Late For Work 6/3: Is Jameel McClain The ‘Real Deal?’

Plus Ravens a ‘smidge’ behind Steelers, organization rankings, optimism in labor talks.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Friday, June 3rd, 2011 at 9:02 am | Categories: Late For Work, Sarah Ellison

Is Jameel McClain The ‘Real Deal?’

Whenever the Ravens return to the field, one player who will have a spotlight shone on his jersey is linebacker Jameel McClain.

The 2008 undrafted rookie free agent felt “complimented” by the Ravens when they gave him a second-round tender before the NFL lockout (which may or may not stick under the 2011 free-agency rules).

Last season, McClain started 15 games, perhaps solidifying his spot as the long-term solution at the middle linebacker position next to Pro Bowler Ray Lewis.

But is McClain the “real deal?” asks CSNBaltimore.com’s John Eisenberg.

“He was among the team’s most improved players in 2010, ranking third in tackles as a third-year player and first-year starter,” wrote Eisenberg. “The Ravens revealed their feelings about him when they assigned him a second-round restricted free agent tender, meaning another team would have to cough that up to get him. The high price tag was a compliment.

“The Ravens think they may have found a major contributor, but he needs to keep going in the right direction.”

If McClain does continue in the “right” direction, it would only leave another question dangling behind him. Is teammate and undrafted free agent (2009) Dannell Ellerbe a piece of the linebacker puzzle?

“He was one of the team’s biggest surprises of 2009 when he made the roster as an undrafted free agent and played so well that he found himself starting in the playoffs,” wrote Eisenberg.

“But he couldn’t keep it up in 2010. His conditioning declined, he didn’t play with same ferocity, lost his starting spot and even was deactivated for a few games. Although he still recorded 29 tackles in 11 games, which isn’t bad, he needs to show up in better shape.”

Ravens Just A ‘Smidge’ Behind Steelers

SportsNation was asked for an opinion, and voters gave it.

Will the Ravens beat Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this season?

“Yes,” says 39 percent of nearly 4,000 voters. “No,” says the other 61 percent.

Including the playoffs, Roethlisberger has won seven straight against Baltimore (9-2 in his career), and he is precisely the reason Matt Williamson of ESPN’s Sports Inc. believes the Ravens are still a “smidge” behind the Steelers in the AFC North.

“[The Ravens] are one of the strongest organizations in the league and I think they’re very, very strong from a coaching, front office perspective, the draft, free agency moves. I think they’re right there among the top five or so in the league, which is high praise,” Williamson told The Baltimore Sun’s Matt Vensel. “I also think they’re stuck in a division with someone who is a little better at it than they are. … They are very similarly built, but the Steelers have a better quarterback, and in this league, it goes an awful long way.”

Williamson was an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh and recruited Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco out of high school, so he is “a big fan of Joe.” While the analyst believes Flacco is currently in the second tier of NFL quarterbacks, he also says Flacco can become elite.

“You can’t forget that this is a third-year quarterback out of Delaware,” Williamson said. “I mean just because he came out and blew everyone’s doors off as a rookie, I think everyone assumes he should be further along than he is. Frankly, I think that’s unfair. He’s making steps, even if they aren’t giant steps.”

The Ravens are already considered a Super Bowl contender for 2011, but if they are going to get the ring they desire, Flacco and the Ravens will have to out-play Roethlisberger and the Steelers to get their shot.

“Nothing about the team is far off. They’re just a smidge behind the Steelers,” Williamson said. “Overall, it’s hard to be pretty critical of this team. I think they’re really, really strong. They’re poised for another playoff run.”

Ravens Finish Ninth In 2011 Organization Rankings

Speaking of Steelers-Ravens comparisons, FoxSports.com recently released its 2011 NFL organization rankings.

Author Adam Schein gave teams a score ranging from one to 10 in six different categories: owner, quarterback, head coach, front office, coaching staff and intangibles, which include facilities, fan support and public relations. Scores were totaled, dictating each team’s ultimate ranking.

The Ravens were ranked No. 9 among all 32 teams with 48 total points, while the Steelers were ranked No. 3 with 55 points. The Cleveland Browns (30 points) came in at No. 20 and, the Cincinnati Bengals (18 points) rounded out the AFC North at No. 29.

Here’s Baltimore’s 48-point breakdown:

Owner: 9.5
Quarterback: 7
Coach: 8
Front office: 9.5
Coaching staff: 5
Intangibles: 9

“Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta head a brilliant front office that is seemingly always a few steps ahead,” wrote Schein. “What coach John Harbaugh has accomplished in a short period of time is incredible. He never gets the credit he deserves. Steve Bisciotti is a great owner. Give him credit for changing his mind on cutting the pay of employees during the lockout. The Ravens’ public relations department is excellent, both media and player friendly. The coaching staff has taken some hits.”

Finally A Hint Of Optimism In Labor Talks

We’ve waited over a month for today’s hearing in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which justices will consider the fate of the lockout.

Yes, the big June 3 date is here, but suddenly it is overshadowed by secret meetings – that turned out to be not-so-secret – between decision makers from both the league and players’ association.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was joined by five NFL owners and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith was joined by five player representatives, including Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth. No lawyers were present, which was one of goals for the meeting.

As a result, the judge overseeing the mediation between the two sides cancelled next week’s planned sessions because of these ongoing "settlement discussions," which were requested for by the owners, says ESPN’s John Clayton.

What should we take from all this?

"The fact that the meetings occurred right before the hearing is a good thing," said Andrew Brandt, a former NFL executive who is legal analyst for ESPN. "Perhaps it’s a case of sides saying, ‘Let’s handle our own business, rather than letting the court decide.’”

Today marks Day 80 of the lockout, the longest work stoppage in NFL history, and if the players and owners don’t want to risk losing training camp and the preseason, the streak can’t continue much longer, says ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“The two sides are making an effort to determine whether they can work out a settlement that eventually leads to football and a collective bargaining agreement,” wrote Schefter and Chris Mortensen. “One source said any potential deal still was a ways away; however, the hope would be that the two sides could reach an agreement sooner rather than later, potentially even later this month.”

Quick Hits

  • Ravens new wide receiver James Hardy on his exit from the Buffalo Bills: “Unfortunately they didn’t believe and Baltimore did.” [Carroll County Times]
  • Want the chance to work under Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis? His newly launched staffing firm, RL52 Staffing, is hiring recruiters and salespeople for its Baltimore office. [Baltimore Business Journal]
  • SI_PeterKing: Re "settlement talks:" Could be significant, because players have wanted talks w/power-brokers who could make a deal. That’s what this is. [Twitter]
  • AdamSchefter: Giants RB Brandon Jacobs said chances of Plaxico Burress rejoining his former team are "slim to none." Jacobs said Eagles are a favorite. [Twitter]
  • Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid and Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley joined five other organizations who say they didn’t approve or were unaware of the NFL Coaches Association’s brief filed on their behalf to Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals asking the owners to end the NFL lockout. [NFP.com/AP]

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