AFC North: Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens picked up the fifth-year option on cornerback Jimmy Smith well before the May 3 deadline, according to ESPN's Field Yates.

This was never in doubt because coach John Harbaugh said at last month's NFL owners meetings that the Ravens would exercise it. The real question is whether Smith will play the 2015 season under that option salary.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Smith
Kiichiro Sato/AP PhotoRavens CB Jimmy Smith has held his own against the likes of Chicago star Brandon Marshall.
“We are hopeful that we can sign Jimmy long-term," Harbaugh said in late March. "That will be our goal.”

In 2013, Smith lived up to the expectations of being the No. 27 overall pick after a couple of up and down seasons. He not only emerged as the team's top cornerback in his first full season as a starter but he ranked among the best in the AFC North.

The key to Smith's development was staying healthy and gaining confidence. He made two interceptions and broke up 16 passes while limiting some of the best receivers in the league: Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

The option will pay Smith somewhere between $6.5 million and $6.9 million, the average of the 25 highest-paid players at the position, with the top three excluded. Once the Ravens exercised the option, Smith's fifth-year pay in 2015 is guaranteed for injury. If he’s on the roster at the beginning of the 2015 league year, it’s fully guaranteed.

The Ravens would like to reach an extension with Smith because he's young (he turns 26 in July) and he's going to be hitting the prime years of his career soon. There's an added incentive to reduce that $6 million-plus cap number, but the Ravens have dealt with bigger financial burdens (Lardarius Webb's cap number is $10.5 million this season).

Jimmy Smith, though, isn't the Ravens' priority when it comes to extensions. Wide receiver Torrey Smith is entering the final year of his contract, so he's currently first on the pecking order.

The Ravens ideally would like to sign Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith both to long-term deals this year. If they can't sign either one, the Ravens know they can keep both around for the 2015 season if they use the franchise tag on Torrey Smith and let Jimmy Smith play out his option year.

This is an enviable situation for the Ravens to have. No one would've envisioned the Ravens picking up this option during the 2012 season, when Jimmy Smith couldn't beat out Cary Williams or Corey Graham for a starting job. Then, in two critical end zone plays against the San Francisco 49ers, Smith helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl and turned around his career in the process.
With 21 days until the NFL draft begins, here is another potential draft prospect for the Baltimore Ravens:

MIKE EVANS

Position: Wide receiver

School: Texas A&M

Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 231

Round projection: First

File this away: Evans averaged 13.4 yards per target last season, best among wide receivers with at least 40 targets.

Good: Evans is the consensus No. 2 wide receiver in this draft behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins and has the tools to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. He's an extremely physical receiver who uses his size and strength to simply bully defenders and beat defenders on jump balls. Evans is a productive playmaker, averaging 20 yards per catch last season. He has no fear going over the middle and is a terror to bring down after the catch. Evans takes pride in his blocking.

Bad: His temper got him in trouble on the field and raised questions about his maturity. Evans drew two personal fouls in Texas A&M's bowl game last season. He needs to develop as a route-runner and can be slow getting out of his breaks. Evans doesn't have elite speed and struggles to get separation deep downfield.

Bottom line: Evans was a popular pick for the Ravens in the earlier mock drafts, but it's highly unlikely he slips to the Ravens at No. 17 now. It looks like Evans will be taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7. Other potential landing spots are the Buffalo Bills (No. 9), Detroit Lions (No. 10), New York Giants (No. 12) or St. Louis Rams (No. 13). If Evans and Watkins are taken in the top half of the first round, as expected, it would be a reach for the Ravens to take another wide receiver at No. 17.

What Evans said: "You know, I get a lot of Vincent Jackson comparisons, and that's a great comparison. But I think Brandon Marshall. He's vicious after the catch. He's a big, physical guy who can go up and get it. So, I've modeled my game after him since high school."
The Baltimore Ravens were unable to reach an extension with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata despite offering a "lucrative, long-term" deal, according to the NFL Network. The Ravens are looking to reduce Ngata's $16 million cap number, which is the highest on the team and the second-highest for any NFL defensive tackle (only Ndamukong Suh's $22.4 million cap hit is higher).

