OWINGS MILLS — The end of the NFL lockout won’t be opening the doors to the Baltimore Ravens’ training complex for tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason, nose guard Kelly Gregg and running back Willis McGahee.
Instead, it signals the veteran’ pending exit from the roster as the Ravens will clear a combined total of $18.6 million against the salary cap by cutting them Thursday. The Ravens were up against the NFL salary cap of $120.375 million and needed to create room to try to retain starting offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, other Baltimore free agents and free agents from other teams.
They were all informed by Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome on Monday that they will be officially released Thursday afternoon when NFL teams are allowed to part ways with veterans under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Mason, Heap and Gregg could possibly return at lower salaries, but McGahee won’t be back.
“With this agreement comes a new salary cap, unlike last season when there was no cap,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We will be making a number of roster moves in the next 48 hours that will free up salary cap space. That will give us the ability to make offers to our players we want to re-sign, plus put us in a position to sign free agents from other teams.”
Cutting McGahee will save the Ravens $6 million against the salary cap.
The former Pro Bowl runner was scheduled to make significantly more money than the $555,000 salary due starting running back Ray Rice in the final year of his deal. McGahee’s production has declined each year after rushing for 1,207 yards in 2007, rushing for 380 yards and five touchdowns last season, 544 yards and 12 touchdowns two years ago and 671 yards and seven touchdowns three years ago.
“Willis will definitely be missed in this locker room, but I think some of his best days are still ahead of him,” Rice told 24×7. “I don’t know a guy who is tougher or more resilient than Willis. I’ll definitely miss him being in Baltimore. He’s been a tremendous mentor and friend to me; more like a brother, really, and I can’t thank him enough for being the first guy to take me under his wing when I came to Baltimore or for the advice on football and life.”
The Ravens will save $4.6 million by cutting Heap, 31, who’s the Ravens’ all-time leader with 41 touchdown catches. Heap ranks second behind Mason, 37, in franchise history in receptions and receiving yards with 467 catches and 5,492 yards.
A former first-round draft pick, Heap has played for the Ravens since 2001 when he was selected to replace Shannon Sharpe.
If Heap isn’t brought back, the Ravens could go with promising young tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
Mason, who was due a $4.5 million base salary in the final year of his deal, has caught 471 passes for 5,777 yards for Baltimore. The Ravens drafted University of Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith in the second round in April.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Mason told WBAL. “I understand the business of football, and I understand what has to be done in the business of football. It was good while I was here. I can’t hang my head down. I think I did everything above and beyond what they asked me to do when I came in there six years ago, and I think everybody in that building can attest to that. If last year truly was my last year in a Ravens uniform, then I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
If a new contract can be worked out, Mason prefers to return to Baltimore.
“This is just another chip on my shoulder,” Mason said. “This is something else that fuels me and makes me try to be as productive on the field as I can, whether that be in Baltimore and I hope it is or somewhere else. It’s solely up to them. I love Baltimore. My first thing would be, ‘Why not Baltimore?’ They’re primed to win a Super Bowl and I don’t want to go nowhere else but a place that’s primed to contend for a Super Bowl.”
Gregg has been with the Ravens since 2001 and was due a $3.5 million base salary.
He could be targeted aggressively by New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who pounced on defensive end Trevor Pryce last year when he was cut by Baltimore. Gregg was coached by Ryan in Baltimore and is extremely close to the former Ravens defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
Proving an intense presence at the line of scrimmage, Gregg recorded more tackles than any interior defensive lineman in the NFL over the past decade.
“Kelly is a baller,” Ravens free agent cornerback Fabian Washington said. “He’s a run-stopper and he does all the dirty work inside. If the Ravens don’t sign him back, someone else would love to. He’s a damn good player. I hope he finds a job soon. It’s not a sad feeling, it’s a feeling of I want them to get another job.’
“This is the business. Those guys are professionals. They know stuff like this can happen. All of those guys will get a job soon. Willis can still run the rock. Every time he got his shot, he did pretty good. Playing behind Ray Rice put Willis in a tough spot. This is part of the game.”
This marks a lot of change to the Ravens’ locker room with the pending departures of four familiar, popular veterans.
“You create such good friendships,” punter Sam Koch said. “Once they leave, you’ve got to start all over again and adjust. It’s part of the game and you’ve got to be able to adapt with new people.”