OWINGS MILLS – The decision to cut veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce backfired on the Baltimore Ravens as the New York Jets convinced him to reject a verbal offer to rejoin the Ravens.
Swaggering Jets coach Rex Ryan persuaded the four-time Pro Bowl selection to sign a one-year contract with New York one day after the Ravens released Pryce so they could bring back safety Ken Hamlin.
Instead of rejoining the Ravens next week, Pryce is a Jet and is still due the remainder of his $2 million contract from Baltimore as well as his new Jets salary.
“I’m humbled that Rex wanted me to play here,” Pryce said during a press conference upon signing his contract. “When this opportunity pops up, you go, ‘Ah, I don’t think I’m going back.’”
Pryce said that he spoke with Ravens coach John Harbaugh about returning, but noted that Baltimore took a risk by releasing him.
"John was very cool about it," Pryce said. "He was as positive as he could be. It was a half-hour talk. He said I really didn’t want to do it, but I need that spot until Monday. John was very candid that they were bringing me back Monday My agent knew that if Rex called, that is where I was going."
“I don’t think they were surprised. They took a calculated risk. I think they thought teams would call, but I don’t think they thought things would happen so fast. They were only casting me off for a week. It came out of nowhere. It you are vested, you get to pick and chose.”
Pryce had no formal obligation to return to the Ravens as a vested veteran free agent.
Pryce led the Ravens in sacks last season, but took a $2.5 million pay cut during the offseason.
“I spoke with Ozzie Newsome throughout the process and kept him informed,” said Peter Schaffer, Pryce’s agent. “I had a fiduciary responsibility to communicate the Jets’ offer to Trevor. It’s business.”
Pryce, 35, is an extremely popular figure in the Ravens’ locker room, and his departure is having an impact.
On the field, though, he recorded just one tackle in three games.
"I definitely would want him in this locker room, but now he’s over there with Rex daddy," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Yeah, I’m shocked. I’m still waiting on a call from him. I called him a few unpleasant words, just joking around. That’s my man. He was like ‘I’ll call you later from the big city.’ So, all the best.”
Free safety Ed Reed and wide receiver Derrick Mason wore Pryce’s No. 90 jerseys as a tribute to their former teammate.
Inside the Ravens’ locker room, a message on the bulletin board read: "RIP Trevor. You’re a comeback. Good man."
Word spread quickly about Pryce’s defection.
"I talked to him last night and he’s definitely excited," nose guard Kelly Gregg said. "It’s just one of those things. It was tough. I was wishing he would come back here. He wants to play every game and he gets to play this weekend against Buffalo. It will be a lot of fun for him and Rex."
Pryce said that playing for Ryan, his bombastic former defensive coordinator in Baltimore, was a major selling point.
“He’s such a loyal guy to his guys,” Pryce said. “He instills confidence in you that you don’t have. I got released from Denver, that whole thing went down, and he just thought I was more than I knew I was. And by doing that, you don’t want to let somebody like that down.
Pryce, 35, said he didn’t expect to play much as a pass-rush specialist with the Ravens since Baltimore was having issues stopping people on first and second downs.
"We couldn’t stop water from running," he said. "We had some stuff to work out."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was unaware that Pryce had signed with the Jets.
"I haven’t heard that," Mattison said. "If that is true, we loved having him here, and he was a tremendous addition in our meeting room. We wish him the best of luck.”
The Ravens thought they would get Pryce back. There was some internal debate about whether cutting Pryce was a wise move.
“You’ve got roster issues that you deal with. It’s not something we wanted to do," Harbaugh said. "Trevor is a big part of what we’re doing here, and we anticipate getting him back. It’s just what we had to do for now.”
Former Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott said several other Ravens would like to join Pryce in New York.
"I guarantee you that there’s probably guys in the same spot right now jealous as hell," Scott told New York reporters. "Trevor probably gets texts like, ‘Man, come get me too.’ I guarantee you there’s at least 15 other players over there that’s praying to God that they get released for a half a day too, so they can come over here. They won’t admit it. But I guarantee you."
Ryan said he was surprised to see Pryce hit the streets after playing in Baltimore for the past four years.
"We saw it as an opportunity, a window, maybe," Ryan said. "As soon as we saw that they released him, we, of course, got a little excited about it. At first, I was like,
‘There’s no way he was released.’"
Ryan said that he didn’t hear from Newsome.
He didn’t think he had breached etiquette by signing Pryce.
"I never received a phone call from Ozzie," Ryan said. "But Ozzie knows me well enough that if you leave Trevor Pryce out there, then we’re going to try to bring him in. It’s as simple as that If it was important for Ozzie, he would have called me.”
Scott is convinced that Pryce isn’t washed up.
