Finding a balance between young productive players, guys in their prime, and veteran leadership can be tricky in the National Football League.
The difference in competition between college and the NFL is greater than any sport. Even for the most talented players, there is a learning curve and few make immediate impacts.
Guys in their prime are looking to get paid, and rightfully so. For some players, they get one big contract. Unlike baseball, it’s not all guaranteed, it’s often money players need for their family’s long term financial security.
Veteran leadership is the third and possibly most important element. Finding guys who may be slightly past their prime, but can still be highly productive at a modest cost. They set the example and are coaches on the field.
Finding this formula can be a challenge for General Managers, it’s not a simple science. Ozzie Newsome and the front office have done a good job so far this offseason making sure the Ravens have a healthy balance of all three.
Signing Steve Smith provides a perfect balance for the wide receiver corps. Smith who is 34 (turns 35 this summer) is the oldest player on the Ravens roster. Despite his age the Ravens are confident he can be a productive, complimentary piece of their offense. He is known as one of the hardest working players in the NFL, and will serve as a great example for a young group of receivers.
Re-signing Daryl Smith provides leadership in the middle of the defense. There is no question as to whether or not he can still produce. He answered those questions last year when he was arguably the best and most consistent defensive player on the field. Bringing him back was critical not just for his production, but also for his ability to mentor Arthur Brown. The Ravens are counting on Brown to start and be a big part of their future on defense, Smith’s leadership will help bridge that gap.
Aside from partnering youth and veterans, they have identified the players in their prime they want in Baltimore for the long haul. While they have already reached deals with some, Eugene Monroe and Dennis Pitta, they have made it clear who their in house priorities are next.
Ideally they would like to get a deal done with Torrey Smith this offseason, although that may be tough considering their current cap situation. Regardless, a deal will get done. Torrey Smith loves playing in Baltimore, and the Ravens brass want him here, why wouldn’t they?
Jimmy Smith has made big strides the last two years and is now living up to the expectations of a first round pick. The Ravens have said they will exercise his 2015 option, and hopefully a long term deal can be reached at this time next year.
All of this gives the Ravens a good mix of productive guys playing out their rookie contracts, high paid players in their prime, and experienced veterans who will still make an impact.
Denver and New England have the most talented rosters in the AFC, but they are clearly in a “win now” mentality with talented but aging quarterbacks under center.
The Ravens are competitive, and could beat either of those teams on any given Sunday.
More importantly, unlike the before mentioned teams, their window isn’t closing.
They are setting themselves up to be competitive for many years to come.