Nearly a full week into the 2017 Free Agency period for the Baltimore Ravens, and I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen more activity out of the team than we are used to at this juncture.
The immediate signing of safety Tony Jefferson was followed by inking gritty running back Danny Woodhead (it’s actually illegal to say his name without the word ‘grit’). Nose tackle Brandon Williams re-signed with the team, as did versatile defensive & special teams jackknife, Anthony Levine.
On the flip side, the Ravens chucked up the deuces to RT Ricky Wagner (Lions), C Jeremy Zuttah (traded to 49ers), WR/legend Steve Smith Sr (retirement), ILB Zach Orr (retirement), DB Lardarius Webb (cut), OLB Elvis Dumervil (cut), FB Kyle Juszczyk (49ers), and a few fringe bodies as well.
Ultimately, the pieces added are only filling a few of the team’s many needs. And understandably so, given the Ravens cap situation versus the amount of positional needs they have this offseason. However, that hasn’t stopped many fans from continuing to demand more from the franchise in their most Veruca Salt temperament, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where Joe Flacco‘s only added weapon comes in the form of grit, er…Woodhead.
In his piece yesterday on ESPN, Jamison Hensley alluded to such demands, finding it ‘perplexing’ that the Ravens haven’t addressed the wide receiver position.
In essence, I completely disagree with the sentiment set forth by Hensley and those head-nodding folks agreeing with him.
Taking a step back: the Ravens came into the offseason looking for help at safety, cornerback, inside and outside linebacker, offensive line, wide receivers, and a clipboard holder/backup QB. Oh, and they had limited cap space available to fill all of these voids.
Essentially Ozzie Newsome & Co. were looking at the NFL equivalent to getting home from the grocery store and trying to carry 30 bags with only two arms in a single load from the car to the house.
At the end of the day, with all of the positional needs this franchise had, it allowed the Ravens to approach free agency in the same way they approach the draft: BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE.
As I see it, the Ravens simply looked at the free agent pool and did their best to fill any voids with guys who are 1) talented, 2) young(ish), and 3) fill a need.
Tony Jefferson is 25 years old, had an outstanding season in 2016, and immediately improves the secondary by giving the Ravens one of, if not the best safety tandem in the NFL. Williams was easily the best nose tackle on the market, and had a proven track record in Baltimore. Same goes for Levine. And while Woodhead may not be a young buck at 33 years old, his versatility mimics that of recently 49er-ed fullback Juszczyk, giving the Ravens another weapon out of the backfield who also excels at blitz pickup.
Which brings us back to why the Ravens did not go after a top wide receiver on the market: none fit the model of what the Ravens were looking for.
The wide receiver free agents can be broken into two groups: aging, high-priced vets, and talented but unreliable studs.
The first group consists of the likes of DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Marshall. All three players are over the age of 30, with Jackson and Garcon seeing HUGE paydays, which obviously would take the Ravens out of contention. Marshall’s deal would have been manageable by Baltimore; however, with his history of domestic violence, I don’t believe the Ravens ever had actual interest, and rightly so.
Then there’s the latter group of young, talented players with too many question marks. Terrelle Pryor entered the NFL as a quarterback, switched to wide receiver, was released by Seattle, then Cincy, then landed in Cleveland where he put up 1,000+ yards last season. He has all of the physical attributes of a talented wideout, but his track record of success extends a single season. Taking a long-term risk on Pryor would have been far too… well, risky. Same can be said about Alshon Jeffery, although his baggage exists in the form of suspensions and injuries abound. Would it really have been logical for the Ravens to take a shot on a guy who can’t seem to stay on the field?
Instead, Pryor decided to go to pass-happy Washington with Kirk Cousins, and Jeffery to Philly where running backs don’t even exist on the roster, leaving Carson Wentz to hit Alshon all day. Both players decided to bet on themselves with one-year ‘show me’ deals with pass-happy teams to pad their stats. Smart moves on their behalf, and honestly? Given the Ravens’ ineffectiveness in the pass game, coupled with the franchise’s insistence to get back to a daunted run game in 2017, I totally understand why neither player would consider Baltimore.
Which brings me to my next point (he says so seamlessly like he meant to do that).
The Ravens, specifically Newsome, did mention in the State of the Ravens that the team would like to add a playmaker and a complementary receiver. There’s no denying that. But what we’re forgetting is how many times at the same press conference it was mentioned that they will commit more to the run game in 2017. By signing Woodhead and adding Greg Roman to the coaching staff, the Ravens have all of the outward appearances that they plan on doing so. The next move should be improving the offensive line (I’m still Team Mangold) prior to the draft and then see how things shake out from there. Adding a high-priced wide receiver who is either over-the-hill or has more baggage than your ex-girlfriend (don’t lie, we all have one of those) should be far, far down the list of wants or needs for the Ravens.
Ultimately, I think it’s safe to say the Ravens will add another receiver or two. Perhaps Anquan Boldin ends his career in Baltimore on a 1-year deal, or maybe a veteran player gets released at some juncture and the Ravens swoop in, per usual. Then again, they could add a body or two in the draft as well.
But realistically folks, isn’t this exactly what we wanted in Baltimore?
Our beloved Ravens have spent the duration of the offseason thus far focusing on defense and the run game. We’re seeing glimpses of a potential return to old school Baltimore Ravens smash-mouth football. It’s almost as if the Ravens front office realizes that being a pass-happy offense that relies on Flacco in shootouts is not the model for success, and are not only making moves to adjust accordingly, but also finding an identity in doing so.