Weddle released by Ravens; 'no hard feelings'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have cut free safety and defensive leader Eric Weddle, who said he wasn't offered a pay raise to stay with the team.

Weddle, who turned 34 in January, reached the Pro Bowl six times, including all three seasons in Baltimore. Considered the quarterback of the NFL's top-ranked defense, he finished third on the team in tackles with 68.

"Eric Weddle is a true pro in every aspect of his life and exemplifies what it means to play like a Raven," general manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement.

"He's the ultimate competitor, a great leader and one of the smartest players we've ever had. He's a unique blend of talent, work ethic, passion and humility. Eric will always be a significant part of our Ravens family, and we'll enjoy watching his next chapter."

Weddle's football intelligence was key in the defense's success and allowed Baltimore to continually change coverages to keep teams off balance. But he recorded a career-low three pass breakups in 2018 and didn't make an interception for the first time since 2015.

He had one year remaining on his contract at a base salary of $6.5 million. Baltimore created $7.5 million in cap space by cutting him.

Getting released was always in the back of his head, but he thought the team would give him a chance to stay in Baltimore.

"It's their decision, and I respect that. No hard feelings," Weddle said. "[DeCosta] said, 'We're releasing you,' and said some nice things about me. That was it. They're moving forward. I didn't get any inclination that they wanted to bring me back, which is totally fine. He's moving forward with his plan, and I will be pulling for him."

Weddle contemplated retirement at the end of the season, but he decided to continue playing because his body was in better shape following this season than recent ones.

"It's all about my health and my mindset," Weddle said. "Who knows how long I'l play? 34-35 is the new 31 with the way guys are playing these days."

Weddle said "a lot of teams" have expressed interest in him. He expects to take a few free-agent trips to get a feel for teams before making a decision.

Would it feel weird if he stayed in the AFC North and played the Ravens twice a year?

"Yeah, that would be. It's not out of the question, though," Weddle said. "It's where you're wanted and where you feel like you'll have an impact. The passion and desire needs to be there. I'll end up where I'm supposed to end up."

In a text to ESPN's Josina Anderson, safety Tony Jefferson wrote of Weddle: "Undeniable amount of respect I have for him. He changed my whole outlook about football & life. I can't stop working out or watching film bc this guy showed me how to be a pro. He's more than my best friend. He's really my brother & our bond will never break. Much love to Weddle. He'll have a yellow jacket."

Weddle brought stability to a defensive backfield that was lacking it since the team parted ways with Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed in 2013. In three seasons with Weddle patrolling the secondary, the Ravens allowed the second-lowest passer rating (80.0), third-lowest completion rate (60.3 percent) and seventh-fewest passing yards (10,505).

"That's what we set out three years ago when I signed here, turn this defense around and be the best in the league," Weddle said of the defense, which finished No.1 for the second time in franchise history. "To see the guys grow and the actual hand you had in helping these guys and try to teach and guide them ... that's the hardest part about all of it. It's the emotional side. It's not so much getting cut. That's life in the NFL.

"Knowing I won't get to play with my brothers that I love dearly, that's the hardest part."

Coaches have talked about how Weddle's value goes beyond statistics. Defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale referred to Weddle as a "football savant" for how he confuses quarterbacks by disguising coverages.

Defensive end Chris Wormley tweeted: "One of the greatest leaders I've even been around! Thanks for everything Uncle Weddle!"

Weddle, a 2007 second-round pick, spent his first nine seasons with the Chargers before having a falling out with the organization. He signed a four-year, $26 million contract with the Ravens in 2016, and he earned a $1 million incentive this past season after he was named to the Pro Bowl and Baltimore reached the postseason.

One of the reasons Weddle joined the Ravens in 2016 was the recruitment of DeCosta, who is now in his first year as general manager. Weddle believes he will remain close with DeCosta after his departure.

"Who knows? Years down the road, I'll be working for Eric," Weddle said.

Weddle's release adds to a loaded free-agent class for safeties. Earl Thomas, Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu also will be available March 13.