The Ravens repopulated their defense during the first four rounds of the NFL draft and found several high-quality players to help fill the biggest holes remaining on a defensive unit that lost six key contributors during the team's post-Super Bowl roster shuffle.
That group included safety Matt Elam, whose rise from a harrowing childhood has made him one of the inspirational stories of the draft, and high-character players Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams and John Simon.
The player personnel types call those guys “red star” players, which is the pre-draft equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The Ravens put a lot of stock in that sort of thing, which is why you have to wonder how long they're going to hold onto red-flag linebacker Rolando McClain after his latest scrape with the law.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has been guarded in his comments on the subject and he remained non-committal after the Ravens made their final pick of the draft early Saturday evening, but if you read between the next few lines, you might get the feeling that a decision is coming soon.
“Right now, we've got 90 football players and he's one of the 90, and we're going to make determinations starting tomorrow who we think is going to be in our top 53,” Newsome said. “We'll start making decisions and there are going to be some tough decisions, but right now, Rolando's still a part of our football team.”
Not sure what that means. It could be that the Ravens are trying to be as fair-minded as possible after McClain, who was released by the Oakland Raiders three weeks ago and signed by the Ravens on April 12, got arrested again last Sunday. But there was speculation heading into this weekend that Newsome might wait to see how the draft dominoes fell before deciding whether to release McClain or hang with him and hope there is a productive Raven inside all that baggage.
If that's the case, it shouldn't be a tough decision. The Ravens moved up in the second round to draft Brown, a versatile Kansas State linebacker who could fill the same need if he's ready for prime time.
“I think we have a great understanding of the type of football players that John wants in his lockerroom and he and his coaching staff want to work with,'' Newsome said. “I think when we come together…with all those things in mind, we have been able to put together a draft class as we have done over the last three days that we feel very good about.”
That would not seem to bode well for McClain, who has been in trouble several times and last May was convicted of multiple misdemeanor charges including third-degree assault, reckless endangerment, menacing and discharging a firearm within city limits. Those charges were eventually dropped and the convictions vacated when the case was dismissed on appeal at the request of the victim.
In January, the former University of Alabama star was arrested after a traffic stop for providing false information to a police officer, which turned out to be strike three with the Raiders, who also suspended him for two games during the 2013 season for conduct detrimental to the team after he clashed with head coach Dennis Allen.
The Ravens have a history of standing behind troubled players, dating back to Ray Lewis' arrest on homicide charges in Atlanta in 2000 (he eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction charge) and Jamal Lewis' drug-related arrest in 2004, but the team's support has always been predicated on the player's commitment to making the lifestyle changes necessary to represent the franchise honorably in the future.
When the team signed McClain, there was no official mention of his behavior problems or the consequences of future infractions, but it was assumed that the team would have little tolerance for any conduct that embarrassed the organization or any sign that McClain might be a problem in the Ravens locker room.
It didn't take long for McClain to test that theory, though he told the Madison (Ala.) Weekly News he did not, as alleged, curse police during last Sunday's disturbance in a local park and said that they “arrested the wrong guy.” But he admitted that he went to the park because his brother was involved in a dispute there.
Maybe Newsome knows something that everybody else doesn't. He grew up in Alabama and has a great relationship with the Crimson Tide football program that propelled him to a Hall of Fame professional career. He wanted to give McClain a second chance, but after this latest example of McClain's volatile personality, it's just that much harder to make a case that he's worth the risk.
Don't want to be too flip about a situation where a young man's professional career is on the line, but if a guy is so out of control that the Oakland Raiders aren't willing to put up with him, why would the Ravens want to take the chance of him being a disruptive influence on their developing young team?
It just doesn't make sense. If the Ravens really want to avoid a Super Bowl hangover, they don't need this headache.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here,” at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts “The Week in Review” at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.
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