Baltimore’s Big Problem

Friday March 20th, 2015

For the Ravens, 2014 was a terrible year off the field. Their decision-making was ridiculed in the wake of the Ray Rice situation, and they had a total of five players arrested. In late December, director of security Darren Sanders was charged with a sex offense. (He has pleaded not guilty.)

Owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh addressed the media last month in their annual press conference before the combine and talked about how they hoped 2014 would prove to be just an anomaly.

“I think things come in waves, and we certainly took a crash here last year," said Bisciotti, whose team had three arrests from 2009 to ’13. “I think that we are a team and an organization that cares, obviously, about our reputation, and when it takes a hit, then you examine what you do.… Now it's about proving that it was an aberration, and we believe that to be the case."

And the Ravens were wrong.

Running back Bernard Pierce became the third Ravens player arrested in 2015 when he was booked on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. Pierce joined Terrence Cody (felony animal cruelty—he allegedly mistreated his bullmastiff and an illegally imported alligator—and misdemeanor drug charges) and cornerback Victor Hampton (driving under the influence) in embarrassing the franchise this offseason.

The Ravens’ eight arrests in the past 13 months are far and away the most in the NFL, according to the U-T San Diego NFL arrest database. That number is more than that of 15 teams combined. Seven teams have not had a player arrested since the end of the 2013 season: the Lions, Texans, Patriots, Giants, Chargers, Seahawks and Buccaneers.

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The Colts, whose owner, Jim Irsay, pled guilty to operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and the 49ers are tied with five arrests, followed by the Vikings’ four.

Give the Ravens some credit for their quick reactions to the arrests. Cody, Hampton and Pierce were all released by the club shortly after the incidents. The team didn’t wait for the court to decide the players’ fates, which many teams would have done. And Cody (a former second-round pick) and Pierce were good contributors. Pierce immediately was claimed off waivers by the Jaguars, so the Ravens were not afraid to part ways with a valuable commodity.

Ravens players have been served noticed: There will be immediate consequences if they screw up. Pierce knew his fate. “Do you know what happened the last time a Ravens player got a DUI?" Pierce asked the arresting officer, according to the Baltimore Sun. “I'm getting cut tomorrow, not like you care.”

The Ravens have reacted swiftly and changed the tone inside the building, but they should still be criticized for putting themselves in this position. It’s not just bad luck that more of their players get in trouble than in other organizations. Hampton, Pierce and cornerback Jimmy Smith, a player arrested last year, all had off-field issues before they signed with the Ravens.

“We'll exhaust every character aspect of the player, but we believe in allowing the information to lead us to a decision when we deal with that,” Newsome said in the same press conference. “Our scouts do an unbelievable job of getting information when they are on the campuses.”

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With continued problems, it looks like the Ravens will need to be more diligent about the players they bring into the program, and also evaluate whether or not their player development program is doing all it can to assist the players. Nobody expects the Ravens to sign choir boys, but something needs to change.

Don’t look for the NFL to lead its teams down a straighter path. The “club remittance policy” only reprimands teams for players who are actually suspended by the league (personal conduct, substance abuse, performance enhancing drugs) in that year.

And the consequences are a joke. Two suspensions is 15 percent of the player’s salary during the suspension, up to $150,000. Three suspensions is 25 percent, up to $250,000, and four or more is 33 percent, up to $500,000.

Only Rice and Haloti Ngata (PEDs) were suspended during 2014 for the Ravens. Under the NFL policy, the Ravens should have been fined $150,000 because 15 percent of the game checks lost by Ngata and Rice was $384,926.48.

Does anyone believe that a $150,000 fine is suddenly going to make any team straighten up off the field?

The Ravens obviously have more work to do to get their house in order, but the NFL isn’t exactly holding the team’s feet to the fire.

NICKEL PACKAGE

1. The league meetings will take place this week in Phoenix. Looking through the 23 submitted rules changes, and most of them have to do with expanding replay, a few make some sense and are worth consideration. New England is asking for fixed cameras on all boundaries of the playing field for replay. Seems logical, but will the teams want to incur the costs? All five of the playing rule changes by the competition committee should pass: expanding defenseless player protection to post-interceptions, carrying over all dead-ball fouls into the second half or overtime, outlawing running backs from re-entering the tackle box and then executing a low block on an already engaged player, allowing linebackers to wear numbers in the 40s, and requiring all ineligible players to line up in the tackle box (reaction to Patriots-Ravens playoff game).

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2. Good move by the Bills to sign tight end Charles Clay to an offer sheet that the Dolphins couldn’t match. Clay is an emerging talent, and the Bills weaken a division rival. Miami now has to rely on tight end Jordan Cameron, who has had concussion problems.

3. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman thinks recently signed Michael Oher will fill the hole at left tackle. "We did our homework on Michael, and we feel very strongly that he can be an answer for us," Gettleman told the team's website. "He'll be inserted at left tackle, and we'll go from there." Hopefully Gettleman has plans to draft a left tackle as well, because neither of Oher’s previous teams, the Ravens and Titans, thought he could be an everyday left tackle. Neither did Oher. "I prefer playing right tackle," Oher said in 2013. "I've flip-flopped back and forth ever since I got here and played both sides, but I think right tackle is my best position. I think I'm better over there, and the team is better with me over there."

4. The NFL and the Steelers should be ashamed of team doctor Joseph Maroon. He went on ESPN this week and actually said chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a “rare phenomena.” What a joke. Of the 79 brains of former NFL players evaluated by the Department of Veterans Affairs brain bank, 76 tested positive for CTE. Of the 128 tested brains of people who played at some level of football, back to high school, 101 were found with CTE. That’s almost 80 percent.

5. This evening feels like the perfect time to dump Ted Wells' Deflategate report. It's a slow Friday, everyone’s distracted by the NCAA tournament and the league meetings start Monday.


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