Trevor Pryce was released today, in his 5th season with the Ravens.  The move was on one hand unexpected but on the other hand understandable, given his lack of production in recent years and the glut of players on the defensive line.  He had been replaced by Cory Redding as the primary option at defensive end, and even when he played so far this season he was ineffective, and leaves the Ravens without having recorded a single tackle in 2010.  His spot on the roster will be filled by veteran safety Ken Hamlin, who was released last week.  There has been speculation that Pryce could be resigned next week to further reduce his salary after Pryce already agreed to a pay cut this past offseason.  Regardless, this is the clear sign of a player entering the last stages of his career, and the final stage with the Ravens.

When Trevor Pryce was signed, I remember the talk from sports radio stations vividly- his lack of production during his last few years in Denver were due to repeated double-teams and he would rebound with a vengeance opposite Terrell Suggs blitzing from the other side.  And for a year, he did.  His 13 sacks in 2006 tied his career high, and his 47 tackles remains tops for his career.  Unfortunately, it didn’t keep up.  Even after his injury-riddled 2007 campaign, the Ravens pass rush has been more bark than bite in recent years, underachieving by the Ravens’ high standards, and Pryce wasn’t helping matters much.  While he has dropped down to a 5-7 sack guy, he was still in my mind a serviceable defensive end at a much needed spot next to Kelly Gregg/Haloti Ngata.  However, serviceable doesn’t cut it with the Ravens defense.

It was clear when Sergio Kindle was drafted that Pryce’s playing time would invariably be cut into, and that Pryce would likely bow out after this season.  However, I did not expect to see him cut so early with Kindle still recovering from his massive head injury.  It is unlikely that Kindle will even be able to play this season, much less take significant playing time from an established veteran.  Training camp saw the emergence of Lamar Divens, Kelly Talavou and Arthur Jones, which put a squeeze on roster spots but they are primarily defensive tackles and wouldn’t translate as well to Pryce’s postion.  Paul Kruger’s move to defensive end puts him first in line to take over for Trevor Pryce, but his lack of playing time this season (that is, none), makes this move puzzling.  If Pryce was cut for being ineffective, then why not let Kruger actually play a little at his new position before finding out if he was a better option or not?

Kruger’s playing time was a major topic of conversation last season, when fans wanted to see their second round pick but it was clear that Kruger was playing out of position.  He needed to bulk up to move to defensive end, and he is still a largely unknown commodity.  It’s not that the move that bothers me, it’s the timing.  With Cory Redding still recovering from a concussion it seems wise to wait until there is a 2-deep before cutting your starter.  Nor was the roster move necessarily critical- Ken Hamlin is a solid veteran but he had been unable to take either starting safety spot, and with solid depth already at that position it doesn’t seem critical to add him.

Perhaps this is an example of the coaching staff knowing Paul Kruger better than we do at this point- perhaps his time in practice has prepared him to step straight into the starting lineup after not seeing any playing time previously in the season.  It seems like they could have/would have rotated him in already to take up for an aging Pryce, especially without a single healthy defensive end to back him up.  They could move one of the defensive tackles (like Brandon McKinney last week) over on a short-term basis, but once again, why go through all of that shifting now and not wait until there is a healthy compliment of players behind him?

I suppose there is no better time than the present, and the organization may have rather waited to resign Pryce next week and no longer be on the hook for his $2 million salary this season.   Or alternatively the coaches may have determined that it was better to simply start over now, as bad as the timing may be.