Ngata
Is Ngata a bad teammate for not helping out the Ravens? Does this mean Ngata doesn't want to retire a Raven like Terrell Suggs?

No, on both accounts. There's really no incentive for Ngata to agree to an extension this year. He is going to make $8.5 million in salary this season, and he knows the Ravens are going to have to pay him. The Ravens would only gain $1 million in salary cap space if they cut Ngata and would carry $15 million in dead money on this year's cap. In other words, the Ravens have no leverage and Ngata is making the smart business decision.

Ngata's inflated cap number has become a hot topic since Suggs signed his extension in February. But the contract situations with Ngata and Suggs are different. Suggs was entering the final year of his contract, and the Ravens would've created $7.8 million in cap space if they released him. In this instance, Suggs decided the Ravens' extension offer was better than any deal he would get elsewhere if he became a free agent.

Ngata could face a similar scenario next offseason when he is headed into the final year of his contract. He's scheduled to make $8.5 million again, but this time, the Ravens can free up $8.5 million in cap space if they cut the five-time Pro Bowl lineman. The Ravens now have some power in negotiations. Just like Suggs did this year, Ngata may have to determine whether he can make more as free agent than what the Ravens are offering.

The market may have been set this offseason for Ngata, who turns 31 next season. Based on the deals recently signed by Atlanta's Paul Soliai and Washington's Jason Hatcher -- two interior linemen in their early 30s -- Ngata can expect a deal that averages a little less than $7 million per season and includes around $11 million in guaranteed money if he became a free agent.

So, no one should count on an extension for Ngata this offseason. But no one should jump to conclusions about Ngata's future either. The Ravens and Ngata still have another year before tough decisions have to be made.
Ray RiceAP Photo/Tom DiPaceRay Rice has been the Ravens' lead running back the past five seasons. Are those days over?
BALTIMORE -- Shortly after becoming the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak made this pronouncement: "As Ray Rice goes, we’ll go." Two months later, Kubiak obviously has to make his first audible.

The Ravens need to take a running back in this year's draft, because they need insurance not only for this season but for the future. The best investment the Ravens could make in the middle rounds is to select a running back such as Towson's Terrance West, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Florida State's Devonta Freeman, Boston College's Andre Williams or West Virginia's Charles Sims.

Much of the talk at running back has centered on how much time Rice will miss in 2014, and it's a legitimate concern after he was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault after allegedly striking his now-wife unconscious. Rice was arrested and charged with simple assault-domestic violence Feb. 15 after a physical altercation with Janay Palmer at the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. Even if Rice is found not guilty or avoids jail time, he is expected to face punishment from the NFL under the league's personal conduct policy.

The Ravens have repeatedly voiced their support for Rice, and owner Steve Bisciotti said he believes Rice has a future with the team. But the Ravens' front office is too shrewd to rest all of its hopes on Rice. No one knows what to expect out of Rice when he does line up in the Ravens' backfield. He is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry and produced more fumbles (two) than 20-yard runs (one).

The Ravens have done their part to help this offseason by re-signing left tackle Eugene Monroe and trading for center Jeremy Zuttah. Rice is working hard to rebound and has reportedly lost 15 pounds. What if this isn't enough? Bisciotti acknowledged at the end of the season that the team did bring up the question of whether Rice is done.

Numbers suggest Rice's days as a premier playmaker in the league are over. The wear and tear of the position has caught up to most of the running backs in the 2008 draft class. Of the top 10 backs taken that year, six averaged less than 4 yards per carry last season, and two are out of the league.

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Those who defend Rice will say he lacked explosion after injuring his hip in Week 2 and he didn't have any running room because of the Ravens' dreadful offensive line. There is just no reasoning behind why Rice failed to make plays when catching the ball in space. He averaged 5.5 yards per reception, which was the worst of his career by an average of two yards. Since that memorable "Hey Diddle Diddle Ray Rice Up The Middle" moment in November 2012 -- when Rice converted a fourth-and-29 in San Diego with a 29-yard catch and run -- he has had three catches over 20 yards. That is over a span of 24 games, and only 13 of those came after Rice's injury.

