We have reached the dry period of NFL free agency, where the majority of impactful signings have been completed, and teams are now just signing mid-to-low level players to fill roster holes before May’s NFL Draft.
For the Baltimore Ravens, the first two weeks of free agency were a resounding success. They maintained most of their own key players, added depth at safety, upgraded the center position via trade, and found a go-to wide receiver.
There aren’t many glaring needs left with the draft approaching, and with eight draft picks, the Ravens don’t appear to be in a hurry to upgrade/add depth to many more positions.
One problem that could still be addressed prior to the draft (as well as during the draft) is the tight end position, where the non-existent depth behind Dennis Pitta creates an outlier on a rather deep roster. The tight end market is thin, but one name that has been linked to the team more than once is free agent and recently cut veteran Owen Daniels, formerly of the Houston Texans.
The 31-year old had been rumored to be of interest to the Ravens, and head coach John Harbaugh confirmed those rumors this week.
The connection is easy to make:
- The Ravens desperately need depth at tight end
- Daniels worked with new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak during his entire career in Houston
- He was released, so he wouldn’t cost Baltimore one of its coveted compensatory picks if signed.
Having been on the market for weeks now and coming off a season-ending leg injury from last year, Daniels’ appeal may be lacking around the league.
The leg injury he suffered in 2013 is the biggest drawback, but now back at 100%, Daniels may be primed to return to full-time duties with whichever team he signs with him.
That could be the Ravens, and here’s why:
What the Ravens desperately need most is an in-line tight end who can play off the tackle as a willing blocker and complement Pitta in the passing game. If the Ravens are to turn to free agency to fill that void, Daniels is the best option available.
Pitta’s blocking deficiencies are often masked by his consistency as a receiver in the slot, and that doesn’t figure to change in Kubiak’s offense.
In Houston, Daniels was part of a duo with Garret Graham last season before his injury, in which their roles in Kubiak’s offense showed what could potentially be in store if Daniels and Pitta ever unite.
Stacking one side of the offensive line with multiple tight ends is a staple in Kubiak’s offense.
Here, Graham (88) and Daniels (81) are lined up together, with Daniels off the line.
Graham – the better receiving threat of the two – takes a seam route downfield, while Daniels – with blocking his forte in this situation – stays back in pass protection.
This gives quarterback Matt Schaub extra protection as he eyes Graham, who has a one-on-one opportunity with a linebacker.
Griffin gains enough separation downfield, and with plenty of protection for Schaub, he completes the easy pass for a touchdown.
Can’t you see switching out Graham and Schaub for Pitta and Flacco?
With Daniels’ experience in Kubiak’s offense, his ability to stay in and protect, with Pitta potentially having one-on-one opportunities, would be a valuable commodity to Baltimore’s pass attack.
While Daniels’ blocking value – both in scheme experience and as an upgrade over Ed Dickson – would be felt most, he also offers short-yardage value in the passing game, and could become a viable underneath, go-to target for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Daniels was used primarily in-line, in a three-point stance even when he was used as a receiver. This forced him to create separation off the line against defensive linemen and linebackers, instead of some of the new-age tight end duties, such as lining up against a cornerback or linebacker in the slot.
Even as a veteran tight end with limited athletic ability, Daniels’ ability to play physical with linebackers during his routes makes him a capable receiver.
On this example, breaking out of his route, Daniels dips his shoulder into the defender, forcing the linebacker off the route and giving him momentum.
The small but noticeable shoulder dip gives Daniels just enough separation, and his willingness to go right at the linebacker pays off, giving him an easy pass and catch opportunity with Schaub.
Coming off a leg injury, it’s unknown how well Daniels can play in 2014. If the injury isn’t one that will affect him in the future, allowing him to revert back to previous form, he is still a capable and desirable receiving target.
While Baltimore would benefit from more down-the-seam threats, the Ravens just committed five years and over $30 million to Pitta, and ultimately he’ll be the one who must make those types of plays. Having a veteran of Kubiak’s system such as Daniels by his side would only serve to benefit Pitta as a receiver.
At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much urgency to sign Daniels. Teams, including the Ravens, could be waiting to see how the draft plays out before adding the veteran. But if the Ravens do decide to commit to Daniels, it could prove to be a worthy investment. Ideally, pairing Daniels with Pitta and a rookie tight end would be the best scenario.
Daniels would be a short-term investment, as the Ravens likely wouldn’t sign him to more than a two-year deal (although that still remains to be seen). This would mean Daniels’ proposed addition shouldn’t change any draft plans the Ravens have at tight end. They still would need a third tight end anyway, and one that would have much more long-term value to the team than Daniels.
His presence would be felt through scheme ability and dependability, and the Ravens would be wise to kick the tires on Daniels if the price is right.