Ravens see two starters leave in free agency, brace to possibly lose Grubbs

Outside linebacker Johnson signs with Chargers

defensive end Redding lands with Colts

March 14, 2012|By Jeff Zrebiec and Matt Vensel, The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens have long prided themselves on their organizational depth and their teamwide philosophy of "Next man up," believing no injury and no defection big enough to challenge their status as one of the league's elite teams.

That mindset will seemingly be challenged once again as in a span of a couple of hours Wednesday, the Ravens lost two defensive starters and locker-room leaders and remained on the verge of seeing one of their standout offensive linemen sign elsewhere.

Outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson, who spent the first nine years of his career in Baltimore, agreed to a four-year deal with the San Diego Chargers. Defensive end Cory Redding signed a three-year, $10.5 pact with the Indianapolis Colts, reuniting with former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. Left guard Ben Grubbs, one of the team's top free-agent priorities, didn't finalize a deal, but he spent the day in New Orleans meeting with Saints officials, who want him to replace the departed Carl Nicks.

The Ravens, meanwhile, remained mostly quiet for a second consecutive day of free agency, though that could change Thursday when they play host to Evan Mathis, the former Philadelphia Eagle who is also considered one of the top guards available.

Mathis, 30, has played for four teams in seven NFL seasons, including the Eagles (2011), Cincinnati Bengals (2008-2010), Miami Dolphins (2008) and Carolina Panthers (2005-2007). He had a strong 2011 season and was considered by many evaluators as the third-best guard on the free-agent market. Grubbs was rated as the second, while Nicks headed the list and was rewarded with a five-year, $47.5 million contract by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mathis, who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, is attracting interest from several teams, including the Eagles and Washington Redskins. However, he has seemingly given the Ravens the first opportunity to make an impression. He was due in Baltimore Wednesday night and is also believed to be the first free agent to visit the team's Owings Mills facility after the market opened at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

There were also multiple reports out of Houston that former Texans right tackle Eric Winston, surprisingly released this week in a salary cap-related move, will also soon visit Baltimore. Winston, who had started 87 consecutive games for Houston and is considered one of the better right tackles in football, has already visited the Dolphins and also has visits planned with the Kansas City Chiefs,St. Louis Rams and Ravens, according to reports.

Michael Oher is entrenched at right tackle for the Ravens, but Winston's addition could lead to Oher's returning to left tackle and the eventual release of Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie, who had a solid first season with the Ravens protecting quarterback Joe Flacco but struggled with his run blocking, is due a $500,000 roster bonus this week and is entering the final year of his contract.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome mentioned upgrading the offensive line as one of the team's biggest offseason goals, and that was before the team couldn't agree on a lucrative deal with Grubbs before he hit the open market Tuesday afternoon.

Newsome had also said the team was hopeful of keeping Redding and Johnson, who were unheralded but important members of one of the league's best defenses this past season.

The Colts were seen a potential landing spot for both players after Pagano became their head coach and installed plans to switch their defensive alignment to a hybrid 3-4 style that the Ravens employ.

Johnson, instead, signed with the Chargers, whose defensive coordinator is John Pagano, Chuck's brother.

"Even though it's tough to leave Baltimore and there's a lot of mixed emotions because I've been there so long, we couldn't be happier with our decision to become a Charger," Johnson said in comments released by the Chargers. "One of our biggest decisions, we wanted to be in a good area on a good team, and the Chargers fit that criteria to the max. It's a great area, a great organization, and this team's got the potential to be awesome. That's something I want to be a part of."

Drafted in the fourth round out of Alabama in 2003, Johnson, 30, started every game for the Ravens the past four seasons, and his streak of 130 consecutive games played stood as the longest in team history. He had a relatively quiet 2011 season, finishing with 56 tackles, 21/2 sacks, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. He also found himself on the sideline more and more in passing situations with the Ravens using pass-rush specialist Paul Kruger.

But Johnson's value came in the way he played the run and the intangibles he brought. He was one of the most well-respected and liked players in the Ravens' locker room. His departure prompted longtime teammate Terrell Suggs to say on his Twitter account: "I'm really sad to see my boy, Double-J go. He'll always be a Raven."

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