Rice turned 27 this year, which is a telling age for NFL running backs. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert pointed out, running backs are peaking at 27 before suffering significant drop-offs. This is why 72 percent of running backs currently under contract are 26 or younger.

If Rice misses games or struggles again, the Ravens don't have much of a safety net. Backup running back Bernard Pierce's stock dropped last season. Pierce averaged 2.9 yards per carry, which was second-worst among qualified running backs, and couldn't stay healthy for a second straight year. He won't practice until the start of training camp after offseason shoulder surgery. There is no guarantee that he'll be at full strength when the season begins or whether he has the durability to handle the starting job for an extended period.

The need to draft a running back increased this offseason when the Ravens signed Justin Forsett in free agency instead of LeGarrette Blount as their third running back. Forsett has experience in Kubiak's system, but it's never a good sign to have "cut by the Jaguars" on your résumé.

It's no longer a question of if the Ravens should draft a running back. It's a matter of when. Most draft analysts have the Ravens selecting an offensive lineman and a safety in the first two rounds. The Ravens might consider using a pick on a running back in the third round, where they have two picks (79th and 99th overall), or fourth round (138th overall).

ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench's top picks in the middle rounds are:

  • West Virginia's Sims: "Doesn't have great power but sudden with quick feet and outstanding in the passing game."
  • Boston College's Williams: "Minimal production in passing game, and to a lesser degree, injury history, are concerns. As a runner he's a battering ram, and he shows deceptive speed when he gets a seam."
  • Towson's West: "He's a tough, hard-nosed runner who has flown under radar at Towson, and it would be a great story if he ended up staying in Maryland. If they can get him late fourth he could prove to be a steal."

Running the ball has long been a foundation of the Ravens' offense, and it will be a big part of Kubiak's play calling. Over the past five seasons, only five other teams ran the ball more than Kubiak's Texans. Establishing a strong running game is his blueprint to set up the play-action pass.

The importance of a running back in Kubiak's offense can't be overstated. That is why the Ravens have to make it a priority to draft a running back this year, whether it's for a contingency plan in 2014 or an investment for the future.

No one expected the Ravens to take a running back in 2008, when they drafted Rice in the second round. Six years later, it would be a surprise if the Ravens didn't draft his potential successor.
A look at what the national media is predicting for the Baltimore Ravens with the 17th overall pick:

Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
Posted: April 10
Pick: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Banks' comment: "The Ravens are having the kind of strong offseason you'd expect them to assemble after getting the smelling salts treatment under their noses: coming off a playoff-less season for the first time since the close of the Brian Billick coaching era in 2007. And having Clinton-Dix, the top-rated safety, waiting for them at 17 makes this one of the easier draft debates conducted in the Ravens' war room."

Bucky Brooks, NFL.com
Posted: March 25
Pick: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Brooks' comment: "Gary Kubiak's arrival in Baltimore will change the core traits the Ravens' personnel department looks for in offensive linemen. Martin's athleticism, balance and technical skills are ideal fits for the Ravens' new zone-based blocking scheme."

Cooks
Charlie Campbell, Walter Football
Posted: April 7
Pick: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Campbell's comment: "The Ravens missed Anquan Boldin last season and need to get more receiving weapons for Joe Flacco. Steve Smith is on his last legs and may not provide much next season. A receiver like Cooks could cause a lot of mismatch problems on the other side of the field from Torrey Smith."

Charles Davis, NFL.com
Posted: March 18
Pick: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Davis' comment: "Not a need pick, but too talented to pass up if he lasts this long."

Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated
Posted: April 3
Pick: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Farrar's comment: "What we do know is that the team wants to move 2013 first-rounder Matt Elam to strong safety, leaving it in the lurch when it comes to deep coverage. Pryor, who I actually like a bit better than Clinton-Dix, is physical in the run game and can handle everything from slot duty to center field. He’s not quite as fast as Earl Thomas, but he plays with a similar disregard for his own body -- and the bodies of his opponents."

Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network
Posted: April 9
Pick: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Jeremiah's comment: "The Ravens could look at the receiver position here, but safety is a higher priority."

Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports
Posted: April 11
Pick: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kirwan's comment: "Big Cyrus had a very good pro day and the doctors declared him ready to go. The Ravens have to do a better job of protecting Flacco, so it comes down to Zack Martin or Kouandjio. The upside is with the latter, and Ozzie Newsome is an Alabama guy."

