The NFL Lockout is now 4 months old and hopes for a season are mild at best. The Draft has come and gone, but the one thing NFL fans have missed is the wheeling and dealing of Free Agency.
Oh how some of us miss sitting on our couches at the midnight beginning of free agency, waiting to hear Adam Schefter tell us which player Daniel Snyder has overpaid for before the Ravens or anyone else could negotiate with them. So to hold over your free agency fix until the CBA gets worked out, here are 10 Classic Moments in Ravens Free Agency History
10) The Trash Heap WR Tandem of 1999: Since the exodus of Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander in 1996, the Ravens have seemingly always been searching for wide receiver help. In 1999, Qadry Ismail and Justin Armour were brought in to compete for spots alongside Jermaine Lewis. Not much was expected of either, as Ismail and Armour caught a combined 1 pass in 1997 and 1998. These two would eventually go on to completely exceed expectations, as Ismail went on to have the first of his two 1,000 yard receiving seasons with the team and Armour was the second leading receiver on the team with 37 catches for 538 yards and 4 TD.
9) Veteran reinforcements for 2008: As overlooked as their accomplishments were, Willie Anderson, Lorenzo Neal, and Jim Leonhard all played key roles for the Ravens during Joe Flacco’s rookie season. This group came together quietly, as Leonhard was initially brought in for a two day tryout and Neal and Anderson were brought in after training camp was well underway. However, all three started and contributed to a team that made it all the way to the AFC Championship. Anderson stabilized the right side of the offensive line to help give a young Joe Flacco the necessary protection a rookie QB needs. Neal proved why he has made 4 Pro Bowls, as he helped open holes for a rushing attack that produced over 2,300 yards. Leonhard was forced into the starting lineup after Dawan Landry suffered a season ending injury, but became a fan favorite and came up with key turnovers and punt returns during the playoffs.
8) The Forgetful WR Duo of 2003: Disgruntled with the development of Travis Taylor, the Ravens overhauled their WR corps in 2003 and brought in veterans Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson. Sanders was the bigger bust of the two, catching just 14 passes and was unable to catch a touchdown pass that year (something Jonathan Ogden even did in ‘03). Robinson deserves all the credit in the world for catching 4 TDs against the Seahawks in the Ravens 44-41 overtime win that season, however he caught only 2 other TDs that year. If you’re still struggling to comprehend their failure, it would be comparable to the Orioles signing Omar Daal and Rick Helling to solve their pitching woes…which they just happened to do that same year.
7) Spurned by the Big Boys: Finding an offensive tackle to play opposite of Jonathan Ogden always seemed to be on the Ravens shopping list come time for free agency. In 2002, the Ravens had a verbal agreement in place with Kansas City Chiefs OT Marcus Spears. Spears however never made it to Baltimore, as he rescinded on his agreement and stayed with the Chiefs. In 2005, the Ravens again were backed out on by a lineman, this time by Cooper Carlisle of the Denver Broncos. Carlisle was being brought in to provide some depth to our offensive line and potentially replace Orlando Brown but instead decided to remain with Mike Shanahan in Denver.
6) Patrick Johnson signs with the Ravens…in 2005: While doing research for this article, I stumbled upon this small factoid that I had completely forgotten about. The Patrick Johnson experience was so terrible the first time around, it’s hard to believe he was brought back for Round 2. However painful it is to admit, the Ravens did roll out the welcome mat for Johnson in 2005 after he was out of football in 2004. Johnson reeled in a paltry 2 passes for 31 yards that season. To me, Patrick Johnson’s career as a Raven will forever be defined by one catch he didn’t make – a sideline go route to the right corner of the end zone early in the first quarter of Super Bowl XXXV. Brandon Stokely made the touchdown grab the very next play, and that sequence pretty well describes how those two careers went from there.
5) From Rivals to Ravens: Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle had both played in many heated games against the Baltimore Ravens as members of the Tennessee Titans. But in the 2005 offseason, the Titans were undergoing a salary cap purge and Mason and Rolle became casualties. Ozzie Newsome and the front office swooped in to sign Derrick Mason first and then Rolle a few days later. Mason has been arguably the most consistent Raven in team history and has battled through many injuries on his way to becoming the franchise’s all time leading receiver. Rolle was one of the top cornerbacks in the league at the time of his signing and combined with Chris McAlister to make a dominant cornerback tandem when healthy.
3) The T.O. Fiasco: Though technically Terrell Owens was traded to the Ravens for a second round pick, the trade was rescinded due to Owens’ agent failing to file proper paperwork to make him a free agent. This was easily one of the worst moments in franchise history, at least from a fan’s perspective. The Ravens could not be blamed for how it all went down, but clearly Owens just did not want to play in Baltimore. Then again, Owens probably was never worth the headache.
2) QB Elvis Grbac and RT Leon Searcy: Fresh off the Super Bowl win in Tampa Bay, the Ravens clearly wanted an upgrade at the Quarterback position. They got the man they thought they wanted in Kansas City Chiefs QB Elvis Grbac, who was fresh off a season where he threw over 4,100 yards and 28 touchdowns while making his first Pro Bowl appearance. However, Grbac just didn’t perform the same in Baltimore as he threw more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15) and fumbled 9 times. Leon Searcy was the other high profile name the Ravens brought in, as he was widely considered to be the best Right Tackle in the NFL. Adding the best Right Tackle in the league to a team that had Jonathan Ogden at Left Tackle had the Ravens very excited about their offensive line for years to come. However, both signings could not have turned out worse. Grbac was seemingly run out of town by the fans who booed him regularly. The former Michigan Wolverine retired after that season at just the age of 31 with 4 years left on his contract. Searcy on the other hand tore his triceps in the first week of training camp and never played a down for the Ravens.
1) Shannon Sharpe et al in 2000: For the 2000 season, the Raven brought in Trent Dilfer, Sam Gash, Ben Coates, Sam Adams, and O.J. Brigance to add a veteran presence to the team. Dilfer eventually overtook Tony Banks as the starting quarterback and Sam Adams took the Ravens’ run defense from great to elite. However, the key move that offseason was Shannon Sharpe. No other free agent has had such an impact on this franchise, as his presence gave the team its first legitimate receiving threat since Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander wore purple and black. Sharpe was huge in the playoffs, with 3 catches of over 50 yards during that run. His time in Baltimore was short lived, but Sharpe added just enough offense to bring the Ravens their first and only Super Bowl ring.