After a normal, quiet free agency period in Baltimore, the Ravens announced Friday that they agreed to terms with four unrestricted free agents (two returning), according to general manager/executive vice president Ozzie Newsome via press release.
Two important returning players are linebackers Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jameel McClain—who both re-signed three-year deals.
Safety Sean Considine signed a one-year deal and cornerback Corey Graham inked a two-year contract.
“It’s a good day for the Ravens,” said Newsome. “Getting Jameel and Brendon back is very important for us. They both know the standard we have around here, and they have helped set that.”
“With Corey and Sean, we have improved our special teams, plus they give us quality and proven depth for the defense,” he continued. “When we ended the season, (head coach) John (Harbaugh) and I talked about the need to get better players for special teams, especially with kick coverage. Corey and Sean will improve that area for us.”
Ayanbadejo has produced a solid career in the NFL by playing on an unit that receives little to no glory as being a special teams specialist. The nine-year veteran is a three-time Pro Bowler and has played in 126 career games.
As a Raven, Ayanbadejo played in 46 games over the past four seasons, spanning from 2008 to 2011. During his career, the Chicago native has either led or shared a team lead in special teams tackles in six out of the nine seasons he played—registering 173 career special teams stops.
The undrafted linebacker from UCLA bounced around both the NFL and the CFL, until he landed in the league for good in 2003 with the Miami Dolphins. Ayanbadejo originally entered the NFL in 1999 as a practice squad member of the Atlanta Falcons and held the same position as a member of his hometown, the Chicago Bears, for the 2000 season.
“He’s our leader on special teams, and we needed him back,” said Harbaugh. “He’s valuable to everything we do on (special) teams. And, adding Corey and Sean to those groups will help Brendon, who was double-teamed on most plays last season.”
“The other good thing with Brendon is that he’s a real factor on our defense with our sub (substitution) packages,” he added. “His development in that area exceeded what we originally expected when we first signed him as the top special teams’ player.”
With limited time on the defensive side of the ball, Ayanbadejo made the most out of his time. He has tallied 97 tackles (63 solo), including a career-high 27 last season. In addition, he registered a career-high in sacks with 1.5 and two passes defensed in 2011.
After losing out on defensive linemen in Jarrett Johnson (now with the San Diego Chargers) and Cody Redding (now with the Indianapolis Colts) to free agency, McClain quickly became a high priority for the Ravens.
“We are pleased this worked out for us,” said Harbaugh. “It has been our hope to bring [McClain] back, even when he became a free agent. Personally, I have tremendous respect and admiration for Jameel as a player, but also his life story. We are proud of him, and we know our fans are, too.”
McClain was originally signed by the Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008. He has shown great improvement and patience in each of his four years in the NFL.
For the 2011 campaign, the Philly native had his best season as he started all 16 games for the Ravens—registering 81 tackles, one sack, five passes defensed, and two fumble recoveries (including one for a six-yard touchdown return).
Clearly, the 6-1, 245-pound linebacker from Syracuse staked his claim as a Raven, perhaps for his playing career, when he filled in for the injured starting linebacker Ray Lewis for four contests.
He totaled 31 tackles for that duration, which was at a critical time for the team in the thick of their AFC playoff run.
The durable McClain has never missed a regular season game for the Ravens, as he played in 64 consecutive outings and started 31 out of 32 contests over the past two seasons.
McClain has been a key component of the Ravens’ defensive unit, as the team tied a NFL record of finishing with the No. 3 scoring defense (points allowed) for four-straight seasons.
With McClain in the lineup for the past four years, Charm City’s finest produced a rushing defense that ranks among the top five in the NFL.
Although Lewis is returning for his 17th season, his career is coming to an end, which makes the McClain signing a very important acquisition.
“Jameel understands what it is to be a Raven, to play like one, and he is an integral part of our team, especially our defense,” said Harbaugh. “With Jameel and Brendon back, our linebackers group is very solid right now.”
Considine has played in 83 career games with 28 starts. The seven year vet was originally selected in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2005 NFL Draft, as he spent four seasons with the team from 2005 to 2008.
In 2011, the 6-foot, 212-pound defensive back from Iowa saw action in four contests with the Carolina Panthers and eight games with the Arizona Cardinals. Considine had a two-year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-10).
Considine has notched 253 career tackles (159 solo), 2.5 sacks, four interceptions, five fumble recoveries, and two forced fumbles with 93 special teams stops.
The Ravens’ special teams may have gotten a little better now that Graham has been added. In 2011 as a Bear, Graham earned a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl squad.
The five year veteran from the University of New Hampshire was selected in the fifth round by the Bears in the 2007 NFL Draft. Graham participated in 77 career games with 10 starts, but he made his name in the NFL as a solid special teamer, similar to Ayanbadejo.
Last season, the Bears finished second in the NFL for opponent punt return average (5.4 ypr), and since Graham’s addition, the Bears have permitted an NFL-best 6.5 yards per opponent punt return.
The 6-foot, 196-pound defensive back led the Bears with 22 special teams tackles, upping his career total to 104. On the field, Graham has produced 117 tackles (90 solo), four interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery for his career.
For the 2011 campaign, Graham posted a career-high in interceptions (three), tying the team for second most.