Ourlads' Scouting Service
Posted: March 26
Pick: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Ourlads' comment: "The Ravens need help at center, guard and tackle. Martin fills one of the three positions. He projects inside from left tackle. He will get a chance to play on the edge first because he uses his hands well and is an efficient pass protector. Intense and focused. Good body control and balance."

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports
Posted: April 10
Pick: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
Prisco's comment: "He can play either guard or tackle, which would give the Ravens some flexibility."

Rob Rang, CBS Sports
Posted: April 14
Pick: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Rang's comment: "General manager Ozzie Newsome is a master on draft day in large part because he sticks to the Best Player Available strategy. Lewan is a top 10 talent, whose propensity for over-aggression on and off the field could result in a bit of a slide."

If you have an Insider subscription, you can click here for the latest mock drafts from Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider.
Tight end Ed Dickson signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, a week after the Baltimore Ravens reached an agreement with Owen Daniels.

It worked out the best for both sides. The Ravens lost confidence in Dickson the past two seasons, and Dickson deserved a fresh start. Even though he didn't live up to expectations in Baltimore, Dickson is young enough (he's only 26) to turn around his career.

Dickson becomes the Ravens' fifth free agent (and likely last) to sign with another team. The only surprise this offseason for the Ravens was losing cornerback Corey Graham.

The Ravens selected Dickson in the third round in 2010. He was the 70th player drafted, 25 spots before Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham. Wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Eric Decker also were drafted after Dickson in that third round.

Dickson set career highs with 54 receptions and five touchdowns in 2011. In his last two seasons, he totaled 46 catches and one touchdown.

Only defensive tackle Terrence Cody (second round) and tight end Dennis Pitta (fourth round) remain from the Ravens' 2010 draft class.

Here are the Ravens' four other free agents who signed elsewhere this offseason:

 
The Baltimore Ravens have the No. 17 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft after finishing 8-8 in 2013. Their top needs are offensive line and free safety.

Todd McShay’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft Insider is out on ESPN Insider on Thursday, and his choice for the Ravens is a popular one. If you're an Insider, you have access to McShay's top two picks for the Ravens.


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ESPN's AFC North team reporters -- Jamison Hensley (Ravens), Coley Harvey (Bengals), Pat McManamon (Browns) and Scott Brown (Steelers) -- take a look at the remaining free agents in the division:

BALTIMORE RAVENS

TE Dallas Clark: He looked like a tight end playing in his final season, catching 31 passes for the Ravens (his fewest in a season since 2006). It wouldn't be a surprise if Clark retired. He turns 35 in June.

TE Ed Dickson: The signing of Owen Daniels rules out a return for Dickson. He'll be playing in the NFL in 2014, and it will likely be for about the league minimum. Dickson needs a fresh start elsewhere, and he's visiting the Carolina Panthers.

RB Bernard Scott: The Ravens opted to sign Justin Forsett instead of Scott to be their third running back. Scott could have trouble catching on with another team. This offseason, Scott turned 30, which is not a kind number for running backs.

WR Brandon Stokley: He said after the season that he plans to retire after suffering another concussion. Stokley was the last active player from the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl championship team.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

LB Michael Boley: Signed to a one-year deal early last season, Boley has been seen as little more than a stop-gap for last season's team. His return is unlikely.

DB Chris Crocker: Danieal Manning's signing last week might have been enough to prevent the Bengals from re-signing Crocker. The two play similar positions and serve similar purposes as older players. Crocker still hasn’t announced -- for a third time -- if he’s retiring.

P Zoltan Mesko: Much like Boley, Mesko was a stop-gap solution while punter Kevin Huber was out injured. When OTAs and minicamps resume, Huber is expected to be near full health from a broken jaw.

OT Dennis Roland: Though the Bengals signed former Packers tackle Marshall Newhouse this offseason, they still could re-sign Roland for depth, and to give them a tackle who can be a good short-yardage edge blocker.

