signed with Buffalo), and strong safety James Ihedigbo (signed with Detroit).