OWINGS MILLS ~ Last season didn’t go as intended for veteran wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth.
Brought in as a potential deep threat, Stallworth broke his foot during the preseason and caught only two passes for 82 yards in eight games.
Signed days prior to the season, Houshmandzadeh grudgingly accepted a complementary third receiver role behind Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason. The former Pro Bowl selection caught just 30 passes for 398 yards.
Now that their one-year contracts have expired, will either player be back?
"The answer is that I don’t really know," Harbaugh said. "You can’t really put a percentage basis on it because there are so many things up in the air at this time. There are obviously a lot of issues that haven’t been a part of the equation in the past. It’s just a different calendar now with free agency."
Stallworth has said he didn’t think he was utilized properly last season.
Houshmandzadeh initially complained repeatedly about his role, but eventually accepted that it wasn’t going to change.
Harbaugh was noncommittal on whether either player will be retained.
"I like all those guys," Harbaugh said. "As a coach, you want all the good players you can get. You like having veteran players too. It’s not always possible to keep all those guys. So, I just don’t know. We’ll just have to see."
How badly are things going between the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association?
Well, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said the financial disclosures offered by the league are "laughable" and "disrespectful."
During a CNBC interview, the NFLPA executive committee member said he wasn’t sure if a deal will get brokered at this point.
"Things haven’t been great," Foxworth said. "They want to evaluate a billion dollar decision based on two numbers. It’s really hard to say with any certainty that anything positive will happen in the next couple of days."
So far, the league has only been willing to give profitability data instead of specific team data.
"The numbers that they’ve offered us can be extrapolated from the numbers that are printed in Forbes magazine," Foxworth said. "It’s nothing substantial. The idea that they can ask a billion dollars from us without giving us the opportunity to crawl through their numbers is somewhat disrespectful.
"Essentially what they’re doing is asking us to buy a car and only allow us to look at the car through the showroom window and not kick the tires and drive it around. It’s really aggravating for us."
Under the current system, the NFL has taken $1 billion off the top of the total revenue figure with players receiving 59.6 cents of every dollar left over. Now, the owners are looking for an additional number between $600 million and $800 million as they have cited increasing risk and costs.
"We’re not alleging anything," Foxworth said. "We just want the opportunity to look through the numbers. I’m sure all the people watching understand you don’t make a $1 billion concession without the opportunity to crawl through all the numbers."
UPBEAT ABOUT REED, LEWIS: Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed is far from done, Harbaugh declared.
The Pro Bowl free safety intercepted eight passes last season despite missing the first six games of the season on the physically unable to perform list following offseason hip surgery.
"Ed’s still got plenty of good football left," Harbaugh said. "I’ve talked to Ed a number of times this offseason. He feels he can play four or five more years."
Meanwhile, Harbaugh expressed confidence that All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis will continue to play at a high level.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year led the Ravens with 145 tackles last season, intercepting two passes, recovering three fumbles and forcing two fumbles.
When asked if Lewis will return, Harbaugh said a "resounding yes."
Harbaugh said he didn’t know how much longer Lewis will play, but emphasized that Lewis is still playing well and no replacement has been identified.
"It’s going to be up to Ray," Harbaugh said. "We’ll have to see. He’s at that stage where he’s in uncharted territory. There’s no middle linebacker that’s played anywhere close as long as he’s played at the level he’s played.
"We do have to think about that. It’s tough because we’ve got great players still playing well. But you’ve always got to be thinking in football about getting younger. That’s just the way it works. It’s the cycle of football."
TACKLE UP IN THE AIR: The Ravens’ outlook at left tackle remains somewhat uncertain.
The Ravens expect restricted free agent Jared Gaither to become an unrestricted free agent when the collective bargaining agreement is resolved.
Although Gaither missed the entire season with a thoracic disc injury, he recently told Ravens24x7.com that he’s completely healthy now. Gaither said he has regained the 30 pounds he lost during the offseason last year when he dealt with a mysterious foot injury.
Michael Oher started the entire season at left tackle, but committed eight false starts and struggled with speed rushers.
"There is just no way to know if we have any control over whether Jared can come back or not," Harbaugh said. "Probably that ball is going to be in his court. Michael Oher is our left tackle, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in Michael."
At the NFL scouting combine, Harbaugh said that signing free agent guard-tackle Marshal Yanda is a top priority.
The Ravens haven’t initiated contract talks with Gaither, but did assign him a restricted tender in case he’s classified that way.
"That would give us one more good player in the mix," Harbaugh said of Gaither.
A former first-round draft pick from Ole Miss, Oher had 11 penalties last season. He seemed much more comfortable as a rookie at right tackle.
"Michael Oher is a pretty darn good player," Harbaugh said. "He’s going to be a tremendous offensive lineman in this league. None of us know exactly where he’s going to play ultimately over the long haul. But I’ve got no problem with Michael Oher being our left tackle."
PUTTING ON THE BLITZ: One season removed from recording a franchise low with 27 sacks, the Ravens plan to be more aggressive on defense next season.
"You can make an argument that we rushed three a little more last year than we had in the past and we will in the future, in all honesty," Harbaugh said. "I don’t think by any stretch is going to be a foundation of our defense. That’s not what we’re built on. That’s not we’re about."
New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has replaced Greg Mattison, who tended to blitz much less than previous defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
That could change under Pagano’s watch.
"When you get a quarterback in a rhythm where he feels like he’s got to get the ball out quickly and you drop one more guy into coverage where you anticipate he’s going to go with the ball," Harbaugh said. "When you get into a habit where they have a sense that you’re rushing three and you get that quarterback into a rhythm where he can really hold the ball, that’s a problem.
"When that happened last year, that hurt us. That’s not something we want to have. I won’t say we’re going to rush three as much as we did last year. I think we’ll do it less. I think you’ll see it at times. More often than not, you’re going to see pressure."
BIG BLOCKER: Even if the Ravens do retain free agent fullback Le’Ron McClain, they plan to add a big fullback to bolster the running game.
McClain rushed for 902 yards and 10 touchdowns two seasons ago, and the two-time Pro Bowl selection wants to more involved in the offense if he returns.
"The type of running game, the things that we’ve done here, the type of offense and the type of a team we want to be dictates a big, physical fullback," Harbaugh said. "That’s not all we’re going to do. You need to do some other things. You need to pass protect. You need to get out and run routes and all of that.
"You need to carry the ball a little bit, but I think a big, physical blocking fullback would help us – even if we’re able to keep Le’Ron."
The Ravens signed veteran fullback Jason McKie after the season.
"Le’Ron is probably going evolve his role as a runner in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "We’ll keep our fingers crossed that it can be here with the Ravens, but we want to put a bruising fullback in front of our running backs if we can."
QUICK HITS: Wide receiver Derrick Mason was not upbeat about the prospects for a new labor deal during a chat on the NFLPA website. "I’m trying to be optimistic about the situation, but the longer it goes, the less optimistic I become," Mason said. "I guess now I’m a pessimist." … Harbaugh didn’t rule out the possibility of exploring former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber after the 35-year-old said he’s ending his retirement. Harbaugh typically never says never when asked about any free agent, giving his stock answer. "I have no idea what kind of shape he’s in," Harbaugh said. "We’ll turn over every rock." … Harbaugh said that he definitely expects Foxworth to be back next season after missing last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. "Resounding yes," he said. "He could probably play now."