TE Alex Smith: There is still a chance the Bengals could bring Smith back, considering H-back Orson Charles was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment March 31 in Richmond, Ky., the result of what police believe was a road rage incident involving a handgun.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

C Alex Mack: His only visit has been to Jacksonville, where the Jaguars are expected to sign him to an offer sheet. The Browns then will have five days to decide if they want to match the offer.

RB Willis McGahee: Not surprising there has been so little interest. His age and the poor running back market make him a tough sign.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

OT Levi Brown: Suffered a season-ending triceps injury before playing a down for the Steelers last season; would have to accept a non-guaranteed contract to return and try to make the team in 2014.

WR Plaxico Burress: Wants to play in 2014, but is 36 and coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him all of last season; does not appear to be in Steelers' plans.

RB Felix Jones: Didn't show enough last season as a change-of-pace back or a kickoff returner to warrant serious consideration for the Steelers to bring him back.

DE Brett Keisel: Re-signing the 12th-year veteran is still an option for the Steelers, who are thin along the defensive line, though nothing will happen until after the draft.

P Mat McBriar: McBriar did OK after the Steelers signed him in October, but it looks like they will go with a younger leg at the position in 2014.

C/G David Snow: Didn't dress in final four games after signing with Pittsburgh last December, and the Steelers have added depth to their offensive line.

RB LaRod Stephens-Howling: Another player coming off an injury (torn ACL) the Steelers might consider re-signing once he is healthy or close to full strength.

LB Stevenson Sylvester: Is a core special teams player and a depth guy the Steelers would probably have interest in bringing back at the right price.

C Fernando Velasco: The Steelers are likely to re-sign one of their most unsung players in 2013 once he has fully recovered from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in November.

LB Jamaal Westerman: Played in the regular-season finale after signing with the Steelers last December, but is not not in the team's plans.
After the Baltimore Ravens announced the signing of tight end Owen Daniels, coach John Harbaugh said, "You guys know football. You can see where this is going.”

The direction of the Ravens' offense is two-tight end formations. It's been a favorite formation of new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak during his years with the Houston Texans, and it falls in line with the Ravens' philosophy. Harbaugh has always said the best 11 players will be on the field, and that translates to a lot of significant playing time for Daniels and Dennis Pitta.

Lining up two tight ends will be a drastic change for the Ravens. Last season, no team ran fewer plays with multiple tight ends than the Ravens (155 snaps), the result of not having Pitta for 12 games. Under Kubiak, no team ran more plays with multiple tight ends over the past three seasons than the Texans (an average of 625 snaps), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Daniels, who played eight seasons under Kubiak in Houston, predicts the Ravens will have plenty of two-tight end sets in the playbook.

"We've got the guys here to do it," Daniels said. "That always makes things tough on defenses. When you run the ball well, that makes the defenses make decisions on personnel, and you kind of go off that. I would say look for more of that in the future.”

For years, the Ravens were the traditional I-formation, power running team. Their offense revolved around Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice following a fullback and gashing defenses.

The Ravens' game plan changed last year when they were unable to run the ball. The team phased out fullback Vonta Leach and decided to spread out defenses with three wide receivers.

The Ravens' base offense is expected to evolve again after the Ravens re-signed Pitta and added Daniels. The team can go with two tight ends, wide receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith and Rice at the skill positions.

The Ravens can be versatile with this personnel grouping. They can split out either Pitta or Daniels (or both) to have a four-wide look because both tight ends are such strong pass-catchers. Or they can line Pitta and Daniels next to the offensive tackles for a more run-heavy formation, which could also set up play-action passes.

The key to running the ball out of a two-tight end formation will be the effectiveness of Pitta and Daniels as blockers. Opening holes for the run game isn't the strength of Pitta and Daniels, although Daniels is considered a functional blocker.

Asked whether the Ravens are still looking for a blocking tight end, Harbaugh looked at Daniels and said they'll take that as an insult.

"You can’t just be one-dimensional. If you’re one-dimensional, and you can’t block, you’ll probably be out there, and you’re basically a wide receiver," Harbaugh said. "That conversation has been had. If you’re in there, and you’re a tight end, and you can’t run a route, you’re basically an offensive tackle. Everybody knows it. The ability to do both well, or at least do one thing great and the other thing adequately, you have to have that."