"He’s got more juice than Tropicana," Scott said. “I think they had every intention of bringing him back, but we beat them to the punch. That just shows you how much love people have for Rex. He’s willing to leave a football team that’s competing for a playoff spot, possibly a Super Bowl spot to come to another one because of his relationship with Rex. I’m sure they had every intention of bringing him back on Monday, but he picked Rex."
GAITHER DOWNGRADED: Offensive tackle Jared Gaither was downgraded on the injury report one day after practicing for the first time since first injuring his back during the first week of training camp.
Gaither practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but was sidelined Thursday. He’s dealing with a thoracic disc issue in his upper back.
Gaither isn’t expected to compete for a starting job at right tackle for at least a few weeks.
Gaither declined interview requests Thursday.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron didn’t think it was feasible that Gaither could play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Yeah, I think that’d be asking a lot of anyone," Cameron said Thursday. "It’s nice to have him back. I think it’s nice to get the feeling like he’s back in the mix."
When asked how Gaither looked Wednesday, Cameron replied: “From what I saw, it was solid. He wasn’t out there a lot, but a step in the right direction."
INJURY UPDATES: Besides running back Ray Rice returning to practice on a limited basis despite a bruised knee, starting defensive end Cory Redding was back on the field as well. Redding suffered a concussion in the second half against the Cleveland Browns. He was limited, but practiced for the first time this week…Offensive tackle Tony Moll (hip) returned to practice as well, but was limited…Outside linebacker Edgar Jones (thigh) didn’t practice…
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (back) was limited…Cornerback Chris Carr (thigh) joined the injury report. He was limited, too…The following players participated fully for the second day in a row: center Matt Birk (back), offensive guard Chris Chester (back) and tight end Todd Heap (shoulder).
TURNING A SMILE INTO A FROWN: Hard-nosed Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward is known for his intimidating downfield blocks.
He also has a reputation for smiling and laughing while dishing out punishment to unsuspecting defenders.
“Hines Ward is one of the true professionals,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “He plays the game with a smile most of the time, pisses most people off. Anytime you can play the game with that type of emotion and control, intensity, then do it. That’s why he’s been around so long.
“You have to tip your hat off to a guy like that. When he’s not playing, that’s when you tip your hat off to him. When you’re playing him, you’re looking for him.”
So, how do the Ravens go about knocking the smile off Ward’s face.
“Hit him,” Lewis said. “Easy. That’s a way to knock a smile off anybody’s face on the football field.”
OLD FRIENDS: Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher played at Ole Miss with Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, and they remain good friends.
“ I look forward to playing him every time,” Oher said. “He sends me a message on my wall on Facebook. He’s one of my good friends. I love being out there with him and seeing him perform. We wish each other luck all the time.”
Wallace is a gifted receiver who caught two touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hauling in scores of 46 yards and 41 yards.
He’s the first Steelers receiver to have two 40-plus touchdowns in a single game since Louis Lipps on Dec. 4, 1988.
He finished the game with three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
As a rookie last season, Wallace caught 39 passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns. His 19.4 reception average led the NFL.
So far this year, Wallace has caught seven passes for 187 yards for an average of 26.7 per catch.
“He’s a great talent,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “He has the whole package: speed, route running, smart player. You have to be focused every time he’s on the field.”’
LEWIS, ROETHLISBERGER STAYING IN TOUCH: Lewis has provided moral support for embattled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger before and after his four-game suspension that concludes Sunday.
“He texted me,” Lewis said in a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters. “It’s a respect we have for each other, but more importantly it’s a respect you got to have for yourself.”
Roethlisberger was investigated for an alleged sexual assault on a 20-year-old Georgia woman and was ultimately not charged with a crime. However, he was punished under the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
"We texted each other whenever he was going through what he was going through, I was there for him," Lewis said. "It’s more of a brotherhood. The game always takes care of itself on the field, but off the field if we don’t look out for each other nobody else will."
QUICK HITS: The Steelers reported no changes to their injury report. Quarterback Dennis Dixon (torn lateral meniscus), offensive guard Trai Essex (ankle) and defensive tackle Chris Hoke (knee) didn’t practice for the second day in a row. … The Ravens are struggling at creating turnovers. They have one forced fumble in three games, tying them for last in the league with the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills. "You can’t press and say, ‘Boy, look at the stats. We haven’t gotten many turnovers, we haven’t gotten many interceptions,’" Mattison said. "You know what? All of a sudden, the thing you’ve got to look at is, have you gotten as many as you could have gotten? And we had a couple dropped, but other than that, there aren’t a lot of other ones that we could’ve gotten had we played something differently. They’re going to come." …The Ravens’ blood rivalry with the Steelers is unparalleled. “I’d be lying if I told you this was just another game,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is the game on the schedule that we circle. This one has a little more importance than any other division game. Maybe we don’t like these guys. We respect them, but we don’t like them. It’s just for bragging rights.”