Is Ihedigbo finished as a Raven?

Is Ihedigbo finished as a Raven?
January 10, 2014, 11:00 am
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Ravens front office reacts to missing the playoffs

The 'State of the Ravens' news conference proved to be a good day for maligned assistant coach Juan Castillo, who got a strong vote of confidence from head coach John Harbaugh.

But it wasn't such a good day for safety James Ihedigbo. Listening to the Ravens braintrust on Wednesday, it sure seems as if the safety's two-year run in Baltimore is over.

When asked about the Ravens' biggest needs entering the offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome said that "I think we need to have a more athletic safety."

The Ravens this year essentially played with two strong safeties -- Ihedigbo and Matt Elam, although they usually asked Elam to play free safety. Judging by Newsome's comments, next year's secondary will feature only one of the two, and Elam, last year's first-round draft pick, isn't going anywhere. Ihedigbo, 30, is set to become a free agent in March, so Elam is a younger, cheaper option with more upside.

[MORE: Newsome will add a playmaker, one way or another]

"Matt Elam should be a really, really good safety in this league," Harbaugh said on Wednesday.

It's clear the Ravens would like to move Elam to his more natural strong safety position, where he could play closer to the line and be more physical. Then they would look to find a rangy ballhawk to patrol the back end as free safety.

Still, there's a lot to be said for Ihedigbo's contribution. Signed after the Patriots cut him late in the preseason two years ago, Ihedigbo had a nice run with the Ravens, evolving from special teams ace to starting strong safety after Bernard Pollard left. Ihedigbo was re-signed to a one-year deal with the Ravens last March and then finished this season with 98 tackles, the second-highest total on the team, and three interceptions.

Ihedigbo is well liked, a vocal presence and physical hitter who, in the parlance the folks at the Castle like to use, definitely plays like a Raven. Other teams surely noticed, and Ihedigbo is likely to draw decent interest on the free agent market.

So although Ihedigbo plays like a Raven, next year it seems unlikely he will play as a Raven.