Harbaugh added, "Owen Daniels is a good blocker. Put on the tape, and you’re going to see a very good blocker. He understands the blocking scheme. So, I wouldn’t take that away from him. Hey, if we end up with some punishing, dominating, end-of-the-line-of-scrimmage blocker, you’ll see me smiling. But our two guys right now block really well, too.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The pairing of Owen Daniels with Dennis Pitta gives the Ravens their best one-two punch at tight end in their history.

Could Pitta and Daniels be the best tight end tandem in the NFL? Ravens coach John Harbaugh wouldn't argue against it.

Daniels
Pitta
"To me, the sky's the limit," Harbaugh said at Friday's introductory news conference for Daniels. "We're not going to downplay anything that we're capable of accomplishing. These are two of the best tight ends in the National Football League, who fit this offense really, really well. Hey, no promises. We've got to go out and do it and prove it. Use your imagination and you guys know football. You know where this is going."

In 2012, the last time Pitta and Daniels had a full season, they each topped 60 receptions and five touchdowns. If the Ravens could get a combined 100 catches from them this season, it would be quite an accomplishment. Only the New Orleans Saints had a tight end combination with more than 100 catches last season, and Jimmy Graham accounted for 86.

Besides the Ravens, the other top tight end tandems in the league are the Indianapolis Colts with Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen (if he's healthy); the Denver Broncos with Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme; and the Cincinnati Bengals with Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.

But Pitta and Daniels have a more proven track record.

"I think being able to play alongside Dennis is going to be awesome," Daniels said. "We're going to be a great tandem. [Being] very versatile in what we do individually is going to make it tough on defenses to prepare."

Pitta and Daniels have a good shot at becoming the most productive tight end tandem in Ravens history. The Ravens have had five seasons in which two tight ends have totaled more than 80 catches. The most was 95 catches in 2005, when Baltimore's tight ends were Todd Heap (75 receptions) and Daniel Wilcox (20).

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens finished their busiest day of free agency by retaining nose tackle Terrence Cody.

Cody
The Ravens needed another defensive lineman as part of their rotation after losing Arthur Jones in free agency. Cody, though, will have to fight to get on this year's roster. Baltimore signed Cody to a one-year deal (likely for the league minimum), which allows the team to still draft a defensive lineman.

Besides keeping Cody, the Ravens also officially signed tight end Owen Daniels and running back Justin Forsett.

Cody has been a disappointment as a 2010 second-round pick, but he's young (turns 26 in June) and has experience (56 games played in four seasons). He started 16 games in 2011 after long-time nose tackle Kelly Gregg was cut. But Cody was replaced in the starting lineup in the Ravens' Super Bowl season by Ma'ake Kemoeatu and served as a backup the past two seasons.

Injuries hurt Cody last season. He had hip surgery in the offseason and then missed four games after spraining his knee.

"I can be a lot better now that I'm full-go and actually healthy for the first time in a while," Cody said Friday after signing his deal. "It's going to be a lot of good things this season."

Cody and tight end Dennis Pitta are the only players remaining from the Ravens' 2010 draft class. The others selected by the Ravens that year were linebacker Sergio Kindle (second round), tight end Ed Dickson (third round), wide receiver David Reed (fifth round), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (fifth round), and offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (sixth round).
The Baltimore Ravens' offseason program kicks off on April 21, and it can't come soon enough for coach John Harbaugh.

For months since the season ended, he has run into players lifting weights and eating breakfast at the team facility, but he can't talk football with them. They can't even discuss the playbook, even though the players have them in their hands.

Harbaugh
"The management council and the players association have got to get together and help us as organizations and coaches help our young players develop as people and players," Harbaugh said last week at the NFL owners meetings. "I mean, come on. You hold us responsible and want us to be a factor in their lives like the mentoring program and things like that. Give us a chance."

The structure of the offseason programs radically changed when the collective bargaining agreement was completed July 2011.

The players union wanted these limitations on offseason workouts because it protects players from coaches who annually pushed them in classrooms, conditioning and on-field sessions for nearly four months before training camps opened in late July. From the union's standpoint, lower demands on the offseason allow players to rest their bodies and use the free time to go back to school or spend time with families.

