OWINGS MILLS – Stuffing belongings into bags Monday morning and saying goodbyes, the Baltimore Ravens walked out of the locker room two days removed from a devastating playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For several players, cleaning out their locker marks the last time they’ll be part of the team.
The Ravens have 17 unrestricted free agents, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, fullback Le’Ron McClain, offensive tackle Marshal Yanda and offensive guard Chris Chester, wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth, cornerbacks Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Fabian Washington, kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch. (See Free Agency Primer)
As far as McClain is concerned, his time in Baltimore is over.
The two-time Pro Bowl selection predicted he wouldn’t be back with his contract expiring.
"It’s up to the Ravens organization, whatever they decide, but I doubt it, though," McClain said. I doubt it."
Why won’t he be back?
McClain griped about a reduced role in the offense after rushing for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns two seasons ago.
Plus, the Ravens have rarely spent big money on a fullback, not attempting to retain Ovie Mughelli when he departed via free agency to the Atlanta Falcons.
"I mean, I feel like if I was, I feel like I probably would’ve been used a little bit more than what I was this season, these past two years, but it is what it is," McClain said. "I’m over that now. Four great years in Baltimore and now I’m just looking forward to the future, whatever the future holds. That’s all I can control."
McClain rushed for 85 yards and no touchdowns this past season and 180 yards and two touchdowns two years ago.
"I just want to be part of it," McClain said. "Real talk. It’s just been frustrating for me. I haven’t showed it in my play these past few years, but it’s been frustrating. For me, I just want to be part of it. I just wish I could’ve did more. I never let it get to my game, I still went out there and played 100 percent every play, play in and play out for my teammates, because that’s who I’m out there for. Hopefully, that can change.
"They put me back in a box the last few years that I thought I was out of my second year. It is what it is. I don’t regret none of it because I still came out here and played my rump off every play, every Sunday. Whatever the future holds for me, I hope it’s back here, but if it’s not, let the games begin.”
The Ravens’ top priority in free agency is Ngata, a dominant force who’s widely regarded as the top defensive tackle in the game.
Keeping Ngata is going to be an extremely expensive proposition, but the Ravens are committed to rewarding him and doing what it takes to keep him.
“It’s really important,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “As we talked about last year at the owners’ meeting, I believe Haloti Ngata will be a Raven for life. That’s the goal. I know that Haloti wants that. He’s told me that he wants to be here.
“I don’t want to speak for him, again, but I think he wants to be here, and I believe the organization wants him here. He’s a little trickier because of the restricted nature of his free agency right now and the lockout thing. It’s priority No. 1 to have Haloti Ngata here.”
Carr emerged as a reliable cornerback who was rarely beaten for a touchdown.
Carr recorded 67 tackles, two interception, eight pass deflections and three forced fumbles. Quarterbacks tended to avoid throwing in his direction.
“I would love to be back here,” Carr said. “This is where I want to be. It’s a business, but I feel good about what I put out on the field and I want to be a part of this team. Hopefully, we can work something out.”
The Ravens have already launched contract talks with Cundiff, who made it to the Pro Bowl this season as he led the NFL in touchbacks and connected on 26 of 29 field goals.
“I think it’ll come together,” Harbaugh said. “I think Billy really wants to be here. I know we’re in negotiations with him right now, along with other guys. I’ll be very surprised if something doesn’t get done with Billy Cundiff, and I’ll be disappointed, but I think it’s going to happen.”
Cundiff said money won’t be the only thing he considers, but he wants market value.
And he wants Koch to be retained.
“There’s a lot of issues at play,” Cundiff said. “Money isn’t always the ultimate factor. What we’re trying to establish is where do I fit in the kicker stack and we’d like to be compensated that way, nothing more nothing less.
“I don’t think what my agent will be asking for is unreasonable. We have everybody’s best interest in mind. If I come back, I want to make sure Sam is coming back as well. Sam and I have great rapport.”
Koch averaged 43.6 yards per punt and placed 39 punt inside the 20-yard line.
He was named a Pro Bowl alternate.
Koch was in contract talks with the Ravens following the 2008 season, but discussions stalled as the two sides couldn’t agree on a deal.
“We ended up trying to do some negotiations,” Koch said. “We never came up to a conclusion. It was one of those things that wasn’t meant to be. Now it’s two years later, which is crazy. We’re in a different position and we’re not restricted any more.
“Absolutely I thought I went out there and helped the team as much as I possibly can. That’s the ultimate goal. I thought I did that well I hope to continue to do that here.”
A former Pro Bowl selection, Houshmandzadeh only caught 30 passes while operating as the third receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Mason.
He’s considered unlikely to return.
“I want to come back because I had fun here and I enjoyed myself,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I do want to be a starter. I do because that’s what I’ve been. It’s hard to adjust.”
Backup quarterback Marc Bulger is expected to have opportunities around the league to compete for a starting job, but said he wouldn’t rule out possibly returning to Baltimore.
Last year, Bulger missed out on free agency and potentially good positions with the Arizona Cardinals because the St. Louis Rams kept him on the team until April.
“Yeah, I think everything gets moved up a lot this offseason just because last year I was under contract and it did get extended for a while to April,” Bulger said. “I think it will be for the better. I can make a decision quicker. I was happy here and I wouldn’t mind coming back here.”
Chester started for most of the past two seasons.
He’s looking to return.
“I hope to be back,” Chester said. “The relationships I built here with the guys in the locker room and the coaches and stuff are special. There’s a whole business aspect to this. In a perfect world, I’ll be back here. Haven’t had real formal talks, but I’ve had some interactions with the team, positive interactions.”
Replaced by Wilson as the starter, Washington doesn’t expect to be back.
“I want to play wherever I’m going to be,” Washington said. “I don’t play this game for a check. I play because I love the game. Josh played great this year after they benched me. I didn’t expect to necessarily get my job back at that point.”