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Column: 'Not like we signed up to play tennis.'

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Column: 'Not like we signed up to play tennis.'

Super Bowl week is beginning to resemble one of those family reunions where your crazy uncle says something outrageous, but just true enough to spark a discussion worth having.

Two years ago, it was Steelers linebacker James Harrison ripping the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell for excessive fines on the violent hits that were his specialty, and generally trying to make the game too safe. ``We'll lay a pillow down where I'm going to tackle them,'' he said mockingly at one point, ``so they don't hit the ground too hard, Mr. Goodell.''

This time around, the provocateur was Bernard Pollard, the Ravens' notoriously punishing safety. Covering much of the same ground Harrison had, Pollard said he didn't think the NFL would be around in 30 years because rule changes designed to make it even safer would eventually drive away fans - if something tragic didn't hasten the game's end even sooner.

``The only thing I'm waiting for ... and, Lord, I hope it doesn't happen ... is a guy dying on the field,'' Pollard told CBSSports.com.

It may be easy to dismiss a handful of players' exaggerated views, but the notion that the NFL is in real trouble - as well as football at every level from Pop Warner up - isn't as hard a sell as it seems.

Sure, the game has never been more popular. The league is taking in nearly $10 billion annually, breaking its own record TV telecasts almost on a weekly basis, and could repeat the feat again Sunday in New Orleans, when the 49ers tee it up against the Ravens. But just a few weeks later, arguments are scheduled to begin in Philadelphia in one lawsuit brought on behalf of former players and their families contending that the league failed to warn them about the dangers of concussions and then concealed those risks even in the face of mounting evidence. And that's just one of several pending legal actions piling up outside Goodell's office door.

Yet even all those lawsuits combined may not represent the most serious threat to the NFL's existence long term.

``The plaintiffs are facing a huge uphill battle, and that's me speaking as a lawyer,'' said attorney Robert Boland, who teaches sports law at New York University's Tisch Center, and has worked previously as an agent. ``Obviously, the publicity generated by the concussion issues is big, but I don't think the same is true in terms of legal liability. This is a collectively bargained issue for the most part and while the NFL is the biggest target - it has the deepest pockets - courts are likely to take a very narrow view of what responsibility it's facing. It may well be the case where the NFL wins in the courts very quickly, then has to find a way to be sensitive to the very real dangers that exist as part of the game.

``The concussion issue is forcing people to choose sides and yet the real challenge, I think, will be holding together the coalition that made the game so popular - players, coaches, parents and fans. There's already a bar for young players to get into the game; the cost of equipment, the staffing it requires, and if the insurers get nervous and drive up the costs even further, that might be the biggest short-term threat. Nothing has shown up yet,'' Boland added, ``but anybody taking the long view has to be looking at the present and saying, `It could.' ``

President Obama tackled that issue in a recent interview with The New Republic, saying that he anticipated the less exciting pro game that guys like Harrison and Pollard envisioned as safety concerns change the way it's played. What really worried him, though, was whether those changes at the top would filter down to the lower levels of the sport soon enough.

``I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football,'' Obama said.

``I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union. They're grown men. They can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies,'' he added. ``You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about.''

Don't expect action from the NCAA anytime soon, but the NFL and its players' union may not have the luxury of time. A quick sampling of comments during media day showed many players still favor the status quo, risks and all.

``That's what we all know coming into the game,'' 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith said. ``We all signed up for it. It's not like we signed up and thought we were going to play tennis, you know?''

His coach, one-time NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, took that cavalier attitude a step further, when asked to respond to the president's remarks.

``Well, I have a 4-month-old - almost, soon-to-be 5-month-old - son, Jack Harbaugh, and if President Obama feels that way, then (there will) be a little less competition for Jack Harbaugh when he gets older,'' Harbaugh chuckled. ``That's the first thing that jumps into my mind, if other parents are thinking that way.''

Keep in mind that the NFL's nightmare scenario played out on a football field an hour from Boston only a few months ago. In a Pop Warner game between longtime rivals, five kids between the ages of 10 and 12 were concussed, all on the losing team, three in the first quarter and the last one on the final play. Not everyone is convinced there's enough time to wait for Goodell and the union to sort out the legal battles and work together to advance the safety issue.

``I think it's being taken seriously, but as far as young people starting to play, we need better and smarter instruction than ever before,'' said former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, who's enlisted his famous sons, Peyton and Eli, to help run his annual quarterbacking camp. ``We've got to bring some attention to bear right away, especially how we teach tackling and the rest of the physical components of the game.

``You only get so many chances and we've let a lot slip past. We can't afford too many more misses,'' he said finally, ``We've got to get it right.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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Ahead of NFL Draft, Ravens add to wide receiver corps with Willie Snead

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USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of NFL Draft, Ravens add to wide receiver corps with Willie Snead

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Receiver Willie Snead has bid farewell to the Saints, which means New Orleans apparently won't match the contract the Baltimore Ravens offered the restricted free agent.

Eager to add a target for quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens on Friday offered Snead a two-year, $10.4 million contract. The Saints had five days to match the deal. Snead indicated Monday on Twitter that he's headed out of New Orleans.

Snead tweeted: "What I'm going to miss most is the men in the locker room & the coaches."

He added: "Even though I'm sad to go, I'm even more excited for the next chapter in my life. I can't wait to strap it on as a Baltimore Raven."

Hampered by a three-game suspension and a hamstring injury, Snead was limited to eight catches for 92 yards last year.