Harbaugh argues that the new rules are hurting the players, especially the young ones. In Harbaugh's mind, players don't develop as quickly when there is reduced time with coaches.

"This is not the NCAA. This is not recruiting. These are our guys," Harbaugh said. "We want what’s best for our players. That’s what’s good for the league. That’s what good for these young men. And that’s what they want."

Harbaugh has complained before about the offseason rules, and he once described the restrictions that don't allow players to reach their maximum potential as "un-American."

"Young guys want a chance to compete in the National Football League for a job," Harbaugh said. "They want to go see their position coach. They want to learn football. It’s their craft. And we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t do it?’ Why? Because of the collective bargaining agreement that makes no sense? Because somebody wanted to get their little win here vs. their little win over there? Get together and do what’s best for these players, and it’s about time that somebody stepped to the plate and realized that and [took] the politics out of it.”

For the first two weeks of the offseason program (weeks beginning April 21 and 28 for the Ravens), only strength and conditioning coaches are allowed to work with players on the field. Quarterbacks can throw to their wide receivers, but defensive backs aren’t allowed to cover them.

These restrictions continue for the next three weeks (weeks beginning May 5, 12 and 19 for the Ravens) when coaches are allowed to conduct limited football workouts. Any type of offense against defense drills are banned.

The final four weeks (weeks beginning May 26 and June 2, 9 and 16 for the Ravens) are when teams can hold one minicamp and 10 organized team practice activity sessions. One-on-one drills between offensive and defensive players are not permitted, although special teams can be practiced provided there is no contact. Helmets are allowed but shoulder pads remain outlawed.

Here is the Ravens' offseason schedule:

First day of offseason conditioning program: April 21

OTA (Offseason Training Activity) workouts: May 28-30, June 3-5, June 9-10 and June 12-13

Mandatory minicamp: June 17-19
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The Baltimore Ravens don't expect Owen Daniels to be their No. 1 tight end. They don't project him to put up Pro Bowl numbers or relive past glory in Gary Kubiak's offense.

So, why is a one-year deal with Daniels such a significant move for the Ravens?. Essentially, Daniels will be what Steve Smith is to Torrey Smith. Daniels is an excellent compliment to Dennis Pitta and provides a clutch secondary option behind a young player hitting his prime. His history says you can count on him for 50 catches, timely third-down conversions and yards after the catch.

This is a win for quarterback Joe Flacco, whose tight ends last year were an aging Dallas Clark and an undependable Ed Dickson. This is a critical addition for new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and it goes beyond his ties with Daniels.

Daniels
Kubiak likes using two tight ends, and he can now go with that as his base offense. Lining up Pitta and Daniels, the Ravens can be just as dangerous as any team using four wide receivers because of their tight ends' pass catching ability.

This isn't to suggest that they will become Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This is, however, the Ravens' version of that. At 31, Daniels has been on the decline but he has at least 54 receptions in his past five healthy seasons.

Daniels runs great routes, can catch most passes thrown his way and has proved to be a functional blocker. Unlike anyone else on the Ravens' offense, Daniels won't have a transition period. He played seven seasons in Houston under Kubiak when he was the Texans head coach.

Why Daniels was still on the free-agent market is because of last season. He played only five games because of a fractured fibula. Daniels went unsigned after visits with the Ravens, Packers, and Redskins.

It wasn't too long ago when Daniels was one of the most productive tight ends in the league. In 2011 and 2012, Daniels ranked eighth in receptions (1,393), fifth on third-down conversions (27) and sixth in yards after the catch (623).

There was no one available who could have made a more immediate impact than Daniels. The Ravens could've re-signed Dickson, but Flacco had no confidence in him last season. They could've drafted a tight end, although it was unlikely that the No. 1 prospect Eric Ebron was going to fall to the Ravens at No. 17.

Daniels was the Ravens' sure bet at tight end, and he gives the Ravens the best one-two punch at tight end in their history.
The Baltimore Ravens have the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft after finishing 8-8 last season. Their biggest needs are offensive tackle, free safety, running back, tight end and cornerback.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft Insider is out on ESPN Insider on Thursday, and his first-round choice for the Ravens makes a lot of sense.


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