6 Contributors to Baltimore's Super Bowl Run That Will Not Return
Over the next few months, Newsome and the Ravens will have to make some hard decisions as a number of their top players from this season’s Super Bowl team will be free agents.
Headlining this year’s free-agent class is Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Once the joke of analysts and media members, Flacco elevated himself this postseason and will undoubtedly receive a big payday from the Ravens. Of all the impending Baltimore free agents, Flacco is the easiest to predict where he will end up—Baltimore.
Of the 26 players set to be free agents, 15 will be unrestricted, seven will be restricted and four others will be exclusive-rights free agents.
In addition, there are a number of players who could potentially retire.
Here is a list of players who will not likely be on Baltimore’s roster next season. Ray Lewis is not included because that one is obvious.
Cary Williams (Cornerback)
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Baltimore’s starting corner for the last two seasons has blossomed into an above-average NFL corner.
Williams, who began his career as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans in 2008, recorded 78 tackles, four interceptions, one of which he took back for a touchdown and 18 pass deflections this season.
The 6’1” corner with long arms went from being mainly utilized on special teams during his first two years in Baltimore to elevating his game enough to become a valuable member of the Ravens’ defense.
Set to become an unrestricted free agent, Williams turned down a contract extension this past offseason. The Baltimore corner has been very vocal about wanting a big contract similar to some of the top cornerbacks in the league.
With a number of their top players set to hit the market, it will be difficult for the Ravens to give Williams the money he believes he deserves.
In addition, Baltimore has great depth at the cornerback position and should Williams leave, a number of young players are waiting to get a crack at the starting corner position.
Lardarius Webb will be returning from ACL surgery next year and Corey Graham established himself in the second half of the season. Youngsters Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown flashed potential at times and both will be given the chance to grab the spot opposite of Webb next year.
Because of the depth Baltimore features and the high price tag Williams will command, expect to see him in a different uniform next season.
Matt Birk (Center)
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While the center for the Ravens will not be a free agent this year, Birk likely is headed for retirement.
At 36, Birk is one of the older linemen in the NFL. The veteran center has battled through knee injuries during the course of the last couple seasons.
Last year, Baltimore drafted Gino Gradkowski to be the heir to Birk. The former Delaware lineman saw extensive playing time against Cincinnati in the regular-season finale, and after an offseason in the weight room, very well might end up being the starting center for Baltimore next season.
Birk, a Harvard graduate, likely will retire after winning his first Super Bowl. One of the more insightful players in the Ravens’ locker room, he is well aware of the risks associated with football and could leave with his health still intact.
Ma'ake Kemoeatu (Nose Tackle)
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Last offseason, the Ravens signed Kemoeatu to a one-year deal, bringing back the onetime Raven for a second tour.
The veteran nose tackle was not expected to see much time on the field with Terrence Cody returning as the starter next to Haloti Ngata.
However, after Cody failed to retain his spot on the defensive line, Kemoeatu was inserted in Cody’s place.
The giant lineman, who struggled with weight in the past, made the most of the opportunity, playing in 15 games (13 starts) while recording 29 tackles and one fumble.
Used mostly on run downs, Kemoeatu was pushed around often and struggled to gain any penetration against opposing offensive linemen.
With Cody still on the roster and young players DeAngelo Tyson and Bryan Hall hungry for increased playing time, expect Baltimore to move on from Kemoeatu.
Ed Reed (Safety)
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With his contract expiring, Reed will command a high price tag this offseason. While not nearly the player he was during his younger years, the free-roaming safety is still one of the better players in the league at his position.
Ozzie Newsome has already said this week that he will not make the same mistake he did after the Ravens' first Super Bowl when he signed aging veterans such as Tony Siragusa to overpriced extensions.
Baltimore would love to have Reed back in a Ravens uniform next season, but the probability of him returning at a lower-than-desired figure appears unlikely.
The only reason Baltimore may try to do whatever it takes to retain Reed is that there is no apparent player currently on the roster who could replace the great safety.
Bryant McKinnie (Left Tackle)
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Before the start of the postseason, McKinnie barely saw the field. However, he started every game of the postseason and helped the offense explode, providing Joe Flacco with a consistent pocket to throw from.
Along with having a difficult relationship at times with the Baltimore coaching staff, McKinnie has struggled with maintaining his weight.
Despite his stellar play in the playoffs, Newsome recently said he believes that the Ravens currently have eight or nine offensive linemen with starter potential.
Unless McKinnie is willing to take a minimum deal, it is very unlikely he will return.
With his play in the playoffs, McKinnie could very well draw interest from other teams who are in need of a left tackle.
Paul Kruger (Linebacker)
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This season, Kruger busted onto the scene, making a name for himself as an explosive pass-rusher.
The former Utah standout recorded nine sacks in the regular season, then exploded in the postseason for 4.5 sacks.
With the NFL developing into a passing league, pass-rushers are at a premium. To re-sign Kruger, Baltimore would have to shell out a lot of money, and given the team’s salary cap situation, it is unlikely Kruger will be re-signed.
In addition, Baltimore will have a healthy Terrell Suggs next year and Courtney Upshaw will have had a full offseason to better himself.
While losing Kruger will be a big loss to the defense, there are players such as Upshaw waiting to take a bigger role on the defense.