In 2015, he had 69 receptions for 984 yards. He caught 72 passes for 895 yards in 2016.

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2018 NFL Mock Draft Ravens Roundup 6.0: The final countdown

2018 NFL Mock Draft Ravens Roundup 6.0: The final countdown

After months and months of talk and a lot of predictions, the 2018 NFL Draft is finally here.

On Thursday, Ozzie Newsome and Co. will enter the draft room prepared for battle. A lot of questions await them and most of them can not be answered until the ten minutes leading up to their pick. 

Even with the additions of Michael CrabtreeJohn Brown and Willie Snead, will the Ravens continue to add to their wide receiver corps? 

Will they trade down and scoop up a tight end or will they address the offensive line and snag Mike McGlinchey? 

All of our questions will be answered in no time, but for now, sit back and enjoy the wild ride that is the first-round of the NFL Draft. 

NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig (Link) Charley Casserly (Link

— Mike McGlinchey (OL)

With the exit of Ryan Jensen, the Ravens are now in need of an offensive lineman. 

At the combine, McGlinchey put up 24 reps on the bench press, had a 28.5 inch vertical and a 105 inch broad jump. 

"The offense lacks playmakers which is why wide receivers Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore work," Standing says. "Right tackle also in play. McGlinchey seems to have moved ahead of the other tackle prospects."

ESPN's Mel Kiper (Link) CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso (Link) Sporting News (Link) Rotoworld (Link

— Calvin Ridley (WR)

Ridley is one of the few wideouts in this draft projected to go in the first-round. While his combine performance didn't help his stock, running a 4.43 40-yard dash, recording a 31-inch vertical, a 110-inch broad jump and a 6.88-second 3-cone drill, many are still predicting he lands with the Ravens or somewhere in the first-round. 

"Ridley underwhelmed at the combine, but his college tape shows a player who’s nearly uncoverable," Kiper says. "I’m going to trust the tape in this case and still make him my top-ranked wideout (Maryland’s D.J. Moore is not far behind). Baltimore could also target an offensive tackle at pick No. 16."

NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah (Link)

— Hayden Hurst (TE) 

The Ravens haven't addressed their need at tight end in free agency and the reason could be because they're holding out for the draft. 

QB Joe Flacco has a tendency to favor Ravens tight ends and Hayden Hurst out of South Carolina is being considered by many the top TE in this draft. 

The ex-minor league baseball pitcher, who walked on at South Carolina at 21-years old, is being compared to Dallas Clark. "His fearless play demeanor combined with size, strength and athleticism make him a well-rounded prospect with the versatility to line up all over the field," according to his draft profile

Jeremiah, who once was a scout for the Ravens, predicts they will be looking to draft back for Hurst.

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks (Link) 

— Lamar Jackson (QB) 

It was reported last week that Jackson would be making a visit to the Ravens' facility during the final week of pre-draft visits, and with Joe Flacco nearing the end of his contract, now could be the time to find his successor. Jackson provides support on the ground and in the air, but scouts are concerned about his accuarcy. 

"With Joe Flacco viewed as a potential salary cap casualty in 2019, the Ravens can secure their future QB by grabbing Jackson if he is available at No. 16," Brooks says. "Remember, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and assistant head coach Greg Roman have experience nurturing athletic quarterbacks into dynamic playmakers (see Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Colin Kaepernick), so the Ravens could be the perfect fit for the 2016 Heisman winner."

Bleacher Report (Link

— Mike Gesicki (TE) 

Gesicki is another tight end option for the Ravens. Standing tall at 6' 5", Gesicki ran a 4.54 40-yard dash and recorded a 41.5 vertical jump at the combine. He also ended his time at Penn State as their tight end leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. 

His draft profile describes him as a "pass-catcher who can get open and has the ball skills to win against linebackers and safeties." Scouts are also comparing him to the likes of Jimmy Graham. 

Land of 10 (Link

— Christian Kirk (WR)

Kirk provides another wide receiver option if Ridley is gone at 16, even though his draft profile has him projected in Rounds 2-3. 

The 5-10, 201-pound junior finished with 71 receptions, 919 yards and 10 touchdowns at Texas A&M.

At the combine, Kirk ran a 4.47 40-yard dash, recorded a 35.5 vertical jump and a 7.09 second 3-cone drill. 

His bottom line states, "Kirk is a well-built, mentally tough slot target whose game is built around pace more than explosiveness. His lack of speed and length make him less likely to impact games down the field, but his footwork, route tempo and hands should give him an opportunity to find catches underneath. Kirk's ability to help in the return game is a plus, but the difference between average and good as a receiver could depend on finding the right fit."

CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson (Link)

— D.J. Moore (WR)

As the draft has slowly approached, Maryland's D.J. Moore has risen in the rankings. 

Many pundits are ranking him narrowly behind Alabama's Calvin Ridley as the top WR in the draft. 

The 6'0"  junior ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, a 6.95 3-cone drill and recorded a 39.5 vertical jump. 

"Moore is bigger than former Terrapin wideout Stefon Diggs, but their playing style and athletic ability while at Maryland are similar," states his draft profile.

"Moore doesn't have the height and length teams look for outside and may become a full-time option from the slot. He clearly has the short-area quickness and talent after the catch to handle those duties, but his route-running needs to become more focused and fast to unlock his potential. Teams are high on Moore's potential and believe he has the talent and traits to become a good WR2 in the league."

Moore is being compared to the likes of Pierre Garçon. 

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