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To be sure, there were a number of skeptics who gave their two cents about the Ravensâ€™ blockbuster trade for halfback Willis McGahee. The critics pointed out that Baltimore gave up too much in the way of draft choices and guaranteed money to a player who has yet to live up to his potential. In three seasons as a starter in Buffalo, McGahee never cracked the 1,300-yard mark and averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry.
Still, when heâ€™s playing full tilt, there are few backs in the game that bring as many dimensions on the field as the former Hurricane does. McGahee is a cutback runner who can bounce the ball from inside to outside. Although he lacks homerun-hitting speed, McGahee changes direction well, and can get to the perimeter quickly; a trait that Jamal Lewis lacked last season. Given that McGahee can run the ball off tackle, he should enable the coaching staff to call more tosses, sweeps and screen plays, bringing balance to a rushing attack which was one-dimensional last season.
The potential rewards of this trade far outweigh the risks.
First, letâ€™s evaluate the trade at its core without analyzing the financial commitment that Baltimore has made to their new tailback.
The Ravens gave up two third-round picks (one from this yearâ€™s draft, the other from the 2008 draft) and a 2007 seventh-round selection to land McGahee.
Essentially, one can make the case that McGahee is the Ravensâ€™ third-round pick from this yearâ€™s draft, so that part of the trade is a wash. The seventh-round pick that the team gave up can be viewed as negligible as well, considering that the Ravens could just as easily sign an undrafted player who they had tabbed for that selection. As for the pick they gave up from next yearâ€™s draft, there is a strong possibility that Baltimore will be reimbursed with either a third or a fourth-round compensatory pick for losing unrestricted free-agent Adalius Thomas in free-agency.
Second, while the front office did commit close to $15 million in guaranteed money, McGaheeâ€™s base salaries are not projected to increase perceptibly until after the 2010 season. Essentially, the deal breaks down to a four-year contract. If the after four seasons McGahee is cut loose, the team would have to absorb a cap hit worth more than $6 million. This may seem like a hefty amount of dead money to swallow, but given the annual total cap increase, this type of economic crunch should be easier to massage in the future.
The rub is that McGahee must play at a high level for the next four seasons to justify the move. Given that running backs donâ€™t enjoy as long of a life span in the NFL compared to other positional players, it is not a given that he will last that long. But the former Bill is only 25-years old, and is a back who hasnâ€™t taken the type of raw punishment that say, a Jamal Lewis took in his stint at tailback for the Ravens.
What is key is that at minimum, McGahee performs at the same level as he did during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. By his own admission, McGaheeâ€™s 2006 campaign was a disappointment to say the least.
There is a chance that he can perform at a higher level. And this is the potential that the organization is banking onâ€¦
The front office is in luck. Given the needs of the team along the offensive line and at linebacker, the draft offers a bevy of prospects that can fill both holes.
At linebacker, the Ravens could use an infusion of depth at both the inside and outside linebacker positions. On the outside, there is greater potential for the men in charge of the draft war room to find a versatile, tweener who can play in the hybrid defensive scheme.
Players like Tim Crowder, Anthony Spencer, Victor Abiamiri and Charles Johnson fit the mold of a 3-4 outside linebacker. Unfortunately, the depth at inside backer is not nearly as plentiful.
Along the offensive line, there are a number of prospects that have been given first-round grade.
At pick 29, where the Ravens currently hold serve, they could go a number of ways. If they want a center, Ryan Kalil — one of the safest choices in the draft — could be available. At guard, Justin Blalock and Ben Grubbs are blue-chip prospects that are projected to be on the board when the Ravens make their selection. And at tackle, the Ravensâ€™ biggest area of concern at the moment, there are a couple of intriguing players who could be had between the first and second-round.
Regardless of what definitive direction the team goes in, there should be a couple of quality players available in the first two rounds that can make an instant impact.